The Shine Journal

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REJECTION

by

Beth Cato

 

The room overflowed with studious clutter.  The bookshelves teetered under their stacks, like a weary Atlas, sending rivulets of texts to the floor.   The Works of Josephus, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, and a smattering of books on the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears.  There was a shelf devoted to French, beginning with pocket travel books and ascending to Dumas and Le Petit Prince. 

The bare, visible ledge on each shelf was thick with dust, made stark by the tracks made as the bodies of books were dragged to and fro their berth.  The dust denoted the age of each reading.  The thicker dust harkened back to ancient times, those first few years of college, while the lighter scuffs told of recent use, of senior classes and theses and favorites. 

The computer adorned a battered desk like an artifact on a temple altar.  The dust only freckled the monitor, but further back into the dark shadows were rabid dust bunnies, growing and accumulating.  A cereal bowl sat to the left of the screen, in crude symmetry with the mouse pad on the right.  The putrid scent of souring milk hung in the air, heavy, and mingled with the sweaty tumble in the nearby laundry basket. 

Muffled, a cheery jingle cut through the somber morning light.  Opposite the computer, the mountain of blankets muttered and collapsed into a caldera.  The song ended, cut in mid-tune, and two seconds later the beat resumed in a knocking drumbeat on the door.   

“Go ‘way,” growled the caldera, stirring, awakening against its will. 

Emboldened, the knocking grew louder.  “I know you’re there,” said the high feminine voice on the other side of the hollow wooden door.  “Let me in, please.”

 The blue cotton avalanche shoved against the wall and a man emerged.  His hair was wild and matched his scowl. He stumbled to the door, dragging his hand along the brief kitchen counter.  The door unlocked in two clicks, and by the time the woman entered, he had already returned to his bed.

 “You’re not answering your phone,” she stated, both fists shoved into her black pea coat. 

 “Yeah, well, I already answered it earlier this morning when it mattered,” he mumbled, rubbing his temple with one hand and his chin scruff with the other.

 “Oh.”  She pulled over the threadbare ottoman and sat down.  “What’d they say

“Sylvia, honestly.  What do you think they said?  Do I look happy?”  He glared at her, his brow fierce.

 She sighed, shaking her head.  Her straight blonde locks twirled around her face.  “I’m sorry, Steve.  I really am.”

 “Yeah, well,” Steve said, rising.  “What do I expect, really?”  He yanked the offending cereal bowl from his desk and threw it into the sink from five feet away.  The plastic bowl struck with a thud, but the airborne spoon clattered across the counter, bounced off the backsplash, and fell to the tile floor in a violent fit.  He made no move to fetch it.

 “It’s a simple fact that no one is hiring right now.  But man, it still hurts.”  Steve sat on his mattress again, facing Sylvia.

She touched his knee with reverence.  “You’re the smartest guy I know.  It’s not just that you graduated summa cum laude, either, you know.  You’re always learning, always full of interesting things to say.  It’s not your fault that the job market sucks right now.”

 “Is it?  I made the choice to be a history major, even knowing that the jobs would be limited unless I had a graduate degree.  Even then, it’s all teaching jobs, and I don’t want to teach.  The thing is I have responsibilities.  I can complain all I want, but I still have bills to pay.  Damn it.”  He rubbed his bleary eyes.  “What time is it?  I need my glasses.”

 “It’s 11:13,” said Sylvia, glancing at her watch.  Steve stretched like a cat, long and lean, to grab his glasses off the computer desk.  “When is your rent check due, anyway?”

 “I still have a few weeks.  There’s enough in the account for it, just barely, if I don’t bother eating anything but ramen.”

Sylvia tilted her head.  “You could still move in with me,” she said softly.  “You know I’ve offered before, and I know your mom would be upset and all about you living in sin and all, but…”

 “It’s not that,” Steve said, scratching his armpit.  “That’s not as much of an issue now that Carol got pregnant and moved back in with them.  Do you know how it would look if I moved back home?  I was supposed to be the one who made it, the one who escaped, you know?  It’s the same if I move in with you.  I know it sounds all chauvinistic, but I have my pride.  I don’t want to move in with my girlfriend just because I can’t pay my own rent.”

 “I know.”  Sylvia said, staring at the carpet.  “I just wish I could help.”

 “Just keep looking around.  I know there has to be something available in this town.  Maybe your bookstore will get an opening next month.”

 “Maybe,” said Sylvia.  “When they called earlier, you know, did they say why they weren’t offering you a job?”

 “You mean that I was overqualified?”  Steve laughed.  “That was a given.  No, the manager – who is younger than me by a year, remember – he said I didn’t suit their needs.  Suit their needs.”  He repeated the words in a mutter, like an epitaph on a tombstone.  “I need the money.  I can do the job.  I have two hands, two feet.  What are they afraid of?”

 “I’m so sorry,” Sylvia said again in a whisper.

 “You know, I’ve faced a lot of rejection in my life,” Steve said, his façade cracking.  A tear inched through the stubble on his cheeks.  “But it really hurts to be turned down by Taco Bell.”

BETH CATO shares...

 

BIO:

BETH CATO is a stay-at-home mom to a very busy three-year-old boy. Her existing sanity is preserved by working on novel manuscripts and short stories. BETH and her family now reside near Phoenix, Arizona. Her website is BethCato.com and her email is: beth.l.cato@gmail.com


MOTIVATION:

"Several months back, the "nanoljers" group on LiveJournal used the word "rejection" as a prompt. I thought on it for a few days, and I recalled a wretched job interview I had with Taco Bell back when I was 19. I already had an AA degree, but I was desperate for a job. It hurt terribly to be rejected, even if my pride was relieved in a way. I decided to channel that experience into a story that many college grads could relate to all too well."

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Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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