The Tall Drink of Water – A Short Story by Josh Burt
You won’t be wanting one of these…
“Joel, hi, come on through,” said the man, peering from the door, and up got Joel from his comfy leather seat in reception.
He wiped down his smart new jacket as if it might’ve picked up dust since he put it on less than an hour ago (it hadn’t), he composed himself and followed the man down a hallway and into an office that stank of corporate work and supermarket sushi. You know the smell, more soy and wasabi than actual fish.
This was his third time in this position, only now the odds were slashed and he was tantalisingly close to realising his dream of becoming an Account Executive at We Are Rise. The first interview had been a quick chat with two people, good cop and bored cop – one asked questions, the other stared vacantly at nothing.
The second interview had been more demanding, Joel had been required to blow their socks off with some wonderful ideas of his own and he duly gave an approximation of that. Bored cop wasn’t at that one, presumably she’d given in to the urges and called time (either on the job, or her life).
Now it was interview number three. The final hurdle, the end of the road, the Everest peak, the ultimate boss like you’d get in a video game. Super Mario, that kind of thing.
Joel was literally one step away from glory. Okay, not literally… and not exactly glory either. But you know.
“Would you like a drink?” asked the man, pouring himself a water.
“No, I’m fine,” replied Joel, before immediately changing his mind.
“… actually yeah, could I? Just a water, that’d be great.”
The man picked up the jug and poured Joel a nice glass of water to match his own.
Joel accepted it and downed it in one.
The man looked surprised. He topped up Joel’s glass.
Again, Joel took the glass, raised it to his lips, then gulped it down until there was nothing left. He placed the glass on the table and looked at the man, his eyes soft, ready to take any questions.
The man squinted at Joel for a moment, wondering what might happen if he added more water to the glass. There wasn’t much left in the jug, but what he did have he poured tentatively without breaking eye contact.
“Thanks,” said Joel.
He picked up the glass, drank the lot, then put it down.
The man half-chuckled in disbelief, this was highly unusual. But Joel seemed completely unbothered. Almost as if it was totally normal to down three large glasses of water at the start of a job interview.
The man attempted to cobble together a few cursory sentences by means of introduction. He started to mumble some bullshit about how the standards had been very high, and how lots of people had applied for the…
“I’m sorry, excuse me for a second,” he said suddenly, getting up and walking out of the room.
Joel looked out of the window at the average views available to the company. They were probably much more impressive a few years ago, but city-wide renovations had turned whatever scenic beauty may have existed into an eyesore.
Joel was humming nervously to himself (half-singing that Katy Perry song about having the eye of the tiger) when the man stumbled in clutching two jugs of water full to the brim.
He poured Joel a glass without asking.
“Great, thanks,” said Joel, taking the glass of water and drinking it.
He placed the empty glass on the table, the man refilled it, he drank again.
The man filled the glass with one hand while making a call with the other.
“Mabel, come into my office, you’ve got to see this.”
Soon, the man was joined by Mabel, by Dan from Finance, by Evie (bored cop, not bored now, and thankfully still with us), a few stragglers and various other members of the management team.
The big lad from the post room did as instructed and arrived with one of those huge plastic bottles from the water-cooler. With every glass that Joel finished, the man would refill it, and Joel would politely thank him and down another one.
Word was getting around, and it wasn’t long before the whole company (and even a few people from next door) had squeezed into the man’s office to marvel at the interviewee with the glasses of water. iPhones were out, documenting this insane turn of events.
“Evie, you take over with the water. Sally, Dan, come with me,” said the man, as he led Sally and Dan, very much his henchmen/henchwomen/henchpeople in this operation, into the conference room down the hall.
As they left the office, Sally hung back to see if Joel would finish the umpteenth glass of water. And sure enough, Joel, the absolute trooper, downed the fucker like it was 11.15am (the original time of the interview) all over again. This kid was unbelievable.
“I can’t give that guy the job,” said the man, with one hand dramatically on his hip and the other one pointing accusatorily in the direction of his office.
“He’s a fucking freak show!”
“He did an okay presentation,” countered Dan, accurately. “His second interview wasn’t bad.”
“It was fine,” said Sally.
“But there wasn’t any water then, he didn’t ask for water!”
The sounds of chanting echoed from the man’s office down the hallway.
The man paced around the boardroom, his brow furrowed, occasionally wiping his forehead with his hand as if he was trying to massage his thoughts to find clarity.
“I actually think I prefer him now, like, with the water,” said Sally. “Might be good for our social channels.”
Joel was offered the role of Account Executive the following day.
He celebrated with a large glass of champagne. Just the one, mind.