Julie had at least expected the parking to be easy. There were cars all around the house on both sides of the street. She doublechecked the address. The last thing she wanted to do was knock on the wrong door. She had it right though. It was the house surrounded by cars. “Is he interviewing a bunch of people or something?” If this was a waste of time, then she was really going to let Uncle Lester hear about it later on.
The doorbell played five happy notes. Julie waited long enough after pressing it to wonder if anyone inside had heard. She started counting the seconds so that she could press the bell again without seeming impatient. It was answered just as she was about to try again. The woman who answered the door almost seemed hostile when she said, “Can I help you?”
Julie hoped she had made a mistake. “Is this the Eisbach residence?”
Damn. “I’m here to see Paul Eisbach?” That wasn’t meant to come out as a question, but the woman reacted strangely, as though Julie had started speaking a foreign language.
There were several moments of hesitation before the old woman made her decision. “Come on in. I’ll get him for you.” Julie stepped in and heard the sound of indistinct conversations and footsteps. It was a little off though. It was like the sound was a bit muted, as though everyone thought they were in a library or something. The woman leading Julie in told her, “I’m sure he’ll be in here.”
Julie realized that she had not asked for this woman’s name, nor had been asked for hers. She hoped that wouldn’t make a difference. Then again, maybe they were expecting her. Julie got the impression that Mister Eisbach liked her. They continued down a hallway, through a room, through another room, then Julie was there among strangers. She felt immediately out of place for several reasons. For one, she was wearing her nice blue suit, and everyone here, everyone, was dressed in drab or even dark colors. Another thing was the people. Somewhere between a dozen and twenty people were in the room, and about half of them looked irritated with her.
The woman that Julie had followed whispered loudly to another old woman, “Have you seen Paul?”
“I think he’s in the kitchen.”
“I’ll go get him,” she announced to the room in general. She toddled off, swaying a little too much on her old legs for Julie’s comfort. No one else seemed to notice.
Julie had seen freshly cleaned tears on that old woman at the door, followed by that angry tone. In this room Julie felt that strange, overwhelming awkwardness again. It was the way people regarded her, like she had just told a dirty joke in church. A pleasant looking middle aged woman on a sofa tried to smile at Julie. “Are you a friend of the family then?”
“Ah, no. No, I hardly know Mister Eisbach. I’m here about a job at the plant. I know it’s a bit unusual to take a job interview at his home, but Mister Eisbach is an old friend of my uncle.”
“Oh.” She didn’t actually voice the syllable. She only mouthed it.
The attitude of the room shifted a bit. Julie noticed that the awkwardness wasn’t just hers anymore. Everyone else felt it to some degree. Julie tried to take notice of an ugly horse statue on a shelf so that she didn’t have to make eye contact with anyone. They all glanced at her occasionally without really seeming to want to.
It wasn’t a horse. The statue was a dog. Most of the house was tasteful, but that weird figurine was awful. Was there anything else to notice? She didn’t have to look. Julie was happy to see someone else walk in the room. But it turned out to be the wrong person. He wasn’t much older than she was, red haired, tall and very, very serious. He told her, “I’m Paul. Who are you?”
“Uh, I’m Julie. Julie Blackett. I’m supposed to be meeting Paul Eisbach.” She emphasized that. What the hell was wrong with these people?
“I am Paul Eisbach. Junior.”
“Right, then I’m here to see your father.” The room went instantly silent again. Julie tried to ignore that. At least she understood some of the confusion here.
“You’re here to see Dad,” he said carefully. “What exactly were you supposed to see him about?”
“My uncle is Lester Blackett. Never mind that. I was supposed to meet your Dad to see if I could get a job. I know that I should have met him at his office—”
“No, that’s about the Eisbach way. If you’re a friend of the family that is.”
Julie almost winced. She had to repeat herself. “I’m not really a friend of the family. My, my uncle is. I only know your Dad a little bit.”
“Yeah, come this way, I’ll see you.”
“Well, is your father available? Okay.” There didn’t seem to be much point asking anything else. After telling a young boy to follow, Paul led the way out of the room with a determined walk that moved everyone out of the way fast. He led her along to a room with a desk and shelves lined with books.
Paul told the kid, “Shut the door, Justin? Thanks. This is my brother, Justin.”
“Oh, that’s, uh, that’s…”
“Unexpected, I know. You know what’s funny? I’m a year closer to Dad’s age than to Justin’s. Mom and Dad were both only sixteen when I was born.” Then he almost took a seat before he decided, “I need a drink. You want one? Take it or leave it, it won’t hurt your chances either way.”
“I, I think I’m fine without it. Have I come at a bad time or something?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. It’s fine. Now who set this up?”
“I guess my uncle got me an interview. I don’t know why I was supposed to come here instead of to the plant. “
“Like I said, that sounds like Dad. Have a seat, would you?”
“Well, okay, but, um, is there any way I can talk to Mister Eisbach? Senior, I mean?”
That shook Julie for a moment. She couldn’t make sense of this at all. “So should I just talk to you about it?” She was confused because Paul was looking around the desk and through the drawers. Was he even listening?
“Here it is. Dad’s datebook. The eleventh. Julie Bleckett?”
There was a knock at the door. Without waiting for an answer a tidy looking lady stepped in. “Paul, do you want me to take Justin?”
“Justin’s fine where he is. He’s getting along just fine with Julie here.”
Julie noticed the woman make eye contact. So Julie played along. She looked over at the kid and smiled, and was gratified to see a small sort of smile returned. There was a long pause before Paul’s unblinking eyes dismissed the woman without a further word. He said, “Aunt Ellen. She means well.”
Julie said, “I’m sure that Justin wouldn’t have minded leaving.” But then she saw Justin shake his head slowly. “Or not,” she said.
Paul asked her, “You’re up for the new position at the plant?”
“That was the idea. I just graduated. I have a degree in—”
“Yes, I see that,” Paul told her looking over some scribbled notes. “I think I’ve met your uncle before.”
Julie saw the chance to talk like she was in a movie. “I can do the job. I know there must be other candidates with experience, and I don’t have any, but you can be sure that I’m a good choice.”
Paul took a drink of whiskey. “Yeah? Why’s that?”
This was a man you didn’t want to bullshit. She admitted it. “I need this job. I’ve sent out applications, but it’s the same old story. You can’t get the job without the experience. You can’t the experience without the job. See I need the job, and because I have to have it and do well, you know that I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”
“But you can’t show me what kind of ability you have.”
“I’m pretty sure I made a good impression on your father if that means anything.”
“Oh, it does. Look, Julie, I’m in charge of the plant now, okay? But I trust my father’s judgment.”
She felt a little bit of relief. “He has something written there about me?”
“Can I say that this is the strangest job interview I’ve ever had?”
“You’re doing well.”
“I don’t see how.”
“You’re keeping me and Justin occupied when we need it. You helped me send Aunt Ellen packing without a moment to catch your breath.”
“I don’t think that has much to do with the job.”
“It tells me that—” A knock at the door interrupted him. “Yes?”
Paul’s irritable tone prompted the door to open slowly. It was one of the people from that first room, an older gentleman who had been openly annoyed with her without saying a word. She didn’t mind seeing him a bit meek now. “Paul?”
“I was just checking in. Everyone’s wondering.”
With a strange rise in temper, just enough to intimidate everyone in the room, Paul said, “Everyone can wonder then! This is Julie. She’s interviewing for the job at the plant.”
“Oh. Right. Good, uh, good to meet you. She’s, she came here today?”
“She didn’t know. Jim, do me a favor and tell everyone to leave me alone. And I’m going to be blunt, I think Justin’s better away from everyone else.”
Jim nodded. “You know… Okay. Okay. I’ll just tell everyone to leave you alone.”
“Thanks, Jim.” Once he was gone, Paul explained to her, “That was my uncle. It’s a family business, you know. You’ll be working with him if I decide to hire you.”
Alarms were going off in Julie’s head, but she couldn’t help herself. “What did he mean about today?”
Paul glanced over at Justin, then back at Julie. “Dad’s funeral was this morning.”
Julie’s mouth hung open. She had thought things were awkward before. Everyone was upset that she had interrupted their mourning. And she had. For a job. What do you say next in that situation? There’s only one thing you can say. “This can wait for a better time.”
“No, this is as good a time as any.”
She was trapped. That answer had her fastened to her chair. You can’t tell a man, on the day of his father’s funeral, that you’re going to leave and come back at your convenience. All the same, she had to make one more escape attempt. “You and Justin probably want to be with your family today. I understand.”
Paul shook his head and swallowed the gulp he had just taken in. “No, no. No we don’t. I appreciate everyone coming here. That’s good for Mom. She needs the attention to take her mind off of things. Me, I’ve just got, well I guess I don’t give a damn about anyone else offering condolences or trying to be a comfort. And Justin, well, he doesn’t want to return to the firing line. You want to go back out there, Justin?”
Justin shook his head numbly. Julie realized that the poor kid probably couldn’t talk for fear of bursting into tears. She could see that it was just a split second away. Several minutes passed in silence. Julie felt strangely calm about that. Now that she knew what she was facing, she could deal with it. Paul must have thought he needed to explain. It wasn’t necessary at all, but Julie didn’t stop him. Anything he wanted to say was his business. “No one knows they’re doing it.”
“Doing what?,” Julie asked.
“If Dad’s funeral is a carnival, then Justin is a sideshow freak. People keep glancing and mumbling. There’s that horrible wide eyed stare when they have when they talk to him. No, being out there among the audience isn’t a good thing for him. If he wants to hide in here, then thank you, Julie for giving him the excuse.”
What could possibly follow that? If Julie really considered it, she would have avoided funeral talk since that was what Paul and Justin were escaping. It was just the natural reaction though. “I didn’t realize that your father was unhealthy.”
That took a second. Paul didn’t think his words through either. “No, no. It wasn’t anything like that. He was hit by a bus.”
Julie let out the beginning of a giggle before she could stop herself. The glare from the man and the shock on the kid froze her in place for a moment before she could explain. “I’m sorry. I really am. Oh god, I feel like Mary Tyler Moore.”
Paul’s head snapped back slightly. He couldn’t help a little smile himself. “I like that episode.” He told Justin, “It was an old TV show. At a clown’s funeral Mary started laughing, and it was big deal.”
Justin couldn’t smile, but he at least seemed to understand the humor. “I like you,” he told her.
“Thanks. Tell Paul that.”
“Oh, I heard it. Let’s get on with the interview, shall we? And please, take your time answering every question.”
She nodded. Where did she go to school? Why did she want the job, but that was already mostly answered. Where did she see her career heading? And so on. Julie was disarmed by her own surprising sangfroid. She couldn’t be comfortable, but she adapted better than she expected. There was no need for any carefully crafted answers. Paul didn’t seem to care about any false answers, and he wasn’t offput when she was more blunt than an ordinary job interview would call for. She even managed to get Justin to laugh at a bad joke once.
As expected, Paul went through it at a very leisurely pace, more than once wandering off into the unrelated topics of sports, politics and old movies. He noticed Julie’s natural awkwardness, but he disregarded it. She did her best to seem at ease.
At long last Paul’s eyes wandered back and forth examining the contents of his own head. “Okay, I think I’ve run out of questions. We’ll see you Monday then?”
She was genuinely surprised. “I got the job?”
“You had it before you arrived. Look.” He passed over the datebook that told him about her arrival. Written there in a hand that was just barely legible were the words, ‘Interview with Julie. Formality.’
“Formality?,” she asked.
“He meant that he intended to give you the job anyway. I assume he only took the time to go through the motions so that no one could complain that you didn’t even have to interview. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell anyone that.”
“So, so why did you, never mind.”
“That’s right. I was just looking for a little time away from the drizzling sorrow out there. For me and especially for Justin. Sorry for taking advantage like that.”
“No,” she said, “that’s all right. I’m, well, I feel like maybe I really earned the chance at the job. Can I ask you one thing though?”
“Is there any way you can show me to a back door to leave through or anything like that?”
“I don’t, I don’t want to walk through the crowd out there with a big smile on my face.”