Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fiction #73: Alyson Fortowsky

Status of Application

Caitlyn Arquette was alone in the office on Labour Day when she received an email from Laurel Kosecki. Subject: Status of Application.

Fucking Asha, Caitlyn thought. Laurel Kosecki should’ve gotten a no three weeks ago. Caitlyn didn’t envy the recruiters their job – it was a surprise none of them was in here with her today, scrolling LinkedIn like it was a slot machine – but they all handled it better than Asha did. She let her leads build up till the surface below gave way and the pile cascaded down in a series of mini-mental health avalanches. She’d double-book herself on first interviews, beg one of the other recruiters to conduct one of them, then send the interviewee she hadn’t met a follow-up email that said “It was so great getting to know you today!”

Caitlyn had only been a training manager for a month. Laurel Kosecki’s had been one of the first second interviews she’d ever conducted. Pratik, the training director, had been in the room, of course. Though Laurel, judging from the year she graduated high school, was six years older than Caitlyn, she looked younger and she was thinner. Both things made Caitlyn irrationally irritated when she shook hands with Laurel, but she had talked warmly, and Caitlyn let the feeling pass. Laurel had worked in sales at a newspaper and for a website design company, business-to-business, in Saskatoon. Now she taught Business English at a community college. Several of her former colleagues worked in the Sales Department and had recommended her. But while Caitlyn had been going through the interview script, noting down Laurel’s answers, Pratik had been conducting a personality test. Laurel had failed it.

“She won’t fit into the culture here,” he’d said.

He’d been hiring fresh-out-of-college kids, ready to mold, less likely to complain about the workload. Because she’d come recommended, they routed Laurel through the full four-hour process anyway: the first interview and written situational assessment with Asha, the second interview with Caitlyn and Pratik, and the third interview, a meet-and-greet with Nathan, the VP of Client Relations. Caitlyn privately thought she would’ve hired Laurel. Introverts worked well to deadlines, however well they summoned up fake kiss-ass for an interview. Besides, she’d be good at talking to the professors for textbook orders.

But it had been an unequivocal no from Pratik, and so she should have gotten an email.

Fucking Asha. Caitlyn opened the email from Laurel. One line:

Mistakes you have made

Caitlyn had somehow failed to notice that the fluorescents were emitting a hum so oppressive in the empty office that they were drowning out the Wilco album she was playing. She noticed now.

Below the line of text, an embedded .gif. The first time it cycled, she saw a paint balloon explode. The second, whiplash hair; white knuckles on the butt of a handgun. She couldn’t get the message closed before she recognized that she was seeing a clip of Laurel Kosecki blowing her brains out.

*

Only once before had Caitlyn felt so certain that a moment would alter the way she lived the rest of her life. Mid-April, the year she was twenty-five. At the time she’d sworn she’d remember the date forever, but it didn’t matter so much now as it had then, and she’d let it slip. Her boyfriend of ten years had rolled over in bed on a weekday morning and said,

“I have to tell you something. I slept with someone else.”

The sheets had been soaked. She’d had to buy a new set every six months when they were together. He’d stained his side of the mattress a sickening, jaundiced shade. She’d had a lot of thoughts following that proclamation but the very first, the first thing she thought after he’d told her he’d cheated on her, was how gross she found it that he sweat so much in his sleep. The second was that it had been years since she’d liked the sour vinegar smell of his body.

The last time she was single, when she was fifteen, she hadn’t thought of herself as shallow enough to be a girl with a type. But now, three years after her big twenties breakup, she’d vowed to never date a big man again. Tall, wide, neither. Men were bovine who weren’t close to woman-sized. Large, smelly mammals, snoring and farting. Hard to believe they were the same species as someone like Laurel Kosecki, a worry line between her pale eyebrows and her long, delicate fingers. She’d been wearing a barely-there perfume or soap in the interview. Underneath it, there was no trace of her heat at all. Might as well as sprayed the scent on a cardboard sampler.

*

Caitlyn had the email closed nearly instantly. She thought about calling the police. The idea seemed unbearable in an empty office, so she didn’t pick up the phone. Instead, she marked the message unread. She decided to go home for the day. Pretend she’d left without checking her emails one last time. She could “find” it in the morning and exclaim in earshot of her colleagues when she saw it. Just like that, it would be a shared responsibility instead of only hers. She turned off her music and her computer. She went to the kitchen and washed out the Tupperware that had contained her pesto salad.

*

She had forgotten her umbrella, and she got soaked crossing the street to the subway station. The turnstiles were down, so she had to wait in a line thirty people long for the agent’s booth, just to flash him her pass. Every second in the station felt like a threat to her composure. Annoying, that’s what Laurel Kosecki was. Annoying and selfish. Caitlyn realized she was in constant, low-level physical danger. That was life in a city. She had to be exposed, surrounded by strangers with varying claim to their territory, in order to get home to her couch where she could lie down with her cat, a pot of cranberry tea, and the mickey of gin she’d been saving in her freezer since her birthday.

*

A crowd of people on a train smelled like wet dogs when it rained, no matter how much product they’d individually applied to try and avoid it. There were three high school boys in the seats across the aisle from her. She put her earbuds in but didn’t turn on her music. The stop announcements weren’t working. Combined with the dim-submarine lights in the old subway cars, it gave her the feeling that she was going the wrong way or that she was dreaming.

“I’m a gofer,” one of the boys said. Clean cut, with the same Ray-Ban prescription glasses that half the world wore. They all wore the same pants, a private school uniform. “I get them coffee, or vacuum their seats, or do their oil changes. Whatever is easy enough.”

One of his friends asked something.

“Nah. I walked in and they just asked a few questions. I was hired on the spot.”

Caitlyn thought of how much he was like her twin brother at that age, his inflection. Cory had been an outgoing kid like that, Mr. Popular. He called her every couple of months, but in his early twenties things had started to fall apart. He couldn’t finish college. He could go a few months like everything was fine and then he’d hit a day where he’d wake up to his alarm, like always, and he couldn’t get out of bed for a week. Caitlyn had been a bookish kid – well-liked, in retrospect, but solitary. Now she didn’t read anymore. She opened novels and her eyes flicked bored over the pages like she’d forgotten how to do it. Now she was the outgoing one, preferring the company of others.

“Three things they’re looking for,” the gofer said. He ticked off on his fingers. “Will you not show up to work high all the time? Yes. Will you not hide out in the back room avoiding work all day? Yes. Will you show up relatively on time? Yes. That’s all it takes to be fine at a job. It’s surprising how many people can’t get their shit together to do those three things.”

*

Caitlyn’s train had two stops to go till hers when she realized what should have been immediately clear, but that her shock had obscured: barring some feat of programming of which Laurel Kosecki’s interview hadn’t indicated she was capable, it could not possibly have been her who’d sent an email containing a record of her own death.

Thank god, Caitlyn thought, before she could stop herself. I’m not the only person on Earth who knows about this.

Someone had watched the video before Caitlyn had seen it. They had to, or it wouldn’t have been sent out. Strange, how meeting someone in an interview always inspired an illusion of her as a world alone. It wasn’t statistically likely that Laurel had been single, even that she lived alone. That had to be it. A partner, distraught by her death, had gone through her computer in search of any kind of reason – people who might have slighted her, or disappointed her. If she was actively looking for a job, then she’d been through more than one interview – maybe every company that had declined to hire her had gotten the same email. Maybe everyone who’d written her a snarky Facebook comment.

Maybe it wasn’t Laurel who’d held Caitlyn responsible, then. Maybe she hadn’t been named. Just someone grieving, someone lashing out. Perfectly understandable.

She only felt relief for a moment. Laurel could have named Caitlyn, either way. She could have left a note. Instructions for her left-behind lover. Who, in their darkest moments after the death of someone close to him, wouldn’t take the temptation of complying with her orders? Of laying blame?

It could have a hoax, sent by Laurel herself – a possibility Caitlyn only dared entertain for a second before she got dangerously hopeful, then too angry at what kind of morose bitch would do something so cruel to a person who was just doing her fucking job.

*

“What stop did we just pass?” the gofer said, as if he was reading her mind.

He hadn’t missed his, his friends assured him. She assumed the friends were speaking out loud here and there, watching their mouths move. Over the sound of friction on the tracks, she could only hear the gofer’s voice, the loudest.

“I’m actually brain-damaged,” the gofer said frankly. “I miss my stop all the time. And it sucks walking back. It’s only a few blocks but everything looks so much bigger when you’re walking than when you’re on the train.”

*

Caitlyn wondered if he actually was. He didn’t talk like anything was wrong with him. A hurtful joke, if it was a joke. She guessed he wasn’t old enough yet to know.

*

Alyson Fortowsky grew up in Calgary, and now writes and teaches in Toronto. She has published short stories in Qwerty, NoD and carte blanche.

Photo credit: Efehan Elbi.

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