Andrew had been happy that morning at the prospect of the job interview. But now as he drove away from the office where he was interviewed he felt sad with a strange echo running through his mind. I ruined my chance of getting the job. He glanced at his beige suit. The last time he wore it was at his law school graduation. Since then he had gained weight and the suit didn’t really fit well, making his belly bulge out a little. He had let his hair grow long and it came practically over his shoulders. He didn’t try to look more formal for the interview, didn’t buy a new suit or get a haircut. Most likely his appearance was going to hurt in his getting the job, he knew. Did I want to fail the interview without admitting it to myself? He contemplated on the interview– sitting across Robert Clifford, the interviewer, and avoiding looking at him. Instead he stared at the yellow leaves of a tree trembling before a window.
“I used to have many hobbies,” Robert Clifford had said as silence settled between them, with Andrew avoiding answering some questions. “I played the guitar, pretty well.” He smiled. “Now the firm is my life. I live for it. Good work needs all your attention. Don’t get me wrong, we like hiring married men, they’re more stable…”
Robert asked him if he had a photograph of his wife with him, Andrew was not sure why. Was he merely being friendly, making an attempt to be personal? Why did I not say, “I don’t have one,” and instead showed him a photo of Natalia in a black bikini. Robert blushed and put the photo face down on the desk. Another, more awkward silence hung between them for a moment.
“That’s the only photograph I had on me,” Andrew said finally. Robert’s face reflected his thoughts; how do I get this guy out of here?
A job also meant being committed to hours of unrelenting work, forced to wear a suit and sit behind a desk. It was as if Andrew was caught in a multi-edged space and it hurt no matter what direction he turned. Feeling confused and miserable he turned the car towards Wooster, where his mother lived. He hadn’t visited her for a long time and her house wasn’t too far from where he was interviewed.
The house was at the end of a narrow, tree-lined street along with a row of ranch houses. He parked his red MG he had bought used and got out. White smoke came out of the chimney of a house, billowed and merged with the pale descending sunlight. Two large willow trees and yellow dahlias glistened in the midst of brown grass in the front yard of a house across the street. The street, the houses, had changed little since he lived there as a child. It was strange how remote he felt from the place he knew so well. The door wasn’t locked and he walked in. “Mom,” he called as he entered the hallway. “Mom.”
He only heard the rustle of someone, something moving. Doris, the old cat, came into the hallway and rubbed her head against his feet. Doris had grown fatter since the last time he saw her and moved even more slowly than before. Her eyes were dim; her eyelids drooped, reflecting her age. I am soon going to look like that, he thought. Feeling tired, while all I am doing is looking for a job.
In the living room Andrew called again, “Mom.” Still no answer. His eyes went from object to object. Part of the floor was covered by a soft, green Persian rug. Two large nature paintings his mother had bought at an art fair a long time ago hung on the wall. On a bare section of the room stood the elegant piano that had been there since his childhood; he had been good at it but then had given it up, devoting himself to his studies. Two beige antique armchairs, patterned with bright flowers were set across from the Louis XIV style sofa.
He went toward the row of rooms on one side of the living room. The doors were all ajar, and no one was behind them. He came back to the living room and found a stack of fashion magazines on the coffee table. He picked up one and turned the pages. On one page, a model wearing a stylish long black dress with white stripes posed, standing in the middle of a thickly planted garden. On another page a woman’s long hair was wrapped around a man’s neck, on another a girl was swimming in a bubbly bath. He thought of his mother complaining at different times that somehow she hadn’t managed to find a fulfilling profession, that she couldn’t get herself out of the role her own mother had set for her, to let her husband be the leader in the home.
Andrew looked like his dad, everyone had told him that. The same shade of dark blond hair, blue eyes, and husky body. He had also chosen law, his father’s profession even though his father always complained about it. It was as if he had no other choice. Thinking back, it was perhaps a wish to try to make his father happy if he ended up liking the profession.
He lay on the sofa and closed his eyes. Fluid, amoeba shapes formed behind his eyelids and turned into other shapes– a claw, a beak, a hoof. He opened his eyes and had a picture of his father sitting on the sofa not long before he killed himself. Why had he put an end to his life? How devastating it was for my mother to find him dangling from a rope. He had left no notes. There had been no warning. In fact, other than complaining about the profession he had chosen, he was his jolly self to the end.
The thoughts made him huddle deeper into the sofa and close his eyes again. The shapes came back– a tiger with horns, a cyclone, a woman with a snake-like body.
“Andrew, Andrew,” he heard his mother. He rose into sitting position. His mother sat on the armchair across from him. Her hand placed on her lap so that the transparent pinkish polish she had put on her nails was visible. She looked like a flighty, vain teenage girl, not a middle-aged woman who had suffered many losses and tragedies. A façade, of course.
“I wish you had told me you are coming. I stepped out to do some errands,” she said.
“I was nearby and just came.” He rested his foot on the glass coffee table. “I had an interview. It didn’t go well. I didn’t like the man. He was so full of himself.”
“Maybe the job wasn’t for you. You look pale.”
“I couldn’t sleep well last night, thinking of the interview. I guess I don’t want to be a lawyer.”
“You’re a lawyer, passed the bar and everything.”
“I’m a jobless lawyer.” He told her again how he was laid off because he didn’t share a lot of the views of the main partner. He added, “It wasn’t just him. I was also stifled being forced into wearing a suit every day… Maybe I should work in construction, stand in sunlight, put one brick over another, and make walls, roofs, gables.” He thought how his face with its bold features, his widely spaced teeth, his muscular build and broad shoulders had set him apart from most of his classmates in law school with their refined looks. He imagined himself working in open air, his pallor erased by exposure to sunlight.
“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. It frightens me. That was how your father had started to talk. He always wanted to escape from what he had.”
No one had been home that day to come to his rescue. Andrew had come back from high school and his mother, in tears, told him what happened. In shock, he screamed, “No, it can’t be.” What happened next? The details were buried in the dark recess of his memory. But he recalled vividly sitting with his mother on the bank of the Charles River and throwing out ashes, which his father had been reduced to, into the flowing water.
“Do you want to have something to eat, it’s almost lunch time,” his mother was saying, pulling him out of his thoughts.
“I should get home. Natalia is waiting for me. She wants to hear about the interview.”
“Come back soon, bring her over.”
Driving back to Inman Square, he anticipated Natalia’s response. “I’m sure you didn’t really want the job.” She wouldn’t say it in a scolding tone, but with a touch of sympathy. Natalia had been the one who decided on him as her husband. When they were both students at Boston University, he studying pre-law and she art and design, he kept running into her in coffee shops, bars, cafes nearby. At a party given by a mutual friend she stood next to him and listened to every word he said with riveted attention. After the party she asked him if he would walk her back to her house which was ten blocks away, and she had to go through several dark narrow streets to get there. They got married after both graduated. She started working and he went to law school continuing at Boston University. He had been drawn to her Italian family, so different from his own white Protestant background. Her parents had a pizza parlor in North End, with its cobbled byways. The neighborhood was filled with Italian restaurants, bakeries, and religious street festivals. The first time she brought him to her home, along with her two brothers visiting with their wives, her parents together had prepared a seven-course feast—a platter of garnished muscles, oysters with arugula and zucchini flowers, polenta, beet salad, braised veal, and more. Natalia often made one or two of those dishes and referred nostalgically to their first meal with her parents. “They were happy you were the cause of my breaking up with my Italian boyfriend from high school who had no desire to go to college.” Her parents not having had much education, aspired to higher education.
“Andrew, you can never do anything wrong in my eyes.”
After they met he began to study Italian and often he spoke in Italian with her. During his law school years he had done pro-bono work for poor Italian families who couldn’t hire a lawyer. That had been the most satisfactory work as a lawyer. Maybe he could find something meaningful now. He remembered his father saying, “I’d change professions if it weren’t for your mother. She doesn’t want a different kind of man from the one she married.” Did his father sink so low that he saw no way out but killing himself? How sad that he and his mother had been oblivious to the pain his father had lived with.
Almost to Inman Square, Andrew tried to push those thoughts out of his mind and turned on the radio. He found Ella Fitzgerald. The signs on the road began to dance with her voice. His mind fell into a hazy state. He saw himself floating in gold-rimmed, red clouds, coming down lower and lower with his weight until he hit the tangled mass of pine leaves. A car honked loudly. He speeded his car, still in a haze. The tranquilizers Dr. Davidson had prescribed had run out. and he hadn’t been able to take one on this stressful day. Andrew, you get a grasp of your life, he ordered himself. Ella’s voice became lost in static.
A siren was shrieking and the wind howled through the trees. It was as if he was a child again and was looking through a narrow cylinder he had made of paper and saw the world in a frenzy of destruction– trees collapsing, tornados, and fires.
In his rearview window he caught sight of a policeman’s eyes aiming at him. On the speedometer he saw he was driving at 80, above the speed limit. He put his foot on the brake and slid the car to the side. The policeman pulled behind him and got off his motorcycle. He moved around his car, examining the license plate and the stickers on the windows. Then he came over to him. “I need your ID. You have an out-of-state license plate.”
Andrew had neglected to renew his license since he moved back from Connecticut, where he and Natalia had spent a year for him to work at a firm there. He fumbled in his wallet, took out his driver’s license, and gave it to the policeman. “I’m sorry, I had a bad day,” he said.
Unexpectedly the policeman began to laugh, so hard that tears gathered in his eyes. Andrew stared at him, apprehensive. Why was the policeman laughing, what did it mean? He shifted in his seat uneasily.
“Andrew Butler,” the policeman said, breaking into another spell of laughter. “How do you do?”
Andrew felt his ears becoming hot. He shifted in his seat uneasily.
“Andrew Butler,” the policeman repeated. “My name is Andrew Butler too.”
Andrew smiled. “What a nice coincidence.”
“I can’t give a ticket to someone with my own name!” the policeman said, laughing again, his thick black eyebrows almost covering his dark eyes. He reached inside the car and grabbed Andrew’s shoulder. “Don’t ever speed again here in Sturbridge. We keep very close eyes on the cars.” He let go of Andrew’s arm and walked away to his motorcycle.
Finally a lucky moment, Andrew thought as he drove away. Yes, that was a good break, something to be grateful for. But as he approached his apartment, gloom began to settle on him again at the thought of telling Natalia about the interview. On the Charles River a man and a woman in bright red and blue trench coats were rowing a small boat. A stream of cars honked and zigzagged around each other, competing to get ahead. His eyes caught a yellow dress behind the window of Tourainne’s. He had an impulse to buy it for Natalia. He parked his car on Church Street and walked to the store. Inside a saleswoman with curled, silver hair came over to him. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“I’d like to see that dress in the window. The yellow one, size 6.”
“Surely. It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” He followed her through racks of clothes, on the other side of a counter, displaying cosmetics.
“Here is size 6. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? I’m sure your girlfriend will love it.”
“Wife,” he corrected, not sure why it would make a difference to the woman.
“Even better,” she said with a smile. He paid at the cashier and the woman folded the dress carefully, put it in a bag and handed it to him.
At his apartment he opened the door with his own key, not sure if Natalia would be back yet from her job. But she was sitting in the living room with a pad spread on the dining table in its corner, drawing a design for a bathroom.
“Oh, Andrew, how was the interview?’
“I’ll tell you in a moment.” He went closer. “I have a present for you.”
“A dress.” He handed her the package. “Try it on.”
“How nice of you… but with what money…” Still she had a smile on as she opened the package and then kissed him.
“You bought my favorite color, lemon yellow.” She held it up, examining it. She took her blue jeans and T-shirt off and put on the dress. It was striking against her dark hair and eyes, and olive complexion. “Just the right size too,” she said. It was nice to see he had pleased her. “I can wear it when we go to visit my parents on Sunday.” What was she going to say when he told her about showing her half naked picture to the lawyer interviewing him?
A little later when he did tell Natalia what happened, she just shrugged and said, “You didn’t want the job. When something desirable comes on the market, you’ll do fine.”
“You need to find something you like.” Her own work as a freelance designer for a bath and kitchen company was not well-paying, and often she had no work but at least she liked it.
After lunch for the rest of the day, he researched for jobs on his computer and she kept working on various designs.
In bed that night he lay awake, listening to the muted sounds and occasional loud voices of passers-bye. From the window across from the bed he could see the triangular roofs of houses across the street, lit by a full moon. A cluster of stars hovered around the moon, appearing and disappearing. He thought of camping with his father, and his father saying to him, “Look for the man on the moon.” He searched for that now and saw only the bright globe. But then a man appeared abruptly and began to laugh at him very hard, holding his stomach. He resembled the policeman who had stopped him on the road and laughed and laughed and then let him go without penalty.
He turned over and looked at Natalia. He wanted to tell her of the good luck he’d had with the policeman. But she was deep in sleep. He looked at the strange poster she had bought in a flea market and hung on the wall– it had bright orange background and a man and a half naked girl stood in its middle with him squeezing one of her breasts with a grin on his face. He wasn’t sure why Natalia liked it. She had a strange side to her. He never quite understood her, the enigma only adding to his attraction to her.
The following afternoon, for the interview he wore a suit that was in better shape and a tie. But then he did blow it when he began to tell the lawyer interviewing him, how much he hated wearing a suit.
It was late afternoon and, as he came out of the law building into the street, it was as if he were separated from his surrounding by a thin pane. He drove and parked in front of a brown, shingled two-storied building, where a friend from law school lived. Nancy had her own private law practice. Perhaps he could suggest being a partner with her in her practice. There were names listed at the three of the mail slots, the rest were blank. He rang the bell above, Nancy Jackson and waited. Nancy herself opened the door to him. She looked at him with wide open surprise. “I was passing by. I thought I’d come and see you.”
She smiled. They went up the stairs through a narrow, dim corridor and then into the living room. This was the apartment she had lived in as a student and she had kept the same old furniture. The room was disorderly with papers, notes, journals scattered on a desk, floor, a chair. “Sit down,” she said, pointing to the sofa. “How are things?”
“I blew two interviews, one just before I came here.” She laughed, “I sympathize with you, of course.” She offered him coffee and made it in her expresso machine. He noticed his name carved next to hers on the thick wooden desk. When in college they had dated and sometimes studied together. They had been both confused about what profession to choose. As they sat together now and sipped cappuccino they each complained about what troubled them. Nancy’s boyfriend had left her without much explanation. He had just walked out. She was struggling in her law practice. “Appeals take months and months with no money coming. I managed to save some money; I also got a scholarship to go to graduate school for English literature. Impractical, but law turned out to be not so practical.”
Obviously he couldn’t hope to be a partner with her in her practice. Finally he got up to leave. Vising Nancy had only depressed him more; it felt as though they were in the same boat that was in danger of capsizing in turbulent waters. He felt sure of one thing; marrying Natalia, one choice he had made he was happy about.
In the morning he left his car in a garage to be serviced and then went to a luncheonette, and turned on his smartphone to research jobs that would allow him to exercise his ability to defend the helpless and falsely accused. There was nothing. He decided to take a walk, burn some of the dark energy inside him and then go get the car and drive home.
Even though it was cold for October the streets were bustling with activities. A mime troupe, with white-painted faces and colorful clothing, stood against a wall, playing tambourine and cymbals. In one spot a young boy was sitting on the sidewalk, spinning the wheels of his upsidedown bicycle, grinning at a private matter. A block away an old man was walking speedily, holding an umbrella though bright sunlight was shining. The world was cracking up,
A little later when he reached the garage, he found his car on the lift with the mechanic poking inside it from underneath. “Something stuck here,” the man remarked. Then he got up, and lowered the car to the ground and opened the hood. He looked inside. “A cat is stuck behind the engine.”
Andrew gasped. He could see the cat’s motley gray hair now. How did it get there, he wondered? The mechanic gently poked the cat from above until it fell down on the ground—a small, fluffy, miraculously uncrushed kitten. He picked it up and said, “The bones are intact.”
“Lucky kitten,” Andrew said, feeling a sudden elation. After he paid and left the garage, on the street he called from his smartphone and cancelled an appointment he had for another job. What was the point of it? He didn’t want the job. But he would go to the interview he’d set up the following day for litigation. In this tight job market he was lucky to be called often to be interviewed. He had done well, had made the law review; that much he had achieved. So I can be selective, he said to himself.
At home he found Natalia dancing to music from the radio, in a hectic, frenzied manner, her eyes glazed, her cheeks flushed. She went on dancing, jumping up and down and stamping her feet even after she saw him standing before her.
“Can you stop for a moment?”
She stopped and looked at him, her expression turning grave.
“I wasn’t up to the interview. The firm has the reputation of being very stuffy. Don’t worry, I have another one tomorrow. I’m feeling good right now. I saw a cat crushed but unaffected.”
“What cat?”He told her about it and then went to the bedroom and lay in bed with his clothes on. He began to read a book he kept at the side of the table by an Italian writer, about how hard it was to attribute meaning to anything. It certainly was true. He put the book away when Natalia called him to have dinner.
Andrew sat in the reception room of the Weber and Peterson law firm, where he had come for the interview, feeling edgy. What is the point of going from one interview to another? A teenage boy was sitting on a chair across from him.
“I’m waiting for my father,” he said to Andrew. Andrew looked at the book the boy was holding. “Peace Corps…” were the words he could read on the cover.
“I’m Danny. I found this book on a desk in the hallway of my high school. It changed my life. I want to be a volunteer in the Peace Corps instead of going to college. It’s more gratifying.”
“The world is bigger than we think,” the boy said.
The door opened and a man came out and the boy got up and left with him.
In a few moments another man came out of the office and said to Andrew, “We’re sorry but we have to reschedule the interview due to an emergency. We’ll contact you for another appointment.”
“No problem,” Andrew said. He felt both relieved and miserable. Where is my life leading? As he drove home, along the Charles River, he slowed down, parked and got out. It was empty on the beach as a cold wind was blowing. He stood on the bank and stared at the water, saying to himself. Jump. Put an end to this life. He had that image of throwing his father’s ashes into the water. A loud sound brought him out of his thoughts. He turned around; there was no one there. Perhaps the sound was an alert, saying to him, “Watch out.”
He turned around, got into his car and went home, where Natalia would be waiting for him. He would say to her, the world is bigger than we think, the words the boy had said, humming in his ears.