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Valerie Collins

I’m cool. I’m calm. I’m focused. I’m going to get this job.

I’m cool. I’m calm. I’m focused. I’m going to get this job. Lucy wobbled up the steps of Mediterranean Park Metro station into the soft warm air and bright blur of leafy trees and blue sky. On the quayside a Peruvian band played cheerful music which made Lucy want to dance, but she forced herself not to jiggle. What if she ripped the smart silk suit one of the women at the Bumblebusters workshop had lent her, or broke the high heels on her new shoes? Little boats bobbed up and down in the harbour and the sea sparkled. Lucy stopped to watch the kites soaring over the pale sand, their coloured ribbons fluttering happily. She longed to kick off the tight shoes and run onto the beach, but she was going to be late for her interview. And she had to get this job.
As the crowd watching the Peruvians began to applaud, Lucy fingered her beads and turned along the promenade towards the Augusta Tower, whispering her mantra over and over: I’m cool. I’m calm. I’m focused. I’m going to get this job.

If only it were true. No-one had ever found a suitable job for Lucy. The only thing she could do was chatter in a number of languages because her diplomat parents had moved about so much when she was younger. Lucy had tried everything, to no avail. Her one day delivering pizzas had been a disaster: even though she had crawled at snail’s pace on the motorbike, stopping every two minutes to consult her city map, she had still got completely lost in the hellish one-way system and ended up sharing the congealed mess with a bag lady huddled on a bench in a strange neighbourhood. Checkout girl, waitress, receptionist, usherette: everything Lucy touched fell apart.

But this time she had to get the job: she wanted so much to stay in Alberginia, the place she loved best of all the many she’d been made to live in. And how could she let all the people in the workshop down? As Lucy moved into the long shadow cast by the Augusta Tower, she already felt tired: she yearned to throw off the agonizing shoes.

Gabriel, the workshop leader, had said that inside every clumsy oaf was an elegant assured person just waiting patiently to be let out. A person with élan, panache, savoir faire. It was just a question of connecting with that person, he had said, loving it and letting it out. Lucy had her doubts. She just didn’t like that cool, calm person, and she certainly didn’t want to let it out.

I don’t want to be elegant: I just want to be me, she said to herself, with a small surge of sadness. But there was no place for the slow and clumsy, no place for the dreamer in modern life.
And she didn’t want to spend all day every day shut up at the top of a skyscraper with fluorescent lights and grey furniture and windows you couldn’t open, being bossed around by a boss.
As the Augusta Tower loomed, all plate glass and steel struts, Lucy slowed her pace, and anxiety and guilt gnawed at her. Gabriel had also said that you don’t get what you ask for, but what you really want. In one of the workshop exercises, when Gabriel said: "Let’s concentrate on what we really want. See it. Hear it. Feel it," Lucy was always sure that the other women were glancing at each other and raising their eyebrows, as if they had seen into her mind. She would like to have a real home to potter around in and a man to love her, someone who wouldn’t mind her burning the dinner because she was watching a weepy film on TV. She would like to have a garden with flowers and birdboxes and a swing. And she would like to have babies: she would look after them herself, and play with them all day in the garden. But you didn’t dare say things like that nowadays.

But Lucy was a trier. And things being as they were, she had to get a job: she had to get this job. So, as she walked along the last stretch of promenade, now cool in the long shadow cast by the Tower, she fingered her beads and tried really, really to want all the things the workshop women said were hers by right.

Lucy stopped at the bottom of the broad steps below the entrance to the Tower. She had planned to arrive early at the offices of Bump & Rushfeld España on the 25th floor, shut herself in the toilet and do the things she’d practised so many times at the workshop. First, touch the confidence beads, deep breath... where was the cool calm woman that was said to live inside? Next, the self-esteem. I, Lucy, love me. Lucy loves me. Lucy loves Lucy. Even that she couldn’t get right. I love all the Lucies, she said fiercely: the cool calm one and all the other clumsy Lucies bumbling around inside.
I’m cool. I’m calm. I’m going to get this job.
Lucy lurched up the steps to make what was supposed to be her self-assured entrance into the Augusta Tower. Again she put her hand to her throat for the familiar touch of and -no, oh God -the beads were tumbling off their string, they were bouncing and rolling down the steps. Keep calm. Breathe. She bent down and began to scrabble. Keep calm. Breathe. Maybe she should just have taken a valium.
Lucy started and looked around: a young man in ripped jeans and a white T-shirt was following her up the steps, picking up her beads as he went. He squatted near her and fingered them in his palm. Then he looked up at her. "Pity. Pretty." He had long dark hair and an earring. His eyes were bright blue.
Lucy bit her lip, feeling the heat rush to her face. "Oh it's all right."
I'm cool. I’m calm. She stood up, shakily, fighting back tears, and he stood up too. He held
out the beads to her, his fingers lingering as he dropped them into her open palm.
"Well, thank you very much."
"I know you," He said, his face breaking into a roguish grin.
"I'm sorry, I don’t think so. I -well thank you so much." Lucy dropped the beads into her bag. "I’m sorry. I have an appointment." She smiled politely and turned towards the plate glass doors, touching her throat out of habit. She felt vulnerable, now. Naked. She had to get away, find the toilet and go through her confidence routine.
"Going for your interview, arntcha."
Lucy stopped in surprise.
He was scratching his chin and smirking. "I knew I seen that face before. I seen you in my computer network. I seen your application in the HR files. Did you know you was a resource? A wannabe resource. A human resource."
Lucy felt panic rising. Was this a trap? There was still a bead in her bra. If she didn’t get away from him, she wouldn’t have time to get to the ladies, remove it and then do her deep breathing and confidence mantra. God knows she needed it now.
"Seven Beautiful Girls. Seven Hot Applicants..."
Seven? Lucy’s heart thumped, sweat clammy on her brow. Was this a trick designed to test her initiative or assertiveness or whatever? Well, whatever, she’d failed. Miserably. Why bother with all the mantras and beads and stuff? She’d never get the job now. She began to walk towards the doorway, trying desperately to conceal her mouth quivering. If she couldn’t hold her own with the office lecher or hacker or whoever he was, how on earth was she going to get through the interview? Maybe this was the interview. She crumpled inside.
He caught up with her."No problem. Lemme tell you something: you’re the hottest of all. I know all about you. Lucinda Jane Summers. British."

He stood so close, Lucy could smell the tang of his cologne. She quickened her pace, trying to keep her balance in the horrible shoes, but he caught up with her again. Would he know why she’d had so many jobs before?
"Hey! No hurry," he said. "Wanta coffee?"
She’d spill it over the smart suit. It was only intact so far because she’d been too nervous to dare even to drink a glass of water.
"I, I'm afraid I, uh, I haven’t time. But thank you all the same."

I'm calm. But she wasn’t. She didn't care about the job now: she just wanted to go home.
He touched her arm, looking at her intently. "I know everything. I’m in charge of the computers, see. Access to everything and everyone and everywhere. You can’t do anything in there without me. All the technology, they’ve got it in there, they sit in there all day on their asses, gassing into their phones, haven’t got a clue. Drive me mad they do. All day long ‘Rrriiinng!'" He picked up a pretend phone. " ‘Oh Fernando sweetie, my computer’s being ever so silly today, can you come over....’ Rrriiinnng! ‘Oh Fernando, my fax machine just tried to strangle me. You’ve got to come down...’ ‘Rrriiinnng! Oh Fernando, my Laserjet is sexually harassing me-’" His eyes crinkled. He was really rather good-looking, in a rakish sort of way. Something snapped, just like the string of beads had, and Lucy tried very hard not to smile, then found herself dissolving into laughter.
"Feel better? Go on then. I thought you was in a hurry." He grinned. "You'll knock’em out."
Lucy pictured herself knocking all the horrid pompous executives over the head with their computer keyboards. She’d like that.
Again he touched her arm. It tingled. "Sorry about the necklace."
"It's oh, it’s, it was only a cheap... it’s quite alright." She fingered her throat and smiled at him. Funny, but she didn't care any more. "I, well, perhaps you, uh, a quick coffee..."
But he was no longer grinning. He shook his head roguishly. "None missing? You sure?" His gaze dropped to her breasts. Involuntarily her shoulders wriggled. The stray bead moved in her bra. He gazed into her face. His blue eyes smouldered and Lucy’s insides lunged alarmingly. He seemed to be looking into her innermost secrets. She felt her face go hot, and her voice seemed to have dried up.
"We got plenty of time to find it. After." He winked. "Now you get in there and knock all them assholes in their Armani suits out. And I’ll be waiting right here."
He took her hand and drew her close. "Give’em a bit of jargon," he said. "They’ll like that." He stroked her fingers, and she let him. Then he pulled her towards him and whispered in her ear: "Fernando’s Inside Knowledge: they’re just a bunch of clowns!"

Lucy was wobbling on her heels even more badly than before. She forced herself to breathe deeply, her nostrils filled with the tang of his cologne. She longed for the interview to be over. He said he would wait for her. His eyes were so bright. He was so funny. Her heart fluttered.
As the lift glided up to the 25th floor of the Augusta Tower, Lucy felt the panic rising: automatic doors didn’t like her. Then she pictured the lift sailing straight through the roof and over the sea with Lucy in it. And Fernando.

But it stopped and the doors slid open, and then Lucy’s feet were sinking into the dove grey carpet of Bump & Rushfeld España. I’m cool. I’m calm. Behind a reception desk twitched a girl attached to a Walkman. Lucy waited politely. When the girl finally looked up, Lucy gave her name, trying to sound confident. The girl blew a large bubble of gum, popped it noisily and said into a telephone: "The one that speaks all the languages is here." She jerked her chin, indicating a chair and popped her gum at Lucy again. .

Lucy hated the Walkman girl and she hated this place. She remembered how Gabriel, the workshop leader, had said that the people we meet and the situations we encounter mirror our true selves. As she went to sit down, she banged her leg against a low table and winced. She rolled her eyes upwards, to stem the flood of tears. I’m cool. I’m calm. Lucy sat down, rested her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. If the Walkman girl and Bump & Rushfeld España mirrored her true self, then there was no hope. A teardrop splashed onto her smart silk skirt.

"Lucinda Summers?"
Lucy started and hauled herself up. A harassed-looking middle-aged woman in a shapeless grey dress stood there, swaying under a wavering stack of folders. She wore a flustered and slightly disapproving air. "I’m Maite, assistant to Don Victor and Don Max," she said.
Mad Max. Lucy found herself smothering a giggle.
Jangling earrings and bangles and trailing clouds of perfume, Maite led her through an enormous room full of untidy desks where men and women lounged, gazing blankly at computer screens and shouting into phones. Progress was very slow, as Maite went from desk to desk, sifting through the pile and handing out folders. Lucy tried to appear greatly interested in everything but kept tripping over paper baskets and telephone cables. She looked at one man's screen, only to find a game of PC Poker in progress. The man grinned at her and shrugged. She looked away quickly. As she moved off, she knocked over a styrofoam cup and coffee trickled onto the carpet. Lucy’s head began to spin, and everything faded into a blur of leering faces and flickering screens. She teetered after Maite to the end of the room, where she looked out of the big picture window at the sea and the whole city laid out against its backdrop of smoggy mountains. She longed to float out of the window and dance in the air like a kite.
"Don’t be nervous, dear." Maite peered into her face with a half smile. "It’s all yours: just a formality. There are no other candidates. Don Victor is, erm, a little bit difficult."

As they emerged into a dim carpeted passage. Lucy told herself she would love working in Bump & Rushfeld España. But her heart sank. "I was told there were seven of us."
"Who told you that?" Maite snapped.
"Oh, er, I met someone called Fernando outside."
"Oh Fernando," Maite said witheringly. "You don’t want to believe anything Fernando says."
He said they were just a bunch of clowns.
Now Maite knocked at one of the doors, Lucy heard a grunt and then Maite opened it. I’m cool. I’m calm. I’m going to get this job. Lucy stopped, as taught, to check for treacherous cables, rugs and sharp-edged tables, clutching at her throat.
"The señorita, don Victor," said Maite, leaving and banging the door. Lucy picked her way across across the parquet in her high heels and landed with a bump in a chair. A tiny head popped up from behind the enormous desk like a jack-in-the-box. Don Victor had bushy eyebrows like little wings. Lucy wondered if they would start flapping.
"Señorita who?" he bellowed. He glared at her, then turned to his screen and began to tap furiously at his keyboard. "Why do you want work here?" he said waspishly.
Give’em a bit of jargon. They’ll like that. Lucy screwed up her eyes and thought very hard. The words Why did the chicken cross the road? formed in her head. She stifled another giggle. "Because it was faced with significant challenges to its physical distribution strategy and... " she babbled " needed to architect a new frame of reference for rethinking impactful parameters for its environment which would enable it... to... to... synergise with a unified message and... and..." her voice trailed away. Don Victor spluttered and twitched. Then he bellowed: "Maite! Where are the Human Resources files?"
Maite burst in, trailing a roll of fax paper, her lips pursed. "You click on HR, Don Victor. You know that."
His eyebrows quivered. "I clicked on HR. And I get a screen full of fish."
Maite glanced at Lucy with the air of a long-suffering martyr.
"Tropical fish, Don Victor. Are you quite sure you didn’t click on FishTank Online?"
"Where the hell is Fernando? Why can’t he hang out in bars and game arcades with his friends instead of coming in here and messing with the computers?"
Maite spoke with the air of one long practiced in the art of placating an impossible child. "He was only trying to help, Don Victor. He knows how stressed you are."
Don Victor grabbed the phone and jabbed at the number pad.
An asshole in an Armani suit.
"Where’s Fernando?" he barked into the phone: "Tell him to get up here now and clear these fish off my screen. Who does he think I am?"
"A clown!" burbled Lucy, smiling brightly. She just had time to see Don Victor's eyebrows start to flap before she dissolved into laughter, doubling over in her chair and gasping for breath.
"Maite, you will accompany the señorita out of the building. To a safe distance."
"Yes, Don Victor." Maite's head was buried in her hands.
Still shaking and gasping, Lucy allowed herself to be helped to her feet and out of the room by Maite. She could still hear Don Victor bellowing.
"He’s very stressed, poor dear," said Maite, sadly.
Lucy shot out of the Augusta Tower as if she’d been physically kicked through the doors. She sat on the steps, threw off the horrid shoes and sobbed. She’d made a complete hash of everything. What was she going to tell Gabriel? Where would she go?
Tangy cologne wafted, and through the blur of tears she saw Fernando squatting by her, looking into her face with a serious and yet roguish look.
"They threw me out. It’s your fault," she wailed. "I remembered what you said and I couldn’t stop laughing. I almost wet myself all over Don Victor’s parquet."

Fernando rummaged in her bag and extricated a handkerchief. Gently, he took her face in one hand and dabbed at her with the other. Sniffling, she held his hand against her cheek. "I tried. I really did. But it just didn’t work. What am I going to do now?"
"We’ll fix you up with something," Fernando sat down by her side. "Today’s your lucky day."
"Lucky?" She snuffled. "Lucky? I broke my beads." And then she found herself babbling away about Gabriel and the workshop and the mantra and the inner Lucies. All the time Fernando gazed seriously into her face. Then suddenly Lucy heard a shrilling noise, and Fernando pulled a mobile from his belt. "I’m tied up in a Big Meeting right now, Uncle Victor," he said into it, winking at her. "Just tell your Digital Plotter to go and jump in the lake."
Lucy’s laughter bubbled up again, and tears too.
"What this Gabriel guy doesn’t know," Fernando said, gently cupping her chin in his hand, "is that the really special people have an Inner Clown and... I want to make it come out again." He bent towards her. "Now gimme a kiss."
As Lucy hugged Fernando, she felt the sleeve of the smart silk jacket finally rip. But who cared. He was so handsome. He was so funny. Lucy was very excited: Gabriel had been right all along: she couldn’t wait to tell him. She wasn’t cool or calm, now. But she’d found just what she really wanted.
© Valerie Collins

First Published in the World Wide Writers anthology Vol 2, No. 6 1999 (U.K.) © Valerie Collins 1999

Valerie lives and writes in Spain

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