“Did you get it?”
“Not only did I not get it but they didn’t even talk to me about it.”
“But you threw your hat in the ring, right?”
“Yeah, of course but it looks like there wasn’t really a ring to throw my hat into. Or I didn’t have a very good hat. Or the ring was already full with a much better hat. Is that too much now on the hat stuff?”
“No way. I can’t believe they didn’t speak to you. You’ve got a top hat-”
“Really? A ‘top hat’?” interrupted Pete. “That’s the best you’ve got?”
“Unintentional punnery, I promise,” protested Jen. “I would con-fez if it’d been a deliberate hat joke.”
“Good lord. Remind me why I call you again when I’ve got bad news? There’s a…,” Pete paused for emphasis, “…flat cap on my career prospects and by way of commiserations you’re doing bad gags about millinery.”
“Sorry, let’s draw a veil over the whole thing…” said Jen.
“That’s not a hat, is it?”
“It’s kind of head gear. Close enough to count as another feather in my-”
“No more. Enough.” Pete cut off the last pun but she could hear him barely suppressing his laughter.
“Okay. Seriously though, I can’t believe they didn’t speak to you. I know I don’t really know much about that thing you do… what is that thing you do again? Actually, don’t bother, I didn’t really understand it last time. I don’t know much about it but I thought you were getting on really well.”
“So did I. And it’s Solutions Architecture in IT,” said Pete.
“Yeah, let’s not try and have that conversation again.”
“Agreed as long as you don’t try and explain PR to me again.”
“Like I said. It’s dead easy.” Jen let out an exaggerated sigh with a flourish. “I try to get journalists to write nice things about the company, or, technically get them to reproduce the nice things I’ve already written about the company for them,”
“Except when I think they might be about to write nasty things about the company and then I try to stop them. That’s basically it.”
“Doesn’t it ever strike you as, I don’t know, utterly futile?” asked Pete.
“Maybe. No more so than translating a bunch of user requirements into what’s basically just a rough idea for a piece of software design that you then give to some actual developers to go and build.”
“Touche. And I thought you didn’t understand it?”
“PR darling,” mocked Jen. “Knowledge for us is a mile wide and an inch deep. Don’t ask me what any of those things actually mean.”
“Depressing, isn’t it? I can’t decide if I’m genuinely sad about not getting the job or about the fact that I thought I might have even wanted it in the first place. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, was it? Me and Georgie used to talk about it. How we’d carve out our niches doing the things we loved and it wouldn’t matter too much if we never really got paid that well. I was going to write software, not ‘solutionise’ it or ‘architect’ it or any of those other pieces of jargon we invent to legitimise all this nonsense. She was going to get her club night off the ground, try and get into promoting stuff.”
“What happened?” nudged Jen quietly.
“I don’t know. It seemed temporary and that made it seem okay. Do the big corporate IT job while she got herself set up – I used to run out flyers for her from work on the company printers – and there’d always be time to get back to the other stuff later. Always later. You get used to the money I guess and then… since the accident, since she’s been gone, I’ve just stuck at it. On some level I think I understand it as hanging on to something constant as everything else changed. Even if it was hanging on to something that was a bit crap it was still… still better than everything else.”
“What does your grief counsellor say?”
“That I’m intentionally hanging on to something constant because everything else changed. You don’t think I came up with that phrase on my own, do you? I think what I said to her was that work was utter shit but I preferred sinking knee deep into it every day for the chance to briefly pretend everything else was normal rather than quit and face up to getting on with my life on my own.”
“I prefer your version. Hers sounds a bit like solution architecture. Do you worry we’re getting too old now to change?”
“I don’t know if it’s age or a mindset or what it is. You heard the Lorde record?” asked Pete.
“Of course,” said Jen.
“What do you mean ‘of course’? We’re not 19 anymore, it’d be not that surprising if it had passed us by. I really like it. Like, really like it. More than someone in their 30s should maybe. That last track…”
“Yeah, Perfect Places. It’s like my experience of being 19 wrapped up in three minutes. All that ennui and that weird mix of thinking you’re having the time of your life but already wondering whether you’re looking in the wrong places for the wrong things. I just listen to it and wonder how it would have sounded to me when I was 19. How she’s nailed that down in the moment rather than ten years later, looking back, I just don’t know.”
“This is a little off topic but do you want to know something funny?” said Jen.
“I always used to think ennui was pronounced ‘enn-you-eye’. Had no idea that last syllable was like ‘we’.”
“Really? After you gave me such a hard time about Choux pastry? It’s a French word, isn’t it? So it’s pronounced more like ‘oui’. There’s just not a decent English equivalent for that particular brand of boredom and dissatisfaction.”
“Weltschmerz,” declared Jen.
“Bless you,” Pete retorted. “Or gesundheit I guess would be more appropriate.”
“Very funny. Weltschmerz. It’s like the German equivalent of ennui, isn’t it? Or near enough. Wonder why the Europeans got all the good words for a yearning, world weary sadness?”
“Make the most of them. We probably won’t be allowed to use them post Brexit.”
“Why are you thinking about being 19 again? Apart from the Lorde record I mean.” Jen’s voice dropped as realisation struck. “Didn’t you meet Georgie when you were about that age?”
“Yeah, yeah I did. She was the right thing I found, I guess…” Pete trailed off and the line was silent for five, ten seconds. Eventually Jen asked the same question she’d asked every week or so for the past five months.
“I’m sorry Pete but I’ve gotta go now, early start again tomorrow. Are you alright ?” There was the same pause he always left before answering and then the same answer before the line went dead.
“No. Not today Jen. But ask me again tomorrow.”
The line went dead and Pete whispered to himself: “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?”