by S. L. Gilbow
I hate those tests. You know, the personality tests, the ones that are supposed to tell you about yourself, about your inner feelings, about who you really are. I especially hate the ones that repeat some of the questions to make sure you’re answering the same way every time, to make sure you’re being honest.
My wife, Charlotte, says I’m too sensitive. She says I just need to relax a little, I just need to be myself.
“Just answer the way you feel,” Charlotte says. “Stop trying to be so damned smart all the time.”
But I’ve taken a lot of those tests. For teachers. For school counselors. For employers. For doctors. For lots of people. And I always hate them.
Here’s an example. It’s the first one of those tests I can remember. When I was in junior high years ago, my entire class took a test to see what careers we were best suited for. Now I had already decided what I wanted the test to say. I wanted it to say that I should be a forest ranger. I could picture the other kids pointing to me in the hall and whispering, “There goes the ranger.” Yeah, I’d be called the ranger, and I would start wearing a Smokey the Bear hat, and all the other kids would think I spent a lot of time outside. None of them really knew what I did when I wasn’t at school, but they would think that I liked fishing and hunting and camping and being outdoors. And it’s true I did own a fishing pole, a twenty-two rifle and a machete. I still have the fishing pole and the machete. But I mainly hung around the house watching TV or making flamethrowers out of hairspray cans or poking fire ant hills with sticks until the ants spun around in a sea of angry red.
Well anyway, they gave me this little tool like an unrolled paperclip to poke holes in my answer sheet. I stabbed my thumb to see how sharp it was. I just watched as a single drop of blood spread through the fingerprint ridges on my thumb. Then I sucked the blood off and started poking holes like mad, poking holes in all the answers that I thought would make me a forest ranger. They weren’t hard to spot.
—Do you like spending time alone?
—Would you rather fish or play baseball?
—Do numbers interest you?
—Would you rather hike or work a crossword puzzle?
—Would you rather ride a horse or care for a bird?
This went on for a while, and then I finished and marched my sheet up to the front of the room with pride. I was pretty excited as Mrs. Jenkins started reading the results out loud to the class.
Billy would be a great policeman. We clapped. Jimmy would make a great accountant. We laughed. Sarah would be perfect as a jet pilot. We laughed again.
When Mrs. Jenkins got to my name I sat up straight in my chair and held my head high, ready to be proclaimed a forest ranger. But all she said was, “Mr. Daniels.” She always called me Mr. Daniels. “I’m afraid your score is invalid.” The class laughed harder than they had before. I just bit at the spot on my thumb I had poked earlier and sucked in some more blood.
Mrs. Jenkins told me later that they repeated a lot of the questions. I hadn’t even noticed. Well, I had answered the repeated questions differently every time. Later that day during gym class Billy called me an “invalid,” but he said it like he was referring to someone who was really sick. When I went home that day, I poked at some more ant hills and hacked at a log with my machete.
I’ve taken a bunch of tests since then, and I’m always watching out for those tricky questions. Just last week I was trying to get a job after being fired as a security guard.
Charlotte told me to just go in there and be myself. “Just relax a little for God’s sake.” She still sounded pissed from my being fired. “They’re just looking for the right person.”
I told her that they weren’t looking for the right person, just the right answers. Yeah, the secret was in figuring out the right answers to the questions, and I thought I really had it figured out this time. If they wanted to see my deeper self, at least this time I would show them a consistent deeper self. This time I was ready.
—Is the happiness of others more important than your own happiness?
—Would you lie to keep from hurting someone’s feelings?
—Is it important for you to be recognized?
—Do things tend to frighten you?
—Do you tend to frighten others?
The test was on a computer this time. I don’t remember how I answered the questions, but I tried real hard to make sure that I answered the repeated questions the same way every time. I knew that was important.
Once the test was scored a woman from human resources thanked me for applying and said they wouldn’t be needing me. I guess I had screwed up the repeated questions again. That’s my guess anyway. I can’t think of any other reason why I wasn’t hired.
“Feel free to apply again,” said the woman. She reminded me a lot of Mrs. Jenkins, and I wanted to poke her with a stick. “You can take the test over in a year.” She strongly recommended that I take the test again before reapplying.
Charlotte told me that night that I got what I deserved. She said I was stupid for trying to outsmart them. She told me I’d be lucky to ever work again. She said I wasn’t good for much, and she had had about enough of me.
And here I am again. Taking another one of those tests, another one of those damned tests. But this time I have it figured out. This time I know what to do.
—Where were you last Thursday, Mr. Daniels?
This time I know exactly what to do.
—When was the last time you saw Charlotte?
I will give the right answer each time.
—Have you ever owned a machete, Mr. Daniels?
The same answer every time.
—Mr. Daniels, what did you do with your wife’s head?
The exact same answer every time.
About the Author
S. L. Gilbow is a 2011 graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. His short stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Circa: A Literary Review and the science fiction anthology Federations. He debuted in the February 2007 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction with “Red Card” which was later reprinted in John Joseph Adams’s Brave New Worlds. Gilbow is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and navigator with over 2,000 flying hours in the B-52. He currently teaches English at a public middle school in Virginia. You can find S. L. Gilbow online at http://www.slgilbow.com.
“Those Tests” © 2013 S.L. Gilbow