The Interview

For Erin

Your dedication, determination, and caring continue to inspire me

“Oh no, no. Not today, please not today,” Maggie said aloud. The Florida summer heat had baked the inside of her 2006 Toyota Corolla, and the wonky air-conditioning was on the fritz again. Her guilt-ridden ex-husband Kyle had given her the car five years ago when he decided to move to Texas with his new girlfriend. Maggie thought there was some dark humor in his gift-giving. Like the car was supposed to be a consolation prize or token of friendship or something. She didn’t care; she was glad to be rid of him and thankful she had some kind of transportation.

Maggie worked part-time in a beachwear shop in a strip mall near her apartment. The store catered to tourists and snowbirds. It carried the usual assortment of flip-flops, sunglasses, bathing suits, beach towels, and souvenirs. She often watched the shop owner being curt and dismissive with any customer who made the mistake of asking for assistance. “They’re never coming back here, so what’s the problem?” he would say if he happened to spot Maggie frowning. And he wonders why the store’s not doing well, she thought.

Maggie kept her job at the beachwear store and got two small fast-food jobs to cover her rent, food, and meager living expenses after Kyle ran off. With money still scarce, she was forced to look for an efficiency apartment.

“This is it, apartment 3A. It’s just like the one I showed you last Wednesday. Mirror image. G’on inside, I’ll wait out here.”

Hot stale air hit Maggie as she opened the door. She thought she could detect a faint odor of insecticide and mildew mixed with tobacco smoke. Some mirror image, she thought. Directly in front of her was a small kitchenette. On the left was a two-burner, food encrusted stove, followed by a tiny sink, and on the far right, an eye-level size refrigerator. There was an old air conditioner in the window above the sink, blocking any sunlight the room’s only window might afford. A small table with two chairs was in front of the sink, taking up most of the room. Turning around, Maggie saw a worn couch, whose cushions sagged on one end, marking the spot of the previous occupant. She turned to the left to check out the bathroom and bedroom at the end of the small hall. Maggie took a step into the bathroom and looked around. No window in the bathroom. Damp. Dark. Mildew in the shower. Disgusting grout everywhere, yuck.

Backing out, Maggie stood for a moment in the hall where the hot air was easier to breathe thanks to the open front door. She could feel a trickle of sweat around her forehead and temple begin to migrate down her face. She wanted to run, yet strangely, she felt like her body was in slow motion. She heard a voice from outside.

“What’s it gonna be lady? I don’t have all day.”

She didn’t bother to answer. Instead, she walked into the bedroom. A tear slid down her face as she stood looking down at a stained, bare mattress. Wiping her cheek, she walked back into the kitchenette/living room and spotted the superintendent, Lloyd, standing outside the open door.

“I’ll take it,” she said.

 “Here’re your keys. Rent’s due first of the month. Rental office is across the parking lot, next to the laundromat. No loud parties. Don’t make me have to call the cops or you’ll be out of here before you can put the keys in that shit box of a car you’ve got there.”

Driving to her job, after she signed the papers, Maggie tried to convince herself she was lucky to find the apartment. Her lease on the old one was going to be up at the end of the week, and after three months of looking, this was the only affordable apartment she could find. I’m not desperate, I’m just practical.

The filthy mattress was replaced, but no amount of bleach could clean the grout in the bathroom – at least not to Maggie’s expectations, and no cosmetic touches could overcome the drab, depressing condition of her apartment. It wasn’t long before Maggie also realized that there seemed to be a weekly occurrence of something breaking down, and having to call Lloyd to fix it. What made it all tolerable was all the hours she had to work; all the hours she didn’t have to be in her shabby apartment. Maggie enjoyed working. The places were clean, well-lit, but most of all, she enjoyed interacting with the customers. One night, after an unusually long tiring day, Maggie was taking a hot shower to get the smell of fried foods out of her hair, and as she turned the loose faucet to shut off the shower, a final surge of cold water hit her. She gasped and slipped; falling onto the grimy, grout-tiled bathroom floor. Reaching up and grabbing a towel, she realized the faucet was still in her hand. Maggie crumpled to the floor and began to wail. She cried deep throaty, air-gulping sobs into the damp towel. Half-crawling to her bed, she continued sobbing until exhaustion dried her tears.

The bedroom was dark when she awoke with a start. A wave of despondency tried to overtake her again. Naked, and lying on her back, Maggie stiffened, pressed her elbows into the mattress and pounded it with clenched fists, crying silently, “Enough! I deserve more! I want more!”

Every day after had a driving purpose for Maggie.

She brutally cut her tight budget, took out student loans, and utilized college credits she had already earned before she met Kyle, towards an online business management degree program at Florida University.

Now, five years later, she had her bachelor’s degree in Business Management along with hefty student loan debts. Maggie sent out over a hundred and fifty resumes. And the feedback, if she got any at all, was “We’re not hiring now,” or “We’re looking for someone with experience.” Only one company nibbled at her resume. It was a mid-sized electronics firm that was headquartered about thirty miles from Maggie’s apartment. After two phone interviews that Maggie felt went well, the HR Manager, Rebecca Stevens, said the dreaded words, “We’ll get back to you.”
Yeah, well, I’ll be in the salt mines if you’re looking for me, lady.

She felt guilty about her sudden bitterness, but she was frustrated. Maggie’s worsening lack of appetite betrayed her inner level of discouragement and creeping desperation. Her shift work had become hellish. Maggie had to change uniforms for her fast-food jobs and usually took them with her, but on this particular day, she had forgotten them both at home.

Throwing her keys and cell phone on the small table next to the refrigerator, and grabbing a glass of cold water, Maggie slumped into the kitchen chair and put her head down on her folded arms. She closed her eyes as the overhead light dimmed and the air-conditioner resumed its drone. The buzz from her cell phone startled her. “Damn!” She said aloud. “Twenty minutes, that’s all I wanted, twenty miserable minutes.”

She reached for the phone to stop the buzzing when she noticed the caller ID.

“Is this Margaret Goodwin? This is Rebecca Stevens.”

Maggie was right. Her two phone interviews did go well, and now she had a final in-person interview with an operations manager who was looking to expand his staff.

This job is in the bag. I just have to show up and impress this last person on the food chain, Maggie thought, as she drove the “toaster oven” past strip malls and office buildings. Stopping for the light at a cross-road, she checked her hair in the mirror. Oh God, look at me. I’m a disaster. Maggie’s naturally curly hair was now a “frizz bomb,” and despite the rush of heavy hot air from the open windows, a few strands of her blonde hair were shellacked to her damp forehead. With her eyes focused on the overhead traffic light, Maggie gently grasped a button on her pale blue blouse and pulled it away from her sticky chest, fanning herself with bellow-like movements. She smiled as the light turned green. Thank God I picked a sleeveless blouse -still will have to be careful about raising my arms though.

As she approached her destination, her thoughts sped up. Just have to look for that strip mall I Googled yesterday. It’s right next to the office building. There should be a coffee shop at the far end of the mall adjacent to the business park. I can grab a bottle of water, use the ladies’room, and put myself back together.

Waiting at the lights to make a left-hand turn into the mall, Maggie spotted the coffee shop. Ah, there it is. Perfect. I can even leave my open-air car in the mall parking lot and walk over to the office building. She grinned, sure would be embarrassing to park this heap in the visitor spot next to the entrance.

Maggie pulled into a parking spot, shut the engine off, and stepped out of her car. While she peeled her blouse and skirt away from her clammy skin, Maggie noticed that the strip mall was longer than most. Hmm, must be because of the office buildings next door, more people, more businesses, she thought.

The cool, dry air of the coffee shop felt heavenly to Maggie, and the aroma of fresh coffee and sweet baked goods made her suddenly hungry. She looked around. There were only a couple of empty tables. The others were taken by, what seemed to Maggie, as a mix of office employees, retirees, and young mothers enjoying some “girl time” while the kids were at school. A soft jazz soundtrack was playing in the background. Maggie smiled as she walked by a cushioned couch along the side wall that had complimentary newspapers on the low table in front of it. I love those comfy spots in coffee shops. Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted; someone was saying, “Good morning. What can I get you.”

Maggie looked up and noticed the elderly man behind the counter was talking to her.

“Oh, for now, just a bottle of water, but it sure smells delicious in here.”

“Now what’s a skinny thing like you doing with just a bottle of water!”

Maggie leaned across the counter, and in a low voice and a wink, said: “Job interview, don’t want to spill anything on my clothes.”

“Oh, oh, good thinking.”

Maggie glanced up at the menu board and did a quick calculation of how much money she had left for the week. Do you serve lunch?”

“Best paninis in Florida!”

The elderly man sensed a slight hesitation before Maggie spoke again.

“Well then, I’m coming back in about an hour for a panini.”

“You do! I’ll make you my Panini Special. And don’t you worry young lady, you’ll get that job.”

“I hope you’re right,” Maggie said as she turned her head and walked away.

“Oh, by the way, what’s your name?”


“Nice to meet you, Sal, I’m Maggie.”

Sal watched Maggie as she walked away. The grandfather in him had caught a sense of need and yearning in her face and voice. Maggie took her bottle of water, found a table, and sat down to review her notes: Research on the company, talking points, and a few pertinent questions to ask- I’m ready.

Maggie’s appointment was in twenty minutes. She had freshened up and was taking stock of herself in the restroom mirror. Hair’s reasonable, skirt and blouse- a little wrinkled but passable, makeup ok. Shoes


‘What the heck?”
She looked back into the mirror.


A strange metallic-scraping noise began and seemed to last forever; then silence.

Maggie dashed out of the restroom. The lights went out, the dim emergency lights came on and the ear- piercing beeeep, beeeep, and pulsing laser lights of the fire alarm started. Then the screaming began.
“What happened!” she cried.

Nobody responded. Quickly glancing around the eerily lit room she noticed that a couple of ceiling tiles had fallen, and some tables and chairs were up-turned by frantic customers, but otherwise, the coffee shop looked ok. Trying to acclimate herself to the noisy chaos, Maggie saw everyone clustered by the door. It was jammed. But what had happened? She elbowed her way to the front of the large plate glass window next to the door, and then the horror struck her.

People were running past the coffee shop screaming, “Sinkhole, sinkhole, get out! Run!”

No one stopped to help the crowd of panicked patrons on the other side of the glass. Maggie spun around and ran toward the back of the store. There’s got to be a rear door. She found it ajar and could see someone with a hairnet and a white apron running toward the office complex.

“Over here everyone, there’s a back door!” They couldn’t hear her, so she ran back into the room and began pulling them away from the door and pointing to the back door.

“Go! Go! Run! Run!”

The coffee shop emptied within a minute. And then she spotted him. He was slumped down behind the counter. Maggie quietly approached and knelt at his side. She could hear the police and fire sirens outside.

“Sal, it’s me, Maggie, can you hear me?” Sal nodded. His forehead was beaded with sweat, and he was breathing hard.

“Sal, we’ve gotta get out of here. Can you get up?”

“No, I…I…have a bad pain, I think it’s my heart.”

Maggie heard a muffled “thump” and a rise of screams outside. Just then a bright light coming from the rear door lit up the coffee shop, and a megaphoned voice boomed: “This is the Marlin County fire department. Evacuate the building immediately.”

Sal clutched Maggies’s hand. “Go, get …out of here he gasped.”

“But you…I…”

If she ran, she could make the interview. The job was hers. She raced to the back door instead and screamed to the emergency responders. “There’s a man in here having a heart attack!”

She went back and held Sal’s hand until it went limp, but before she could cry out, two large hands picked her up under the arms. “You need to get out of here, ma’am,” the firefighter said. Three other firefighters brushed by her with a backboard.

It was five hours before the police would let her retrieve her car. The sinkhole had swallowed up four units at the far end of the long strip mall, two people were missing, and one transported to the hospital. The sinkhole had stopped its deadly progression at the fifth unit, and the police thought it was ok for Maggie and four other people who parked at the opposite end, to move their cars.

Maggie got in her car and drove away with little attention to time or location. She wasn’t even bothered by the heat in the car. She didn’t get the job, her job, it was given to another applicant. And Sal? Sal, the only good thing that happened to her that day, was dead, alive? She didn’t know. She noticed the hospital sign when traffic slowed, and it brought her out of her fatigued daze. It was the nearest hospital from the coffee shop, and Maggie thought maybe they brought Sal there.

At the reception desk Maggie realized she didn’t know Sal’s last name, but as soon as she mentioned the sinkhole and an elderly man, she was directed to the critical care waiting room. She was told someone on the staff would check in with her. The room was empty, and she quickly fell asleep.

“Are you Maggie?” Someone was gently shaking her shoulder.


“Is your name Maggie?”

“Yes, I…”

“I thought I might find you here. My father is Sal.”

Maggie sat up straight and focused her eyes. A middle-aged woman with a kind face was standing over her.
The woman sat down and turned toward Maggie. “My name is Antonia. I own the coffee shop. “My father told us a little about you.

“Is he…”

“He’s alive. He has a chronic heart condition, but the doctors think this time it was just angina, due to the stress of the disaster. They’re running tests to make sure. He tells me he owes you a panini.”

Maggie’s eyes started to water up.

Antonia took Maggie’s hand and looked into her watery eyes. “Did you get the job?” Maggie looked down and shook her head.

“Well, in that case, you’re hired.”

Maggie abruptly looked up.


“Listen, Dad said he watched you jump into action when all hell broke out, and you wouldn’t leave him. That tells me you have good organizational skills and you care about people. So what do you say? I’m opening another coffee shop and need a manager.”

With tears flowing, Maggie sniffled, “I can’t believe this, I…I don’t know what to say?”

Antonia laughed, “Say yes, Maggie, say yes.
“Yes, yes, I’ll take the job!”

Antonia stood and pulled Maggie up. Putting her arm around Maggie’s shoulder, she said, Come on, let’s go see Dad, and then I’m going to make you Dad’s Special Panini—the best in Florida.



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