In these days of high unemployment, even being asked to interview for a job is a wonderful thing. You put on your suit, check to make sure you don’t have bad breath or spinach caught in your teeth and you set off, full of hope for a bright tomorrow.
Nothing’s going to keep you from getting this job. You have the answers to those difficult questions memorized. You can explain why you were laid off from your last job so you don’t come off sounding like a loser. You know exactly why the prospective employer should hire you, and all of those books you read and TV programs you’ve watched have helped you learn how to sell yourself. This job is yours for the taking.
You show up early at the given address and wait in the car, breathing into a brown paper lunch bag, until the exact time arrives. You don’t want to look desperate by arriving too early, and you don’t want to be late. Being late is not good. You check the time on your phone for the 15th time and then climb out of the car.
This interview is at the home of the employer, because the position is for a personal assistant. The home is impressively large, located in a wealthy neighborhood. It’s a far cry from the one bedroom apartment that you share with your sister. Here, the paint isn’t peeling and the grass isn’t dead. It’s a good sign that your first paycheck probably won’t bounce. Assuming you get the job, of course, which you will. You have to.
You ring the doorbell and listen to the chimes play Dixie. Oh well. Having money doesn’t mean you have taste, and the fact that your prospective employer’s doorbell sounds like the General Lee horn doesn’t matter. However, there is no answer.
You wait and after five minutes slowly tick by, you ring again. When there is still no answer, you resort to knocking loudly. Another five minutes go by. You don’t want to be impatient; he’s obviously not home. You go out to your car to wait, reasoning that you’ll see a car pull into the drive when he arrives. A half hour goes by, then 45 minutes. If you didn’t need this job so badly, you’d leave and figure that the employer would call you to reschedule. You decide to wait another 5 minutes.
Your prospective employer is now an hour late.
Finally, it occurs to you that someone might be outside and not have heard the doorbell. At this point, you figure it’s worth looking. You step out of the car, clutching the folder with your resume and references, and decide to head around to the back of the house.
You’ve been to botanical gardens that aren’t as nice as the landscaping around this home. It must be nice to live here. You sigh wistfully. Your life would be perfect if only you could afford to live like this.
As you round the corner into the back, you get your first glimpse of the patio. Your mouth drops open. There must be a name for the gorgeous structure between the back door and the kidney-shaped swimming pool. Your mother called the 16 by 16 concrete pad off the back door of the house you grew up in “the patio”. This was a lanai or a veranda or something else equally exotic. You decide to Google it when you get home.
You think you can see someone sitting at a table up near the house. No wonder he didn’t hear the doorbell. You smile. He really does need a personal assistant; you really need a job. You step forward briskly, calling “hello” as you go. It surprises you that there is no answer, but the man on the phone had sounded elderly, so maybe he was a bit deaf.
You climb the stone steps and you can see that there are two people sitting at the table. Your “hello?” now sounds like a question. There is still no answer, and you have your first inkling that something may be wrong. You step forward hesitantly, and when you’re six feet from the table, you know what it is.
You drop your folder, and your papers spill out onto the stone floor and begin to blow away. You don’t even notice. Your attention is completely focused on the tableau in front of you. The woman, much younger than the man slumped across from her, had a hole where her heart used to be. Blood, now dried, had streamed down the front of her white Versace blouse and pooled in her lap. You swallow to keep from depositing your breakfast on the ground and approach her. Maybe she’s still alive. You notice the minute scars from an excellent facelift when you gingerly check her neck to see if she has a pulse. She’s older than you first thought. You snatch your hand away; she’s cold and there is no pulse. There’s no swallowing it now; you turn away and vomit in a nearby planter.
You’ve been avoiding looking at the elderly man across from her. You know there’s no hope for him. The gun he’d used to blow out his brains had fallen to the ground next to his chair. His hand dangled in the breeze, swaying in a parody of life. You’re feeling creeped out and sick. You reach for the cell phone in your jacket pocket and call 911.
As you sit on the stone steps and wait for the police, your thoughts ramble incoherently. You worry that the police will blame you, although it was clear from the setting that the man had shot his companion before killing himself. You’ve watched enough TV programs where innocent people are accused of murder to be a bit fearful. Then you wonder how long the police are going to keep you here. You want to go home and take a shower and brush your teeth. You dig through your bag for a breath mint, but it doesn’t take away the puke smell. There is an impression of the dead woman’s cold skin on the tips of your fingers where you touched her. A shiver runs down your spine.
An hour later, you are allowed to crawl back into your car. The police now know everything about you and have promised to be in touch with you later to get a formal statement. You’re really looking forward to that. Not.
As you drive away, a few home truths occur to you. First, you probably didn’t get the job. Dead people tend not to hire personal assistants. Then you think that it’s a good thing that you hadn’t been hired by these people a week ago; you might be dead now too. You might not have a job at the moment, but at least you are alive. The cliché “Money doesn’t buy happiness” pops into your head and for the first time in your life, you understand what it means.
Your sister meets you at your apartment door. “Did you get the job?” she asks hopefully. She wants you to be happy, and she knows you won’t be happy until you’re working again.
“It was the worst job interview I’ve ever had,” you answer, giving her a hug and refusing to let go. “The absolute worst.”