The marketing interns were in the break room, holding the Quarter Finals of the World Cup of Crisps, an event that had been dreamt up one bored Friday afternoon. Packets had been bought from the shop, randomly allocated groups and then pitched against each other in a tournament to find the one true champion. In the latest matchup, Josh and Becca were arguing that Prawn Cocktail was superior, while Tony was mounting a firm defence of Beef and Onion.
“You’re crazy,” Josh said. “Prawn Cocktail’s iconic, man. It’s a lifestyle thing. It’s chunky polo necks and wifeswapping in the 70s.”
“They’re too sweet,” Tony shouted over him. “It’s like eating a packet of Fruit Pastilles. Crisps are supposed to be savoury. If we can’t agree on that, then what are we doing here?”
“They are a bit sickly,” Becca conceded.
“But… Beef and Onion?” Josh spat. “They’re a nothing crisp, a last resort. They’re what you get when you can’t get Steak McCoys.”
“Yeah, where are Steak McCoys?” Becca said, checking over the wallchart she and her colleagues had made. “How can they not be on here?”
“Failed to qualify,” Josh said. “The corner shop didn’t have them and by the time we could get to Sainsbury’s, the tournament was already under way.”
“That’s a crime,” Becca said, “They could have gone all the way.”
Josh shrugged, as if to say that he didn’t make the rules.
“To get back to the point–” Tony began, but whatever it was, he never got to make it because David walked into the room.
“Hi guys,” the Director of Marketing said, “really sorry to do this on your lunch break, but I’ve just been told that my afternoon meeting has been pushed forward an hour. Tony, is there any chance we could have that chat now?”
“Uh, sure, David,” Tony said. “No problem.”
“My office, OK?”
“Yes, David. Of course.”
David backed out of the break room and the three interns shared significant looks.
“This is it,” Tony said. “It was only a matter of time.”
“You don’t know that,” Becca said. “You’ve got to think positive.”
“That’s right, mate. They’d be mugs to let you go.”
Tony nodded, but as nice as it was of Becca and Josh to say it, all three of them knew that his time at the company was nearly up. Pushing back from the table, Tony ducked out of the breakroom and kept his head down low as he walked across the main office floor, not wanting to scrape it on the suspended ceiling or make eye contact with his full-time colleagues working through lunch. He weaved his way between the desks to David’s office, where the door was already open.
“Come in Tony,” David said. “Close the door behind you.”
The office was the largest in the department, but Tony still found it difficult to manoeuvre in the space.
“Excuse me,” he muttered as he pushed his head past David and into the far corner of the office, where David’s industry awards were kept on a shelf. Tony then used his rump to nudge the door shut behind him before splaying all four of his legs outwards in order to lower himself to the floor. With the extra metre of space that had afforded him, Tony was able to move his head back from behind David’s, so they could have a something like a face-to-face conversation.
“All set?” David said quietly.
“Yes,” Tony replied.
“OK, so I’ll come right to the point,” David said. “I don’t think it’s working out.”
Tony’s ears sagged. He had been prepared for this, but it was still a blow. “Is this because of the tweet?” he said. “Because I apologised for that and I swear it won’t happen again.”
“It’s not because of the tweet,” David said. “You’re not the first person to forget to log out of the work social account and you won’t be the last. These things happen. No, I’m afraid you just don’t seem to have the feel for this position that we would expect.”
“I’m learning,” Tony protested.
“Yeee-sss, but not at the rate that we would like. You’ve been with us six weeks and Geri is still checking your work, whereas Josh and Becca are handling several lines independently.”
Tony tried to speak and nothing came out. In preparation for this meeting, he had worked on a series of lucid, logical reasons as to why he shouldn’t be let go. In the moment, they all vanished and all he was left with was sheer desperation.
“Please,” he said, tears welling up in his cow-like eyes. “I want this so badly.”
“I know you do, Tony. That’s what makes this so difficult. It’s important not to take this personally. It’s not a reflection on you, it’s just that some people aren’t suited to certain roles. I just don’t think marketing’s for you.”
Tony was openly crying now. David took a box of tissues out of a desk drawer, plucked a couple out and reached up to dab Tony’s eyes for him.
“I mean, realistically, Tony, you have to admit that it’s been an odd fit since day one. We’ve done our best to accommodate you…”
“I know,” Tony sniffed. “Everyone’s been really nice.”
“…but it just feels like your heart’s somewhere else.”
“Aaaagh,” Tony sighed. “I just… really wanted to make a go of this.”
“Yeah. But perhaps it’s a sign? That maybe you should be looking for something a bit more… you know…”
“What? A bit more giraffe-y?” Tony said, eyes flashing furiously and the note of anger impossible to hide. “Is that what you were going to say?”
“No, no,” David soothed. “Your being a giraffe is neither here nor there to me, but at the end of the day, I need someone who can perform and you’re just not doing the job we need you to do. For that reason, we’re not going to be offering you a contract when your internship’s up.”
“Yeah,” Tony said dolefully. “OK. I get it. Was there anything else?”
“No, that’s everything.”
“All right. I’m going back to lunch if that’s all right.”
“Sure thing Tony.” David leaned back in his chair to allow Tony to swing his neck around in order to leave. “I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but this is for the best.”
Tony nodded, but his little ears were flat and meek against his head. He got to his feet and ducked out of David’s office without another word. Again, he avoided the gaze of his soon-to-be former colleagues as he crossed the office floor.
When he got back to the break room, Tony returned to his position at the head of the table, where he wouldn’t interfere with the air conditioning vent. Becca and Josh looked at him expectantly.
“Nah,” Tony said, trying to be casual.
“Sorry mate,” Josh said. “That really sucks.”
Becca made a sympathetic face and rubbed his neck.
“Josh and I were talking…” she said. “And we reckon Beef and Onion would hold out to a goalless draw. So… you up for a penalty shoot-out?”
Tony smiled and nodded. He was going to miss this place.
Tom Alexander writes stories and makes books. He lives in London with his wife and their increasingly irascible cat.
Tom makes artist books which are one-offs or limited editions, which can be found on his website. For “Intern”, he printed the story on a giraffe-length tie.