“Tell me a little about yourself,” the chair of the English Department says. A white cane with a red tip leans against his desk.
Prior to the interview, I knew he was blind. Still, I carefully dressed as if to make a good impression: my hair, curled; makeup, understated, a pale pink gloss on my lips. I wear a white-polka-dot, slate-blue skirt with matching jacket. A string of pearls encircles my neck. Pantyhose, the first time I wear them in years, sheen my legs.
I hold my vita, one crisp-white sheet of paper. I don’t know how I should give it to him. It’s barely even a real job, just an adjunct teaching position, paying $1,500 per course. A small job, almost pathetic, but the best I can hope for.
Tell me a little about yourself.
Should I say: I am twenty seconds out of rehab – well, technically, a few weeks – but it feels like twenty seconds. Should I say: If I don’t get this job, earn some money, act like a respectable adult and wife, my husband has threatened to leave me?
I decide it’s wise to omit the fact I was in rehab for an eating disorder and a sexual addiction. Wise to omit the adultery, the Thunderbird Motel, a diet consisting of potato chips and carrots. Wise to omit my husband’s anger. My shame. Perhaps even wise to omit mention of any personal life – or a life – altogether.
Tell me a little about yourself.
For previous job interviews, with men, I always wore slightly provocative clothes. Now, to say nothing of the fact that he can’t see me anyway, I know better than to rely on appearance to fill the gaps in my vita. Yet I wonder: If he could see, would he be impressed with my new outfit, buttoned tight to the neck, perfect for the classroom? If only he could touch my face to know how carefully I applied makeup: not too much, not too little.
I mumble the few details of a lackluster job record without outright lying.
He explains the requirements to teach Composition 101 and 102. His right eye squints, almost closed, with scars around the lid. His left eye, more unnerving, is open, cloudy, opaque, like a clot of milk. I clasp my vita so tightly it wrinkles.
Outside, late-summer Georgia heat presses against the air-conditioned windows. A film of moisture bubbles the bottom rim of glass distorting the oak trees in the yard. Inside, the fluorescent lights flicker.
In these new professional clothes, purchased for the interview, I feel watched, conspicuous, ridiculous. What does he sense about me, unseen? Suppose a residue of the Thunderbird Motel – outside of town, off Route 156 – lingers? Who is this woman, after all, whose vita contains only dead-end jobs, sitting across from a man who is chair of an English department? Maybe I should have dabbed perfume on my wrists? A scent of gardenia or lilac. I wonder if there’s any chance that, if he saw me, maybe he’d recognize a newly forming woman trying to be respectable.
I’ve been scrolling and unscrolling my vita. I smooth it out.
“I brought you my vita,” I say.
On the other side of the room is a small table upon which sits a machine. It seems to be a device that “translates” written words into Braille – or something like that.
He holds out his hand. I slide it against his palm until his fingers grasp it.
I want to trace my fingers across the pads of his fingers.
He places the vita atop his neat desk beside a Ticonderoga No. 2 yellow pencil, brand new. I want to pick it up. I need to fiddle with something. I want to take it home with me. Or, I want to test if he can see even a little, whether he would know if I stole it. Might he feel a small stir of air if I lean across his desk?
The thought of stealing his pencil causes me to sweat. Can he smell me? I inhale slowly.
He thanks me for coming in for the interview. As soon as he confirms enrollment numbers, he says, he’ll know how many adjuncts he’ll need to hire.
I don’t quite know if this means, given sufficient enrollments, I have the job or not. “Thank you,” I say. I tell him my phone number is on my vita.
I open the door to leave but don’t know if I should close it behind me. I glance at him. He gazes in my general direction, smiling. “You can leave the door open,” he says.
“Okay,” I say, smiling.
In the corridor, I rush past students, changing classes, into the women’s room. I stand by the sink, cold water gushing over my palms. I glance at my face in the mirror: makeup and hair still perfect. A young woman, beside me, teases her bangs until they poof out from her forehead. From the corner of her eye, she glances at me glancing at her. I turn off the water and dry my hands.
Now, I’m alone in the silent corridor. Just as I’m about to head toward the parking lot, the department chair turns the corner, tapping his cane on the linoleum. I take a few steps forward, about to pass him. “Thanks again for coming in,” he says. “I’ll be in touch soon.”
I want the job. I don’t want the job. I wonder how, even if I get the job, I’ll be able to stand in a classroom in front of thirty or so students, all of them staring at me.