Sometimes late at night when Juliette was alone in her room, she
would, for no apparent reason, let out a quiet whimper, and feel a
tear trickle down her cheek. She would scuttle across the hall, turn on
the shower so nobody could hear her, and cry for a little while, watching
her eyes in the mirror as they became bloodshot and puffy.
Afterwards she would lie in her bed silently and look around the
room in which she had slept since she was a new-born. Juliette was
twenty three, but still slept underneath a Toy Story duvet cover; the posters she had hung in high school were still plastered all over the lilac
walls and the singular trophy she had received in her short-lived athletic
career——a trophy for participation on a swimming team——still stood
proudly on her dusty bookshelf.
The crying had started in her final few years of high school, and
carried on until she left for college, where she experienced a four-year
respite. When she arrived home after graduating, the crying quickly
started up again. The feeling she got while lying in bed at night in that
stagnant room, was not dissimilar to the one she had gotten in junior
high when her boyfriend had come over unexpectedly to find her wearing
an orthodontic headgear while watching the Disney channel, and
could barely hide the laughter that was struggling up from his gut like
water through a leak in a dam, as he told her she looked great. Except
nobody ever came over to see her sitting there, on the Toy Story bed in
the lilac-walled bedroom. Now she was her own tormentor, feeling the
foundations of her self-image begin to crack under the strain of her own
self-expectations every time she opened the door to her room.
Juliette woke up to the sound of her mother Mary’s toneless singing
as it drifted up to her bedroom through the floorboards. It was seven
in the morning on a Saturday, and like most other mornings, Mary was
waiting for Juliette in the middle-class-sized kitchen with the out-dated,
faux-mahogany cabinets, a breakfast of coffee, eggs and bacon already
“You know I work in a café, right? You don’t have to wake up early
to make me breakfast,” Juliette said when she walked into the kitchen in
her starch-white button-down and black pants.
“I know, dear, but you need to be fuelled up for your ride there. You
know what they say: breakfast fit for a king…”
Juliette rolled her eyes and took the orange juice out of the fridge
and drank straight from the bottle. A picture she had drawn in elementary
school still hung on the fridge door. It showed a gigantic blue
dog standing proudly next to a stick figure Juliette, and her stick-figure
parents. The colours had faded, and the paper had become crinkled and
brittle. Juliette had signed her name, and underneath it, written “Age 5”
in timid, jagged handwriting. She had begged her mother to take the
picture down for years.
“When’s Dad coming home from Vegas?” she said. Mary was washing
something up in the sink, her shoulders tensed, and she stopped
scrubbing momentarily when Juliette spoke.
“On Monday; not too long this time. Imagine what he must be
getting up to,” Mary said, craning her neck around to smile weakly at
Juliette, worry lines appearing on her forehead.
“I think you’re forgetting, it’s Dad. I don’t even think he could find
it within himself to get into trouble in Las Vegas.”
“Oh, I’m sure. Still, there’s all sorts that’s legal there that could get
a person into a lot of trouble anywhere else in the world. You never
know.” She began scrubbing the dishes with concentrated intensity.
Juliette tried to hide a laugh. “Sure, okay. Dad’s probably high right
now fucking a fat prostitute,” she said.
“Juliette Daniels, don’t be so vulgar, please! I should have known
better than to think you could be a grown up,” Mary said, looking at
Juliette like she was a toddler who had just said the word fuck for the
“What? I’m only saying what you were thinking,” Juliette said.
There was a loud clang, as Mary threw the pan she was cleaning
down into the sink, and turned around. “You know, you can be really
insensitive sometimes——a real bitch.”
“I was making a joke.”
“Well it wasn’t funny. You’re welcome for the breakfast.”
“I’m sorry, it was just a joke,” Juliette said, as Mary stormed past her
and out of the room, leaving her to sit alone at the kitchen table.
When Juliette was younger, boys from her school would come
around and knock on her door, asking whether she wanted to “hang
out.” Within minutes they would be in the kitchen, flirting with Mary,
staring at the curve of her hips behind her back, their tongues simulating
blow-jobs, their hands grabbing their peckers, “accidentally” brushing
up against her at every chance they got. Mary would always flirt
back, sometimes bordering on being inappropriate. Juliette figured out
what was happening pretty quickly, and it didn’t take her long to get
used to sitting alone in the living room, while the sounds of loud voices
and laughter echoed through the house.
So it had always seemed strange to Juliette that when it came to her
father, her mother would be so timid, insecure, frightened that every
time he left her side he wouldn’t be coming back. They would argue
apocalyptically, shouting so hard neighbours came knocking, simply
because she asked him if he truly loved her; because, she said, he didn’t
show it. “Doesn’t the twenty years of marriage we’ve shared answer that
question?” her father would say.
After argument nights, Juliette would find her father sleeping on
the sofa when she left for school in the morning. She knew her mother
was the reason he had taken a job involving so much travel. When people
asked him how Mary was, his go-to answer was: “Intense.” He loved
her, Juliette knew he did, but her need for affection was so relentless he
never had the energy to live up to it. She wouldn’t have been surprised if
her father was on drugs in bed with a prostitute right then, vacationing
in the arms of a woman who wanted nothing but his cash.
Juliette finished up her eggs and coffee and shouted goodbye to
her mother. She tied her long, curly hair into a ponytail, and went into
the garage and pressed the button that retracted the garage door. She
mounted her old, black racing bicycle and rode out onto the smooth,
suburban street, heading towards work.
House after identical house flowed past and she built up speed,
swerving freely from one side of the road to another, not even checking
for oncoming cars, knowing there wouldn’t be any so early on a weekend
morning. Her bike, which was almost as old as she, inherited from
her uncle, gave a ramshackle rattle every time it hit a slight bump in the
road or pavement. She had recently grown protective over it, the sight of
it made her smile, because she knew, despite its tired groans and rusted
paint, its unreliable gear system and quick-to-deflate tyres, it still performed
dutifully whatever she needed, it took her to work, and it gave
her the opportunity to escape.
Juliette worked most days as a server in a neighbourhood café.
A long time ago the brown-brick building, which was sandwiched in
between a bar and an antique shop, had been home to an old bank. It
still had elaborate, classical-looking carvings on the ceiling, still projecting
a façade of prosperity to its former customers. But now instead
of Bank Tellers, the place was occupied by service industry workers. All
no-hopers and last-resorters, with Juliette falling into the latter category,
although she was beginning to worry it was the former.
One of Juliette’s most commonly uttered phrases when at work
was, “I need a new job,” which she said in a lofty, matter-of-fact voice,
as though she was stating the colour of the wallpaper. Her co-workers
would usually reply, “me too.”
Sometimes though, she had to admit she enjoyed the job. The petty
workplace dramas gave her something to laugh about, and the owner—a
callous, and hunched woman nearing retiring age—regularly provided
her with someone to argue with. Even the customers’ neuroticisms were
often a welcome distraction.
Today she was five minutes late. She chained up her bicycle in the
alley and walked in through the back door. She took off her jacket and
hung it in the staff room. In the kitchen, and she was engulfed by the
sticky odour of hundreds of different foods that had congealed and
seeped into every crevice of the building. She could already feel the
grease in the air clinging to her skin. The chef, Tom, smiled widely and
said hello to her, she mumbled a reply, avoiding eye contact, walking
past as quickly as possible.
The usual sort of Saturday morning customers sat in the dining
area. A few elderly people, who had probably been looking forward for
their whole lives to being able to sleep in after they retired, but now that
they were, couldn’t help but rise with the sun were dotted around the
place. A couple of severely hung over guys sat around a table, focusing
all their energy on not vomiting at the sight of food, and a couple with
young, early-to-rise kids tried to enjoy their breakfast, and ignore the
noise and mess their children were making.
Juliette tied on her apron, and picked up a notepad, and walked
over to join Kaylee and John, who were standing by the pastry counter,
talking quietly in tense voices. John was a teenager, who worked on
weekends. Even though he hadn’t yet finished high school, he was
already paying rent for his room at home; his family were one missed
payment away from foreclosure. Kaylee was in her late 20s, lived in a
one-bed apartment with a friend from college, and was dating the manager,
Kaylee quickly wiped her eyes when she saw Juliette approaching.
“Hi Jules,” she said. “I think table five needs more coffee.” She smiled,
but her mouth trembled at the corners. Juliette tended to the table, and
walked back over to Kaylee and John. “What’s the matter?” she asked
Kaylee. She didn’t answer, just told her it didn’t matter.
Later, while the café closed for thirty minutes to switch from breakfast
to lunch service, Juliette found Kaylee in the alley smoking a cigarette
with John. Kaylee wiped her eyes again when she saw Juliette come
“What’s wrong?” Juliette said.
“Nothing, it’s fine.”
“Clearly it isn’t, you’ve been crying all morning, what’s wrong?”
Juliette said, sitting down beside her.
“Cal broke up with me,” she said, and sobbed hard, as though
relieving a pressure that had long been building.
“Why? I thought you two were going great,” Juliette said, placing a
hand on Kaylee’s shoulder.
“He said he needs to move on with his life, whatever the fuck that
means,” she said. John stood by, a look of silent concern on his face, as
Kaylee buried her face in her hands, and began sobbing freely.
“Didn’t he give a more specific reason?”
“He said he can’t spend the rest of his life with some waitress,”
Kaylee said, and sobbed even harder, her small shoulders shook forcefully,
her long, dyed-blonde hair enclosed her face like drapes.
“What? What a dick,” Juliette said.
“Like I’m some loser and he’s not; we’re all fucking losers, every one
of us. That’s why we work here,” Kaylee said.
“No we’re not. Why would you say that?”
“Look at us, we’re serving people coffee on a Saturday morning for
a tipping wage,” Kaylee said, raising her head to look at the other two,
her face red, her eyes wide and red and tear-filled. “We’re here because
we can’t find anything else, because we’re not good enough for anything
else. And he has the balls to tell me I’m a loser, as though just because
he’s the manager he’s a great success? Well he’s a loser too; he’s stuck here
like the rest of us.”
“Fuck him,” John said. “You deserve so much better.” Kaylee sobbed
hard, and her head fell forward into her hands. She had heard John’s
limp tone, and knew that he didn’t believe himself any more than she
The café opened again for lunch, and more than before, Juliette
began to notice the look on people’s faces when she served them. She
noticed the lack of attention they paid to how well she was doing her
job, the lack of friendliness in their voices when they ordered their drink
and their food, and the pitying expression they gave as they left her tip
on the table. “Best make it 20%,” she could see them thinking, “I don’t
want her going hungry. It’s so unfortunate a pretty girl like that couldn’t
make something better of herself.”
Cal came in to work right about the time lunch started, and in him
too Juliette noticed things she hadn’t before. There was nothing outstanding
about him; he was middling height, brown, style-less hair, and
a face which warranted neither admiration nor disgust. Nevertheless,
when he spoke to her, she heard a quietly pompous tone in his voice.
He phrased orders he gave her like a question, as though he wondered
whether or not she could perform basic tasks; during the after-lunch lull
when they were mostly stood around doing nothing, he told her she
“probably hasn’t seen” some classic movie he was talking about with
John; and at the end of her shift, he asked her what she was doing
that night, and rolled his eyes when she said, “nothing.” He and Kaylee
didn’t speak, or even look at each other the entire time, and instead used
John as a go-between. When John started to get annoyed, Cal asked
Juliette to take over his messenger duties. “Why don’t you just pass notes
to each-other like normal children?” she said.
As Juliette was leaving, Tom, the chef stepped in front of her. He
was smiling sweetly, and stood close.
“I had fun the other night,” he said, leaning on the counter, his
chef’s whites dirtied with dried food and grease.
“Yeah, me too,” Juliette said. She smiled in awkward politeness, and
looked at her fingernails.
“So do you want to go out again tonight? We could go to the same
place as last time?”
“I don’t know, Tom. I’ve got stuff to do, you know.”
“Like what?” he said, confidently. “Come on, drinks are on me.” He
took hold of her hand lightly. All she was thinking about was getting
“Okay,” she said. “I will meet you there at nine.”
“Great. Are you going to bring your bicycle again?” he said, “because
you know I could just pick you up, I worried about you last time, you
were a little too drunk to ride that thing home in the dark.” She smiled.
“You’re so sweet,” she said looking at the dirty floor, feigning shyness.
“Seriously, you worry me with that thing; someday you’re going to
get run over.”
“I hope not, that would ruin the bike—my life would fall apart
without that thing,” she said.
“Whatever, I will meet you there at nine. I’ll call you!” he said, and
their hands parted, and she walked away, grabbed her things from the
staff room, and rushed out into the alley. She rode home slowly.
Juliette stood in the hallway while her mother stood with her arms
crossed, asking her where she was going, and what time she would be
home, how she was going to get home, and numerous other questions,
before she left to meet Tom. Juliette walked out without saying goodbye
when she was asked whether her shorts were a little too short, “You
want men to respect you, dear” her mother said. Juliette heard the words
“I’m sorry,” desperate and quiet, right before the door slammed shut.
The tension between Juliette and her mother always rose immeasurably
whenever her father was away.
She met Tom in a Sports Bar they had been at earlier in the week.
The walls were plastered with big-screen televisions, each showing a different
game, and country music blared from the speakers. She was the
only female in there, and almost the only person not wearing a baseball
They were supposed to meet at nine, but she was a few minutes
early, so she ordered a Vodka tonic, received Vodka and soda water, but
chose not to say anything, and found herself a seat at a table placed
right underneath a gigantic screen showing a basketball game. Nobody
was watching it, but a few people were watching her. She ran her hand
through her hair.
A man came over to her, he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt with an
eagle on it, and he looked to be in his early forties.
“Is this seat taken?” he said, pointing at the empty stood opposite
“Yes,” she said.
“Oh, sorry, I just saw you walking in here alone. I noticed because
it would have been pretty difficult not to notice you in those shorts,”
he said, nudging her arm as though sharing a joke with a friend, while
“I’m meeting my boyfriend,” she said.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t sit and talk to you for a while.”
“Considering that comment you just made about my shorts, I think
“Come on, don’t be so uptight.”
“Yeah, I was just making small talk.”
“Small talk would be asking me how I’m feeling, or what my job is;
what you said isn’t small talk.
“Come on, it was a compliment. I just wanted to talk to you is all.”
“I’m young enough to be your daughter.”
“Come on; I’m not that old,” he said.
“Yes you are, I can tell by those jeans you’re wearing. And you have
“What?” he said, “I might have a few greys, but I’m really not that
old,” his voice was now completely humorless.
“Maybe not, but you look it, and I don’t date old guys,” she said,
and took a sip from her drink. She could feel her armpits sweating, but
she maintained a straight face, and kept her eyes on a television in front
of her, trying to avoid looking at the man so she didn’t have to see his
expression and be forced to consider the fact that she might have been
a little too mean.
“Jesus, I was just trying to be friendly. Sorry to bother you,” he said,
and walked back to his friends, who could be heard sniggering throughout
the whole exchange, and were clearly never going to let him live
what had just happened down.
Tom arrived a few minutes later. He sat down smiling gratefully. He
was dressed smartly in button-down and dark jeans, and his hair was
slicked back neatly. He kissed Juliette on the cheek and pointed to her
drink. “I’m buying the rest of the night,” he said. “I’ll get you another,
what do you want?”
“Just a beer, please,” she said, and he went over to the bar. The man
who had come over to talk to her watched him go, his cheeks red.
Tom was the sort of guy Juliette had always had a soft spot for; he
was kind, tried his best to be agreeable, and covered his lack of confidence
with overwrought friendliness. He was the kind of guy who probably
didn’t get much attention from girls, the kind of guy she felt a need
to recompense for his immense daily effort with the opposite sex.
He came back with the drinks and sat down. “So, what have you
been up to?” he said, resting his hands hallway across the table, his palms
“Nothing,” she said, “Same as you I expect——same old boring stuff.”
“You still live with your parents, right?”
“Yeah, well, I don’t really make enough to move out. So that history
degree is coming in really useful,” she said.
“I didn’t know you majored in history. I didn’t know you’d even
been to college.”
“Yeah, well, turns out it was a bit of a waste of time anyway, because
I’m back here again now.”
“It’s not so bad here, is it?” he said, an almost inaudible tone of
indignation in his voice.
“Well, I mean, not really, but I didn’t ever really see myself living
here,” she said. She looked at his hand, still open on the table, and she
wondered whether she should take it, worried he was feeling insulted.
She chose to take a sip of her drink instead.
“I love it here,” Tom said. “There’s a reason house-prices are so high.”
“The houses are expensive because the school is good. Can you
imagine still coming to this bar when you’re old?” she said. He closed
his palm, and took a drink of his beer. “I guess I just wanted to see
somewhere else for a while. Going away to college, doing something
exciting, and then having to come back here, and what, start a real life?
Have kids, or something? Why? Maybe I will settle here eventually; why
wouldn’t I? It’s great. But I guess I don’t want to right now.”
“I love it here,” Tom said again. “I have friends, and family, I know
people. This is home.”
“You’re probably right,” she said, and she laid her hand on his leg
beneath the table. He was looking at his beer bottle, picking at the
“I’m going to the jukebox,” she said, “I want to find some music
that is actually exciting.”
He turned his head to watch her as she started dropping quarters
into the jukebox. He watched as she pursed her lips, choosing her songs
carefully, and he let his eyes slip down her thin body. She looks so much
younger than me, he thought. He was only two years older than her, but
his face was already grisly, over-worked, filled with acceptance. Which
is probably why, he thought, she was so opposed to settling into her life
like he did: she didn’t yet look like she needed to.
While she walked back over to the table, James Brown’s howl burst
from the speakers and “I Feel Good” shot through the bar like a blast of
A/C on a hundred degree day. She stopped in front of Tom, and took
his face in her hands and kissed him.
“This is nice,” she said. “I’m glad we did this.”
Earlier that week, the staff of the café had met in the same bar after
work. Everyone got drunk. When the bar closed at two in the morning,
Juliette and Tom found they were the only ones left in there. Outside,
the door slammed shut behind them, he lit up a cigarette, and she told
him she would wait with him until he finished.
Their voices echoed through the street, which, so busy in the day,
was now drenched in night-time silence. He finished his cigarette, and
they kissed in the doorway. She led him to his car in the small parking
lot behind the bar, and they climbed into the passenger seat of his old
sedan, and kissed as she took off her underwear, and he unbuckled his
Afterwards, they sat in the car silently and he smoked another cigarette.
He looked over at her a few times and smiled. He offered to drive
her home, but she told him she didn’t want to leave her bicycle out
overnight, it was chained to a lamppost around the corner. They kissed
again before he let her out into the parking lot. She stood alone under
the orange glow of streetlights, and watched him drive out of sight.
The next night she cried in the bathroom again. This time she was
watching an old Disney film on cable. She felt sorry for the Princess,
realizing that she wasn’t really happy in the end, but was only pretending
to be. Mary saw the light from the bathroom, heard the shower, and got
out of bed and knocked on the bathroom door. There was no answer, so
she asked if Juliette was okay, and why she was taking a shower so late.
Juliette said she was fine; she was just taking a shower. “Are you sure?”
Mary said, “It’s awfully late to be taking a shower.”
“I’m sure, mother.” Juliette said.
“I’m glad we did this too,” Tom said. “So what did you want to do
with your History Degree?”
“I don’t know. I always sort of wanted to work at a museum, a history
museum, in China or something.”
“Yeah, why not?” she said. Tom stretched his hand out to hers again,
this time she took it, and laced her fingers with his.
“I don’t think I could ever live in China,” he said.
“Why not?” she said, “It just seems so different.”
At midnight, they finished their eighth round of drinks, and he
asked if she wanted to go with him back to his place. She stared at him
across the table, and said, “Okay.” He smiled, stood up, and held out his
hand to her, she took it, and he led her towards the door.
They were almost out on the street when a man she didn’t recognize
stood up from his seat and blocked their path. He held out his arms to
Tom, smiling. “Hey!” he said.
“What the hell? Hi! How’s it going?!” Tom said, and hugged the
“Really good,” the stranger said, “Working and stuff, you know,
Lisa and I just set a date for the wedding.”
“Wow, congratulations. How long have you two been together
now?” Tom said.
“Since we were sixteen, so, almost thirteen years,” the stranger said.
“Wow; a long time, I don’t believe it. Oh, this is Juliette,” Tom
said, introducing her. “We work together. This is Sean. We went to high
school together.” Juliette held out her hand, and Sean shook it.
“So you work with this guy? I’ll tell you he’s a great guy, I’ve known
him forever, he’s honestly one of the best guys I know,” Sean said.
“Oh yeah, he’s pretty cool,” Juliette said, and Tom put his arm
around her waist.
“Well, we’d better be going,” Tom said, “I’ll see you around.”
“Of course,” Sean said, “Nice to meet you, Julie.”
Tom and Juliette turned away and continued towards the door.
Outside, Tom lit up a cigarette, and she stood by, wrapping her arms
around herself. Once his cigarette was lit, Tom held out his hand to her,
ready to lead her to his car.
“You know, I don’t know,” she said. “I think I might just go home.
I’m really tired.”
“You can stay at my place,” he said. “It’s not a problem. I can just
drive you home in the morning.”
“No, I don’t think I can. Maybe it would just be best if I went
“Did I do something wrong?” Tom said.
“No, you didn’t; honestly. I just think I should go home.”
“You’re not worried about your bike are you? You didn’t ride here?”
His hand stretched out further towards her.
“No, I didn’t, I walked. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about
me, it’s just I don’t think I should go home with you right now, I’m
sorry.” A group of people came onto the street to have a cigarette, and
their conversation stopped when they saw Tom and Juliette standing
silently facing each other. Juliette saw Tom’s face flush, and he took her
by the wrist and led her out of earshot of the onlookers.
“Come on,” he said, “let me at least drive you home.”
“Okay,” she said, and she followed him to his car, except this time,
they climbed into separate seats. They didn’t say much to each other on
the ride home. He asked her what street she lived on, and when they
got there, she told him where to let her out. He didn’t turn on the radio,
the only sound was of the muffled hum of the engine and the tyres on
the road. He pulled up to the pavement outside her house and hung his
head like an athlete whose team has just let their lead slip away.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “Maybe we can do this again sometime?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, “Maybe next week or something.” He tried to
smile and she leaned over to him and kissed him on the cheek.
“I will see you at work, anyway,” she said, “We can arrange to do
this again then, on Monday or something.” She got out of the car, and
waved as it pulled away.
She turned up the driveway, and saw the glow of the living room
light through the pale drapes, dully illuminating the front-lawn. She
rolled her eyes, thinking her mother must still be up, waiting for her to
get home. She walked up to the front door, and paused with her hand
on the door handle, preparing herself for another round of questioning.
Juliette entered the house as quietly as possible. It was silent, as though
the building itself was holding its breath. She stood in the open doorway,
looking towards the living room, and the light emanating from it, the
only illumination in the otherwise pitch darkness; she was building up
the courage to close the door and endure its cacophonous click before
scurrying up to her bedroom and escape her mother until morning.
But before she could move, she heard a deep, satisfied sigh coming
from the living room; it was a sigh belonging to a man. She wondered
whether her father had come home, perhaps he had caught an earlier
flight, but she knew he had a meeting on Monday morning he couldn’t
miss. She stood silently, waiting, and then she heard it again, and with
it, the slight sounds of movement: a creaking floorboard, and rustling
clothes. Was the house being robbed? She contemplated whether she
should turn and leave and call the police before anybody knew she was
there. But she didn’t, and in spite of herself, probably due in some part to
how much she had had to drink, she called out, “Hello?” her trembling
voice reverberated throughout the house, and she heard her mother
gasp. “Mom?” she said, finally walking over the threshold, towards the
living room, “What are you…” She didn’t finish her sentence, because
she was confronted with the sight of her mother, getting up from her
knees, and a man she had never before seen, sitting on the sofa, his back
to her, frantically wrestling with his belt-buckle.
“Julie!” her mother said, smoothing her hair and clothes down.
“I didn’t know what time you would be home… this is Rick, he’s my
friend, and he’s just come over for a quick drink.” Mary had gained her
composure quickly, and with a smile, she presented Rick to Juliette.
He didn’t get up, but just turned around awkwardly, and raised his
hand in a little wave. He wore a beige suit, and his dirty-blonde hair was
parted in the centre. His features were blunt, and his cheeks were red.
“Hello,” Rick said.
Juliette said nothing, and her hands dangled at her sides, her fingers
tapping her thighs.
“I live just around the corner… your mother and I have been friends
for a long time.” Rick said. He turned back around, and looked up at
Mary, with wide eyes and clenched teeth.
Mary just looked at Juliette, smiling. “Well, would you like to sit
and have a drink with us?” she said.
“Oh, eh, no thank you. I think I’m just going to go up to my room,
go to bed,” Juliette said, angling her body out of the door.
“Oh, come on, it might be worth your while. Rick here has an
interesting Job opportunity to offer you, that’s partly why he came over
in the first place, only, you were out, so we just had a drink while we
waited,” Mary said without blinking the entire time.
“Yes, ehm, well,” Rick said, frowning at Mary.
“Tell her, Rick; tell her what you do, and that great opportunity you
came to offer her.”
He began slowly: “Well… I’m a manager at a luxury car dealership
in town, and we… need a new receptionist. And I thought maybe you
would be interested.”
“I told him all about how you hadn’t been able to find work since
you left college,” Mary said, “and this receptionist position came up,
and Rick called me and asked if you were still looking for a job, and
I told him, of course.” Juliette still hadn’t moved, all she wanted to do
was run to the bathroom and cry, but she couldn’t; at that moment she
couldn’t feel any tears coming, so instead she stood still and listened.
“Of course, you will need to come to an interview,” Rick said. “I’m
thinking you could come in the day after tomorrow—Monday—at
around noon. I will leave you my card.” He had taken a business card
from his wallet and was holding it out towards her.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” her mother said. “Just the kind of break you
were looking for.”
“I suppose it is,” Juliette said after a few seconds, and she shrugged
and took the card from Rick. “Thanks,” she said, “So, Monday at
“Yes, I’ll see you then. ‘Foster’s Luxury Cars’ on Bell Road,” Rick
said, and his whole body relaxed into the sofa. Juliette looked over at
her mother before she left the room. She was still smiling, like an actor
winning an award.
Around fifteen minutes later, when Juliette was lying in the dark in
her bedroom, she heard her mother and Rick at the front door. She was
showing him out, and over and over again, Juliette heard Mary’s whisper,
like a knife tearing through a clean white bed-sheet, “I’m so sorry.
I’ll call you tomorrow. I’m so sorry.”
Juliette chose not to mention anything about what she had seen
to her mother. She came downstairs the next morning at eleven, wearing
her black shirt and trousers for work, and again Mary had made
her breakfast. She stood waiting like a game show host, presenting the
bacon, eggs and coffee like prizes. Juliette ate her breakfast, and made
no replies to her mother when she asked her if she was excited about
the opportunity Rick had offered her, and reassured her that she would
definitely get the job.
Dealing with Cadillac-buying customers for a living was hardly
what Juliette had imagined for herself, but it was a lot better than working
in a café.
When she had finished her food, Juliette curtly said goodbye to her
mother, and got her bicycle from the garage and left for work, leaving
Mary alone in the kitchen, in the house, by herself, looking at the dirty
plate her daughter had left.
Juliette had to ask the newly hired girl, a recent graduate with a
degree in Biology, to cover for her so she could go to the interview.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Cal said when she told him who
would be covering for her. “She’s only been working here a few days.”
“She’ll be fine, Cal,” Juliette said. “If she managed to graduate college,
I’m sure she can manage to wait tables.” He rolled his eyes and
walked away, and Juliette went to refill a customer’s coffee.
She wore her black work trousers, and a plain-white button-down
for the interview. It had been raining, so she wore her trench coat, and
hoped her clothes wouldn’t get muddy on the ride to the interview. Her
mother had made her breakfast again. Today she said “Thanks” as she
left instead of goodbye.
It was a long ride to the car dealership, and the roads were busy.
There was no pavement much of the way, and she could feel the line of
traffic slowly getting longer behind her, as each car waited impatiently
for a chance to pass her by.
She got to the dealership, and chained her bike to a lamppost. Inside
she was greeted by a salesman, asking if he could help her. They were the
only two people in the showroom, surrounded by shining, opulent cars,
every one worthless without somebody to look at it.
“I’m here to see Rick, I have an interview for a receptionist position,”
she said. The salesman was wearing a cheap, polyester suit, and his
bald head shone beneath the bright-white showroom lights. He pursed
his lips and frowned.
“Oh, well, I didn’t know we were interviewing people. Just wait here
a second please, and I will go and get him for you.” He bowed his head
slightly and walked into an office off to the side of the room, and after a
short conversation with the person inside, who she assumed to be Rick,
he walked back over to her smiling.
“You can go right in,” he said, motioning with his hand towards
Her footsteps tapping were the only sound as she walked across the
cavernous showroom. She could feel her hands tremble. She knocked on
the door, and heard Rick’s distant voice telling her to “come right in.”
His office was coldly modern, decorated with a glass desk, and black
chairs. The walls were white-washed, and a few photographs of cars driving
down secluded, stylized roads hung sporadically around the room.
“Well,” Rick said shaking her hand. “I’m sorry, I completely forgot
you were coming.”
“Yes, well, I’m here. I wouldn’t want to miss out on such an opportunity,”
she said, and sat down opposite him.
“Did you bring your CV?”
“Yes,” Juliette said, taking a slim sheet of paper from her messenger
bag and handing it across the desk.
“Excellent, excellent,” Rick said, glancing at it momentarily.
“Unfortunately, the position is no longer available, but what I can do is
interview you now, and if one comes up, I can be sure to give you a call.”
A vapid smile was spread across his face.
“What do you mean? I thought the whole reason you came over the
other night was to offer me the job.”
“No, I said I had thought of you, and wanted to offer you an
“Why wouldn’t you tell me the job was filled before I came all the
way out here, and missed a day’s wages?” Rick looked down at his hands,
the smile beginning to fade.
“Well, it’s like I said, I forgot you were even coming in today.”
“What are you talking about? You’re the one who offered me the job
in the first place.” Juliette said, in a soft, accusatory tone.
“To be honest, Julie-”
“Right, Juliette… it was your mother’s idea. She called and asked
me if there were any jobs going at this place; she felt you were unhappy
in your current employment.”
“So you agreed; because you thought if you did something for her,
she would do something for you,,” she said, and saw his grey eyes widen.
“Was your gratification worth it?”
“Now, wait a second, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I laid
out the situation for you quite clearly…” he was shook his head and
adjusted his tie.
“Right.” Julie said, and stared at him silently for a few minutes. It
was so quiet she could hear the sound of his glass clock ticking on the
wall, and of the blood rushing beneath his skin, of his shallow breathing.
“I’m just saying, you could have called me and told me the position
“Right, well, yes, I’m sorry about that,” he said, standing up. “We
will keep your CV on file for the future.” He held out his hand and she
“Thanks,” she said, and turned and walked straight out of the dealership,
accompanied again by the echoes of her own footsteps, followed
by the eyes of the salesman, who was sadly accepting the prospect of
another commission-less day.
Juliette rode home slowly but her breaths were heavy. She imagined
telling her mother what had happened, and couldn’t get the image of
Mary’s condescending, conciliatory smile out of her head. “Your fucking
boyfriend fucked us over,” Juliette would say, holding back tears. “Oh,
I’m so sorry sweetheart, maybe next time,” Mary would say, patting her
on the back.
Juliette could feel the traffic building behind her again, so she
stepped off her bike and walked with it along the pavement, relieving
the pressure. She walked a few blocks and then stopped in front of a
gigantic abandoned factory she had never noticed before. She leaned her
bike against the chain-link fence surrounding the building’s perimeter,
and climbed through a hole that had been cut in it. The big steel doorways
of the warehouse itself had been sealed shut, welded around the
edges as if sealing away something dangerous; but the corrugated iron
doors of the truck-loading dock, which stretched along the entirety of
the south-side of the building, had all been rolled up. Juliette climbed
up to one of the open doorways, and scanned the decrepit interior of the
building from a distance, turning around at regular intervals to check
her bicycle was still there. The building seemed to her to be mourning its
ephemeral life, a monument raised to industry and production brought
toppling down with a simple turn in the markets, whose massive output
had once required a loading dock long enough to accommodate at least
thirty trucks at once, but was now nothing more than a rotting corpse;
façade pockmarked with graffiti, weeds spread like a virus across the lot,
smashed windows left agape, not worth boarding-up, a few shards of
dusty glass remaining. The indomitable structure had outlasted its purpose,
and although it stood immovable against time’s ruinous ticking, it
was now nothing more than a waste of space.
When she turned to walk back to where she had left her bicycle, she
found it was gone. She ran to where it had stood, hoping it would reappear
with her proximity, but it didn’t. She desperately swung her head
from side to side, at least hoping to catch a glimpse of someone riding it
away, ready to sprint after them. Several times she started in one direction,
but then stopped abruptly and went the other. She un-buttoned
her coat letting out the coagulated heat that was radiating from her
body, and the wind licked the sweat that had soaked the armpits and
back of her white shirt. The bicycle was gone. Cars passed, uncaring,
and she heard the abandoned factory behind her groan.
After a few minutes of standing still, she walked to a bus stop a
few blocks back, sat on the bench and waited, and felt her whole body
deflate. She squinted her eyes and gasped, trying to make herself cry, but
couldn’t. Instead she sat alone at the side of the road, enveloped by the
white noise of endless traffic.