'49 Was a Bad Year (Part II)


This is killing my back.


I sat up, spine cracking. Even through my blankets, the hardwood floor sent chills all through me. A month in this new apartment, and I still couldn’t afford a damn mattress. Rain pelted against the glass, the low rumbling of thunder acting as my alarm clock.


How pointless, I thought. Not a single call. At this rate, I’ll be homeless by November—Someone has to call! I’ve applied for everything thrown at me! What’s wrong? Is it my resume? Shuffling through my small pile of belongings, I pulled out a sheet. Utterly bare. 30 years old and nothing to show for it—not that I never worked, mind you. It was just the fact my previous occupation wasn’t exactly glamorous.


Still, plenty of what I applied for didn’t require work experience. There was no reason I saw that I couldn’t at least get an interview. Mouth dry, I got to my feet and stumbled to the kitchen.


I turned the knob, leaning down to drink straight from the faucet. The lack of anything was growing tiresome—no cookware, no furniture, not even the option to turn on radiators if I wanted to make my money last.


The one exception to that rule I made was food. No more starving. I refused to go another day with hunger pangs or trash picking. Couldn’t afford to get caught shoplifting out here, especially on the run. Opening the cupboard, I reached for a can of chickpeas.


Knock knock.


I ignored the door. Probably that nosy neighbor again—


Ring.


The telephone! Scrambling to it, I grabbed the receiver—Wait, now. Let it ring twice. Don’t make them think you’re desperate. Once it chimed again, I picked up.


“Hello?”


“Hello, is this William Boyer?”


“It is.” Still not used to that name.


“This is Grogerstone University calling about your application.”


Wh—huh? “Yes?”


“Would you be able to come in tomorrow for an interview?”


Wait— “Sure, what time?”


“How does one o’clock work for you?”


“Fine. Would you like me to bring anything?”


“No, just show up with appropriate attire. If you have any questions, please call. Have a good day, sir.”


“Bye.”


I lost my appetite. Grogerstone University? I applied for that on a whim! I didn’t think they of all people would call back! My fingers tugged at my hair. I don’t even have teaching credentials! Are they really hurting that much for a professor?


Maybe they didn’t look at the resume—No, they must’ve. My phone number’s on there. Are they out of their minds? This has to be a joke. Where’s that liquor—


Stop it. This might be a real offer! I could finally get that mattress—Shit! I only have until tomorrow to not look like a complete madman! Glancing down to my wrapped-up hands, they still stung from the other night.


Not able to let this strange opportunity slip by, I rushed to the bathroom. Facing the opened medicine cabinet, I grabbed onto the swinging door. Stop being a fussy bastard and look. I flipped it shut, facing the mirror.


“You look just like—”


“SHUT UP!”


Err—That wasn’t meant to be out loud. Already off to a fine start at being normal. I tilted my head, examining all that needed to be done.


The stubble has to go. Just have to grab some shaving cream and a razor—Is that a good idea? Based on personal history—How else am I going to shave without a razor? Can’t snip it short enough with scissors. Just get rid of it before the interview!


I took a deep breath—plink. What the hell was that? A stray button laid in the sink. My eyes trailed down. Son of a bitch. My shirt found itself a new gap—admittedly a tighter fit now than I remembered. It exposed a patch of my stomach, hairy and swollen. Perfect! I don’t just look like a demented bird, but now a fat one too! I’m fucking disgusting!


There’s no way they’ll take me seriously! No matter what I do, there’s always going to be something wrong. I should just save myself the embarrassment—


Money. Need the money. This is the only call in a month! Who knows if anyone else will be dumb enough to consider me! I have to take it—


I’m not a professor and I’m not in my right mind! I’m barely a real person! I’m—


Wait.


No one misses me. I wouldn’t miss me. Why can’t I just disappear in more ways than one? Fade out of existence and become someone different. A clean slate. Someone better. Someone smarter! Someone worthwhile! Rushing out of the bathroom, I donned my shoes and flew out the door.


Someone else!


By the time I returned home, the street lights were lit. Shaking the rain off me, I hauled my newly-acquired supplies and hiked up the stairs. No wonder the rent was so low—five flights of stairs was agonizing! By the time I reached the sixth story, my legs burned.


When I slid the key into the lock, a voice shouted to me.


“Hey! There you are!”


I turned to face a mess of gray hair. Plump as she was shrill, the elderly woman trotted towards me. That’s the one that keeps knocking on my door!


“Deary me, you’re an elusive one!” she said.


“You don’t know the half of it.”


“Sorry?”


“Nothing. What do you want?”


She held out her hand. “We haven’t met yet. I’m your neighbor! You can call me Maggie.”


“Hi.”


There was a pause. Not taking a hint, she reached over and grabbed my hand. Squeezing, the woman shook. It took all of my willpower to keep myself from shouting, pain shooting through me.


She asked, “Gloves, but no coat?”


“It’s at the dry cleaner’s.” I yanked my hand back.


“Oh! Of course! So, what brings you to our little neck of the woods?”


Please, please, please stop talking to me. “Work.”


“What kind of work?”


“Teaching.”


“Where?”


“I’m not sure yet. I have an interview tomorrow.”


“Aw, you really are new around here, aren’t you? Good luck with your interview!” She patted my arm, trying to catch glimpses at my bags—prying, old woman!


“If you don’t mind, I should sleep—”


“Dear, you're missing a button.” Dammit!


“I know, I’m—”


“Would you like me to sew it back on?” Behind her, more curious seniors poked their heads out from what I presumed to be her place. The whole lot of them watched.


“No, I’m fine—”


“Come over to my apartment and I’ll patch it up! You can meet some of the other girls here—”


“I don’t need—”


“It’ll be quick! I just need your shirt.” She walked down the hall, leading the way.


Deadbolt turned, doorknob locked, chain in place. I’m not getting shirtless in front of a cribbage party! I could still hear them chatter outside, exchanging conspiracy theories. Hard to make out the words from their hushed tones, but I at least heard, “What a strange lad! Did you see his nose?”


Getting back to business, I ripped open my bags and dug through my purchases. I threw my new attire on, brushing it smooth and fussing with my cuffs. Who am I kidding? Look at all this wasted money. Why did I do this? With a sigh, I trudged to the bathroom to face the deed I had done.


The man in the reflection was not someone I recognized. Between the new button-up, vest, and tie, I didn’t look pudgy—enough slack to thin my figure. Everything else downwards matched in color, adding to the surreal look of professionalism.


Though a dumb thought earlier, I liked the round spectacles I found: small enough to see over them so not to suffer a headache, yet somehow made me look smarter. At the very least, more educated—quite a feat for someone that didn’t pass grade school!


The best part was the gloves. Honestly, I just bought them so I didn’t have to explain my bandages during the interview, but seeing them on gave a weird feeling. A good one, but not anything I was used to. How to describe it? Powerful. In control. No longer did I get that sinking pang of worthlessness upon seeing my hands, but instead a surge of moxie.


When I stood in front of Grogerstone the next day, clean shaven and sporting my new look, I felt at ease. I don’t know why. I was grossly under-qualified for the job, yet my head didn’t spew as much bile. Still a few comments, but so many others faded to the back of my mind. Checking the time, I went up the stone steps.


I am William Boyer.