SUN LIGHT ON GREEN HILLS
by John Lowry
The Montreal Review, October 2010
Greg was looking for a job on a Saturday, in a cold rain, Casey home with the baby and a cold, people passing by on their way to the movies, to lunch, money in their pockets, jobs waiting.
He decided to try Ty's Hardware. When he asked about a job, the clerk's face changed. Picking up the intercom, she called, in a voice that froze customers: Leo, some guy looking for a job! Leo walked towards them, looking like a farmer in his bib overalls, shaking his head. Nothing! Nothing! he said, making an "o" of his index finger and thumb. You understand? Nada! Maybe you could take my name? Just in case? Greg said. I don't do secretary, Leo said with a thin smile.
Stepping outside, Greg turned up the collar of his jacket and watched the water splash from the store's awning onto the sidewalk. He wanted to be home, having coffee, playing with his baby; home with Casey, free of worries about rent and food and money.
Greene's Home Furnishings was two doors down from Ty's. When he opened the door, Gregg saw no customers, no sales people, but heard a low voice coming from a half open door at the end of the showroom. He walked around, touching the chairs and beds, couches and chairs they wanted but couldn't afford. When he came to the door, he saw a young man, in a brown suit, his black hair shining, talking on a cell phone. Greg nodded and smiled. The young man hunched his shoulders and turned away. Deciding to wait, Greg sat down in a recliner chair, imagining that he and Casey were buying it. They would! As soon as he got a job! As soon as they got money, he would bring her here and pay cash! The phone in his hand, the young man hurried towards him, looking annoyed. Hey! No sitting! This isn't a park! I was thinking of buying it, buddy, Greg said, getting up slowly. But somehow you're discouraging me. Really? the young man said. And that would be cash, I expect? Greg walked to the door. Hope you lose your job! Your lousy job! he called.
Enough! He wanted to go home, quit for the weekend. But he couldn't face Casey. But a break! Yes! Ten minutes! No more! A cup of coffee. Something to eat. Get out of the cold and the rain. May's Cafe was across Broadway, its multi paned window like a country store, always smelling of bread and sweets; the clerks, young and rosy cheeked, wearing green shirts and purple aprons. After spending most of his last five dollars to buy coffee and a scone, Greg sat down at a table opposite a man in a gray suit and rimless glasses, his wavy hair streaked with gray. Closing one eye as though aiming a rifle, the man dropped a spoon full of sugar into his coffee. After taking a sip, he began flapping his arms like a chicken. Greg laughed. The man fixed his gaze on him, his face flushing. Your conduct is unacceptable, he said. I will go talk to your mother this very instant. Coffee in hand, he hurried across the café on tip toes. Greg sat thinking. I should have finished college. But, hell, I wanted to have fun. He smiled. Hell, I did have fun! Why did it have to end?
Leaving the café, once again he turned up the collar of his jacket. Why bother? It was soaked. His shirt was damp. His shoes felt like diving weights. Why not just step in front of a bus and end it? Done. All over. No more pain. A sad accident. The rain, the dull day, the poor man didn't look. Instead, he crossed Broadway carefully, making a last try at Terence Simpson Insurance, the name in arching gold letters on the window.
A woman, her gray hair in a neat perm, a sweater over her shoulders, smiled pleasantly when he opened the door. I was just passing by, Greg said, and I wondered, do you need any help? Well, that I can't tell you, the woman said. Would you like to talk to Mr. Simpson? Now? Today? Greg said, delighted. You just give me your name and take a seat, the woman said, picking up her phone. I'll let Mr. Simpson know you're here. Feeling nervous, Greg sat clasping and unclasping his hands, examining the invisible crease in his pants, wheeling abruptly to the window as though startled by a sound. Finally he noticed a man in red suspenders looking at him with piercing blue eyes. Mr. Tepper? Greg? the man said. Greg jumped to his feet. Yes, sir!
He followed the man into a small office. Blinds hung lopsided over a small window; a desk was crowded with papers and folders, pictures of smiling children and dogs. I'm Simpson, the man announced when they were settled. Now, you tell me what you want. Sitting bolt upright in his chair, Greg explained about his job at John Deere - laid off after five years. About his wife and six month old baby. Mr. Simpson nodded, spinning a pen in his hand. How old are you? Twenty-eight, Greg said. College? Two years, Greg said. Can you do accounting? Mr. Simpson said. I need an accountant. Most of them are crooks, but I'm always on the lookout for a good one. No, but I'm willing to learn! Greg said. I'll go to night school if I have to. Mr. Simpson tossed his pen aside. A luxury, son. I can't afford it. Mr. Simpson, please! Greg said, leaning forward. I'll mop floors! Be an office boy! I'll run errands! Anything! I need a job! Mr. Simpson leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, keeping them closed so long that Greg became alarmed. All right, he said, finally opening them. You look like a house painter, to me, right? A good one, right? It took Greg a moment to catch on. Oh! Yes! That I am! Opening a desk drawer, Mr. Simpson took out a card, wrote on it and slid it across the desk to Greg. This is your man, he said, pointing to the card, Walter Terrell. A nasty so and so, you'll see, but you work hard, and he'll take care of you. Now, God bless and I'm busy. Jumping to his feet, Greg thanked him profusely. Rushing out of the office, he insisted on kissing the receptionist's hand, making her blush.
Not bothering to turn up the collar of his jacket, he walked home, breaking into a run when he reached their street. After taking the stairs two at a time, he burst into the apartment, startling Casey who sat under a sun lamp wrapped in a bathrobe and wearing goggles. A job! A job! I got a job! Greg cried. Casey jumped to her feet and they did a mock tango, stamping their feet and laughing until Casey started coughing and had to sit down. Doing what? Tell me! she said. Greg explained about Mr. Simpson, about not being an accountant, about becoming a house painter and seeing Walter Terrill on Monday morning. I thought you said you had a job, Casey said, her smile fading. I do! Of course I do! I can paint a house, can't I? he said.
But Greg, what if something goes wrong? What if he doesn't like you? she said. We barely have enough money for one more week! Greg sat down on the couch, feeling something draining out of him. Don't worry, he said. The baby began crying. Casey got up. But Greg, I do worry, she said. He nodded. She stood looking at him for a moment before turning away and walking to the bedroom.
Greg got up with a sigh and went to the window. The rain had slackened. Water pooled in the pot holes on the road, reflecting the gray clouds. A large bird was sitting on the parapet of the apartment building across the street. A heron, Greg thought, watching the jerky movements of its head. The bird sprung from the rooftop, gliding with a single motion of its wings over a stand of trees. Greg's heart followed, imagining blue water, sun light on green hills.
John Lowry has
a book of stories, Traveling Through Space. His work has appeared in Istanbul Literary Review, Apple Valley Review, In Posse Review, Danforth Review,
Fiction, The Quarterly, and Prism International.
Illustration: Alan Feltus,"Journals," (2008), oil on canvas, 43 1/3 x 31 1/2 inches.
Alan Feltus' canvases portray the complexities of human relationships and emotions. Whether husbands and wives, siblings, lovers, or friends, Feltus' figures are communicative but detached, pensive yet silent, animated and motionless. Seeking to express the inexpressible, Feltus uses body language as a tool: hands appear clutched or reaching out, never completing a gesture; bodies are postured awkwardly, aloof and frozen in a moment. Preferring solitude as he works, the artist uses his own face as his primary model. The figures that result noticeably resemble one another, creating an additional layer of metaphor in the narrative of each canvas.
Feltus' works can be purchased at Forum Gallery (730 Fifth Avenue, suite 201, New York, NY 10019).
Felus' website: www.alanfeltus.com