Her roughed up 2005 Hyundai pulled into the nearly empty parking lot. Seeing as it was early on a sunday morning, when she would normally be in bed, it made sense. As the cars engine shut off she pushed her forehead against her steering wheel and looked down at the black slacks that hung off her legs like someone in a rap video. She lifted her head up and saw the large sign hanging above the double doors of the building. “Open Interviews Today!” The exclamation point seemed like a little much in Sylvia’s mind, like anyone was excited to have some well dressed manager ask them questions knowing that they are judging every response.
The last interview she had was for her previous job, but she already secured it before she even walked in. She worked there for almost two years before one misstep would land her with a dwindling bank account. She felt her bra strap slip slightly off her shoulder, falling down to her middle arm. She exhaled a lungful of air out into the vehicle and reached up to adjust the strap. She fiddled with it for a moment before it finally rested back on her full shoulder. “How on earth to girls deal with this stuff?” she said silently to herself. She was new to the world of women, indoctrinated by a little blue pill. Blue pills that cost over sixty dollars a month, and with a new semester of school came new bills. After a few hundred dollars worth of tuition, even after financial aid, and the rapidly increasing price of books. She’d be out of money, and pills, within a few days.
She reached over to the center compartment, grabbing her cellphone with a multitude of comic superheroes printed on the back of the case. She flipped the phone over to check the time, about five minutes until the interviews would begin. Better time than any to make her way towards the store. Stepping out of the car her sneakers hit the concrete, she assumed she’d just embarrass herself in high heels. She grabbed a small satchel off of the passenger side seat, the bag was filled with multiple résumé’s detailing her one job in excess. “How else are you supposed to fill up a page. Not like you have anything else to show.”
As she walked forward she examined the side of the building, it was a bland yellowish color that didn’t stand out or blend in. But the large painting of a caped hero certainly did stand out among the other yellowed buildings. Looking up at the painting she noticed his left eye was smaller than the right one. Almost every day she drove past this store on her way to school and never noticed this strangely sized eye. He was below huge letters that read “Xtreme Comix.” She wondered what a superhero would do down on their luck, out of a job and with only a few dollars left to their name. She supposed getting a job was the first step, even for someone with superhuman strength.
She pushed the door open, stepping inside she was bombarded with cool air conditioning and a lovely little ding to mark her entrance. Inside the walls were covered with comics, figurines, and posters of various characters. Her eyes wandered around the small shop as the door closed slowly behind her. Each wall line after line of comics from the almost overbearing amount of studios and authors. Large bookshelves were filled to the brim with hardcover editions of famous editions. In the back of the shop were plastic tables. Two middle aged guys were shuffling out cards to one another. Overall the shop was void of human life, she had assumed there would be more people lined up to try and land a job at a comic book shop. The doorbell roused a middle aged man away from his box of comics. The man looked stern and a bit intimidating. He had a dark black beard that would make the vikings envious. His eyes were a deep brown enough to be seen as black in the proper lighting. Black bags rested below his eyes as he yawned a bit before stretching. “Probably isn’t looking forward to interviewing your inexperienced ass.”
“Hey. Welcome to extreme comics, can I do anything to help you out today?”
Sylvia found a frog was suddenly caught in her throat, she was lucky that her voice had a natural lightness to it or else she would certainly be called out, her blouse didn’t do anything to mask her voice or broad shoulders.
“Hi, uhm, I’m here for the interviews.”
The man checked his watch and looked back up at her. Her chronic earliness certainly struck again.
“You’re a bit early, but no one else is here yet. Why don’t you take a look around and I’ll be with you in a moment.”
“Sure, thank you.”
She turned slowly on her heel and walked towards the wall of comics, looking at each cover with intrigue. Touching the edge of the bound stories with her finger tips and occasionally picking one up and flipping to a random page. From behind her, at the plastic tables, she could hear laughing. Her blouse became increasingly less comfortable, were they laughing at her? “Yes,” She tried to calm herself, obviously they weren’t laughing at her. “Sure they are. Who wouldn’t laugh at you?” Would they have any reason too. Maybe it was because of her baggy slacks, that only fit her hips but no other part of her legs. They had to of been laughing at the game, right? She continued looking at the comics, feeling her blouse against her skin became a annoyance rather than a comfort. She should have wore just a normal, regular guy button down. Her roommate convinced her to wear the blouse. He said it made her look feminine.
She wondered what her parents would think of her, in a comic book shop with a blouse on waiting for an interview. Probably they’d be disgusted that their son was wearing a blouse. At least it was long enough to cover her arms. There would be no showing off her underarms today or anytime in the near future. She pushed the side of her shoe along her adjacent ankle, it calmed her down in most situations. Her parents had essentially cast her out, only sending her money in situations of desperation. But refusing to put even a cent towards her treatment. “I’m better off alone” she told herself, alongside her fake it till you make it mentality.
Shoving out the thought of her parents she pulled out a comic, flipping through the lovely colored pages. Reading a bubble here and there, the story was about the hero having to fight his arch nemesis in order to get an important medication for his aunt. “My situation isn’t quite as drastic. But I feel for ya Spidey.” She put the story down and continued along the wall. After months of treatment her body was slowly shifting into what she wanted it to be, some of the weight from her belly had shifted to lower parts of herself. She even had to start wearing bras, It wasn’t much. But the pills here helping, and each day it became a little easier to look at herself in the mirror. Without this job, all that would go away.
Her eyes wondering over each edition for a moment longer before a voice behind her made her hair stand on end and flip around. The bearded man from the counter looked at her, clipboard in hand and smile on his face as he spoke.
“Hi, I’m Owen, I’ll be conducting your interview today.”
He stretched his hand out and Sylvia examined the thick forest of hair climbing up his arm. She figured there was no reason to be to be self conscious about the fuzz on her own arms now. Lifting her arm up she took the man’s hand and gave a soft squeeze. He returned with a much stronger one, she had to force herself not to wince at the sudden pressure.
“I’m Sylvia, nice to meet you.”
“Let’s head over to the tables to conduct the interview.”
She sat down on one of the plastic tables while Owen sat across from her. She put her satchel to the side of the chair and preemptively unzipped it for easy access. She adjusted her baggy slacks and got to a position that felt even a little comfortable. Her hair covered up one of her eyes just a bit so she pushed it aside. Letting her emerald eyes see the dimly lit comic book shop in all its nerd glory. The internet also told her it was polite to look your interviewer in the eyes. Even if prolonged eye contact made her skin crawl.
“So Sylvia, Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I’m 20 years old. I take classes at the local university for graphic design. I have a 3.3 GPA and I excel in science, art, and math. I play a lot of video games and read a lot of comics.”
“Well that’s interesting.”
“Isn’t this going swimmingly so far.” Looking at Owen, she once again had another epiphany that this guy was nothing she expected him to be. She expected some hoity toity professor looking guy in a full suit. But the jacket was replaced with a casual looking T-Shirt, and instead of hoity toity the way he carried himself felt casual. Another bout of laughter came from the table adjacent to them. “You’ve been quiet for too long, you’re blowing this already.” The man across the table didn’t look at all amused. His beard covered up most of his face so it was difficult to determine what sort of emotions he was having. Very abruptly he spoke out again.
“Do you have a résumé with you Sylvia?”
“Yeah, I have one with me.”
She reached into the bag on her left and she began to panic as her head dipped below the table. Trying to find her confidence to take on the brick wall of a man in front of her. Setting the paper on the table she then tucked her hands under the table and firmly into her lap.
“So you worked at CVS for… nearly two years? What did you do there?”
Sylvia took a soft breath of relief. She was expecting a much worse question about how she was fired from the job. After spending nearly two years endlessly stocking shelves and checking out rude customers. Two weeks away from work and all of that is thrown out the window. “If only it worked.” Her underarms began to sting a bit under her blouse.
“Helped out customers find whatever they needed. Restocked shelves. Pretty basic stuff.”
“Well, we take in a lot of new material and organize it on the daily. Will you be able to keep up?”
“I think so.” She stammered trying to take back her answer “Yes, I can.”
“Smooth.” She was a terribly unorganized person in her own life. But when it came to work she could be the most organized person in the store. She once spent three hours organizing the toothpaste because she felt bored.
“Alright, we have a lot of downtime in the store, so make sure you aren’t slacking off. Now, to the fun stuff. If hired here what can you bring to the table over other applicants?”
She had prepared for this question, knowing it was one of the basic interview questions. She took a deep breath and calmed herself. Even if Owen was a rugged guy with seemingly not an expressive bone in his body.
“I think I could bring excellent customer service to your store. As well as in depth knowledge about a vast majority of comic books. I have wonderful organization skills and I’m constantly trying to better myself as a person and an employee.”
Owen for the first time showed emotion under his beard, marking down on his clipboard. Sylvia’s heart dropped. She practiced that for hours for that question, making sure her usually anxiety wouldn’t get in the way. Hoping that she could depend on muscle memory in the worst case scenario. But as she examined Owen from across the table his expression had discontent written all over it. “Looks like you won’t be getting this job. Which means no pills, no clothes, no nothing.” Sylvia’s ankle was starting to feel to nervousness as well as Owen finally lifted his head back up.
“Alright. Next question, what to you is good customer service?”
Question after question came her way, each one more generic than the last. “Can you count change?” or “What’s your experience with a cash register?” The questions were beginning to get exhausting. Each time Sylvia had to calculate in her head the perfect, generic, cookie cutter answer that goes along with the question. But with each question, Owen seemed to grow more and more discontent. Each giggle from the other table sent a wave of fear and discomfort through her. Her blouse began to feel like sandpaper, her bra strap slipped again from her shoulder and her legs were cold due to the bagginess of the pants.
Maybe her parents were right. Maybe all of those awful things they called her, and degrading things they said her were true. She began to panic behind her eyes, but her lips kept moving. Answering question after question the best she could. She could feel her ankle start to burn with the constant rubbing against it. She had to calm down, she had to focus. There was no running to her parents if she failed here. She would have to stop her hormone treatment. Her father’s words rang out in her head “You’ll never be a woman.” Sylvia felt it slipping away from her, with each question, each snarky remark from the disapproving voice in her head her goals were slipping away.
“Is everything okay, Sylvia?”
“Yeah. Can I use the restroom?”
Owen looked confused, his eye raised up one of his caterpillar eyebrows and made a gesture with his hands towards the corner of the room where a small restroom sign was pinned up to the roof. She gave a forced smile and got up from her chair, turning her head quickly to avoid Owen’s disapproving eyes. She rushed quickly into the women’s restroom and closed the pulled the slow moving door closed. “Well done, now you definitely aren’t getting the job.”
“Shut up,” She said aloud “These have been the first times in my life where I don’t feel like the world is ending, where I feel like things make sense in my goddamn life!” She lowered her voice a bit. Looking towards the mirror in the bathroom and giving herself a quick look. “You don’t look like a woman at all. Just ask us for help.”
“That doesn’t matter, it just takes time. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, there isn’t the constant feeling of being someone I’m not. Not everyone is out to get me, not everyone is judging me with every single glance. I need to get this job or all of this happiness goes right out of the window. I don’t need help from my unsupportive parents. I can do this.”
“Why not tell him why you got fired from your last job huh? Why not explain to him that you took a razor to your wrist and got put away for two weeks. Why not tell him that you can’t do this job because you fail at everything, even at taking your life.”
Sylvia felt tears knocking at the back of her eyes and the scars on her wrist began to burn with regret, remembering that night in horrific detail. The night where the world became a bit too scary for her and her future didn’t exist. But she was still standing, she didn’t need this job. She could ask for help at any moment. But this was her life, she wasn’t the sum of her terrible parents. She wasn’t the sum of others expectations.
“Enough, you don’t control my life.”
She huffed out some air and turned on the water, washing her hands as she calmed herself. The voice seemed to quiet down a bit after the small surge of confidence. She adjusted her bra strap again and ran her fingers along her blouse, the sandpaper feeling against her skin seemed to fade a bit and it softened up again. She stepped out of the bathroom and turned the corner to the rest of the store. It honestly looked like she never left. The two guys were still playing cards at the table and Owen was looking through his notes, still looking rather disgruntled at the fact that she got up and walked off in the middle of an interview. She sat down and he looked back up at her, his demeanor seemed to change a small bit as he looked up.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, everything is fine. Just had to use the restroom real quick.”
“Well, usually I’d be pretty upset when someone walked away in the middle of an interview. But I understand.”
“Sorry, I suppose I just needed a bit of a pep talk. Restrooms are motivational.”
For the first time since she walked in, Owen gave a smile under his beard. He marked something down on his clipboard before looking back up at her. The questions continued but the atmosphere was completely different. They were telling jokes in between questions and both were getting a chuckle here and there. The cards kept being played and the world moved forward.
“I have a question,” Owen started “Why do you want to work here?”
“I love comics. I grew up with them. I pass by this store almost everyday and always wonder how awesome it would be to work here. To be able to surround myself with nerdy things and get other people excited about nerdy things. Working somewhere that I can be myself.” She paused, “Plus, I really need the money.”
This got a small chuckle out of Owen, especially because they both knew this was the exact thing you weren’t supposed to say in an interview. But it was lighthearted but also somewhat serious in some ways. Owen stood up and Sylvia followed suit, shaking hands again Sylvia said exactly what was on her mind the moment she walked in.
“I didn’t get the job did I?”
Owen chuckled a bit smiled at her, the anger and annoyance from before completely drifted away and he seemed to be a nice guy, even if he put her through the ringer with questions. He pulled a piece of paper and wrote something on it, handing it to her she looked at him rather confused.
“You seem like a great fit for the store, you have good people skills, obviously you know about comics and all this dorky stuff in here. You have a good head on your shoulders. And you’re a fine young woman.”
Sylvia was screaming internally, a huge rush of of validation flowed through her and she knew this was what she was working for. Although she was a bit confused on how she managed to land the job. But there was no reason to not be happy about it. She traced her fingers along the small paper Owen had given her, on the other side it had a time and date.
“What’s this mean?”
“Training, that’s when your first training shift starts. And this time use the restroom before you come in, okay?”
“Will do.” Sylvia nodded.
After their last handshake she walked out of the store back into the morning sun and smiled at her car sitting alone in the parking lot. She got inside and looked at the card again. Feeling an intense feeling of pride in her heart. She did this herself, not her parents, not her friends. She did this from her own volition and was finally becoming someone she wanted to be. She started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. Her ankle needed some ice.
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