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» What? by Lee A Sykes Short stories, flash fiction and creative writing online.

Backhand Stories: The Creative Writing Blog

”Mr Terrance Trent…”

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”D’ARBY!” He added loudly. Found it hilarious, thought he was original. Despite having done it once a fortnight for almost a year. Jokes wear thin but this one had eroded. Well for me it had, however not for the newer hordes of strugglers who sniggered at this wit, those who’d heard of the musician at least. Blue shiny tracksuit pants and a zipped top in the middle of summer. Scuffed black dress shoes inappropriately completed the ensemble. Craggy features, stained teeth and sunken jowls from a lifetime of cheap cider and tobacco aged him beyond his years. Perched on the edge of the waiting area couch in the Job centre, his perch, which he’d occupied since the closing of the mines in the eighties. Hair greased, clean shaven, but too high above the ear almost reaching the temple. But I was the figure of amusement. Nice. Let it wash over, don’t even acknowledge his outburst. Dignity.

“..please!!” shrieked the desk jockey, swivelling her dulled head dramatically. No need. She knew who I was by sight, but seemed to be compelled to go through this ritual every fortnight. Trudge over, equally melodramatically. Sit down in the chair, sigh, force a forced smile forcefully. Think can you shout any louder? Give it a go, the moving traffic outside on Market Street ain’t heard you. Go on, bellow into the wind. Fool.

”How are you Terrance? What steps have you taken to search for employment?”. Fake smile doesn’t even reach the cheeks let alone the eyes. Patronise on.

”Well, I check the net dot gov sites daily, ask peers and relatives constantly and check the M.E.N. and other local papers”.

”Any luck?”

”Not as such, however if I was in luck I wouldn’t be showing up here, logically. I’m not being inundated with offers like. Oh, apart from a SLIGHT stroke of fortune. I’ve applied to work here as an admin assistant. This very office. Given my transferable skills you have told me to put down on applications, and my intellectual capabilities, surely to God at least I’ll get an interview. I handed in my application when I handed in my J.S.A. booklet”. Just nod in agreement please, surely to Christ at least I’ll get an interview.

”Why do you want to work here!” Manic laughter. Just let me sign so I can fuck off. Better yet, you fuck off. ”Only joking it ain’t too bad!”. Lay off the caffeine. You’re making a fool of yourself love.

”It’s local for a start, I can do it in my sleep and It will pay the bills. Plus I’m desperate for work as you have known for almost twelve months”. Polite smile hiding rage. Patronised by a moron. Who is the Patron Saint of patronisers? He must have worked in a Job Centre in antiquity.

”Well good luck, I’m sure you’ll hear something from us soon. They are shortlisting this week, so you’ll hear within the next few days. You’ve been searching a while now Terrance, you will have to enter the New Deal soon if you’re still unemployed, to still recieve your money”. Solemn, passing wisdom.

”What’s that?”. Inquire keenly. Least try to seem keen.

”Basically, you will go into our other office for about 4 hours a week. They’ll help you fill in application forms and tell you what to say in interviews. Give you tips and help you search for jobs. Tidy up your C.V. with proper lingo.” Polite smile.

No way in hell. Remedial class for the unemployed. No fucking chance in hell.

“I don’t need any of that. I have a C.V. and I’m fully literate. I have an academic background and need none of their advice, plus fingers crossed I’ll be working here by then! Surely, given my experience I can get the nod for working here answering phones and using the photocopier!”

Confidence high, bubble burst by another fake smile, want to shout ”WHY NOT? GIVE ME THE JOB. SIGN ME OFF. NOW!!”, think better of it. Preserve whatever strand of self esteem is left.

”I understand, but it will be compulsory”. Pseudo-sympathetic raising of the eyebrows. Just fuck off.

”But what on Earth are they going to tell me that I don’t know already? It’s just wasting bus fare and my time when I could be looking for work!” Agitated now a little, compulsory?

”It has been a while though that you’ve been out of work.”

”I know but I’ve applied for loads. It’s just cos I have experience only in one field. Experience your lot’ll never get mooching about behind a desk in a lifetime. So I get overlooked for a numpty who’s done typing for a few months. Something will turn up soon though. I don’t need some geeks telling me how to put a stamp on a fuc…fllipping envelope. It’s going to waste my time!”. Pleading now.

”It’s compulsory. No exceptions.” Getting haughty. “Let’s look at what’s on the computer. You don’t drive right?”

‘No.” Go on, rub it in.

”Locally, there’s one here for telesales. What about this one, customer service adviser? Oh and furniture salesman. I’ll print them OK?”. Daring me to say no.

”No”. There you go.

”Why not?”

”I have already applied to those. I’m awaiting reciprocated correspondence”. She didn’t follow, but mimed understanding, simple twitch of the eyes giving her away.

”Oooookay then, well that’s all we have locally. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help”. She said unapologetically.

”Maybe you can. How about the training mentioned in the paper? The government says if the unemployed don’t take up offered training we’ll get our money stopped. I want any training you’ve got. I’ll start training right this minute. How come I’ve never been offered any?” Show her the paper, circled quote in biro. She flinches quizzically.

”There is no training. It’s the New Deal I assume. Don’t worry, you’ll be on it in a fortnight. Well that’s it then. I’ll just get a pen.”

”Hang on, it says there’s training. Quoting the fuc…flipping Prime Minister here!”. Unbelievable.

”The training is the New Deal. That’s all I can say to you. Back in a sec”. Scurry for a pen. Sign and fuck off mitherer. There’s the pen now.

”Well what about me doing a course like in college or uni or something?”

”You can’t.”

”Why not? How can I get more so-called skills then?”

”You can’t because the allowance is on condition that you are actively seeking employment full time. I know it’s daft, but I don’t make the rules sir”. Giggle.

”You’d probably struggle to make a fucking brew”. Mumbled, not meaning to say it out loud.

”Sorry?” What did that cheeky bastard say she thought. Had enough of this desk. Heard all the excuses, all the sob stories. It ain’t the Samaritans, it ain’t my fault either.

”What? Nothing.” Twinge of guilt.

At last, the signing paper. ”Have your circumstances changed since your last signing day?”. Fuck right off. Twinge dissipates swiftly.

”Yes, they are getting worse”. Me stoic, she laughs a laugh fired by nothing resembling joviality. ”Sign here please. Great, see you in a fortnight.”

”Hopefully from the same side of the desk.” Spit it. Then flash a lopsided grin.

”Good luck Terrance.” Fake, just fuck off. Now.

”Thanks.” Bounce out head down with the shame of being seen here. Straight to the off-license, for later. To sleep. Induced rest. Serenaded gratingly as I slope towards the automatic doors by tracksuit and winkle pickers. Wishing Well, By Terence Trent fucking D’arby.

***

First smoke of the day triggering bowel movements. Clap of the letterbox. Postman. Take my papers through, on the throne. Job Centre, open rapidly. A ”With compliments” slip. Nice touch. Flick overleaf. ”Mr Trent, unfortunately you have been unsuccessful with your application for administrative assistant with the Job Centre. Good luck with future career ventures and thank you for taking part in this exercise. Any further regards call…………”

No way, no chance have I not even been shortlisted. Bastards. Fold and fold again, rip twice, wipe and flush. Just fuck off. Fuck right off. New Deal? No Deal. Fuck right off. Now.

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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.