3. Temp

Bean’s hair is everywhere. Or is it my hair? Maybe I shouldn’t have bleached my fringe. I would like to be able to tell if it’s my hair or cat hair that’s covering the couch in a fine coat of fuzz. I put my muesli bowl in the sink and realise that I haven’t left the house in two days, and haven’t brushed my hair in four days. I hack at it with a brush for an hour, pulling faces getting through the big knots, eyes watering.

I have finished uni. I am on the dole. I begin temping, and now exist in a constant crazy limbo state of frenzied adrenaline which borders weirdly with complete nothingness, depending on whether the temp agency calls me or not. I once read in a thriller novel that being a spy is 90% boredom while you wait for something to happen, and 10% sheer terror when it does. Just like temping.

I am trapped in the house waiting for them to call. Friday last week I did not get up at 6 a.m. as usual, and they called. The one day – the one! day! – that I was not ready because I decided that being ready at all times is silly and paranoid and therefore could just sleep in a little bit and not set my alarm for the crack of dawn. This was the time that I was conspicuously not ready when they rang me to go in at short notice. It cost me a half hour of work to throw a Corporate Casual dress on and shove a banana in my face. It was just half an hour, but I could’ve bought a burrito with that half an hour’s pay. It didn’t matter. They weren’t mad. I covered reception at an engineering firm for four days and never stopped being surprised when people were nice to me, or I guess, treated me with basic courtesy. That’s what working in hospitality does for you. Makes you accustomed to people giving you the stink-eye like you just ate their newborn when you tell them the kitchen is closed. Maybe I should have done engineering.

My favourite thing about temping is that the feeling of ‘I should be doing more’ goes away, even if I’m just working reception taking an average of one phone call per twenty minutes and spending the rest of the time staring into space. That feeling is like a background noise that you didn’t notice was there until it went away, like that dumb kitchen exhaust fan over the stove that he keeps saying he’ll fix but doesn’t. Because he’s “working full time.” Like that’s harder than being in a constant state of readiness to go anywhere the temp agency sends you, and writing job applications while you’re waiting and waiting and waiting. If you stitched all my job applications together I have produced twice the word count of my Honours thesis in half the time. It’s easier to keep motivated though because unlike an Honours thesis, if you do it right there’s money at the end.

At 10 a.m. I decide it is safe to assume they won’t call. Apparently receptionists across Perth have decided they are not quite sick enough to call in sick today, so whatever calls come now will be for tomorrow. I get changed and listen to a Freakonomics podcast about universal income while I go for an epic walk by the river. There’s some money hidden in my running shorts to buy a fifty cent cone from Macca’s on the way back. I am intrigued by the idea of a universal income. The coins jingle in my pocket and I wonder if I would bother to try, if I really didn’t have to. To get a job. To be, quote unquote, ‘successful’. I am not like him. I am not driven. He always just keeps trying. Like the thing with the poached eggs. Over and over. Perfect poached eggs the first time he made them, goopy whites the second, hard boiled the third, and now he just won’t stop. He said it’s not even about mastering the skill. It’s about … challenging himself. I eat mi goreng. I can’t help him.

They call two seconds after I finish my soft serve. Talking over the phone while trying not to sound breathless from an at best medium–brisk walk, I accept the agency’s offer of a job covering someone’s annual leave. It will go for a whole month. I celebrate by walking to the op shop and buying more placemats.

Words by Yvonne Buresch, Illustration by Bryce Newton

‘I Am In Your House’ is a collaborative story by the creative writers of Pelican. It is published in weekly installments, every Sunday. Read more ‘I Am In Your House’ here

If you would like to contribute, either as a writer or illustrator to ‘I Am In Your House’ contact the web editor (pelicanwebeditor@gmail.com).