Login   Sign Up 


The Mark of a Professional

by Freebird 

Posted: 22 May 2012
Word Count: 2099
Summary: short story aimed at WW.

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced


Anna looked at the crisp white shirt laid out on the bed, like a the ghost of a woman she once knew. Why on earth had she applied for this job? It was years since she’d even had an interview, and that last one was an experience she’d rather forget.
Still, it was done now. And the application form must have been all right for her to get this far. Unless, of course, she had been the only applicant, or none of the others could string two words together.
“Still stressing?” Rob came into the bedroom and began to massage her shoulders. “You’ll walk it, hon. Who knows more about this stuff than you do?”
“But it’s been five years, Rob. What if I can’t do it any more? What if I’ve forgotten everything and I just make a fool of myself?”
“Just be yourself and you’ll be fine. They’re not expecting Wonder Woman, you know. Although,” he added with a cheeky pinch of her bottom, “you would look fantastic in that outfit of hers.”
“Yeah, right.” Anna rubbed her tummy, which definitely was larger and more squidgy than it had been the last time she had gone out to work for a wage. Having children changed so many things. Now she was struck by a sudden panic. “I don’t even think I’ll fit into that skirt any more!”
She pointed at the bed, where her old favourite navy skirt lay. She had always thought it flattering, that it emphasised her shapely legs, but now... She certainly wouldn’t be able to eat anything while she was wearing it, not if she wanted it to stay fastened and not split open in front of the interview panel.
“Tell you what,” said Rob. “Why don’t you go out for a walk or something? It’s a gorgeous evening and it would do you good to unwind. I’ll sort out the twins.”
“Would you?” Anna turned round and flung her arms around his neck. “That would really help, thank you.”
“Anything for my Wonder Woman,” said Rob, and dropped a kiss on her nose.

Rob had been right – it was a beautiful evening. Anna wandered slowly round the park, trying not to think about what lay ahead. The slanting sun lit a drift of dandelion clocks floating in the air. Each one would land somewhere new, take root and blossom.
That’s what I want to do, thought Anna. I’m ready for a new challenge.
By the time she got home and turned in at the gate, she had talked herself into a newfound confidence. Of course she could do this! She was perfectly qualified for the job, and after five years of parenting had extra experience to draw on. Her smile was broad as she pictured herself, well-groomed and professional in her shirt – it had cost an arm and a leg, and was by far the most expensive item of clothing she owned.
But it was worth it for the way she felt when she put it on. Invincible instead of invisible.
As she stepped into the hallway, Megan and Tilly came clattering down the stairs. Slightly disappointed to find them still up when she’d been looking forward to unwinding with a glass of wine, Anna couldn’t help smiling at the sight of them. They’d obviously been dressing up, trying to look like Mummy. Teetering heels and smudged lipstick only made them look all the more adorable, and she felt a surge of love...
...until she noticed what Tilly was wearing.
Anna’s smile froze on her face. “Er, Tilly, love?” she managed to say through gritted teeth. “Where did you find that lovely shirt? Was it on Mummy’s bed?”
“It’s not a shirt, it’s my wedding dress!” announced Tilly, tilting her head and wiping a smudge of scarlet lipstick across the pristine white shoulder of Anna’s best shirt.
Anna clenched her fists. “And you look lovely in it, but next time you must ask Mummy before you try her clothes on.”
Tilly blinked, her big eyes suddenly wet. “Mummy cross?”
“Not with you, my darling, not with you,” said Anna, forcing a smile which must have looked more like a snarl, because Tilly burst into tears.
Rob came through from the living room. “What’s going on? I’m missing the match here.”
“For one, why are these two not in bed?” snapped Anna. “And why did you let Tilly wear my shirt? It’s for the interview tomorrow! Just look at it – I can’t wear it now!”
“Keep your hair on,” grumbled Rob. “Tell you what, I’ll get these two into their pyjamas while you give it a quick wash.”
“It’s dry clean only. And that lipstick’s not going to come out so easily – it’s designed to last all day.”
“So wear something else. What does it matter?”
Anna wanted to scream. How could he be so dense? “I don’t have anything else that’s suitable! In case it’s escaped your attention, I no longer fit into most of my clothes unless they have an elasticated waist, and we don’t have the money to go out and buy new stuff... which is why I applied for this wretched job in the first place!”
“All right, all right. Look, it’s only on the shoulder. Just keep your jacket on and you’ll be fine.”
Anna shot him a glare and whisked Tilly up the stairs. “Let’s get your wedding dress off now,” she said.
Tilly folded her arms. “Don’t want to. Want to keep it on.”
“But after the wedding you’re having a holiday in a posh hotel with a swimming pool. You need to take your dress off or you won’t be able to swim.”
Tilly pulled at the shirt, almost sending the top button pinging off. “Take it off now.”
“Let me help.” Anna felt the beginnings of a headache behind her eyes. So much for a relaxing evening. She fiddled with the tiny pearl buttons and managed to extract Tilly from the shirt without further mishap.
Rob was right, she admitted, grudgingly, as she ran Tilly’s bath. If she kept her jacket on, nobody would know the difference.

Next morning, the forecast was for sunshine.
“See?” said Rob as he bit into a slice of toast. “It’s a good sign. Fair weather ahead for you, and no sign of any black clouds.” He nodded towards Anna’s shirt. “Looks perfect to me.”
Anna did a twirl in front of the mirror. He was right. She did look good. And nobody could tell there was a slash of red across her shoulder. She kissed Rob and the girls goodbye, and went to the car.
A wave of heat rolled over her as soon as she opened the door. Who would have thought, after all the rubbish weather they’d had recently, that the sun would heat it up so much. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. She slid in behind the steering wheel, her bare legs sticking to the seat. Was it a foolish decision not to wear tights? But she only had one pair without a ladder, and she’d discovered those wrapped around Megan’s teddy bear with felt tip decorations scribbled all over.
The car grew hotter as Anna drove. She thought about opening the window, but the wind would only mess up her hair.
Never mind, she thought, with a triumphant smile. I’ll just turn up the air conditioning.
When she arrived at the pre-school, Anna’s belly did a somersault. It was one thing looking after your own children at home – and she hadn’t exactly proved to be very good at that lately, had she? – and quite another taking responsibility for the running of an entire pre-school. Her hand was on the door handle, ready to get back in the car and drive away, when a smartly dressed woman marched out of the front door and waved.
“Welcome, welcome. You must be Anna, yes?” The woman’s hair was immaculate and her clothes neatly tailored.
Anna was aware of the stumpiness of her own legs and wished she had worn heels.
“I’m Mrs. Cunningham, one of the trustees. We’re all dying to meet you,” said the woman, her heels clicking like gunshots as she led Anna to her fate.
A couple of other women sat in the reception area, looking calm and collected. One of them had a plastic box full of pictures and musical instruments, and looked as though she would happily spend every waking hour of the day thinking up exciting new activities for her charges. She probably presented a TV show in her spare time, thought Anna gloomily. She had that glossy, groomed look about her and was obviously at least ten years younger than Anna.
Mrs. Cunningham introduce the women to the other half of the interview panel – a stern looking man with mutton chop sideboards called Mr. Williams. Despite the sun outside, the radiators in the reception area were on full blast, and a wave of heat travelled right up Anna’s body and into her face, flushing her cheeks.
“Are you all right?” asked Mrs. Cunningham. “It is a little warm in here. Please feel free to take off your jacket – we’re quite informal here.”
Anna glanced at the other candidates. They kept their jackets on.
“I’m fine, thank you,” she said, lifting her chin as she followed Mrs. Cunningham into a huge, airy playroom with massive panes of glass in the roof. It was light and attractive, but absolutely sweltering. Anna felt a trickle of sweat run down the back of her thigh.
“We will, of course, be observing you all closely to see how you relate to the children,” said Mrs. Cunningham. “We need to see that you are comfortable in this environment.”
Anna pressed her hands to her burning cheeks and thought that she never felt less comfortable in her life.
A little girl, around the same age as the twins, ran up to her and seized her hand. “Come and do painting with me,” she urged.
Anna followed, crouching awkwardly on a chair so tiny that her bottom sagged over both sides at once. She smiled stiffly at the little girl, who had dipped a paintbrush in green paint and was splattering it all over her paper.
Plop. Some of the paint landed on Anna’s jacket. Splat. Another dollop on her skirt.
The little girl carried on, oblivious, and Anna watched her sweet, serious face, so involved in the enjoyment of her task that she didn’t even notice what other people thought.
And that’s when Anna decided she’d had enough of being uncomfortable. Who cared what these interviewers thought of her shirt? She’d never get the job anyway, so she may as well muck in and enjoy herself.
Off came the jacket; shirt sleeves were rolled up and Anna dipped her fingers in a pot of red paint.
“What else can we use to paint with, instead of a brush?” she asked, making red dots on the paper in front of her.
“Fingers!” yelled the girl, gleefully.
A couple more children scurried across. “Straws!” they giggled, “and sticks!”
Before long, a gaggle of children surrounded Anna, having a marvellous time with the paints. Anna smiled. This was why she’d applied for the job. Of course she remembered how to do it.
She started as Mrs. Cunningham tapped her on the shoulder. “Would you like to come through for your interview now?”
Anna swallowed, her palms suddenly clammy. She’d almost forgotten why she was here.
In the interview room, she answered the questions as best she could. Her memory was a bit hazy on some aspects, but she chattered away on others. But a pang of disappointment flashed through her when the mutton-chop man frowned and pointed at the slash of lipstick on her shirt.
“What is that, on your shoulder?” he said, wrinkling his nose.
Anna blushed, and was about to apologise when Mrs. Cunningham broke in.
“That, Mr. Williams, is red paint,” she said, firmly. “And, in my opinion, that is the true mark of a professional. We’re looking for someone who’s not afraid to muck in with the children and get their hands dirty.”
Half an hour later, Anna walked out of the pre-school and back to the car. She slung her jacket in the back seat, opened all the windows and turned on her music. Glancing in the rear view mirror, she fingered the stain on her shoulder.
Perhaps she would wear this shirt on the first day of her new job.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Mox at 20:19 on 22 May 2012  Report this post
Oh dear, I guess you got this story out of your recent experience of the Interview. So at least you told us what were you thinking one day before the interview and what happened with your short. Lolling. I think it's fictional.

Many sentences are nicely described. But hey are you chubby?

Wish you had got the job.


Typos: shirt, not short


Many sentences are nicely written, not described.

Bald Man at 21:01 on 22 May 2012  Report this post
Hi Freebird

I thought you caught the sickening stress of job interviews very well indeed, and captured the domestic flashpoints that can so easily happen. It captured well too, the strategies that parents adopt to defuse tensions and to get the compliance of children without tears. I also really liked how Anna engaged the children in the pre-school; very real indeed.

I wondered, however, just about the last section, when Mrs Cunningham said: "We will, of course, be observing you all closely to see how you relate to the children".

You don't give details of how this observation happened. Was the panel observing through a window, or in the corner of the room etc. If all the panel had been observing, mutton-chops would have seen how Anna got stains on her clothes and probably wouldn't have passed comment. Maybe you could just have Mrs Cunningham and a qualified Nursery Nurse looking on, reporting back to Mr Williams and others on the panel?

Good story.

Mox at 21:29 on 22 May 2012  Report this post

Hey Colin,

You don't give details of how this observation happened. Was the panel observing through a window, or in the corner of the room etc.

The Story is from Anna POV, her attention was focused on the children, so how could she know the panel was watching on her?

Bald Man at 23:26 on 22 May 2012  Report this post
Mrs Cunningham told her she would be observed closely as part of the selection process, so Anna would be aware of this and could have noticed how this observation was taking place.

True, her attention was focused on the children, but it's also a job selection procedure, and I think if I had been in her position I would have been interested in the selection process itself (e.g. who's involved; how is the observation going to happen), to satisfy myself it was fair.

Catkin at 02:45 on 23 May 2012  Report this post
I agree with everything that Colin says. It's a good, real, well written story - and yes, the bit about the observation does need to be made clearer.

She had always thought it flattering, that it emphasised her shapely legs

- maybe "because it emphasised" rather than "that"?

and she hadn’t exactly proved to be very good at that lately, had she

- Why does she think this? She seems to be an excellent mother. I think you could cut this line.

I love the title! Very clever.

Good luck with this one. It deserves to sell.

Katerina at 11:21 on 23 May 2012  Report this post

This is great

I can't think of anything to add that Colin hasn't already said, except good luck and let us know if you sell it.

Mox, just because someone writes about a character with a less than perfect body, doesn't mean they themselves are 'chubby' as you put it. Stop being so rude.

Kat x

eve26 at 13:21 on 23 May 2012  Report this post
Hi Sarah
I really enjoyed this too and agree its a great title.
Nothing to add except good luck!

Freebird at 14:40 on 23 May 2012  Report this post
thanks for all the comments - good point, Colin. To be perfectly honest, I was trying to keep the wordcount close to 2000 and I probably skated over one or two details to achieve that. Will do a bit of an edit.

fluffyduffy at 21:07 on 23 May 2012  Report this post
Hi Freebird,

I loved this story. You have brought across her nervousness about the interview and I absolutely loved the way she got down with the children and interacted with them so instinctively. That was a lovely touch.

I agree with everything Colin and Catkins. The only thing I would add, and these are very minor points so feel free to ignore:

And nobody could tell there was a slash of red across her shoulder.

I would, and this could just be me, but I wondered if the underlined should be 'smudge of red'. The slash part gave me the impression of her shoulder being cut. Again this could just be me so feel free to ignore.

Mrs. Cunningham introduce the women to the other half of the interview panel

This should be Mrs Cunningham introduced the women...

I really enjoyed this story and love the title. Best of luck with this

Alana x

Cornelia at 11:49 on 02 June 2012  Report this post
Very good, and I think a lot of return-to-work mothers would really empathise with this.

As an ex-teacher myself I was a bit puzzled by the interview process and the status of the school. I thought it must be a nursery, from the activities going on, and pre-school was mentioned, but the mutton chop gent seemed a bit stuffy.

I don't think she'd be so worried about her appearance, but might be concerned about whether she'd be asked to update her qualifications or do some extra training.

I wonder if 'stomach' might be better than 'belly'?

It's an engaging story with a likeable main character and a logical narrative. The heat situation and her decision to discard the jacket, which turns out to be the right decision, is well done. Good luck with placing it.


Account Closed at 20:52 on 11 June 2012  Report this post

I read this ages ago but didn't realise I hadn't commented - apologies.

You've had some useful feedback and I guess, by now, you've sent it off to WW and all I can say is good luck. It's a good story.

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .