Zero Hours

in fiction •  last year 

“I never paid for a job y’know!”

“I’m not paying for a job, Dad” Said Dave, avoiding his father’s eyes as he pushed some coloured tokens around on the table. They looked like casino chips, a fact of life which held a very intentional and demoralizing irony.

“We’d just hop on a computer, search in Bing, and have a job by the afternoon. No Fees, just hard work in Exchange for good old fashioned money."

“What’s Bing?” Dave asked, but for all the listening his father was doing, he might as well have well have asked what love is. If he could just land this interview… He stood up, and switched the kettle on, cranking it all the way up, past ‘tepid’ all the way to ‘lukewarm’. They were all the same, but Dave knew that if it wasn’t on ‘lukewarm’ his father would start nagging. The old man was still rambling, and so Dave decided to focus on the boiling of the kettle, waiting for steam that would never quite come.

The kitchen was small enough to be claustrophobic, but big enough that if he concentrated really hard on the humming of the heating element inside the kettle, he wouldn’t hear the incessant bitching that his father put out every morning. As he focused as hard as he could, he let his concentration lapse, and allowed his eyes to follow a fly around the room. The buzz of the fly mixed with the hum of the kettle pushed him into a mild trance, and he idly turned, following the fly over his furniture and into the corner of the room. Big mistake.

He didn’t quite look directly at it, but his periphery saw just enough to snap him out of his trance and quickly look away. His initial gasp was followed by a quick shudder, but his father didn’t see. "I’ve gotta get this job”, he thought to himself miserably. The kettle finished its internal sauna, and Dave started to pour the water into a cup.

“I want tea, Dave.”

“There’s no tea Dad. It’s just water. It’s always just water.”

“Make it like tea!”

It was easier just to comply, so Dave poured the warm water from the kettle into the teapot. He poured the water from the pot into the mug that he had already started to fill, and he placed it down in front of his Father. He then sat down in front of his pile of credits and his heart sank.

“Dad…” he tried to put on a voice which sounded breezy rather than frustrated “Dad I need them all. I have exactly enough for an interview.” He flicked his eyes down to the pile which has slanting a bit to the left, and missing its beautiful red cap – a crimson coin – which was worth around 27 percent of the pile’s total value.

“I din’t take nothing” Said his Father, whose hands were resting firmly on his knees under the table. “Accusing your own father of being a common thief! If your mother could only see you now!”

“She can see us, Dad.” Said Dave, doing his best not to look back over there. He tried his best to force the memory away, but it got a couple of milliseconds of screen time in the back of his mind and his stomach turned.

“If she could see you!” his Father continued, pointedly ignoring anything Dave tried to say. “If she could see you not even sharing the wealth with your own Father! I’m old you know. I shouldn’t have to steal from my own boy. Lenny’s boy got a job you know. He’s a street sweeper! Lenny gets cigarettes whenever he wants.

“Dad, I can’t get a job if I don’t get an interview, and for that, I need all of my credits”

“I never paid for a job!”

“Well times have changed Dad. You know they have, and you know what street sweepers do, so for your sake you’d best hope I never become one.”

“You kids are all worthless, all you do is laze around, sleeping late, listening to hippy hoppy music, doing drugs in alleys like immigrants.”

Dave jumped up.

“No! Dad!, there’s no drugs! No drugs!”

A whirring sound came from the corner of the room. Dave knew the sound. Eyeballs were turning, rotating around, their long-dried sheen scraping against stretched sockets and looking slowly around the room for any trace of illicit behavior.

“Dad, come on, give me the credits” His worthless father, not daring to do anything wrong in front of her, slammed the credits on the table. They both looked into each other’s eyes, not daring to break contact. they could hear whirring and clinking in the corner, as it sent data away to somewhere unknown.

Dave took the chance, and scraped all the credits off the table, and into a battered and worn brown messenger bag. He jumped up, kissed his father on the forehead and headed for the living room door. He kept his neck straight, and eyes directly ahead, but as he got closer and closer to freedom, he heard the thrashes and struggles, punctuated by quick, shallow breath. It was just uncomfortable enough that he jumped the last few steps, whacking the handle down as quickly as possible as he fumbled his shoes on.

It was a beautiful day. Every day had been beautiful for a very long time. But like a song with only one note, the beauty had faded into the background, and no one really ever noticed or talked about it anymore. The streets were immaculately clean. Nobody littered, and even the leaves of the trees could pick themselves up from the ground. It was all very clinical.

Dave ran down the road, anxious to get away from home, and eager to get in the queue at the Jobby. He passed Lenny’s boy, but tried not to be seen. He knew what Lenny’s boy did – he didn’t want to associate with that. Steps quickening, he locked his eyes down at the ground. Lenny’s boy was distracted, reading some crappy tabloid, one provided for free by his employers no doubt.

Eventually, it felt safe to look up again. He passed the bus stop, wishing he could afford the fare. His wish didn’t come true, so he kept on walking, knowing that the bus wouldn’t have come anyway. They had stopped coming long enough ago that nobody ever really commented on it any more. It was a surprise that the bus stop hadn’t disappeared in the night, but it was better not to think too much about it.

By the time he got to the Job Center, he was covered in sweat and heavily dehydrated. The receptionist saw this and offered him a mug of warm water, which he gladly gulped down before taking a ticket and sitting in one of the faded blue chairs. His ticket said there were 20 people ahead of him, but as he waited he counted at least 33.

“David! Great to see you!” a man in a light grey suit had appeared in the doorway. Mr Ratcliffe, his job seeking counsellor. He guided Dave into a small fluorescently lit room. Most of the world had moved on from fluorescent bulbs, but the Job Center seemingly recognised their morale-sapping value, so they kept them installed in the interrogation rooms and bathroom.

“So how can I help you today, David?” Mr Ratcliffe said, as he sat down in his chair. Dave wasn’t new to this particular song and dance, so he wasn’t particularly surprised that there was no chair for him on the other side of the desk.

“I’d like an interview, please!”

“An interview? How can you afford that?”

“I saved up my job seekers allowance for 3 months. Haven’t been out or anything. I really want an interview, see!”

“Ok, then if you could just deposit those credits into the job seekers box, I’ll run you through the system” said Mr
Ratcliffe, his face strained in a way that seemed to be desperately trying to conceal a smirk.

“Ok…does that mean I don’t get to choose what I interview for?”

“Not how it works I’m afraid! But don’t worry, you’ll be able to interview for something! Lenny’s boy interviewed just last week, and he got the job! You’ll never guess what he does”

“He’s a street sweeper, I know. He helped to install my Mum.”

“Oh.” Mr Ratcliffe was no longer struggling with his smirk, and became quietly fixated on his screen. Dave looked around the room, not wanting to say anything he didn’t need to. He’d need to save all his words for the interview if he wanted a chance of getting a job.

“Ok got something!” Mr Ratcliffe looked up with excitement. “Not a paid position I’m afraid, but they rarely are these days. It’ll be really good experience though, and they’ll give you a four month experience certificate.”

“So the job is only for four months?” Dave asked, disappointingly.

“It’s a one-year placement, but it’s only really counted as four months of working experience. But if you do enough hard work and throw in some overtime once in a while, they’ll maybe keep you on for a second year, and with eight months experience, you’ll be able to get an interview for a paid internship!”

Dave pulled the credits out of his pockets, and slotted them into a box that had 'For the People' branded on the side. He’d stopped feeling cheated after his previous two interviews never called back, and felt that this time was for real.

“Ok. Interview is set for December. That’s 10 weeks from now. Don’t be late, there’s no refunds!”

“You haven’t told me what the position is for yet” said Dave, sticking his appointment stub in his pocket.

“It’s for a stuffer. You know, stuffing stuff into stuff.”

“Don’t they have robots for that kinda thing?”

“Now then Dave, better not ask too many questions eh?”

“Right.”

Dave left the office and went back out into the stunning sunlight, which had no effect on him whatsoever. He fantasised a little about killing himself, before realising that he could no longer afford it, and then he noticed that He had just enough credits left over for some mid-shelf drugs. At least his father was right about one thing.

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