Artifice

Melanie hated being looked at. She wore her nails long and her skirts short and she looked good. She knew she did. She had a good job and earned enough to finance a good wardrobe. Her handbag collection was impressive and she wasn’t sure which was the more exciting out of buying a new handbag or buying new shoes. Buying new shoes and a new handbag was hard to beat. It was spring so Melanie wore her trench coat when she travelled to meet her interview subject. She didn’t strictly need to bring a jacket, but it looked so good on her, the belt defining her waist, and it was a good coat, and she liked to have nice things. She also liked to wear nice things, very much indeed. Her tights usually had a pattern. She believed that it was important to spend a little extra on hosiery. The extra effort (and cost) made a difference and people appreciated a well-dressed woman, out in the world, striding down the street or bustling into a taxi between appointments. She looked a bit like an actress from a shampoo commercial. She knew she did and she thought it was funny. It amused her. She knew she looked good and believed that nothing fortified the confidence like good hair. She had great hair. She loved her hair. She could wear it up or down. All it took was a few minutes extra in the morning, leave in conditioner, anti-frizz, straightening. When Melanie caught a glimpse of herself in the reflection of a city window she noticed her hair and it gave her pleasure. Her pleasure included disdain for other people. People who didn’t have good hair. People who wouldn’t take the time every day. People who were lazy. She was glad she wasn’t lazy and promised herself to never be lazy. She would always put time into important things – important things where she could see a result.

He interview subject did not have good hair. His hair needed a wash. His clothes were functional, but nothing more than that. He wore his favourite cardigan. (In fact it was his only cardigan.) He was warm. He was comfortable. He welcomed Melanie with much courtesy and offered to take her coat. She declined, flashing a luminous smile. The smile masked her incredulity that someone might want to break up her perfectly chosen, entirely seasonal ensemble. She sat down. She crossed her legs and unzipped the zip around her leather folder slip, and made a couple of brief notes at the top of a fresh sheet of paper. Her subject rummaged in his pants pockets, all four of them, and eventually retrieved a pipe and a pouch of tobacco and a lighter. He began to tap out his pipe into a nearby ashtray and asked if she minded if he smoked. She said she did. And flashed that smile again. So he put his smoking things down on the desk and asked if she was ready to begin.

She was. They sat in the study of his house. There was tea on the table between them. He offered her a cup, she refused, and so he sipped from his cup while she asked him about his business career. She asked why he’d given it all away.

“Depends what you mean by giving it all away. It no longer interested me, the aggressive stuff. Takeovers and so on. It never had, to be honest. It was an intellectual pursuit. A challenge. And I did well at the challenge, and kept doing well at it, quite well, until I was in a position to move onto the next challenge. I always said I wanted to retire by thirty.”

“You’re thirty?” she rather blurted.

“I’m twenty-nine. Don’t let the beard fool you, I’m quite well preserved under all of this hair.”

“I’m sorry. Please continue,” she said. She was struggling to regain an air of professionalism.

“No, that’s it really. Now I devote my time, and some of my money, to causes and things that interest me. The Tasmanian Devil, for instance. Saving it before they all succumb to that face cancer thing. I also collect absinthe spoons from the 1920s and ‘30s.”

“Oh.”

“Would you like a cup of tea now?” he asked. The interview wasn’t going well. They never did. He knew he wasn’t a very good interview subject.

He poured out another cup for her and walked across the room to give it to her.

It was hot and she sipped with great care. She blew on her tea.

“Tell me about your wardrobe,” he said.

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Published in: on September 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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