The Scrapheap

58 05 May 4th 2014

Copyright – Al Forbes

See the Sunday Photo Fiction main page for instructions on how to use the prompt and to find other entries.

When the assistant smiles, his greasy skin stretches out over his cheekbones, causing the pores to yawn open. My C.V. disappears below the counter, no doubt onto a pile that will eventually be cleared out into the recycling bin.

Can’t I have his job? I’m sure I deserve it more. I’d look prettier too. This is a lingerie shop, for god’s sake. Nobody wants some shiny-faced, barely-out-of-adolescence male pawing at the underwear they’ve just forked out a fortune for.

“We’re not looking for anyone right now, but if something comes up we’ll be in touch.”

They don’t want anyone right now. Same as the last twelve shops I went into. But when retail is all you’ve ever done, and the place you worked at for almost a decade tosses you out like you belong in a rubbish bin, your choices are limited.

I give him my best smile. I’m not ready for the scrapheap just yet.

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The Library Book Project – 13 October 2010

To read more about the library book project, click here.

I count the change in my hand, hoping that I miscounted or that an extra pound coin will appear somewhere. The sum of money in my palm does not change. I shift my weight and begin to make decisions. Maybe if I made half? No, I’d still have to buy the same amount of eggs and ground almonds. The macarons will have to wait for another day. I venture down the baking aisle, flicking through the recipe book of my mind.

As tempted as I am to go look at cheap fruit, chocolate is a surefire winner at these family get-togethers. No matter what Nigella says, all I can afford is the supermarket value range, so that is what I pick up. I already have all the other ingredients, so I walk towards the chilled goods section. Philadelphia is on offer, giving me a glimmer of hope, but I am twenty pence short of being able to choose it over the own-brand cream cheese.

Once home, I find the recipe book and lay out the ingredients, relieved that I have everything I need. I love baking. It really is just as simple as following the recipe. If only life worked that way, just get the ingredients and follow the instructions. While you’re at school, they make out that’s the way forwards. A handful of hard work, some education, a splash of initiative, and a couple of good ideas. Mix them together and you’ve got a bowl of success.

It wasn’t until I graduated that I realized I was fresh out of good ideas. A minimum wage cleaning job ensued, one I’m still trenched in, waiting for that golden handshake to pull me up. If it wasn’t for my boyfriend, who got straight into the graduate scheme he wanted, I’d probably be back to living with my parents. He makes it feel okay that I’m a cleaner, he makes me believe this rut really is temporary. My family are the opposite. Why am I in minimum wage work? The idea is abhorrent to them. What am I doing about it?

I didn’t even want to go to my father’s birthday party, but I knew that wanting avoid those questions wasn’t exactly a reasonable excuse. I’m determined to give them something positive to say to me this time. I stare at the brownies in the oven. Even if it’s something small.

The Library Book Project – 22 March 2008

For more information on this project, click here.

The blue-grey headache is starting to impose itself upon me again. Painkillers will only make me drowsier, but I’m still tempted. In front of me, on the screen, is yet another of these personality questionnaires. What happened to the good old days, where you sent in a CV and if they liked it, they called you for an interview? Now you type your details, over and over again, into little boxes. If you’re lucky, the autofill facility does some of the work for you.

Pick an option: A, B, C or D. One of them tells us you might have the right attitude for this organization. The rest direct you to the online rejection basket. It’s almost as if I’m part of some sadistic game, as if I’m trying to win my life back with chance. The possibility of success is so tiny, I can’t even see it. I’m filling out details for the sake of filling out details, almost like I’m back at work.

Of course, the big difference is that I was paid to work. It was almost as mundane as this, but at least I didn’t feel like a failure. I was supporting my family. Now, my wife picks up all the extra hours she can so we don’t have to sell the house, but we’ve had to sell the car. We didn’t have a holiday this year. “It could be worse,” Louise says to me. She says she doesn’t care, but there’s a darkness under her eyes and a sag to her smile that wasn’t there before I was made redundant.

She never yelled, or cried. She’s never said a word about missing the restaurant trips we used to take, or the holiday we had to skip. She helped me put the car up for sale. Her face is always calm and impassive when we’ve discussed our financial issues. She never complains about her extra hours, but before we hit this mess, she used to talk about how much she hated her job, and I know she’s tired.

I want to shake her and ask her how she really feels. I want her to shout at me, tell me how much I’ve let her down. I want to get down on my knees and cry, and tell her how sorry I am that this has happened.  I love you, I would say, and I swear to you, I am doing my best to get things back to the way they were. I feel that her unwavering support swings the balance even closer to the tipping point, and I know she deserves better.

I try to focus on the screen, but after a couple of minutes, I absent-mindedly pick up the library book I borrowed. Its scenes remind me of things that happened in my old office, but oddly, it still acts as an escape from this reality, like all the books I read. I regretfully place the book back on my desk. I don’t have time to waste browsing someone else’s imagination.