David entered the job centre building and looked around, trying to get his bearings. It had been five years since he’d last been here and everything had subtly changed. Amidst the crowds of people it was hard to see where he was supposed to go for his appointment.
Having located what appeared to be the reception desk a single lectern with a well dressed woman standing beside it, her hand resting on what appeared to be a glossy travel brochure, he made his way through the milling throngs toward it.
“Hi, I’m Margaret, how can I help you?”
Margaret (36-24-36, with bountiful DD breasts) stood approximately 5 foot nine (two inches of which were her heels) and wore a smart pale blue blouse and a navy blue brushed nylon skirt. Her hair was a lustrous red and tumbled down over her shoulders in waves.
“I’m here to, er.. I’m supposed to sign on, at, er…” David looked at his appointment letter. “…at 9:30.”
Margaret stared at him.
“You’re late,” she hissed.
“But it’s only 9:15,” David said.
“The appointment is at 9:30,” she said, carefully intoning the word appointment so that is sounded almost lewd. “But you have to be here at 9. So as to make sure there’s no delay.”
“Oh, sorry. I, I didn’t realise. It’s my first time,” he said. “Today,” he added, uselessly, into the terror of her silence.
“This was all clearly laid out in your ‘Welcome’ package, along with all the other rules and regulations. It’s part of your agreement with us that you will have read these before arriving for your session.” Margaret looked down at his shoes (a fraying pair of red dunlop tennis shoes that he had bought from Sports Direct for £12.99 the week before, and which gave his overlong feet a strange resemblance to those of a circus clown’s). “And, well, I can see, quite clearly, you didn’t even get to the dress code section.”
“These are the only shoes I’ve got,” David said.
Margaret drummed her well-manicured fingers on the top of the lectern, her nails clacking against the lacquer. The book that rested there, David could see clearly now, was entitled “Job Centre Plus: For You, From Us” and on the cover there was a number of well dressed people, all of them beautiful. All of them smiling. David looked away, vaguely embarrassed. He was, he thought, probably frightened of smiles.
When he looked back at Margaret she was holding two red cards out for him to take.
“Your appointment is at lectern #7,” Margaret said, in her clipped, precise tones. “Hand these tokens to your overseer when your name is called, along with your letter of introduction, two forms of photo ID, and a reference from a professional associate, such as your doctor, solicitor, or pastor, or a member of the House of Lords.”
David took the cards from her hand, his finger momentarily grazing hers. It felt smooth, clean, and he jerked his hand away, embarrassed at how his calloused claws must feel to her.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, but she had already turned her attention to another, and his apology went unacknowledged.
At lectern #7, at precisely 7 minutes past ten, David’s name was called and he stepped forward.
“Hi, I’m Margaret, how can I help you today?”
Margaret, 27 years old, 5 foot 4 inches tall, (26-46-86), cupsize: HH, wore an off-brown cotton shirt above on-brown cullottes that hung just below the knee. He could not see her shoes. Her hair was brown in a style the name of which he did not know, but that he had definitely seen before somewhere.
David handed her his letter, his identification documentation and the two red tokens.
Margaret looked at the red tokens sadly, shaking her head and tutting and sighing simultaneously, somehow.
“Now that’s not a very good start to your claim, is it?”
“What’s wrong?” David asked.
“Two negative actions against your account already. Very disappointing.” She shook her head again, her hair swaying as if in slow motion. “Very disappointing for you.”
“But I haven’t even…” David trailed off as Margaret put her finger to her lips and shushed him.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m here for you.”
She patted him on the arm.
“Now, just tell me your details. Name?”
“David N. Guy.”
“Date of birth?”
“The 16th of June, 1978.”
“153 Conduit Ro-”
“Oh. 6 foot 2.”
“Very good. Weight.”
“I… What does this have to do with… Do I have to tell you this?”
“Yes. It all needs to be filled in. Look!”
She turned her ipad round so he could see the screen. On it there was a picture of him in his underwear. Well a picture of someone in their underwear. It was a sort of indistinct blob mostly. A number of text fields down the side were still waiting to be filled with information.
“I’m about 20 stone.”
“20 stone 7.”
“Bust, hips, waist?”
“I, don’t know. I wear a 44 inch per of trousers usually.”
“I’ll just put, 44, 44, 44 for now, is that okay?”
“I don’t wear a bra.”
“But if you did?”
David looked down at his shoes and mumbled, “A B cup.”
“See that wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
“No,” David said. “I still don’t really understand why it’s necessary, though.”
“All information is necessary,” Margaret said. “For our records.”
There was a moments silence. David wished he was dead at least three times.
“So it says here,” Margaret said. “That you wish to sign on because you’re a failure of business.”
“My business was a failure,” David said. “The letter says my business was a failure.”
“Do you have the necessary documentation to prove this?”
“Only that letter,” he replied. “I didn’t consider my business a failure.”
“Was it a small business?” Margaret said. “A very small business.”
She held her finger and thumb an inch apart and tittered slightly.
“Anyway,” she continued. “You know the rules.”
“The rules on the size of a business,” she winked. “Your business was too small.”
“Well, I don’t agree, obviously.” David was shocked by his momentary moment of assertiveness. “But anyway that’s why I’m here. Because my business was too small-”
Margaret interrupted with a giggle.
“-my business was too small to qualify for working tax credits,” David concluded. “And also the new rules state that any business too small for working tax credits is too small to register as a business at all. So they sent me here.”
“We sent you here. The Conservatives,” said Margaret. “You’re not a Conservative. So here you are.”
“How do you know I’m not a Conservative?”
“Are you?” she asked.
“See. I knew it. Our detection system is foolproof.” She paused a moment and then said in a singsong voice, “We’re the party of workers, not shirkers.” She pointed her crimson-nailed finger directly at David’s heart. “You are a shirker.”
“But I was a worker!”
“A very small worker,” Margaret said. “Barely even profitable.”
She scraped her nails down the screen of her ipad.
“Now, let’s find you a job!”
She clacked at the screen as if she was typing on it, an elaborate and pointless charade on its capacitive screen.
“Well, there’s only one job. You’ll have to have sex with everyone.”
“It’s the only job available.”
“Everyone here. It’s the only role available.”
“But… Well, isn’t there anything else?”
“Surely there’s a-”
“There’s nothing else.”
“Well, I’m not going to take it.”
Margaret gave him a long hard look and then slowly pushed a red token across the lectern towards him.
“That’s three now. You know what that means.”
“It wasn’t a question.”
“I still don’t know what it means.”
“Your account has been suspended, and sanctions placed upon it. You will have to contact your local job centre every Friday to see if they have been lifted. Sanctions usually last from between 4 weeks to 26 weeks. Failure to enquire as to whether your sanction has been lifted is a sanctionable offence. Once the sanctions have been lifted, you may re-apply to the job centre within 28 days to receive an application to apply form, which may take up to six weeks to arrive.”
“No ifs, no buts,” Margaret said. “But…” She winked at him, in a sort of sexy way.
“I’m not taking that job,” David said. “It’s against my beliefs.”
“We’re the party of florals, not morals,” she sang.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” David said. “It doesn’t even rhyme.”
“It looks like it does.”
“Well it doesn’t,” David said. “Just listen to yourself saying it.”
Margaret soundlessly pushed another red token across the desk.
“Four,” she mouthed.
“I suppose that means you’ll have me killed now?” David sarcasmed.
“No,” Margaret replied. “It means I’ll have to call my supervisor on you.”
Margaret pressed a button on her desk and a klaxon started blaring and all the light sin the room went red and smoke rose up from the floor and suddenly a supervisor apparitioned out of the murk.
“Hi, I’m Margaret, how can I help you?” said the supervisor, who was 4 foot 8 tall, with KKK breasts and a cloak made out of ermine. Under that she might well have been naked, or possibly she was wearing a smart black trouser suit from Debenhams.
“Four,” Margaret mouthed at her, and shook her head. The supervisor looked at David, a ferocious fury blazing in her eyes.
“It’s people like you who ruining it for the rest of us,” she said, picking up David’s passport, his driver’s licence, and his signed letter of acknowledgement and approval from Lord Puttnam and ripping them slowly and deliberately into thin strips, each one exactly 0.25 centimetres wide. “We’re the party of citizens, not clucking hens.”
She threw the strips of his identity up into the air and David watched, mesmerised as they fluttered off like paper butterflies across the room, caught oddly in the unpredictable eddies of the air conditioned atmosphere.
“If you want an identity, you’ll have to take this job,” the supervisor said. “Then, you’ll be one of us, a worker not a shirker, and we can assign you a new one. Otherwise, you’re no-one, nameless. Nothing.”
A strip of David’s passport fluttered down and landed in the supervisor’s hand. She looked at it and read the name written there. “And you had such a nice name, a Conservative name. A pity.”
She shook her head and vanished back into the smoke.
“Now, you saw that Margaret there wasn’t very happy,” said Margaret. “And you’d like to please her, wouldn’t you? Please her very much. She would… make it worth your while.”
(The salary met precisely all National Living Wage requirements.)
“How come you’re all called Margaret?” David asked, in an attempt to change the subject.
“It is government policy,” Margaret said. “The only women’s name on the list.”
“The list of approved names.”
“So, every woman here is called Margaret?”
“So she’s called Margaret, is she?” David asked, pointing at the woman working at lectern #64.
“And her?” he asked, pointing at the woman at lectern #1.
“No, that’s Winston,” Margaret said. “Transgender women are considered men for the purposes of naming. And marriage. And most other rights. In line with government policy.”
“What about her,” David asked, pointing at the short-haired woman working at lectern #846476382. “I know her, and she’s definitely not called Margaret.”
“You’re right, that’s Harold.”
“But she’s not transgender. Her name’s Angela. We used to do some art shows and stuff together.”
“The arts.” Margaret rolled her eyes. “She doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore. Also, lesbians are now considered men. For the purposes of naming.”
“She’s not even a Conservative,” David insisted.
“She works, therefore she is,” Margaret said.
“What would you call a transgender man?”
“Margaret, obviously.” Margaret said. “Transgender men do not exist, according to government guidelines. And they are forbidden from trying to claim an official designation of lesbian, before you try and think you’ve found a loophole.”
David tried changing the subject again. “So, you’re working for the state. Surely that’s the least bloody Conservative thing you can do. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”
“We’re destroying the system from within,” said Margaret firmly. “So, about this… opening.”
“I don’t want it.”
“You can’t not have it. It’s the rules. Our rules,” Margaret told him. “You have to take a job. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
“But I don’t want it,” David said. “I don’t. I can’t. I don’t want to have to have sex!”
The entire job centre fell quiet at this outburst. Margaret looked disgusted.
A bare chested man at the lectern next to them turned round and said, “What the fuck, mate? What sort of fucking gay sort of thing is that? The fucking state of you.” The man turned back to his overseer and said, “This is Essex. We shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of shit round here. It’s disgusting. There’s kids round here.”
David crossed his arms and said, “I’m not taking it. I can’t. I have a phobia.”
“I don’t see any medical exemptions listed on your form.”
“Look, I have a letter, from my Doctor.” David removed it from his trouser pocket and passed it across the lectern to Margaret. “See. Ubbtophobia. A fear of breasts. I can’t possibly take this job. I’d be too scared.”
“I’m sorry, but Ubbtophobia isn’t on our list of medical exemptions,” Margaret said. “The current list of accepted phobias, in line with government policy is as follows: islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, pedophobia, arachnophobia, xenophobia, and taxophobia.”
Margaret put down her ipad and looked at David lasciviously.
“Is it true that, well, the things you’re scared of look bigger to you, when you see them? My sister’s scared of spiders and she’s always saying how huge they are.” She thrust her breasts forward and David drew back, nodding.
“How much bigger?”
David started stammering some fucking nonsense, and she cut him off by saying, “How big do you think my breasts are, David?”
“Don’t. Please, don’t.” David wept.
Margaret pushed her breasts closer to him, closer and closer, until they knocked all the red tokens off the lectern and came perilously close to touching David’s belly and he pushed out with his hands in a panic, as if he thought he could swat them away. But they were too hefty to be moved aside.
“You touched them!” Margaret said. “You touched my breasts.”
She put the ipad down on the lectern and said loudly, to the room, “He touched my breasts.”
The supervisor rematerialised and said, “You touched her breasts.”
“Ubbtophobia my fucking arse, “ said the Margaret from reception. “If you can touch them you can’t be that scared of them.”
The three Margaret’s stood round him in a circle, the Supervisor’s incredible breasts having already knocked the lectern onto the floor. Margaret’s ipad screen shattered as it crashed to the floor.
David tried to turn away but everywhere he looked breasts pushed in towards him. Closer and closer and closer and closer. He screamed.
“Join us,” said Margaret. “Take the job.”
“Become a worker,” said Margaret.
“Become a Conservative!” said the final Margaret. “And never worry about anything again.”
David felt a nipple brush against his beard, and then push further and further in, down into the tangle of it, deeper and deeper until it almost seemed to be inside of him. And then the pressure of it against his skin, the caress of it against his cheek.
David took the job, and was assigned the name John. He has recently set up a campaign group devoted to the abolishment of the European Convention Of Human Rights. He lives in Chelmsford.
1. Written in May 2016
2. Obviously, every word of his is completely true
3. And now, two years later, even more true
4. Although I suppose the list of acceptable female names has now doubled in size