The Job Interview
By Alexandra Seidel
Outside, fog was coming down like a curtain, stealing sight and sound. There were shapes almost visible in the grayness that might have been gravestones or angels cast in marble. The well-dressed man was holding a clipboard in his hands and a fountain pen too that was poised inches over the paper. Across from him sat another man, not dressed as well but much younger although that was not very obvious.
“So,” the well-dresses man began, “I see from your résumé you have tried your hand in many professions. Never stuck to one thing for long. Any reason for that, Mr. Grey?”
The younger man, Mr. Grey, seemed to visibly squirm as the well-dressed man’s eyes punctuated that question. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead.
“I just never found something that really…enthralled me, that gave me the feeling that I needed to get up every morning because else I would miss something important in my life.” That was an honest answer. The well-dressed man could smell lies very reliably and Mr. Grey knew this.
The well-dressed man made a few notes on the clipboard in what looked to be an elaborate handwriting of the sort you don’t see too often these days.
“So you hated what you did?” he asked.
“Oh no, not at all. Though I must say, the smell in the hospice was rather unpleasant,” Mr. Grey said, looking at his feet. His shoes were old and dirty.
“I see. Perfectly understandable too. People decaying in their own shit and puke, I have been in places like that myself and could not agree more that there are nicer ways to spend your time. The little time you have left, in particular.” He brushed at the sleeve of his tailored suit. There was nothing there that needed brushing away. “But you understand that if you sign up with us, you will not be able to choose your assignments, yes?”
Mr. Grey’s head jerked up. “Of course.”
And again the pen flew over the paper. “Good. As long as this is clear…How was your time in the war?”
Mr. Grey rubbed his hands together, unconscious of the gesture. “Well, I signed on as a medic.”
“And there was a lot to do.”
“Like what, Mr. Grey?”
“Like clamping arteries when someone’s arm or leg got torn off by a bomb. Giving out morphine so people could sleep at night and the others wouldn’t be bothered by the moaning. Patching them up although I knew it was no good. Telling them they’d be okay although I knew they wouldn’t be. Sometimes we’d just have to cut bullets out, and that was easiest. Easier than shrapnel at least.”
The sound of the pen again. “I see. Let’s talk about the morphine. About the dosage.”
“A fair dosage, always, I would say.”
“Ah,” the well-dressed man looked up from his writing and his eyes shone at Mr. Grey. “But there is fair and then there is fair. What I want to know, did they beg you for the pain to end and did you give them a fair dosage then? Did you think you were doing something merciful but never dared tell anyone that you had done it? Did you, Mr. Grey?”
Mr. Grey was suddenly fidgeting uneasily. He looked left and right, but the well-dressed man’s eyes were focused on him like the eyes of a watchdog trained to draw blood.
“Yes. Yes, I might have done that,” he finally admitted in a quiet voice.
“More than once?”
“More than once,” Mr. Grey confirmed.
“And were you also fair to the decaying wretches in the hospice, Mr. Grey?”
“I cannot deny that I was.”
“Just a little sting, yes?”
“Very little. Minute.”
The fog seemed to be thickening around them. The fountain pen continued to scratch marks on paper.
“And you worked as a butcher?”
“What did you prefer, cattle or pigs?”
“Cattle or pigs, Mr. Grey?”
“Actually, I mostly did lambs.”
“Ah, lambs. Tells you much about anatomy, butchering, yes?” The well-dressed man prodded while he was writing busily.
“Yes. Quick kill, the organs, how to drain a body, all that.”
“Shouldn’t you be saying ‘carcass’, Mr. Grey?”
“No. You said body, Mr. Grey. Not at all objectionable, just an observation.”
“I see. What I did mean was carcass though. You learn how to bleed a carcass and cut it up into pieces, you know.”
“I certainly do.” A delicate yet intense smile spread over the well-dressed man’s face. “Why didn’t you stick with butchering? Certainly not the smell?”
Mr. Grey waved his hand as if to shoo the fog away but this fog was persistent and it only grew thicker, if anything.
“No,” he said, “the smell was fine. I didn’t like the customers. Picking out this and that and smiling as they did. Dead bodies…I mean to say, carcasses, and they were feeding on them like vultures. Do you find that very weird?” He looked at the well-dressed man as if he needed his approval in the matter.
“I can assure you, I do not find it weird, Mr. Grey. I can relate perfectly. Tell me about work as an undertaker.”
“I liked it. I did a brief stint in the morgue before, but embalming, that was really like a passion. So very quiet, and the smell was not at all as bad as people often think. I have to admit, I came to like it quite a bit.”
“Ah, yes. Nothing smells like a fresh corpse now, does it? I can relate perfectly, Mr. Grey, perfectly.”
“And they didn’t ask me to cut them up, just drain and embalm, drain and embalm. I think that’s as dignified as it gets, don’t you?”
“Quite so, Mr. Grey. But you are aware that with us, you might have to cut them up quite a bit sometimes, yes?”
“Of course, I understand.”
“Splendid,” said the well-dressed man, putting away the fountain pen in his inside pocket. “I think we’re done here. Please sign on the dotted line.”
“So you’ll hire me?”
“Why, of course. You seem to be a perfect fit for our team, Mr. Grey, just perfect. The dotted line please.”
“Of course. May I borrow your pen? I don’t have one on me.”
At this the well-dressed man chuckled.
“With your blood, Mr. Grey, your blood, not ink. See that broken stained-glass window showing you The Savior? It will do just nicely.”
Mr. Grey turned and brushed his hand over the glass the well-dresses man had indicated. He could just make out the outlines in the fog. Red beads of blood shone on his fingers, bubbling up like boiling water. He traced his name on the dotted line.
“Why, we are pleased to have you, Mr. Grey, so very pleased. When can you start?”
Mr. Grey licked the blood from the cut in his fingers. He made a sucking noise before he replied, “I don’t see why I couldn’t start right away.”
“That’s the spirit, Mr. Grey, the true spirit! Don’t forget your angelic wings then, we consider them somewhat of a trademark. And remember, we don’t offer salvation, but sometimes mercy. And we do not accept checks, only cash. Have you got this down, Mr. Grey?”
“Yes, sir. I certainly do,” he said, shaking hands with the very well-dressed man and returning his wide smile.
~~~(Images from commons.wikimedia.org)
This story was first published in The Red Penny Papers in 2011. If you enjoyed reading it, do leave me a comment or click on the woman in white to your left. She'll lead you straight to the Tip Jar. Thanks!