Bewildering Stories

Change the color of the text to:

Change the color of the background to:

The Rules

by Gavin Salisbury

The scene is a rather bare office, containing a desk in profile. There is a chair on either side of the desk, which is illuminated dimly by a window to the rear, and more brightly by a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. There is a door beside the window. On the desk are several items: assorted papers; an in-tray and out-tray (both empty); pens; a calculator; a flick-over calendar; a computer terminal and accompanying keyboard; and a nameplate bearing the legend 'GEOFFREY SMITHSON, INTERVIEW PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT OFFICER'.

SMITHSON sits at his desk with his back to the window. He is in his late thirties, dressed expensively and neatly. He shuffles some of the papers on his desk with a distracted air. After a few moments he stops still, stares into space. Silence for five seconds. There is a knock at the door. Silence for a further five seconds.

SMITHSON. Come in.

He starts looking through his papers as before.

MICHAEL enters — a man in his late twenties, tall and thin in build. He is dressed in a cheap suit with poorly matching shirt and a loudish tie. He seems ill at ease, and turns his back to SMITHSON while he closes the door behind him.He turns again to face into the room, takes a few nervous steps forward and waits, his hands locked together in front of him.

SMITHSON continues studying his papers in silence for a further few seconds, then looks up briefly.

SMITHSON (gesturing with his hand). Take a seat.

MICHAEL (mumbling). Thank-you.

MICHAEL comes forward gingerly and sits down opposite SMITHSON.

SMITHSON continues studying something in front of him for a few seconds, then breaks off as before to stare into space.


SMITHSON struggles to find one particular sheet of paper on his desk (under others).

SMITHSON (regarding MICHAEL). Right then, Michael. Had time to recover? (MICHAEL smiles uncertainly.)The worst is over now, I assure you. We just have to go over a few points that might be useful to think about when you go for a real interview. (He refers to the paper.) The major problem, if you want to call it that, is a perceptible lack of confidence in your general demeanour. (He studies MICHAEL's face carefully before continuing. MICHAEL makes no reaction.) I assume you are aware of the rule on this? (MICHAEL fumbles at the side of his chair, then realises he does not have his briefcase with him.) You do have a copy of the latest edition? One can't afford to be without it, Michael...

MICHAEL. I think mine's a couple of years old, but the rules on interviews haven't changed much in that time, have they?

SMITHSON. Perhaps not, but you shouldn't have to look to me for confirmation of that fact, now should you? The rules are constantly changing, along with our needs: that's why the rules are there — for all of us, not just you, Michael. Where would we be without them?


SMITHSON (Looking through his papers again). Cha - os. That's where.

MICHAEL. Isn't that a small Greek island?

SMITHSON. You might like to take a look at the section on Humour in Formal Situations as well. You're clearly not as au fait with it as you might be.


SMITHSON. Assured enough to make the odd joke though — that's a good sign. (He makes a note in a notebook.) But to come back to my original point, it's important to adopt a confident, upright posture at all times before, during and after an interview; and that includes entering and leaving the room of the interview. (He pauses for a moment.) Any questions you think you performed particularly well or badly on, Michael?

MICHAEL. (Thinks for a moment.) I always have problems with where I see myself in five years' time. To be frank, I can never face thinking that far ahead.

SMITHSON. Yes, you certainly came over pretty vague on that one (not being able to find the right section in his notes). Planning for the future is something all responsible people must do these days, Michael. I'm sure you realise that.

MICHAEL. Of course. At least in the abstract sense, I realise it. I've just never brought myself to do it. Long-term planning isn't a notable characteristic of my family.

SMITHSON. (Checking a form on his desk) And yet I see it was your mother's idea that you attend this weekend; and the booking was made some time ago, too...

MICHAEL. Yes. That was this year's exception... One of our family rules (to SMITHSON's quizzical expression).

SMITHSON. (Nodding, as if satisfied) It's always difficult when a family or personal rule gets in the way of society's written rules, I know. Still, such rules are there to be broken, are they not? What would be the point of them, otherwise?

MICHAEL. But unwritten rules are more easily obeyed than written ones, don't you find?

SMITHSON. Very possibly; it's a personal rule of mine to have everything written down. It's the only way I can keep track of myself at all. (Shuffles more papers) Now what did I do with the rest of your details? I do apologize, Michael.

MICHAEL. It's a lucky thing you're not a genuine interviewer, Mr Smithson, or you'd have broken most of the company rules by now, wouldn't you?

SMITHSON. Quite right! Quite right! Bit of a status quandary there, isn't there? Am I an interviewer or aren't I? Interview performance assessment officer, that's what I am (among other things), but isn't that just the same as an interviewer? After all, what do they do, if it isn't assessing people?

MICHAEL. What else are you, Mr Smithson? I see you are Geoffrey, at least to some people...

SMITHSON. Just because I am disorganized today does not give you the right to interrogate me on my personal life; do I make myself clear, Michael?

MICHAEL. Is there no time when you leave the rules behind? Do you not even fantasize about it? (Gets up and begins to move around the table towards the increasingly agitated Smithson) Don't you ever want to be yourself, act without referring to a book of rules; to consult only your own desires and morality — if any. To reach out (He reaches out his hands towards the frightened man.) and take what you want?

SMITHSON. W-what do you want, Michael? Do you want me to write you a letter of commendation to satisfy your family? That's easily done; don't worry about the little f-failings we discussed earlier — trivial, I assure you. We can neglect to mention those in the report at all.

MICHAEL (menacingly). You don't like losing control of the situation, do you, Geoffrey? You have no idea what to do, have you? And do you know why you have no idea what to do? Because your rule book cannot tell you what I'm going to do next. Maybe I'm going to pull a knife on you, or reach out my hands further and strangle the life out of you. (He is next to Smithson now; moves very close to him.)

SMITHSON. OK, Michael, you've made your point. I know it wasn't your own choice to come on this weekend. I can appreciate that. Why don't you sit down again, I'll fill in the necessary forms and then we can end this farcical assessment.

MICHAEL pulls SMITHSON towards him and kisses him forcefully on the lips. After a time, SMITHSON responds. The kiss gradually becomes tender. MICHAEL breaks away gently, goes to turn off the light. We see them come together again in the dim light.

SMITHSON (with feeling). Oh, Michael...

Copyright © 2002 by Gavin Salisbury