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Short story By: Philip Roberts
Literary fiction

Fifth Chris Smith story. In this story he meets his main abuser Alan Juchster.

Submitted:Dec 21, 2010    Reads: 50    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

10:00 AM
Nothing! There was nothing at all! "There's never anything worthwhile!" thought Chris as he stooped to read a card pinned only centimetres from the bottom of the notice board. He read the card, then straightened and changed places with a tiny Italian woman who glanced at the card then shrugged at Chris. He nodded toward the woman, and put on his best bemused look to signify his agreement.
Chris glanced back over his left shoulder and saw the crowd at the counter had not visibly thinned out during the half an hour he had been waiting. But at least he had put his card in already, unlike many of the people jostling for a place at the front of the counter.
"All day!" thought Chris. He would be there all day, waiting for a five-minute interview. A whole day lost. A whole day, which could have been better, spent looking for work, or even at home completing his homework. He wondered how they expected him to ever find work, when they fooled him around like this, kept him waiting around for hours for an interview that should have been walked through in a couple of minutes?
"Penicolli?" called out Heinrich Himmler, standing behind the counter.
Chris had expected a Ja Wohl. But, of course, it wasn't really Heinrich Himmler, merely an excellent facsimile, right down to the starched black uniform. Or rather, the sharp-cut, old-fashioned suit could easily have stood in for a Gestapo uniform, apart from the lack of insignia. Chris wished he could see behind the counter to see if Heinrich was wearing army boots.
Penicolli's reply was unintelligible, lost beneath a heavy accent.
"You haven't filled it in properly," stated Heinrich Himmler, as Penicolli squeezed through the crowd to reach the front of the counter.
"Scuzie!" said Penicolli. Or at least that's what it sounded like to Chris.
"The form," said Heinrich to a bemused stare, "You haven't filled it in properly. Let's see ... Right, what's your nationality?"
"Australian," was only just intelligible beneath the accent.
"No, no, you stupid wog. Where were you born?" demanded Heinrich.
"Australian," insisted Penicolli, leaning over the counter to look at the form. To Chris, Penicolli looked like a customer in a butcher shop leaning across to select the finest cuts.
"Bullshit! If you were born in Australia, I was born on the moon," said Heinrich, giggling like an idiot at his own joke. Behind Heinrich a youth, who had been filing away small cards, stopped to snicker at the joke.
After another ten minutes of interrogation, Heinrich seemed satisfied that at last he had unearthed the truth. He led Penicolli around the counter and took him into one of the interrogation booths at the back of the building.
"Why do the stupid wogs always have to make it hard on themselves?" mused the youth filing away cards.
* * *
Chris had already made up his mind that he would be waiting all day for an interview, when he caught sight of Heinrich Himmler goose-stepping toward the front of the room. Heinrich picked up a green card from the stack of cards on a table across from the counter, and called out, "Smith! Christopher Smith!"
"Over here!" called out Chris.
Chris was marched down the thin aisle between the interrogation booths, to a booth near the very end of the building. He felt a touch of déjà vu going down the aisle. He remembered the last time he had been led down the aisle at church, nearly eight years earlier. Chris had just turned thirteen, and his stepmother had told him, "It's up to you now. Go to church if you want to, or stay away if you want to." So Chris had never gone to church again. "But this place is too gloomy even for a church," thought Chris. "It's more like a trip to the showers at Auschwitz."
"Take a seat," said Heinrich a minute later, when they were hidden away from prying eyes, within the confines of the telephone box sized interrogation booth.
"I'm Allan Juchster," he said. But the reedy, effeminate voice did nothing to dispel the resemblance to Heinrich Himmler.
Chris held out his right hand to shake hands. He started to say "Heinrich," but quickly changed it to, "Hi, Al."
"Allan," Juchster corrected.
Chris noticed that the interrogation booth was at the very end of the building, the last of the twelve such booths. "I wonder if the people at the counter would hear the screams if he starts using the third degree?" thought Chris.
Most of the room in the booth was taken up by a small wooden table, piled high with note pads, card indexes, and other writing paraphernalia. Seated, the two men were close enough so they were almost touching knees.
"It says here that we sent you out after a job in a textile factory in Hyde Road last week," said Juchster, reading from the green card.
"That's right," agreed Chris sitting to attention on the stool. His back cried out for a backrest, but Chris knew better than to complain. Any show of weakness would be disastrous, and could give the enemy a lever to use against him. Chris knew the backless stool was a deliberate ploy to test his stamina.
"How did it go?" asked Juchster.
"Not very well," said Chris with a sigh. He knew that the interrogation was not going well either. "I had to turn it down."
"Why? What was wrong with it?" asked Juchster, writing upon the green card.
"Too far to walk," said Chris.
"Too far to walk?"
"That's right, over eighty minutes walk each way."
"What's wrong with that?"
"It's my kidney's," said Chris.
"What about them?"
"Well, you see, as a kid I suffered from kidney trouble: nephrotic syndrome."
"All right, all right," said Juchster, waving his hands around like a traffic cop having an epileptic fit, "don't try to baffle me with bull, just tell me what the hell having had bad kidneys as a child has got to do with you having to reject a perfectly good job?"
"Because, as a result I don't have the stamina needed to walk eighty minutes twice every day, as well as working an eight-hour shift."
"Don't have the inclination to work, you mean!"
"Look, I've already brought in papers from the hospital, a number of times, to show that I'm not able to do anything too strenuous," insisted Chris.
"Papers! Huh! I've never seen any papers from any hospital," said Juchster, scribbling on the green card. "Look, you said yourself that it's only eighty minutes' walk...."
"Eighty minutes each way!"
"Even so, that, on top of a day's work, isn't going to kill you. It'd be one thing if it were a heavy labouring job, but the work is on a weaving machine. Even if the walk to work each morning knocked you out a bit, you'd still have all day to catch your breath before having to make the repeat performance on the way home!"
"But I just don't have the energy for that kind of marathon effort," insisted Chris.
"Christ! If you're that bad you should be on the Invalid Pension, not the dole!" said Juchster, writing hurriedly at the bottom of the green card.
From the front of the building came the sound of a decapitated head falling into a basket. But then Chris remembered that the Nazis didn't use the guillotine so it must have been the sound of something being dropped onto the bare wooden floorboards, amplified by the building's eerie acoustics.
"How would I go about getting onto the Invalid Pension?" asked Chris.
"I can give you an application form," said Juchster, rummaging through the drawers of the tables, "but I don't fancy your chances much."
"What do you mean?" asked Chris. He was certain he could hear the sound of storm troopers goose-stepping at the front of the building.
"I mean that before you can get onto the Invalid Pension, you have to be able to convince them that you're at least 81 Percent incapacitated," explained Juchster.
Chris was tempted to ask how they could distinguish between 81% incapacitation, and a mere 80.9%, but instead he said, "You've got to be kidding! You see hundreds of people with problems far less than mine, on the Invalid Pension; I've got a cousin who's been on the pension for twenty-five years, with nothing worse than diabetes. Hell, she's a hundred Percent fit, as long as she remembers to take her insulin shot each day."
"Well, you've just said the magic words, haven't you?" said Juchster. "Twenty-five years. Regulates have been tightened up to blazes since then. In theory they're supposed to dump anyone who stops qualifying, however, they always manage to miss a few. But I'll tell you what I can do for you, give me the name and address of your cousin, and I guarantee that I can get them to dump her for you."
"What?" asked Chris incredulously. "I'm not trying to get Gwen thrown off the pension, I'm trying to got myself on to it."
"Well, as it stands, unless you intend to walk in front of a tram first, I'd suggest you forget all about trying to latch on to the Invalid Pension."
"All right, so where does that leave us?"
"Well, I don't know about us, but it leaves you with two options: take the Hyde Road job, or got thrown off the dole!"
"Thrown off the dole?" Chris could not believe his ears.
"That's right," said Juchster. "That's the way it goes: you can only reject three jobs offered to you, before you lose your benefits. This is the third job you've knocked back."
"But none of the jobs you've offered me have been any good. One of them required me to do heavy lifting all day, another required me to be on my feet all day, and now this one would mean walking nearly three hours every day."
"Tough titties! The CES standard requires you to be prepared to walk up to one hundred minutes twice a day if need be, before you can knock back a job on the lame excuse that it's too far to walk."
"But I've got crook kidneys!"
"I don't care if you've got lousy bacon and eggs," said Juchster. "It doesn't say anything in the CES standard about making any allowances for ill health. In fact, it does say that you have to be fit and able to work before you are eligible to receive employment benefits. If you aren't fit and able to work, then you have been receiving benefits under false pretences for the last four years, and could be liable to repay every cent you have received."
"What! But you can't do that!" said Chris, staggering to his feet.
"Can't I? Just watch me, sport! All right then, what's it to be? The Hyde Road job? Or the bum's rush?"
"But it's too bloody far for me to walk!" shouted Chris. He heard his voice echoing back at him around the room. And knew he should try to keep calm. But he was beginning to feel an almost overpowering urge to flatten Juchster.
"Then it's the bum's rush," said Juchster. "Fair enough by me."
"I don't intend to take this bullshit lying down!" shouted Chris. He was aware the people in the other booths, and at the front counter, had stopped talking to listen to him.
"You aren't. You're standing up," said Juchster, giggling at his own joke.
"I'll take you to court! I'll get Free Legal Aid!"
"Fat chances' said Juchster. "Their budget is as tight as a nun's cunt these days!"
"Maybe you won't be so bloody smug with a mouthful of broken teeth!" said Chris. He reached around the table to grab Juchster by the collar, and dragged him to his feet.
"Calm down," advised Juchster. "Doing your block isn't going to help anyone."
"It won't help you, that's for sure!"
"Look, just to show you what a fair man I am..." He desperately rummaged through the papers upon the table, with one hand, until he located a pad of yellow forms. "I'll give you one of these," he said. Tearing a yellow form from the pad, he handed the form to Chris.
Chris released Juchster and accepted the yellow form.
"What is it?" asked Chris.
"It's an appeal form. Fill it in, and send it off to the address on the back of the form. Your appeal will be studied by an independent panel, and if they think you've been given a raw deal, they'll let you back on the dole."
"All right," muttered Chris.
* * *
6:30 PM
For half an hour Chris had been sitting at the kitchen table, reading through the Situations Vacant section of the newspaper from start to finish to start to finish, over and over again, like an alchemist hoping to find the elusive job that had not been there the first time around.
As Chris read, he occasionally sipped from a cup of coffee, which had been stone cold for at least fifteen minutes.
At the other end of the table Norma, his stepmother, sat with her head between her hands, reading through a copy of the Women's Weekly, which lay open upon the table. Like Chris, Norma had not turned a page in thirty minutes. She read a few lines, for the seventh time, then looked across the table toward Chris, then read the same lines for the eighth time. After half an hour without discovering what the article was about, Norma closed the magazine.
"Cheer up, Chris," she said. "Life isn't all rotten."
"Yes, I know, it's only the plot that I'm sitting on that's made out of shit, the rest is gold plated over silver, with platinum trim. But what gets met is that I can't even walk away, because the Earth keeps altering its rotation to make certain the same bit of shit is always under my feet."
"Buck up, you'll get a job soon. They won't lot a bright lad like you go to waste forever," said Norma.
"I suppose you're right," conceded Chris. "I'll probably get a job sooner or later, but it isn't just that. It's dad more than anything, the way he loves to rub my nose in it all the time, because I've been unemployed for so long"
"Chris! That isn't fair. You should know your father only wants the best for you. If he stirs you, it's because he thinks you aren't pushing yourself enough, and he hopes that with the occasional nudge, he can help you to get a bit more motivated."
"But I am!" insisted Chris. "I don't want to scrounge off the government or off you and dad forever."
"I know, Chris, but unfortunately your father doesn't ... Anyway, don't blame your father for all of your troubles," said Norma. "He didn't chase you out of school."
"Well, I had to leave some time, I couldn't go on scrounging off you and dad indefinitely."
"Oh Chris, you weren't scrounging off us."
"Well ... I overheard you and dad talking about the problems you were having with my school fees, and so I thought I could help you by getting a job."
"Oh Chris! You weren't even seventeen then. Sure your school fees were a burden to us, but we would have preferred to face the burdens rather than see you destroy your life by leaving school too early ... I mean Jack's your father, and he has only ever wanted the very best for you ... Your father isn't totally unreasonable, it's just that he's ... well he's a little set in his ways."
"Yeah, like double strength concrete," said Chris. "But sometimes it would be nice if he'd at least try to see my point of view."
"Have you ever sat down with him, and really tried to explain it to him? Your father has been working since he was seventeen, he was too young to be directly effected by the first Great Depressions and has worked right through the second one. So how could he possibly understand what it means to be unemployed?"
"He wouldn't listen if I did try to explain it to him."
"How do you know? You've never even given him a chance. Perhaps if you could be reasonable about it, you might be surprised to find he can be reasonable too."
"That would be a surprise," said Chris.
Norma glanced at Chris, but said nothing. She placed the second piece of meat into the saucepan, and began to tenderise the third piece, as Jack walked into the kitchen.
"Hello love," said Norma as Jack slumped into a chair at the table. "You're home early."
"It's gone 6:30," said Jack listlessly.
"Oh, has it? Well, I'd better pull my finger out in that case. I'm afraid tea will be a bit late tonight." She placed the third piece of meat into the saucepan and turned on the fourth burner.
"Don't rush yourself on my account. I'm not particularly hungry."
"What's the matter, love?" asked Norma, sitting next to Jack at the table.
"I've just been sacked!"
"What!" said Chris and Norma together.
"How come?" asked Chris.
"The firm was going bust, so they decided to close down a couple of sections, including the one where I work."
"But, Jack, you're their longest serving employee! Surely they could find you a job in another section?" said Norma.
"It's because I'm their longest serving employee that old Withers gave me the bad news as soon as he heard it"
"When does your section close down?" asked Norma.
"This Friday, apparently they want to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible."
"But don't they have to give you some notice? To give you time to find another job."
"They're giving me two months' severance pay to tide me over until I can get another job."
"Two months! You'll be lucky if you can get another job that quickly," said Chris.
"No worries, I'll find another job long before two months is up. I'm not a bludger to spend years of my life on the dole!"
"That's right dad, I forgot, you're a forty-year-man. You'll have to carry around a bit of four-by-two to beat away the prospective employers!" Chris shouted.
"What did you say?" demanded Jack, jumping to his feet, and leaning over Chris.
"You heard me!" said Chris, standing and glaring a challenge back at his father.
"Well, maybe you'd like to repeat it? Sometimes I'm not too fast on the uptake!"
"You said it dad, not me!"
Jack raised his fists and moved toward Chris. Norma rushed between the two men only to find herself being jostled on both sides, as Chris and Jack tried to reach around her to get to each other.
"Chris, go to your room, I'll bring you your tea," said Norma. When he hesitated, she added, "Now, Chris!"
Chris turned to leave the room.
"If you're old enough to cheek me, Chris, perhaps you're old enough to think about leaving home!" shouted Jack.
"Maybe I am!" Chris shouted back, as he left the kitchen.
Norma turned to glare at Jack and demanded, "How can you be so heartless! You know he can't afford to live away from home!"
"Oh hell!" said Jack, slumping back into his chair. "I don't intend to drive Chris out, but why did he have to talk to me like that?"
"Because," said Norma sitting on a chair beside Jack, "after four years on the dole, he needs your sympathy, not abuse. So naturally he couldn't resist the chance to get a bit of his own back."
"How about a bit of sympathy for me? How do you think I feel, having a son living on the dole for four straight years?"
"No worse than he is feels, being on the dole for four straight years!" said Norma, going over to attend to the food cooking on the stove.
"Whose fault was that?" asked Jack, turning in his chair to face Norma. "I didn't want him to leave school so young. I had to leave school myself at seventeen to get a job, because the old man couldn't afford to support me any longer. So I wanted Chris to get a better education than I had. So what did he do? He turned around and knifed me in the back."
"You mean he knifed himself in the back. All you've got is hurt pride, Chris is the one who has had to live with being unemployed for years."
"And I'm the one who now has to live with the shame of being unemployed, and having a son already ahead of me on the dole."
"Well, you don't have to worry about that any more," said Norma. "Chris isn't on the dole any more."
"You mean he's finally done the right thing and found himself a job?" asked Jack.
"No, I mean those bastards down at the employment centre have finally done the wrong thing, and have thrown him off the dole!"
© Copyright 2010
Philip Roberts


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