By Natalia Martin Cantero

The more job interviews I do, the less I like them. Stories about achievements, real or imagined, that one has to repeat over and over again. Overstatements and omissions. Questions about gaps in the curriculum, as if life could be contained in two pages. Sometimes I'm not sure where true life ends and interview life begins. And the stupid outfit: the navy blue two-piece suit just below the knees, the white blouse carefully ironed the night before.

I reach in my black leather briefcase to grab the folder of clippings that I submissively hand to my prospective employer, a balding guy with bad breath. The good thing about doing so many interviews is that I'm not nervous anymore. Maybe a little bored and a little embarrassed by my lies (my two favorites: I speak five languages, and I enjoy working in teams).

My interviewer reclines in his big revolving chair and asks how much I was earning at my previous job. I quote an imaginary figure, much higher than my real salary and, by his face, much higher than he had in mind. He doodles for a while in his notebook and seems ready to move towards more philosophical questions when his cell phone rings.

He excuses himself and I sigh in relief, because I had just realized I had suddenly forgotten the answer to the most feared (but also the most anticipated) question, the one about where I see myself in five years.

I use this precious time to make a mental list of things to say and, most importantly, things I should not say. I check the big, colorful world map on the wall, the three clocks with New York, London and Madrid time. It is seven o'clock in Madrid now. My nieces are probably eating early supper, my parents on their daily walk. I figure it must be already dark there; in New York it's another gray and snowy afternoon quite apt for staying in bed reading, watching movies.

He keeps talking on the phone. Apparently, there have been some typos in today's front page and he wants to know who is to blame. I look at today's papers. I already read most of them on the Internet this morning to prepare for the interview, but I need something to occupy my hands.

I start to feel bored, sitting there with my legs neatly crossed while my prospective employer talks about grammar and the difficulties of finding reliable copy editors when I discover underneath “La Nación,” on the corner of the big mahogany table, an old black rotary phone, an antique. I can't resist the temptation to dial a number and when I do, an electricity runs up my spine—déjà vu, Proust's Madeleine, I don't know: it's suddenly Saturday and I'm seventeen, a lazy afternoon at my grandmother's house.

My parents, my grandma and my brother sip coffee and watch the three o'clock news in the dining room by the chimney. The rest of the house is cold as death, but I venture nevertheless into the narrow hallway to phone my friend Carola from the old black telephone. Exactly like this one.

It hangs on the papered wall beside a mirror in which I see I'll have to wash my hair later this evening and apply plenty of makeup because I look pale. I think I am fat, too. But feeling bloated is normal after too much paella, my grandmother's specialty: when she places the big pan on the table, a perfect circle of shrimp surrounded by peeled lemons, she flushes in anticipation.

Her name was Clementina, but we called her Clemen. Abuela Clemen had a small frame that got even smaller with age. “You have grown so much!” she said every time she saw me. Then she would look in her worn out purse for a few coins “for an ice cream.” She always wore black, as was customary amongst widows her age. But when my mother gave her a silk lavender scarf for her birthday, she wore it as well.

Carola and I talk for a long time, since we have to decide what to wear.

We get together a few hours later at her place. I pick Carola's favorite miniskirt, never mind the snow, and a tight top. Underneath I wear my new navy blue Wonderbra. Carola wears hers, too, with the fuchsia silk blouse that I got for my sixteenth birthday. Her mother is displeased with our looks. Carola's mom asks her, in that tiresome tone I am all too familiar with, not to drink too much.

But we do. We get drunk on a purple concoction called Paranfetamour that tastes like medicine. I dance with Carlos, a blond boy with piercing black eyes I have never before had the courage to talk to who kisses me with an urgency I didn't know could exist outside my imagination. Carola stays in the darkest corner of the disco with a guy much older than we are. When we meet in the restroom to confer, the fuchsia blouse is all wrinkled, her hair entangled. So is mine. We reapply lipstick, giggle and toast tonight's good fortune, spilling half the purple brew to the floor. When we get out of the restroom, someone has switched on the lights and it is time to leave.

My parent's house greets me with its warmth; the dinner smells still floating in the air. I take off my shoes, coat, muffler and gloves. In the stillness of the living room, the buzz of too many hours of loud music feels like a knife trying to slice my brain. I lie for a while on the couch and wonder if Carlos will call me tomorrow, as he said he would.

The Paranfetamour still in my bloodstream, I climb the stairs as silently as I can only to find my parent's bedroom door wide open, the bed empty and unmade. Dawn is already sneaking thorough the windows, bathing the furniture in new shadows and shapes. I stay there, numbed by the ghost that has taken over the room as a silent and invisible army. My brother breaks the spell.

“Grandma is dead.” He wears his bears-with-balloons pajamas.

I don't say anything nor feel deeply sad. Later, I lie in bed and recreate scenes as if from a mismatched photo album: images of Grandma get entangled with the dance floor, Carlos, Carola, smoke, lyrics of the songs. It is not until much later that I feel the loss.

Years later, I still miss the ironing smell of the afternoons when she came home to help my mother. The warm, white, sweet scent that greeted me instantly upon opening the door, like a wave that catches you off guard. She ironed everything: underwear, sheets, jeans, napkins. She used to spend hours meticulously ironing blouses and skirts that I would wear for just one day.

When my grandfather was alive, she would leave our home earlier to prepare him supper. But when he wasn't there anymore she stayed until late to cook us dinner: custard with plenty of caramel at the bottom that she would serve individually in metal cups; Spanish omelets so big she needed help to turn them around; pots of lentils with chorizo that would last several days.

I wish I had cried when my brother told me; I wish I had asked her for her recipes. But I didn't. So when my interviewer finally hangs up and asks me where do I see myself in five years I'm at a loss for words. I can't keep my fingers from dialing imaginary numbers in the old black telephone.