Short Stories

They Can’t All Be…

Photo by cottonbro on
Written for The Literal Challenge

Joey opened his laptop, expecting to find another rejection. He quickly found the message he knew was coming from the umpteenth job he interviewed for. Mostly, Joey felt disillusioned. All this for a stupid internship, he thought to himself. When would the bullshit stop piling onto his dreams?

However, there was a smaller part of him that still felt hopeful. During this particular interview, he was funny, articulate, well-mannered and intelligent. The perfect balance for the perfect intern for a not so perfect job. But Joey was up for anything. Long hours. Coffee runs. Making copies. Picking up dry cleaning. Hell, he’d even do the damn laundry himself if that meant he could get into that writer’s room. That’s all he wanted: the chance to be in the room. And then one day to sit at the table. 

Dear Joseph Quintarra, 

We are pleased to offer you…

He couldn’t hold in his excitement. He jumped up from his desk and danced around his tiny (and rather disheveled) studio apartment like a wild animal. Finally, a yes! There would be no more resume updates; there would be no more long waits in unwelcoming lobbies, hoping to stand out amongst a crowd of people with similar qualifications, similar goals and one too many sob stories. He was going to intern for one of the most popular publications out there, and if he did his job right, if he executed every task perfectly, maybe (just maybe) he’d have a chance to take a dive into the deep end of the pool. 

He read through the rest of the email. Everything seemed to be in order. The only thing he had left to do was to call them by the end of that day and formally accept the offer. Sometime later in the week, he’d go into the office to do all of the typical HR stuff: take a photo for his ID badge, get a more in-depth tour of the offices he’d be working in, meet the people he’d be assisting, sign some contracts. 

Most people told him that when he finally did get an internship, he should wait to accept a few hours before the deadline. That way he wouldn’t come across as too needy, and the company would be left wondering what other options he had to consider that would keep him from immediately accepting their offer. It would make him mysterious, and it would give him a little bit of an edge in an already painfully subservient role. 

But Joey couldn’t contain his excitement. He called right away.

“Good morning. This is ——- How may I help you?” a young man said in a robotic tone dripping with false (and a little hostile) sincerity. 

“Yes, this is Joseph Quinatarra. I need to speak to Marlene Saunders to confirm my acceptance for the internship program.”

“One moment please,” and a click. 

Marlene was really pleasant on the phone. For one thing, she immediately asked Joey to call her Marley instead of Ms. Saunders. She hated that type of formality, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t work him to the bone. She just preferred you to refer to her informally while she drove you halfway to insanity until you punched out at the end of the day. (At least that’s what he’d heard about her in the waiting room before his interview.) Again, he didn’t care or feel intimidated. He was ready to work.

Marley got Joey set up on the official email server and in the text message circle. Everyone chimed in as soon as Joey’s name appeared in the What’sApp group. 

Hey Joey, nice to meet ya. 🙂 

Welcome to the team, Joey!

Glad to meet you. See you at work soon.

By the end of the call with Marley, Joey felt like he was floating into outer space with all of the joy he felt filling up his lungs. He was ready to burst. How to celebrate, he wondered. These days Joey didn’t have much in the way of fluid cash. Securing an internship was the first step in his plan towards a better life. (Get the job, work hard, save money.) In the meantime, he would keep his weekend job, and he would still do freelancing work to stay above the poverty line. It would all be worth it one day. 

In the end, Joey decided to treat himself. He went down to his local bodega and chose a nice bottle of wine (one that cost more than five bucks), a cubano and some other high end snacks that he would much on while enjoying a few hours of leisurely reading at the park. He’d earned it.

Joey got dressed and headed down to the shop. Glorianna was working today, and she was looking as fine as ever. And today, Joey was bold enough to flirt with her (just a little) while she rang up his food and wine. (It was his day after all.) She smiled coyly as he leaned against the counter and asked her how her day was with just the right tone of voice: sultry enough to be suggestive but not too creepy, and he coupled that with a just right smirk (the kind where one corner of your mouth pulls up just so).

Glorianna seemed to be picking up on his vibe. She shot him some suggestive smiles, dished out a few flirtatious moves of her own and said she hoped she’d see him soon before he walked out the door. It was on, he thought. He’d ask her out later on that day on his way back home from the park.

What a day to be alive and not just surviving. Things were finally coming together for Joey in ways that he had only dreamed about until today. His phone buzzed and pinged with messages from friends and family congratulating him on the news (because of course he had to post about it). When he got to the park, he found a spot under a shady tree, leaned against its thick, spiny bark and unpacked his food. He was ravenous, and he felt so good that he didn’t bother with decorum. He drank his wine straight from the bottle, took huge bites out of his cubano and chomped away with his mouth wide open, completely disregarding anyone who may have given him a once over. 

Another ping. Joey picked up his phone and on the locked screen saw: They can’t all be black. Someone’s gotta get pulled.

He squinted at the phone in confusion. There was no name connected with the message, just a phone number that he didn’t recognize. Maybe it was a wrong number? Unlocking his phone, he went straight to What’sApp to inform the messenger that he had the wrong person (and he contemplated maybe asking what his issue was with black people while he was at it). It was then that Joey’s heart plunged down his body and pooled at the soles of his feet; and he felt all the joy that had filled his lungs to bursting just a few hours ago quickly escaping his body like it was on the run from the law. This was the work group chat. And one of the managers had sent that message. Then it all happened very quickly. Another new intern, who Joey knew was black like him, chimed in. 

Excuse me?

As he was typing in his own response, Joey was cut out of the group, along with the four other interns who had been hired (who Joey now knew were black like him). They had been roped together before they even met. A solidarity bound them, and in this case, it was to their detriment, like a hard slap on your cheek. Whatever messages were coming in after they were cut off would be totally unseen by them. No blacks allowed, I guess, when you have to have a conversation about racial bias in the workplace. 

Joey sucked in a quick breath. He realized that he hadn’t been breathing that whole time. His heart was pacing like a horse charging out its last few meters in a race. But his body was frozen, suddenly struck with panic. He didn’t even notice that the wine bottle had fallen over and was gushing liquid like a bloody tidal wave down towards the ignorant army of ants colonizing his cubano, now laying on the grass untouched. Joey wouldn’t be eating or drinking anymore. He wouldn’t be asking Glorianna out later on that day as he planned.

And then another ping: Joey, we are truly sorry for the recent miscommunication on the What’sApp group work chat. We would like to meet with you to discuss your thoughts on the message and whether or not we can come to an agreement on how to move forward. -Ms. Saunders

Joey stared at that message for a long while, as beads of sweat collected at his temples and slowly meandered their way down to his beard, now soaked. The ant horde had multiplied and taken control of the now unwanted (and unnoticed) food laying at Joey’s feet. The wine hadn’t stopped their vigorous hunger. Joey stood up and abandoned it all. While he walked, he kept typing and erasing his response to Ms. Saunders (formerly Marley), knowing full well that she was probably staring, teeth clenched, at a speech bubble with the dreaded three dots pulsing uncertainty from his end. 

“Shit,” Joey said out loud as he turned off his phone, stuffed it in his back pocket and dejectedly walked home to his dirty, shoebox apartment. 

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