Tick tock on the clock, but the fiction don’t stop.
This round you have to include two things: One character has to tell a joke and one character has to cry. It could be two different characters, it could be the same, in fact, crying could be the effect of the joke being told. No boundaries.
The author/judge for this round is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She chose these joke/crying parameters because, in her own words:
“I am interested in character and in emotion,” she says. “I think that’s really for me, what fiction is about, and I think the ability to cry and the ability to laugh, for me, is in some ways what defines humanity.”
So I chose a topic that will take you through a freakin Periodic Table of Human Emotion: employment. When you’ve got it and when you don’t. In 600 words.
I hope you like it and I hope you’ll also share with me your thoughts, as I am editorless 🙂
Last night we went out for drinks to celebrate. I didn’t want to go, but Mack said I needed it. I got the impression it wasn’t so much for celebration, as it was a trick into making me believe I should be pleased with myself again after all this time.
Mack bought a round and gave a little toast. He raised his glass and lifted his eyebrows at me.
“To New York City’s newest customer service rep, that she may never be at a loss for words.”
I smiled and looked into my glass of gin and tonic. I wanted to be anything but in this moment. I wanted to be that lime in my glass. I wanted to be the glass.
“Hey, Mack,” Andy shouts bubbling of beer, “how many customer service reps does it take to change a light bulb? Four! One to give you the wrong answer, two to tell you the same thing the first one did, and one to say the light bulb changing service is no longer available!”
Andy and Mack start pretend punching each other.
Helen playfully bumps into me and looks at me with her wine filled eyes.
“You get to talk on the phone for a living,” she says, “how awesome is that?”
The next morning I wake up and feel like a beat up food processor is running in the back of my head. The blades are sticking and trying to churn, dull and fighting for momentum.
I join all the worker bees on the subway. I felt like a poser among their briefcases and morning papers.
I arrive at Weinstead and Co. and take an extremely fast elevator to the 6th floor. The receptionist points me in the direction of a sunny meeting room with floor to ceiling windows.
I walk through the doorway and am blasted with five heads simultaneously moving up to meet my entrance. Five faces. They scare the hell out of me. I feel those faces instantly judge me. My knees begin to sweat.
I sit down and try to look at them. We’re all about the same age. Three women. Two men.
The orientation leader smacks us out of our deafness with a circus ringleader’s enthusiasm. She’s scribbling on the white board and bounding around the table passing out printouts. Then it’s time for an icebreaker.
“Everyone pick a neighbor and one of you be the host and one of you be the guest!” she says. “Interview each other and then switch.”
The girl to my left with dirty blonde hair turns to me and asserts she will interview me first. Fine, I say.
“Where did you go to school?” she asks.
“What did you study?”
“English with a minor in South American literature.” She pauses. That sounded pompous. She must think I’m trying to let her know I don’t belong here. I mean, I do, but …
“My boyfriend studied 17th century Russian poets. Do you know anything about Russian poets?”
“Not really,” I say.
“Oh.” I can see now she was trying to be nice. Trying to find common ground. So I start asking her questions and find out she has a dog and a sister and a BMW.
The ringleader chorals us as only an orientation leader could. She shows us our desks and for a couple hours explains our positions. At 4 p.m., she lets us leave.
My eyes burn as I walk to the subway. I don’t even remember stepping onto a car. But I sit down on the rough upholstery and cry. And the whole car watches.