2011 ReLit Awards ShortlistCreated by 49thShelf on August 28, 2011
The window in the upstairs hallway is open. No wonder it was so cold last night. Ann slides it closed, hard, and goes down to the kitchen. There’s a bowl of cereal laid out for her breakfast, and Ann’s younger sister Margaret is already shoveling food into her face. Milk dribbles down Margaret’s chin. There’s cereal all over the tabletop.
“You’re disgusting,” Ann says. “Your friends will wait for you, you know. You don’t have to choke it down like that.”
“Hey, go slow,” their mother says, coming into the kitchen. She’s dressed up, in a gray–and–white suit, and she twirls once for her daughters. “What do you think?” she says. “Professional? Hire–able? Is the red scarf too much?”
“You look great, Mom,” Ann tells her. Margaret just keeps eating. Their mother bends down to get something from the floor. It’s a couple seconds before Ann realizes that her mother hasn’t come up again. She leans over, and sees that her mom wasn’t picking something up at all. She’s crouched down, holding a hand to her throat.
“Are you okay?” Ann says.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine, Ann.” Her mother clears her throat. “Sorry. I just have something… .” she clears her throat again louder, and then stands up, smiling. She clears her throat again. Then again.
Even Margaret is looking up from her cereal. Their mother coughs. And then she coughs harder. There’s a bit of blood on her lips now.
“Wish me luck today!” she says.
Ann’s mother was perfectly qualified, but her interview did not go well. Afterward, she ran out of the conference room holding her red scarf over her mouth, leaving two men, Jeff and Alex, sitting in silence for a long time.
Between the two of them they have interviewed thousands of men and women for various jobs. It has never before gone so ridiculously badly. They’re just sitting there. They should clean this up and call the next applicant. They’re on a schedule, after all. But instead they sit in silence.
Alex looks at the door where she ran out, and then he looks at the wet, bloody chunk of god–knows–what sitting on the table in front of them. The thing she coughed up, partway through the interview. That poor woman.
“That did not go well,” Jeff says.
He can joke because none of the blood landed on him.