I wrote this short story as my final creative writing assignment for the second-year of my university course. The assignment brief had a word limit of 2,500 and we could choose one of a selection of prompts to work from.
© D.E. Kendall
What the hell am I doing?
Daisy Miller pulled into the overpriced city car park and plonked her forehead onto the sun-stained steering wheel of her vintage Nissan Micra. Though she still had ten minutes, Daisy couldn’t help but wonder why she was doing this to herself. She couldn’t stop her legs trembling, her palms were clammy, and she wished she’d remembered a drink because she was certain she had the worst case of cottonmouth ever.
Stretching up to examine her teeth for traces of red lipstick in the windscreen mirror, Daisy noticed a pimple rumbling beneath the surface of her nose. Unwilling to allow the thing to erupt and ruin that all-important first impression, the thirty-six-year-old fumbled with her only ‘decent’ handbag in search of concealer. An old tin of cherry lip balm flew out of the tightly packed bag and fell into the abyss of used coffee cups and heaps of takeaway wrappers in her passenger footwell.
A cacophony of expletives accompanied wrapper rustling in search of that tiny tin, until Daisy triumphantly lifted the grubby little pot out of the mess and held it up to the light, recalling fond memories while appreciating how its scratched surface glistened in mid-morning sunshine.
In a moment of panic, Daisy feared that search had made her late to the interview. After wiping grease from her hand along the cloth driver’s seat, a swift check of her battered silver watch revealed Daisy’s fears as unfounded.
Leaning back, Daisy nestled into the familiar, time-worn seat and closed her eyes. Although prepared to practise relaxation techniques she’d found online, Daisy quickly gave up on that endeavour and unwisely allowed her mind to wander instead.
After twenty-one years in hospitality, Daisy usually felt she could face any situation; not today. Reciting monologues covering valuable experiences gained working her way to a managerial role, after beginning her journey as a waitress in her grandmother’s café at fifteen, realisation suddenly struck that interviewers may ask about interests outside work. Unfortunately, working every evening, weekend, and bank holiday allowed Daisy little time to pursue anything she might be passionate about.
Flicking through imaginary scenarios, Daisy pondered how plausible it was to claim she worked with rescue animals (after all, she found Tinker and Mittens dumped by the bins at the back of the pub a few years ago and tended to them like children ever since) – then again, she had no free time to volunteer for animal charities, so had no references to support such a claim. Then, Daisy considered how intellectual she’d seem if she claimed to be an avid reader (she spent break times scrolling through social media, reading about the interesting lives of her school friends), but found a plot hole when she imagined them asking about her favourite read; if she confessed her favourite book was Matilda, she’d be laughed out of the room. Finally, Daisy decided to tell them she was interested in film and television, a major asset in advertising; however, she realised that wouldn’t work either – she was constantly catching up months after the initial hype, as she was always working late.
The hands of her watch ticked closer to her fate, and Daisy could procrastinate no longer. Once she’d awkwardly fought through the broken seatbelt of her cramped eighties car, Daisy clambered out into the chill of that bracing autumn morning in an uncomfortably figure-hugging skirt she’d never worn (yet regretted, despite skipping breakfast). In wrapping the only nice coat she had (that wasn’t covered in cat hair) tightly around herself, Daisy accidentally dropped her keys. Slamming the rusty mustard door shut with a grunt, Daisy bent down to retrieve the collection of fluffy trinkets attached to her flat and car keys, when a heart-stopping rip resounded. Feeling her cheeks heat like coals on a barbeque, Daisy contorted herself every which way to see what had ripped and where. Much to her dismay, those tights she’d found balled up in the corner of her underwear drawer failed in their duty to conceal her muscular thighs; an indiscreet ladder spread across her upper left leg like wildfire. Daisy regretted her choice of skirt a little less when she realised it just about covered her dignity.
Pausing for a moment to take a deep, smog-filled breath, Daisy mustered the courage to march purposefully towards Linx-Sky Advertising; an architectural beast overshadowing the pebble-dash buildings surrounding it.
Here goes nothing.
Trying her utmost not to be intimidated by a receptionist who could’ve moonlighted as a model stationed at an enormous front desk, Daisy asked for directions. She thanked the tall receptionist, then squeaked her new shoes all the way to the lifts.
Daisy gazed around in wonder at the lift, marvelling at the marble walls, golden safety rails, and twinkling spotlights peppered above her like a constellation. During her observations, Daisy didn’t notice the lift fill with three other people and was snapped from her reverie by the melodic tones of a handsome suit, ‘You have to select a floor number if you want the lift to move.’
Feeling her cheeks glow red, Daisy half-smiled at the handsome suit, avoiding eye contact as she selected the eleventh floor. Daisy spent the first four floors fiddling with her fingernails, wishing she’d enough time to re-paint them as flakes of damaged blue nail polish moulted onto her skirt. There was a high-pitched ‘ding’ as the lift doors trundled open, inviting into the mix a rotund gentleman in suit trousers and an untucked paisley shirt, complete with crescent patches. As the lift doors trundled shut again, a powerful hue of body odour hit Daisy and she instinctively stepped backwards to escape it.
‘Alright there?’ The handsome suit, whose Australian accent Daisy noticed for the first time, had been caught up in her clumsiness as she accidentally stepped on his immaculate black shoes.
‘Sorry!’ Daisy’s cheeks lit up like brake lights, again.
‘No worries, happens all the time.’
Braving a brief glance up at the face atop the handsome suit, Daisy discovered enchanting mahogany eyes and tousled dark hair that perfectly complemented his olive skin and chiselled features.
Yes, I imagine women constantly fall over you.
‘What brings you here?’
‘Uh,’ Daisy was shocked by the sudden spark of conversation, ‘the eleventh floor, an interview.’ She averted her eyes, pretending her handbag zip required inspection.
‘I see. Name’s Adam,’ he presented his hand to Daisy.
‘Daisy. Daisy Millam… I mean, Miller.’ Daisy looked up and returned the gesture, her usually chubby fingers feeling delicately feminine as her hand slipped into his.
‘Nice to meet you, Daisy Miller.’
There was a satisfying ‘ding’ as the lift doors trundled open once more, drawing the sweaty zeppelin’s cloud of stench onto the ninth floor, as well as stealing Adam away. Daisy remained in the lift with one other passenger. Despite wrestling with the will to begin a conversation, Daisy didn’t have long to endure awkward silence, as the pointy-toed woman vacated the lift on the tenth floor.
Finally, Daisy reached her destination. Within seconds of stepping off the lift, a glamourous secretary greeted her. The Naomi-Campbell-lookalike led Daisy along a disorientating corridor that had an impossibly slippery floor and enormous canvases of ‘modern art’ clinging to its dull, grey walls.
Upon reaching the waiting room, Naomi disappeared into the executive office. Daisy was left to contend with the geometric carpet, lines of lime green chairs, and floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of a sprawling cityscape (as well as the dizzying visual of ant-sized people going about their lives eleven storeys below).
Not going to stand by the window.
Avoiding eye contact with those she presumed were fellow candidates spread around the room, Daisy clocked a water cooler neighbouring the closed office door. She longed for a cup of water to calm her nerves, though the cooler was occupied by a trembling middle-aged woman dressed for a fifties summer picnic.
Hope this isn’t a group interview; I prefer private humiliation.
To distract herself from nervousness, Daisy stole a glance at the candidates sat around her so she could imagine backstories for them. First, she noted the woman sat directly opposite her staring intently at a smartphone. The bleached-blonde bob cut, smart skirt suit and inappropriately high salmon heels suggested to Daisy that this woman was confident, sophisticated, and knew exactly what she wanted. Daisy decided the powerful-looking woman had to have an embarrassing floral name like hers, such as ‘Violet’ or ‘Hyacinth’, because she’d like to believe that woman had also been born to a single, teenaged mother.
‘Sarah Smith!’ Naomi’s voice bellowed from deep within the executive office.
‘Hyacinth’ stood up, dropped her smartphone into her vast handbag, then forced a smile en route to the office from which Naomi had beckoned.
Stupid woman with her normal, business-appropriate name.
Refusing to allow jealousy to worsen her anxiety, Daisy shifted her concentration to the male candidate three seats from ‘Hyacinth’. Upon noting his fresh-faced complexion and loose-fitted suit, Daisy was annoyed that a boy (who couldn’t have been more than eighteen) dare be interviewed for the same job she had dreamed of for the last decade. The poor boy’s anxious fidgeting wasn’t enough to appease Daisy; she resigned herself to the belief she’d lost the job to a millennial.
Off he went. Daisy took a subtle side-glance to her right, hoping to find a new backstory in the candidate two seats over from her. Unfortunately, Daisy’s subtle side-glance became a glare of disgust, as a balding candidate with nineties glasses and a pencil moustache draped his elongated arm over the back of the chair beside her. It was his creepy wink that sent Daisy scrambling out of her seat, handbag clutched tightly to her side, as she rushed to the safety of the water cooler where Nervous Nelly still stood. Daisy wondered whether Nelly was nervous because of the creep, or if it was the long wait for an interview that had her shaking so violently the contents of her cup resembled thrashing, stormy seas.
Although she had to endure his passing perverted stare, Daisy was relieved Creepy Creeperson had vacated the waiting room. Little Devon, on the other hand, appeared less than relieved; he stepped out of the office and froze like a rabbit in headlights.
‘What happened, sweetheart?’ Nervous Nelly placed her full cup of water on top of the cooler and wrapped a comforting arm around little Devon’s shoulders, walking him out through the narrow, disorientating corridor as if guiding a toddler.
Daisy felt the need for a stiff drink, though had to settle for water. As she bent over to reach for a fresh cup, her hairspray-hardened top bun tipped the cup on top of the cooler, splashing its entire contents over her skirt. The limited space in her handbag meant Daisy decided against squeezing a packet of tissues into it earlier that morning, and there was nobody around to ask where the toilets were.
‘Everything alright?’ In a cruel twist of fate, handsome Adam emerged from the office and Daisy wished the geometric carpet would swallow her whole.
‘Wow, what happened here?’ Adam stifled a laugh as Daisy noticed him attempt to avert his eyes from her sodden skirt.
Naomi sent Creepy Creeperson away with the icy threat of security, before flipping her demeanour and warmly inviting Daisy to begin her interview.
In contrast to the uninviting waiting room outside, Adam’s executive office had extravagant wooden floors with a backdrop of book-laden shelving, and a stylish white desk in the centre surrounded by luxurious turquoise chairs. Adam and his secretary sat across the desk from Daisy, in front of the wall of books. Daisy felt her fears fade as Adam introduced Naomi as Talia, and the interview began.
‘You two know each other?’ Daisy didn’t appreciate the subconscious look of revulsion that accompanied Talia’s question.
‘Sort of,’ Adam shot a sneaky smile at Daisy, ‘I want to know why you want this job. What made you apply?’
I’ve got this.
‘Well,’ Daisy had prepared for this question, ‘I feel it time for a change. Although I’m a creative person, I get little opportunity to be creative in my current role.’
‘I see,’ Adam rubbed the styled stubble of his chin as Talia tapped notes onto a tablet, ‘and what makes you suited for a career in advertising?’
‘I have ample experience on the front line of hospitality, so I know what makes consumers tick and can design successful marketing campaigns around that,’ Daisy hoped her answer didn’t sound recited, parrot-fashion.
‘Fantastic,’ Adam placed both his forearms onto the desk and leaned forward, ‘our biggest clients are high-street fashion and cosmetics brands. What is it about fashion you’re most passionate about?’
‘I, uh, could I get a glass of water, please?’ Daisy stalled, hoping to think of something to say that wouldn’t declare she’d failed to research the company’s clientele.
‘Talia, water please.’ Adam clicked his fingers at Talia, who immediately jumped out of her seat to do as commanded.
Daisy couldn’t believe what she’d just witnessed. In fact, she was so gobsmacked that she couldn’t assemble an answer to the fashion question.
‘Thanks,’ Daisy’s nail polish flaked again as she took the cup of water from Talia’s perfectly manicured hands.
‘What about cosmetics, have you ever undergone a cosmetic procedure?’ Adam eyed Daisy knowingly, as if he already assumed what her answer would be.
I’ll show them.
‘Actually, I haven’t.’ Daisy forced her words through the sweetest smile she could muster, ‘Unless tattoos count?’
‘You have a tattoo?’ The question, laced with disdain, slipped out before Talia could stop herself.
‘I have three.’
‘We have a strict policy on-’ Adam was obviously uncomfortable as he leaned back and shifted awkwardly in his chair.
‘Oh, don’t worry,’ Daisy looked Adam straight in the eye, ‘my tattoos are only visible when I’m wearing a bathing suit, or less.’
Look at them both, writhing in awkwardness; this’ll tip ‘em over the edge…
‘Though it’s not a problem. I mean, it’s not like you’re ever going to hire me as your first size sixteen underwear model, is it?’ Daisy let out the falsest laugh imaginable.
‘I think that’s all the questions we have. Talia?’ Adam stood up, avoiding all eye contact with Daisy as he rushed around the desk to open the office door.
‘No more questions.’ Daisy could see Talia was desperate to usher her out, stood behind her like a collie herding sheep.
‘You’ll hear from us by the end of the week.’ Adam reluctantly offered his hand to Daisy, who had to wipe his clamminess on her skirt as she walked out the door.
Upon returning to her beloved car, Daisy plonked her head onto the sun-stained steering wheel. She sat there in silence, mulling over the day’s events, wondering whether a career in advertising was worth the condescension.
What the hell was I thinking?