Desperate Times

The clatter of computer keyboards filled the air, the tap-tap-tap bouncing about and mingling to buzz in an exceptionally irritating sort of way. Isabel stood in the office, the tables splayed out around her and the journalists all bent over their computer screens. The people who worked there bent over their screens, in any place. She was somewhat to proud to concede to them the name of journalist.

She’d read a couple things by Public before, of course. It would have been in bad taste to come to the job interview with no idea of what she was getting herself into. Then again, she’d noted as she flipped through articles, what she was getting herself into seemed also to be in very bad taste. Public printed the sort of articles that were taken home and perused by the sort of people who desperately wanted something exciting, and seemed to prefer that it happened to other people. Isabel had winced as the supermarket clerk scanned the magazine or pamphlet or whatever the thing was anyway. She didn’t like even to seem like one of those people. It wasn’t that her own life was so exciting. She simply couldn’t imagine finding Public more so.

One new celebrity had been seen in an outfit that was glaringly inappropriate, at the grocery store of all places. Was it daringly original or simply exceedingly trashy, the papers wondered? And of course, what was she doing in such an ordinary place to begin with? Another star had left his wife just after her pregnancy was confirmed. The end of an affair? The tabloids queried. This garbage was pumped out, printed up, and sent of to thousands of supermarkets and newsstands throughout the country. There it was eyed as the stores’ patrons lined up for the cash register. A great many people never gave the tabloids and the nonsense within a second thought – except, of course, for the substantial number of Americans who made a great deal of the sensationalist, petty, and entirely fabricated tripe printed in such things.

Now, as Isabel stood in the office, she stared at the work around her. There was a bulletin board on one wall, covered with photographs of scantily-clad women – that, Isabel reflected, was probably part of the work they were doing rather than a distraction from it. Several of the writers were typing away busily and lines of text scrolled down their screens. Several more seemed only to be online, passing the time some other and probably more interesting way. Over the shoulder of one who seemed particularly industrious, Isabel read, “Leah leaves home – is this the end?” She supposed she would have to familiarize herself with celebrities and such, until she was on a first-name basis with various famous strangers as so much of the country was. Someday, she thought with an apprehensive twinge, the words “Jennifer caught out – Alan angry” might actually mean something at all to her.

The grating sound of a forced cough caught her attention. Isabel turned to see a small plump man waiting for her. His eyes were nervous and watery. She shook the red, sweaty hand he offered her, and he said, “Isabel Pearce? I’m the assistant editor, Ed Andrews. Why don’t you come into my office.” He turned and waddled over to a door in the corner, and she followed. Her heart was racing suddenly, though she wasn’t sure why. She needed the job, of course. Hopefully Mr. Andrews would sign her on. It occurred to her, though, that wasn’t why she was so abruptly anxious. As she followed the little man into his office and sat on a rickety plastic chair, she pasted a smile onto her face, a bland expression despite her worry. She was worried that she would get hired. Even so, maybe she’d get lucky. She didn’t think she was suited for the job at all.

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