FICTION: An Adverb Reacted Wearily

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Stephen King 

Joyfully, energetically, enigmatically, poetically. The morning was a morning to be whole-heartedly embraced – what with the scent of hope in the air and the sun dappled against a cornflower sky. It was a morning for seizing the proverbial bull by the proverbial horns. That was what the adverb said to himself as he got out of bed. He said it in a manner which could, in his house, be described as ‘assertively’. Elsewhere, of course, anything ending with a ghastly LY was met with something akin to the expression worn by green mothers everywhere on un-pealing their cherub’s first soiled nappy and realising their progeny does not in fact shit cinnamon-scented eggshell faeces. But in the environs of the adverb’s ramshackle residence, LY words were decidedly OK.

The morning’s task was to complete the job application. It was for the job that had appeared serendipitously yesterday in his daily email from the jobsite. They claimed to match jobseekers with their ideal job based on an infallibly accurate algorithm. But up until yesterday, the adverb had drawn a blank. He sang a merry ‘no’ to ‘Adjustment Clerk at the Town Hall.’ He waved away ‘Descriptive Assistant’ and decided he wasn’t qualified for ‘Philological Tailor’ or ‘Refining Engineer.’ The advertisement for ‘Semantically Adaptive Processor’, though, jumped out like a cartoon interjection’s impossibly goggling eye balls. He was, in his humble opinion, able to meet each of the listed criteria (both essentially and desirably). He was level-headed. He was organised. He had the requisite creative skill to modify anaemic-looking verbs into snippets of fabulous flamboyance. He even ticked the equal opportunities box due to the amputation he had suffered midway through the eighteenth century at the hands of an overzealous lexicographer.

Form printed and signed, the adverb folded it – carefully. He coupled it with an inventive cover letter and sealed both documents inside a pristine envelope. Walking down the street to the post box, it was easy enough to ignore the jibes of a passing preposition. Sticks and stones, thought the adverb. They might compare him unfavourably to a paving slab but that wouldn’t harm him. They might yell abusive slurs about ‘the road to hell’ but that was just water off an @ symbol’s back.


A week and a half later, he received an email inviting him for an interview. In preparation, he scrolled through the company’s website and memorised facts and statistics to show he’d done his research. Fifteen hundred appointments carried out each week, ninety-seven five-star reviews, an industry award for best small enterprise. He lingered on the staff photographs – all friendly and welcoming – and worried for a moment about the lack of other adverbial employees. Then he reminded himself that no one’s ability to carry out a job was defined by the colour of their skin.

On the morning of the interview, the adverb dressed himself in his smartest suit and tried in vain to make his hair look presentable. Variations of facial expression were tried out in the mirror until he was able to convey modest and effervescent both at once.

The interview panel consisted of a noun, a pronoun and a slightly dishevelled-looking conjunction. They asked him to introduce himself. They asked him about his strengths and weaknesses. They asked him about his favourite flavour of ice cream and what books he would choose to accompany him if he were stranded on a desert island. ‘Nothing by Stephen King,’ he replied sheepishly. He tried to explain what he meant but the panel just looked at him as if he’d given a wrong answer. Categorically, emphatically, end-of-conversationally.

When they telephoned to tell him he hadn’t got the job, they explained they didn’t think he’d be a good fit for the team. ‘At times,’ they said, ‘your use of language was a little too extravagant.’ ‘Before you apply to further jobs,’ they said, ‘you should consider doing an internship to get a bit more experience.’ ‘The successful candidate,’ they said, ‘had done just that.’

The adverb hung up the phone and took a deep breath. He sat down, stood up, opened a window, and swallowed back a swear word snared in his throat. He went to the fridge and contemplated a can of lager before deciding the occasion called for something a little stronger, mixing up a heady brew of bilabial plosives and dental fricatives. He had a thumping headache by the time he took himself off to bed.

In the morning, he muttered his mantra about proverbial bulls and their proverbial horns in a manner that might be described as ‘wearily’. He had his breakfast then fired up his laptop. He hadn’t shut down the company’s website the day before and he noticed they had already updated their staff pages. The newest smiling photo showed an ivory-skinned adjective with a prep school haircut. The adverb read the bio and slowly shook his head. There was no point crying over spilt milk.

He clicked on the email icon and opened the email from the jobsite. That morning’s list included opportunities at a fried chicken shop and a lingerie boutique. He closed the email and reminded himself that the jobsite’s algorithm was infallibly accurate. Something would come up. Maybe somewhere with a track record of adverbial employees. Maybe some place where LY words were not compared to paving slabs.

Matt Kendrick is a writer based in the East Midlands, UK. His stories have been published by Fictive Dream, Lucent Dreaming, Reflex Press, Spelk, Storgy and Collective Unrest. Further information about his work can be found on his website: He is on Twitter @MkenWrites

Image: Farmer with a Bull, Niko Pirosmani, 1916

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