Second City Simile
Gordon Watley knocked twice on the outside of the office door with the name MAX SUMMERS engraved. He still had time to turn back. Back across the hallway and down the elevator out into the rich September air. Instead Gordon took a deep breath and turned the handle to the door and crept his way through, the door heavy against his frail body as he slid in.
The rush of light from the large windows of the office flooded Gordon’s eyes. Outside the window structures rose into the skyline; Willis tower, Prudential Plaza building, North Pier, John Hancock center, Gordon could see it all. He’d lived in the city for nearly twenty years and had never seen the skyline so proudly displayed against the pale blue sky.
“Um, Mr. Summers?” Gordon said shyly still holding onto door. The word Mr. felt strange to Gordon. He wasn’t sure how he should address Max.
“Yes, yes, have a seat I’ll be with you in a minute.” Max said, his fingers tapping rapidly on his keyboard–the back of Max’s head was full with thick dark hair.
Gordon dropped his briefcase at his feet and seated himself in front of Max’s desk. Afraid that the briefcase would sound hollow, giving potential employers the impression he had little employment prospects, Gordon filled the case with day old newspapers and month old magazines that had previously been used to level an uneven coffee table in his living room. Gordon cleared his throat while Max finished typing the last few lines on an email before turning to greet his guest.
“Sorry about that.” Max said spinning around in his chair, his features clean and his hair a crisp gelled texture. “You must be…,” he glanced down at his schedule for the day. “Um, lets see, you are,” humming as he scanned. “Gordon. Oh you’re Holly’s friend aren’t you?”
Gordon wanted to smile. He’d been dating Holly for nearly nine months but in the eyes of Max, her ex husband, Gordon’s relationship with Holly was just simply a friendship. Gordon didn’t seem to mind. He swallowed his pride and said, “Yes, that’s me. I really appreciate her arranging this interview.”
Max smiled and nodded as he leafed through a stack of papers inside a manila folder. Gordon could still hear Holly’s voice in the phone call he made from the parking lot before the interview. “A lot of people are intimidated by Max. He’s a nice guy” she said, “until you get to know him.” Gordon adjusted his tie tried to focus his eyes on Max.
“So I’m looking at your résumé here Gordon,” Max paused and scratched his eyebrow with his pen. “And although I don’t see a whole lot of corporate experience here, I’ll take Holly’s word that you’re qualified, for at least an interview.” Max looked up from the stack of papers and gave Gordon a look of I’ll give you five minutes to impress me, justify your existence, “Why don’t you tell me what you see for yourself here at South Side Integrated Utilities?”
Gordon cleared his throat again. Beads of sweat forming above his brow. For the past fifteen years he’d worked as a driving instructor just outside the city until a morning last week when he sat the day with the Moylan sisters. Their mother, Patricia Moylan, was notoriously known as “The worst driver in Layton, Illinois,” her head often seen just peering over the dashboard running red lights and cruising through stop signs that her daughters referred to as “stoptional.” Knowing he was to spend that day instructing a new generation of dangerous drivers, Gordon tripled his Xanax and tried to remain calm while only equipped with a break pedal in his passenger seat. Gordon woke up later that day to find his seat belt tight against his body and Krissy Moylan crying, her hands folded on the steering wheel as the car sat parked on the onramp of highway 15. Gordon snapped back into the moment to find Max staring back at him, his pen tapping against his marble desk.
“I know this city Mr. Summers.” Gordon said.
“Please, please.” Max interrupted. “Mr. Summers is my father. Refer to me as Max. Really.”
“Well, like I said, I know this city. I’ve spent my life here. This company could use someone who understands the people here, understands how to make this organization appeal to all them,” Gordon pointed out the window to the city. “The people out there.” He felt strong and powerful. Momentarily however. Gordon had no idea what South Side Integrated Utilities was or what type of position he was asking Max for. Gordon knew that he had no idea what kind of job he was asking. All Gordon knew was that he wanted something that would make Holly happy when she came home from work that night.
“Well Gordon, we actually don’t work specifically with any customers. Most of our work is contracted through state and federal governments, making our job more direct and ultimately more efficient.” He continued while Gordon examined the watch on Max’s wrist. Gold plated and with a thick silver face. Underneath the watch Gordon stared at the hair on Max’s arm that rooted out of his cuff link and climbed up his hand like the ivy clinging to the outfield bricks at Wrigley Field. Gordon only heard bits and pieces of what Max was saying, his words filled Gordon’s mind like loose letters falling from a scrabble table: federal subsidies, vertical management, unintended consequence, fiscal responsibility, I think you could work out here but…, not going to waste your time, Max stopped speaking and leaned forward in leather chair. The air conditioning overhead clicked on, seeping cool air in Gordon’s direction and drying the sweat on his forehead. “So Gordon, what do you think about that?”
As if waking up mid-conversation Gordon replied “This is exactly what I’m looking for.” Gordon crossed his legs and brushed the lint from his pants.
“It’s nice hear that you’re so eager, SSIU could certainly use someone with your outlook.” The computer screen behind Max went into screensaver mode, displaying a picture of Max with Holly’s son David on a boat, both proudly holding the weight of a freshly caught marlin across their chests, cigars hanging from each of their mouths. “Unfortunately we’ve been forced to apply a temporary hiring freeze due to the economic climate,” Max continued, over Max’s shoulder more photos shown across the screen. A photo of Max, hiking up a dirt path, his shirt off and sweat running down his body highlighting the definition of his muscles. Another photo streamed across, this time of Holly and Max holding each other laughing with a picturesque sunset illuminating their smiles. Gordon looked away. “I would love to find a place for you here Gordon but quite honestly my hands are tied.” Max reclined in his chair and folded his arms across his chest, “You understand.”
Gordon only understood from Max’s voice that he would be leaving without a job and without any good news to report. Tonight’s dinnertime conversation with Holly wouldn’t include Gordon’s ability to impress her ex husband. He knew he wouldn’t be delivering any news that would give her the same smile that Gordon had seen stretch across her face in screensaver photos with Max.
Max rose from his chair and stretched an open hand out to Gordon. “It was great meeting you today Gordon. If things loosen up I’ll be sure to arrange another meeting with you.”
Gordon pushed back from his chair, briefcase in hand, and thanked Max. He felt wrong thanking a man who had left Holly after a three year marriage citing that the couple seemed to be “moving in different directions.”
The setting sun still felt warm against Gordon’s face as he exited Max’s office building, the streets busy with late afternoon traffic. His underarms still wet and his shoes damp with sweat. He pulled his keys from his pocket as he approached his car, a thick ring of keys that looked as if they’d belonged to a high school custodian, each key at one time serving a purpose for Gordon: A spare key to the apartment he owned ten years earlier on Lavender Ave., a key to Holly’s garage, a key to a set of lost luggage. As he turned the key to start the engine, Gordon tried to forget Max’s high-rise office suite and the luxury that came with being Max Summers. Gordon left the parking lot and two thick black streaks on the asphalt outside of Max’s office building.
On his way to Holly’s Gordon found himself parked alongside highway 73, only a few miles from her house, Gordon watched the red and blue lights behind him flash on the tall hanging trees above his car.
The officer slid from his car and made his way towards Gordon’s rusted station wagon, shining his flashlight through the early evening twilight and into the mirrors of the car, blinding Gordon.
“License and re—″
“Registration, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Gordon handed the materials to the officer who cast a shadowy figure in the lights of the traffic that whizzed past.
The officer took a moment, and then raised his flashlight into Gordon eyes. He examined the photo ID and then shone the flashlight back into Gordon’s face. The photo was taken three years ago when Gordon had what he called his “bristle head,” a head of hair so thick that Gordon bragged that he could pass for twenty something.
“This uh, photo doesn’t really look like you Mr. Whitley,”
“Well it is me. And it’s Watley. Gordon Watley.”Gordon pulled at the knot in his tie.
“You sure did lose a lot of…,” his voice trailed off as the officer pulled the card closer to his face.
“Officer, you do understand that I was only keeping pace with traffic ahead of me. There were dozens of cars you could have pulled over.” Gordon could feel his voice rising. “You could have pulled over any of these cars.” Gordon pointed the line of cars that whizzed past the officer arched backside.
The officer paused again and took a long deep breath. “You ever go hunting Mr.,” he glanced back down and read the name on the ID. “Watley?”
“No. No I haven’t. I don’t see the correlation here but go ahead, enlighten me.”
“When you hunt you don’t aim to shoot the entire flock of geese,” The officer leaned his arms against Gordon’s car, his head only inches from Gordon’s. “You aim for just one, and then you fire.” Gordon wiped the dust from his dashboard with a single greasy finger, he didn’t know how else to show disinterest. “It’s complete chance that I happened to choose you out of the hundreds that choose to defy the prescribed speed limit.”
Gordon he slouched further into his seat as the officer walked back to his car to run Gordon’s information to dispatch before writing up a ticket.
There were a few lights on when Gordon arrived at Holly’s house and even after the altercation with highway police he still managed to arrive at the house minutes before she arrived, enough time to start dinner, set the table, and uncork a bottle of her favorite wine, something Gordon was sure that Max had never done for her. As he climbed up the steps of the house Gordon felt the crumpled speeding ticket stuffed into the front pocket of his jacked pushing his ring of keys into his ribs. He pulled the keys from his pocket and sifted through until the he found the familiar key to the front door.
The inside of the house was warm, still clinging to the air warmed by the day’s late autumn sun. Gordon flicked on the kitchen lights, illuminating Holly’s dining room table, a deep rich mahogany, her son David’s backpack that sat thrown across the countertop. At Gordon’s feet growled Holly’s dog, Pearl. A Japanese Chin or Chan, Gordon hated dogs. Gordon cleared off David’s bag and began to boil water in preparation for dinner.
“Hey Dave?” Gordon hollered, his voice echoing in the silence of the house. “You here, buddy?”
The house remained silent and for the first time all day Gordon felt relaxed, alone in the stillness of Holly’s house. Gordon continued his evening preparations, sponging off the stovetops, setting placemats, and began slicing bits of chicken and dropping them into a sizzling linoleum pan. Gordon took great pride in cooking for Holly. It was one of the few things he felt he could do for her. Although they’d only been together for a mere nine months, Gordon relished the sense of familiarity he’d seemed to have developed with her. Preparing dinner, shoveling away snow from the doorsteps, occasionally picking up David from school, it all amounted to Gordon feeling as if he had responsibility to someone more than just himself. He felt as if he belonged, finally, to a family.
The smell of smoke invaded Gordon’s nostrils leading him to pick his head up from the stove and survey the room for the source, the sliced chicken crackling in the hot pan behind him. He crept over to the back door following his nose and continued past the table set with plates and silverware, and slid open the glass sliding door to the porch to find David sitting on the edge of the rail, legs dangling as he puffed a long and slow drag from a cigarette.
“Dave?” Gordon squinted his eyes, convinced that it couldn’t be David whose fiery ashes dropped to the deck’s worn floor boards.
Dave hopped down off of the railing, tossing the cigarette into the darkness and gathered himself as if Gordon had walked in on him in the shower. “Shit, shit, Gordon what the fuck.”
“You smoke? What are you thinking kid?” Gordon ran his hand through his thin strands of hair. “Emphysema, lung cancer, stroke?″ Gordon’s voice sounded strange to him, never had he ever scorned David. He’d made a point to keep his conversations friendly, topical, but for the first time in Gordon’s life he felt like a father.
“Gordon man, please, please don’t tell mom—“ David jumped, a screeching sound came from inside the house and pierced the air, causing Gordon to spin around to find Holly swatting a cloud of thick gray smoke away from the fire alarm with her suit jacket, her work bags still hanging from her free hand. David brushed the smell of the cigarette from his shirt and followed Gordon back into the house.
“Gordy, I’m just guessing,” Holly continued to swat the smoke away, Pearl barking at her ankles, Holly’s jacket thrown back and forth like windshield wipers, “but I think whatever it is you have in that pan is done.”
Gordon ran over to the stove and turned the burner switch to the off position, slapping the smoke away from his face as the smoke alarm faded to a mere squeal before silencing completely. “Still good, still good,” Gordon sang encouragingly, reaching for the spatula. He ignored the charred bottom side of the chicken and added a splash of olive oil to the dry pan. Gordon needed to salvage this meal. He believed that had the dinner gone smoothly Holly might just forget to ask about his interview with Max. He felt her hands rest on his shoulders, quickly followed by her head leaning up against the back of his neck.
“What a day,” Gordon could feel the vibration of her voice on his back. “It’s awfully nice to see you.”
Gordon smiled and turned, kissing her forehead and brushing her strawberry blond hair away from her face. Gordon could see David from the corner of his eye, reaching into his pocket and redirecting his attention to his cell phone. “Sit Holly please, relax. Dinner will be out momentarily.”
Holly sat at the head of the table and stretched out her arms and placed her hand on David’s wrist, causing her son to pull away and continue tapping away at the phone’s keys. “How was school today Dave? Anything new and exciting?”
“Same shit, different day.” David said, his eyes still lowered towards the phone’s screen.
“David,” Holly said, readjusting herself in her seat. “Language.”
Standing at the stove, Gordon scooped the charred remains of chicken from the pan and shoveled three portions onto their plates, burnt side down. He accompanied the meat with two scoops of white beans and steamed carrots, thick, soggy, and overcooked. After nearly tripping on Pearl, Gordon set the plates down in front of Holly and David. The three folded their hands and gave thanks, David prematurely picking at a burnt end of chicken.
“Funny story today,” Holly said, breaking the silence.” An older woman came into the bank today and asked if she could exchange her coins for bills.” Holly pulled the napkin from underneath her silverware and laid it across her lap. “With both hands she picked up her purse and dumped the contents onto my desk, pennies, chap stick, sun glasses, everything. It must have taken us twenty minutes to count all those coins.” Gordon chuckled, causing a smile to pull at the edges of Holly’s mouth. To Holly, Gordon gave her stability. Not in a financial sense but his mere presence had a calming affect on her nerves, mellowing her to a gentle simmer.
Holly reached out and poured herself a glass of wine, topping off Gordon’s class as well before she placed the bottle back to the center of the table. “Oh Gordy, I almost forgot,” Holly said in between sips. “How’d today go with Max?”
“Oh right, yea, well it’s still to be determined, nothing definite just yet.” Gordon said, a heaping wad of carrots and beans pocketed in his cheeks.
“What do you mean to be determined?” Holly said, setting her fork down across the plate.
“I mean that it might not happen. But, I came away with a positive feeling if that means anything.”
“You need this job Gordon. Max told me it was a done deal; the interview was merely a formality. What are you going to do for work?” You need something.”
“My severance from the driving academy runs through the end of the year. I’ll be okay, I’ll find something. I think.” Gordon found it difficult to sustain eye contact with Holly; he looked down at Pearl whose eyes were already locked onto him. Pearl’s eyes shooting off in opposite directions, her under bite exposing a set of tiny jagged, vicious teeth.
“That’s it.” Holly picked the napkin off of her lap in a fist and pushed chair away from the table. “He told me explicitly that he could find something for you. I’m going down to Max’s and give him a piece of my mind.”
“Going down where? To his office?” Gordon pulled his sleeve back and checked his watch, “It’s 8:00pm, he’s not at the office and even if he was I wouldn’t want to make a big deal of this. Holly, I’ll find something else, it’d be uncomfortable asking for a favor from your ex husband.”
“Gordon, Max lives down the street. He moved there after the divorce. It was easier on everyone, and plus I think I made out well in the asset allocation because the move was so easy on him. But this, he gave me his word. It would be great to show up at his doorstep and tell him how I really feel.”
Gordon had lost his appetite. He wasn’t sure if the overcooked meal contributed to the sick feeling in his stomach. “When were you planning on telling me that you lived on that you and Max lived on the same street ?”
“I didn’t think it was such a big production.” Holly pulled herself back towards the table and began picking at a stack of carrots, inadvertently knocking one down off the plate, sending it rolling off the table and onto the kitchen floor. Pearl immediately lowered her nose to the carrot and crunched the orange cube in her mouth. “It certainly makes it easier on David. It’s important that he still spends time with Max.” David’s eyes picked up from his phone for the first time, nodded his head at his mother and went back to his phone underneath the table, occasionally lifting a forkful of chicken towards his mouth.
“You don’t see how this could be uncomfortable for me Holly?” Gordon felt a warm wetness running down his pant leg, saturating his sock. Pearl’s back leg’s hovering above Gordon’s foot. “God dammit Pearl!” He shook the dog off of his shoe, giving the dog an extra jolt out from under the table.
“Oh would you look at that.” Holly said, her voice trailing with surprise and flattery rather than disapproval. She tilted in her seat so to see the puddle left behind where Gordon once laid his feet. “I think she needs to go out, would you mind taking her out Gordy?”
Gordon opened up his briefcase and pulled out a stack of week old newspapers, dropping them on to the puddle. He reached down and scooped up the dog, cradling the underside of its wet fur and pulled the leash from the drawer and walked towards the front door. Gordon worked at fastening the leash to the loop in Pearl’s collar but the dog failed to relinquish its bite on Gordon’s finger.
Outside, the suburban neighborhood looked bright and inviting. An array of orange and red leaves illuminating in the street lights blew softly over Gordon’s head as he and Pearl made their way down the street, Pearl sniffing at every crack in the sidewalk. Pearl stopped at the site of a cigarette-but, the leash tightening as Gordon continued to walk. Pearl began chewing on the but, Gordon considered pulling the trash from the dog’s mouth but instead adjusted the belt around his waist and waited for Pearl to finish chewing. Behind them the thumping bass of a passing car came closer. Not wanting to be associated with the pint-sized dog, Gordon stood close to a blue Toyota parked alongside the curb and lowered the leash to his waist. The car passed slowly, thick and heavy thuds emanating from its stereo as the car’s silver rims and lowered suspension rolled past. Two figures inside the vehicle giving long, drawn out gazes at Gordon.
Pearl sniffed intensely at the tire of the Toyota, Gordon jerking the leash towards him. “Keep it moving Pearl. Not just yet Girl.”
At the end of the street Gordon stopped at a mailbox that read M. SUMMERS. The yards lawn thick and still a luscious green, perfectly manicured. Gordon tugged the dog onto the yard and stood still allowing Pearl to seek out a comfortable spot. Inside the large house Gordon could see a figure through a large vertical window pulling aside the curtains and walk towards the front door. Gordon heard the door clicking unlocked followed by a sweeping burst of light as the front door swung open, presenting Max Summers in gym shorts and a red zipper fleece. “You,” Max pointed a stern finger through the darkness. “Get your rat off of my lawn!”
Gordon gave a blank stare back at Max as Pearl settled into a contented squat.
“Hey buddy, no hablo? Get the fuck off my lawn.” Max pulled his reading glasses off of her face. Gordon thought Max looked vulnerable without his suite and tie. “Gordon? What the hell, that you? Listen man, you better have a bag to pick that up with. You’re not leaving that in my yard.” A police siren sounded in the background, reminding Gordon of his encounter with the city’s highway police. “You’ve got an entire neighborhood to let that dog do its business. Why choose my yard, the nicest on block, out of all the spots to let your dog defile?”
“Why this yard? Well Max, have you ever gone hunting?”