Eloise returned home from what seemed like an endless string of parties. Burned out, coming down, and yearning for the solitude of her single bed, she opened her bedsit door to find a postage paid brown envelope pushed under it. A letter from the DSS, dated two weeks ago, saying that despite the risk to herself and others ATOS had found her ‘fit for work’. She had to attend an interview that very day or face benefit sanctions. It was a New Year, and the government were already pushing in a new ‘work experience’ scheme forcing the disabled and long term unemployed into the unskilled and underpaid jobs nobody else wanted.
There was a form with lots of intrusive questions and boxes to tick, with a blank page at the end to provide any further information of relevance. A space beneath for her signature bore a legal warning that failing to provide all relevant information, or providing false information, is a crime and you may go to prison.. She gave details of her mental health problems, being sure to include the ‘s’ word, and all the reasons why she would not be suitable for any of the placements they were offering. Instead, she had made a suggestion of her own.
* * *
She wore a short sleeved black top to show off the scars along her arms with their criss cross hesitation marks. A plunging neckline framed the puckered red stripe across her throat. There did not seem much point in taking out her facial piercings or combing out the spikes in her hair.
At the dole office she registered her presence at a desk protected by shatter-proof glass, with a black on yellow sticker reading Abusive language or threatening behaviour will not be tolerated and will result in prosecution. Beneath it, smaller, Staff are equipped with ‘Spit Kits’ for D.N.A. sampling.
The waiting room was lined with metal chairs sloped at an angle so you gradually slid off if you relaxed, which the junkie in front of her did every three minutes, waking from his stupor when his head hit linoleum before sitting back up again. He did this forty times before the ceiling mounted speakers mounted in the ceiling burst into static, “Miss Eloise Mumford, room one, third floor..”
Her second name. For a moment all she could see was blood. Her family. She vowed to change it this year.
On the second floor of the concrete stairway a man on crutches winced as he lowered himself downwards. One step at a time.
She stopped, “Can I help?”
He smiled with his mouth but not his eyes, “No. You’re on your way up. Best not keep the bastards waiting.”
The interview room was a sealed box with no windows, lit by a gently flickering neon tube, just big enough for the bolted down chair facing the desk, a solid block from wall to wall. More shatter-proof glass. Her interviewer was in a wheelchair, his half paralysed face a permanent sneer. When he spoke he sounded like he had a bunged up nose, “Did you fill in the forms we sent?”
Wondering how they managed to get a man in a wheelchair in here in the first place, seeing as there was no lift in any areas open to clients, she pushed the forms through the letter box shaped hole in the bottom of the glass. He flicked through it, “And do you have confirmation from your doctor?”
“I couldn’t arrange an appointment this early in the year.”
“You’ll have to provide it as soon as you can. If it’s not here by the end of the week I’ll have to stop your benefits. You were given plenty of time to prepare all this.”
“But I provided proof when I made a claim in the first place, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“Situations change. These things need to be updated. If it’s not here by the end of the week..”
He broke off, reading what she had written at the end, “You’re just trying to be shocking, like the way you’re dressed, which doesn’t help your prospects either. Besides, you’re not qualified and you’d need a licence.”
She had anticipated the objection, “You don’t need either of those things. All you need is a strong stomach, the proper equipment, and the right kind of work surface. They have these troughs on either side to drain away all the fluids. There can be a lot sometimes, as you might imagine. Especially if the insides are all rotten and turned to mush, or if they drowned and it all comes sloshing out at once when you carve them open. I’ve been studying the manuals and researching it as a career path.”
Her interviewer put his hand over mouth like he was swallowing puke. When he finally spoke, he looked like his blood had drained down the plug hole, “I’m sure you have, but we don’t have anything like that in our system.”
“Why not? Death care is an industry, just like any other.”
“That may well be, but if it’s not on our system I can’t arrange a placement for you.”
“I could find one.”
“Out of the question, and you know it. I could never sanction something like that. Especially not for some with.. with.. your condition..”
She smiled as she offered her coup de grâce, “But that’s exactly the point. My condition won’t be a problem – it would be an advantage. Plus it’s a job nobody else wants to do.” Her folded arms and wry smile silently implying, “A bit like yours.”