The Princess of Morticians by Mike Lee

At 10:30, the receptionist at the front desk gave off the look of a mortician, heightened by her jet-black hair with the white streak in the bangs that evoked a mid-90s memory of one of the band members in Luscious Jackson. As well as what I realized decades ago: punk is not a uniform. Instead, it was a way of thinking—an attitude. The latter came in handy in my editorial career. 

Sometimes it works. Other times, not.

I sat back in the mid-century chair, the cushion expectedly uncomfortable, and resisted the urge to scratch the eczema patch behind my left knee. When the spot appeared several months ago, it looked like a wine-colored birthmark, except the skin was rough and itchy. Stupidly, I scratched, and despite the cortisone I applied, the spot transmogrified into a deeper red with ugly spots. My partner suggested a holistic salve, and daily, she would use it, tapping the cream on my leg, finishing with a soft kiss on the back of my neck while the salve did its work on soothing the itchiness.

Yes, this salve helped some, but not enough. My doctor said it came from stress. So, therefore, I have that, along with late-career frustration and a wish for better times in the future, while looking back and analyzing every mistake I made.

Both did not help the overall stress, but they occasionally softened the sharper edges of the anxiety disorder diagnosed years ago.

Note to self: do not look back. I remember the story of Lot’s wife. Also, the texture of the eczema patch feels like hardened salt, so there.

The princess of the morticians wore a lace collar anchored by an opal at the center, the only identifying mark of who she was at night. Otherwise, she was professionally dressed in a shaded black dress and small silver hoops—two in her left ear.

The company I am interviewing with is stylistically stuck in the 1990s, increasingly idiosyncratic with an oppressive miasma of not knowing who the workers are.

In my youth and early to mid-adulthood, the workplace was uniform. You did not know what was behind the fabric. 

I never got her name. I am lousy about remembering the first time. Always a strike against me. Yet, I managed to have a career. Cheat notes and felt tip marking under my wrist helps. Just not this time.

I have an eye for resemblances. I remember faces and expressions that make up the sum of human personality. At least, I think I do—occasionally, I am unsure.

The receptionist took a call and spoke briefly before hanging up.

She had stunning blue eyes, like water in a deep pool.

“The managing editor will see you now, Mister…” She had trouble with names, too.

“Lyvere,” I said. “It’s cool.” 

She smiled self-consciously. “Sorry about that.”

I got up. That was one uncomfortable chair.

“No worries.”

“Good luck. Cool name, by the way.”

“It’s French.”

As I passed her desk, I checked the nameplate. Camille Strock.

“Thank you, Ms. Strock. I’m going to need it.”

In the old days, it would be callbacks. Instead, every communication regarding second interviews is an email, either thanking me for my time and wishing me luck or asking if I would be willing to come back to meet again with the person above me in the daisy chain of command.

The interviewer was nondescript, but he did ask about my desired salary and benefits toward the end, which is usually a good sign. Unfortunately, I underplayed by ten grand and intentionally hesitated in my inquiry about dental and vision benefits. You can never be enthusiastic about the prize while it remains a hopeful mirage.

The managing editor: old school, but younger than me. Maybe by a decade. State university diploma framed next to a couple of publishing awards for excellence. Thin face framed by the thickest black glasses since Buddy Holly. He forgot to close the collar button when he straightened his tie to meet me. I saw that as a good sign.

Eczema flared up during the interview.

“I hope you did well,” Camille said as I left.

I thought of a lyric by The Jam. I hope you got the job you were looking for. In the song, the character was laid off. Damn. That happened before, and hopefully never again.

“I think I did. I hope to see you again soon, Ms. Strock.”

She leaned her head toward her left shoulder as I opened the door to leave.

While in the elevator, I thought there was a spark of connection between us. Two people who cover well. The white streak and that gothic lace collar told me who she was. More power to her.

I look forward to loosening up again, too.

One of these days. Let it be soon.

I texted my girlfriend to tell her the interview went well, expressing confidence and hope in heart emojis. She responded with hers. She asked how the patch was behind my knee.

I sat in a café. The eczema was bothering me, but I had the salve in my bag. So I went into the restroom and applied it.

Still red, not as much as this morning, but I could not tell in the light. I gently massaged in the ointment. Fortunately, the stuff doesn’t stain my pants…they’re expensive.

After returning to the table, I sat with my iced latte and kept refreshing the email app on my phone.

If it’s a yes, I’ll have another latte. If it’s a no, then onward. To another receptionist, probably not like Camille, this princess of morticians, but hopefully to a more comfortable chair.

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