The Elephant is White and Red

by V. Shalace

“Hi, I’m Nancy,” she says, holding out her hand.

He shakes it. His gaze flicks from her face to the thin, white cane in her other hand then back again.

“It’s nice to meet you, Nancy. I’m Jonathan. Please have a seat. There’s a chair to your right.”

Nancy hesitates for only a second before sweeping her cane out to her right until it strikes something hard. She sits down and folds the cane, pulling up each section and folding it down until the whole thing resembles a bundle of white sticks with a single section of red to mark the tip, all held together with a black elastic cord strung through their hollow centers.

Jonathan didn’t know her cane was collapsible. He opens his mouth to comment, but shuts it again without speaking.

The office is silent as Jonathan settles into his own chair behind the modern, metal desk. On other days, he’s grateful for the spaciousness of this office with its minimalist design, but today, the room is too crowded.

“I brought a copy of my resume,” Nancy says, removing some papers from a blue plastic folder and sliding them across the tabletop towards him. He wonders how she knows where he is.

“I’m pretty sure that’s my resume.” She laughs a little and gives him a small smile. “Or the writing sample you asked for. I printed them yesterday. Hopefully, no one’s rearranged them.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.”

He does not answer her invitation to laugh, and her attempt to lighten the mood falls flat.

The papers are in the right order, and he skims the section headings—her educational history, skills, work experiences... She’s included graphic design in her list, and he recognizes an art computer program too.

“Can you tell me about yourself?”

She is prepared for this.

“Well, my name is Nancy and I just graduated from Berkeley a year ago.”

“You were a rhetoric major?”

“That’s right. I think of it as the study of expression and critical analysis, about how people communicate with one another. I’m very interested in how we use language to communicate.”

“Is that why you wanted to work for us?”

“Yes. The articles you publish are very interesting, and I like the focus on local news and the emphasis on art. Art really makes life more colorful, and I’ve often wished people appreciated it more.”

She wishes she could read his expression. Through her eyes, Jonathan is a human-shaped cutout of pale and dark colors. Will he ask her about art? About how she draws? She is ready for those questions too.

He shifts, and his chair creaks.

“We like to support local artists,” he says. “Small businesses too. Have you had a chance to visit our website?”

He regrets the question as soon as it leaves his mouth, yet he has asked all the other candidates the same thing. Their website is heavy on images and light on words. He has never wondered before whether a non-sighted person would find it informative or easy to use.

“I have. I really enjoyed reading the interviews. I think I would have liked the videos better if they had speech.”

“Really? I believe a lot of people like our videos.”

“Ah. That’s good.”

She doesn’t know what else to say.

Jonathan moves on.

“Have you written for any other newsletters or magazines?”

The answer is yes, and they discuss these before he goes on to outline what he is looking for. He explains that their newsletter likes to keep abreast of what is happening in the area, and points out that the new hire will be expected to conduct interviews and make routine visits to different stores. He alternates between watching her face and looking down at the papers in his hands. It is disconcerting how she looks as though she is looking past him, and it’s not like she will know if he does not meet her eyes.

It is all business.

There are two abstract paintings upon his office wall that he likes to point out to other visitors, but today, he does not mention them.

When all the routine questions have been asked and answered, he finishes with, “So do you have any other questions?”

She considers.

“Is there anything else you want to ask me? I mean, about how I work?”

He looks at the white cane folded neatly on the gray carpet at her feet.

“No,” he says. “I believe that’s it. Thank you for coming in.”

Author's Note: While this piece is fictional, it is based on one of the most awkward job interviews I've ever had. My disability felt very much like the elephant in the room.

(Originally published under my given name in Gathering Storm Magazine in 2018)