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"Ruins" by Elizabeth Roos

On September 26th, 1687, a Venetian mortar round fired from the Hill of Philopappos hit the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. This caused the gunpowder stored inside by the Ottoman-Turks to ignite and demolished a majority of the ancient structure.

Sylvie wasn’t exactly sure why this perfectly useless information ran through her head as she stared down Ms. Carole Burns. Thick burgundy eyeglasses reflected back at her, showing the white of a glistening iMac screen that separated the blazer-clad editorial assistant from herself. Sylvia was sitting in her own blazer, albeit hers was much cheaper (it was Amazon-bought) than the nicely patterned maroon one that Ms. Burns wore.

Carole? No—Sylvie had made it to the second round of interviews, but she didn’t think that meant she was on a first-name basis. Though, Ms. Burns had called her Sylvia. “Hi, Sylvia,” she had said, warmly, shaking her hand moments prior—but it was better safe than sorry.

Wait—Carole/Ms. Burns had asked her a question.

“So, why are you interested in working for Loom House Publishing?”

The Parthenon had been a casualty of the Siege of the Acropolis, an event that occurred during the Morean War. It was also called the Sixth Ottoman-Venetian War, which itself was a part of a wider conflict called the “Great Turkish War,” fought between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire from 1684 to 1699.

Sylvie tried hard not to look like a fish, or a cow, or any animal that wasn’t a very intelligent human person who really wanted to land this job. “I’m familiar with many of Loom House’s publications,” she said, and was relieved that she didn’t stutter this time. “I read The Weeping Sky by E. B. Gardner over the summer, and I really enjoyed it. I want to help publish more books like that.”

Ms. Burns nodded absently and typed something up out of Sylvie’s view. Sylvie pressed her lips into a smile—a smile, not a grimace—and waited (im)patiently for the next question.

“Oh, I love that book. It’s great to hear you know about our branch in London, and their publications.” Ms. Burns finally flicked her eyes away from the screen, smiling again.

Sylvie felt her stomach drop—she hadn’t known The Weeping Sky had been published by their London branch. Did she mess up? Why was Ms. Burns still smiling?

“Yes. I’ve never been to London,” Sylvie chuckled politely. “I hope to visit someday.” She was dangerously off topic. She needed Ms. Burns to redirect the conversation back to the job that Sylvie was applying for. Please. Pretty please.

After a few more clicks of French-manicured nails on the keyboard, Ms. Burns looked at her again. Sylvie readied herself.

“Of course. So, why do you think you’re a good fit for the…” a patient pause as Ms. Burns read something on her iMac, “adult trade editorial intern position?”

Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck had led the Venetian forces in besieging the Acropolis of Athens, which had been peacefully occupied by the Ottoman-Turks since the fifteenth century. Sylvie didn’t know who had led the Ottoman party during the defense…but that hadn’t been assigned for her humanities class. Which she had taken three years ago.

No—all she could think about was the Parthenon and its white marble pillars, and the gunpowder detonating inside. Had the Venetians been to blame, or the Ottomans?

“Well, I interned for the Felicity Harburrow Literary Agency when I was a sophomore at Beverley University,” said Sylvie. She did her best to keep eye-contact with Ms. Burns, but she also remembered to blink. Blink, blink. “I really enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot about how to read through slush piles,” that was a keyword, “and agent-author correspondences.”

That earned another smile from Ms. Burns. Sylvie had been playing the Felicity Harburrow card for four years now, as she had continued to use it even after she graduated. She’d been lucky to get it in the first place—her mom’s friend from college worked there and had gotten her the job. It hadn’t been the only publishing company she’d ever interned for, but it was the one that had the biggest name. It was the first entry she listed on her résumé ever since.

There was a piece of white modern art above Ms. Burns’s head, framed on either side by cases of books published by Loom House. It was marbled, like real marble, and Sylvie’s thoughts once again turned to the Parthenon. And marble debris.

Jesus fucking Christ, this isn’t the time, thought Sylvie.

Her face must have twisted, because the smile Ms. Burns’s face quickly faded away, and she silently read something else on her iMac.

“That’s great to hear,” Ms. Burns finally said, lacing her hands together on the desk in front of her. “So…what do you think your greatest strengths are?”

Prior to its destruction, the Parthenon had been converted into a mosque by the Ottomans, though much of its original sculptures and reliefs had remained. It could be argued that the Ottomans even improved the structure, constructing a tower and removing the Christian imagery that had remained since the sixth century.

Sylvie stalled. “Excuse me?”

Ms. Burns smiled kindly. Or coldly? Either way, she repeated, slower this time, “What are your greatest strengths?”

Oh, that was an easy one. Regardless of whether or not she believed it, Sylvie recited, “I’m very passionate about my interests. I crochet a lot, which taught me to be very organized and to manage my time wisely.”

So on and so forth, question after question, and Sylvie did her best to fend off the disruptive thoughts about the Parthenon in 1687. But as each question was asked, and as Sylvie answered, she felt her frustration gaining steadily. Though she thought it was mostly due to herself for her failures, she couldn’t help but feel the monotony of the situation she was in. She’d been here many times before.

Ms. Burns’s velvety-colored lip gloss cracked as she smiled this time. “So, do you have any final questions for me?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Sylvie, her mind suddenly clear. The question had nagged at her all the way up the office building’s stainless-steel elevator: they hadn’t listed any compensation alongside the job description on Loom House’s website. It might be reckless to ask about it as her first question, but she felt unusually daring right now.

Somewhere from within the conglomerate of pressure at the back of Sylvie’s mind, she saw the pale specter of unpaid rent notices sitting on her paint-chipped kitchen table, and the mass of red numbers following a dollar sign at the bottom of a hastily filled spreadsheet.

“Is there any compensation for this internship?” she asked.

Ms. Burns had been looking at her iMac, but at Sylvie’s query her gaze darted back to her. Sylvie couldn’t help but think that the burgundy glasses made her eyes look wider than they were. “I’m sorry, what did you say? I didn’t catch that.”

When the mortar shell fired by the Venetians hit the Parthenon with a “miraculous shot” on September 26th, three hundred people are claimed to have died in the resulting destruction. The roof of the structure was said to have fallen on some, while others died from their wounds, unable to receive medical care due to lack of supplies from the Venetian’s besieging.

Sylvie felt shaky—her hands were cold and clammy in her lap. “Will there be any, uh, compensation for the internship?” she repeated.

Ms. Burns perked up. “Oh! We do offer college credit, if you’re currently enrolled at an institution. We would just need to see your academic transcript.”

Sylvie scrunched up her eyebrows, trying to look pitiful. Something turned over in her gut as she did so. “Unfortunately, I’m not a student right now. Will there be any…um, financial compensation?”

Ms. Burns mimicked her expression, scrunching up her own eyebrows and tilting her well-groomed head to the side. If she were outside the situation, Sylvie thought it would be comical, seeing two grown women in a nice corporate office making pouty faces at each other. Like children.

“Unfortunately, due to how the industry is right now, we can’t offer a salary or stipends,” cooed Ms. Burns.

Sylvie’s hands were white-knuckled as she held them together on her lap. She felt the urge to bite the inside of her cheek, to keep away the pressure that had been steadily pooling at the base of her skull. She took a deep breath. It didn’t help much.

“But, after you complete your time with us, we can offer a recommendation letter. Many who have interned with us have said it was a rewarding experience, just on its own.”

Prior to that day in 1687, the Parthenon hadn’t been considered a ruin. Sure, it had been sacked by Heruli pirates in 276, made into a Christian church in 484, and had much of its pagan iconography destroyed in the siege of Constantinople in 1204. But it’s that day in 1687, when the roof was blown out, and the front façade collapsed, that many academics point to as “ruinous.”

Before she knew what she was doing, Sylvie was standing up, hastily gathering her purse and heather gray jacket from where she’d draped them on the seat behind her. She’d made a mistake, though she only saw the fuzzy outline of it right now. She had to leave.

Ms. Burns scooched her chair back in response, but Sylvie’s hand was already on the cool metal of the office door before it occurred to her that she should say something.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Burns, thank you for the interview,” she said, opening the door with a rough tug, “But I really—I have to go.” Sylvie mangled her face into a smile, hoping for something.

Shock was quickly hidden by vacant pleasantry on Ms. Burns’s face. “Of course! We’ll—um, be in touch,” she offered.

Probably not. “Thank you!” And Sylvie was out the door.

Her pointed-toe heels clicked on the marble as she walked through the lobby of Loom House’s office building. She made a beeline for the revolving door, not even registering the secretary who threw a polite smile in her direction as she exited.

Outside, the air was warm and heavy with exhaust, and in her professional attire Sylvie began to sweat. The street was busy and loud, with taxis rolling up to the curb and expelling people just like herself in suits, blazers, and slacks.

Sylvie turned around.

In front of her, the façade of Loom House Publishing stood, ruled by a tall, arched door framed by squarish off-white pillars with rolling ionic tops. It came to her slowly—maybe the façade had reminded her of the Parthenon, and that was where all of this started. But she knew, like most things built in New York City at the turn of the century, that the pillars were likely made of concrete, and not marble. Ever the Greeks’ shadow.

She tried to imagine how the concrete pillars would collapse, if hit by a Venetian mortar round. If they would fall in complete pieces, or if they would just be obliterated on impact. Either way, the image was comical to her, and with a snort she walked away and down the block.

The entrance to the subway was a dark hole rimmed on either side by green metal bars. Sylvie’s heart crept into her throat as she walked down the steps. She knew what awaited her: the unpaid rent notices on her old kitchen table, and the ever-looming debt of living.

Note from the author: “Ruins” originates from my feelings after undergoing the interview process for a handful of literary agencies and publishing houses, and is meant to encapsulate the frustrations and anxieties that I know I and my contemporaries have surrounding unpaid internships, debt, and corporations overall. This is paired with some very intriguing information on how the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, became a ruin.

Elizabeth Roos is a senior English (creative writing) major at SUNY Geneseo. She is originally from Clifton Park, New York, and volunteers at a birds of prey center in her free time. Though she specializes in fantasy and science fiction, she has been developing her skills writing literary short fiction, and her work has been published in MiNT Magazine, The Lamron, and The Allegheny Review. Her interests can be summarized as, in short, words and birds.


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