The Job, Part Two: The First Day

A serialized story in seven parts

Ken Preston

26 January 2024

An ullustration of women working in endless rows of cubicles.

Your second part of the story, The Job. Not the most imaginative title, is it? Appropriate, though.

I hope you are enjoying it. If you missed Part One, you can find it here.

Writing in the Shadows is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Listen to the audio version, or scroll down to read the post.

2. The First Day

2. The First Day

Early Monday morning and Susan woke with a start.

Had somebody knocked on her door?

A plain, white envelope lay on the mat, shoved through the gap between the door and the floor. The gap that let all the cold air in.

The envelope had her name on it in neatly printed block capitals. Inside the envelope there was a plain sheet of white paper with an address written in the same neat block capitals. And a command to report for duty at nine am.

Just like the man had told her.

Susan took the subway into Manhattan, got off at 57th Street, and walked the rest of the way to 3rd and 54th. The wind bit through her jacket and blouse, mocking her decision to not wear a coat after all. She arrived at the location marked on the letter, the print now smudged almost beyond readability, and panic fluttered in her chest as she realized she was late.

A metal, gray door at the end of a narrow alley was the only indication of a business located here. No signage, not even a handle or a lock on the door. Susan stepped carefully over the used needles and condoms scattered across the ground. She raised a fist to knock on the door, and paused.

This was the point of no return, that moment when the door opened and she stepped inside. If she turned away now, walked back to her lonely apartment, began her search through the classifieds in the New York Times again, (she’d lied about that, she read it every day), then life would go on as normal.

And maybe that was the point at which she made her decision.

Because normal had become intolerable.

Before she could knock, the door was flung open. A small man with an over-sized head beckoned her inside.

‘You’re late!’ he snapped, his voice a high-pitched squeak.

‘I’m sorry,’ Susan said, stepping inside. ‘It took me a long time to find—’

‘Forget about it,’ the man said. ‘Go on, quick. She’s waiting for you.’

Susan stepped inside. The two of them were squashed together in a small square of space. Up close she could smell him, a sickly sweet perfume, and something else, some hint of his body odor. The little man closed the door, and Susan was hemmed in on three sides, and facing a set of steep, gloomy stairs.

‘Up you go.’

Susan took the steep steps one at a time. At the top, she found herself on a tiny landing, just another square of space, and facing a closed, plain door. She knocked, timidly.

‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, just go in, go in! You’ve wasted enough time already!’

Susan jumped, almost screamed. She hadn’t heard the small man following her up the stairs, almost touching her he was so close. Swallowing, and wondering if this was a good idea but knowing she couldn’t back out now, Susan grasped the door handle and pushed the door open.

On the other side was a cavernous space filled with cubicles. In each cubicle, of the ones she could see at least, sat a woman working at a desk. Before Susan could see any more, or work out what the women were doing, the small man was bustling her on.

‘Come on, come on,’ he squeaked. ‘No time for dilly dallying, no time at all.’

He ushered her through the maze of cubicles until they arrived at an office. The door was closed, and the blinds had been pulled down. The little man took a moment to straighten his tie and smooth his hair down. Glancing at Susan, he gave her a quick look up and down, and muttered, ‘You’ll do, I suppose.’

He knocked on the door.

>