pushy phil

pushy phil

A Story by JG

Short story pushy phil, his story


Snow fell lightly in Spokane the morning after Christmas. The neighbors dog walked around in our in our front yard. He was part Mastiff. Hertz raised his nose and sniffed at the big flakes falling randomly as if a jigsaw puzzle fell apart over head. Clouds hid the sun, but pockets of light filtered through the layers. Behind Hertz sunbeams hit various tall buildings in the view of the widow. Spokane was not large enough to have skyscrapers. Thirty story buildings, give or take, spotted the landscape. Hertz smelt a tree in our front yard. Raised his leg and marked it. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to live in a place like San Francisco or New York where the buildings made their own weather. People stacked on top of people where there was little privacy. I preferred small towns where one was rarely bothered by others. Or one could own a Mastiff sized dog.

My shoulder hurt me from sleeping on my side all night. It hurt most mornings these days. I ignored it turning my attention outdoors where it was cold enough to see your breath and numb your hands after only a few minutes of exposure. My gloves were on the coffee table. I sat slumped in the recliner looking out our large window considering putting on those gloves, considered joining Hertz in the yard for a smoke. I wouldn't though, not for the cold, but Lisa was up and I never smoked in front of her.

Hertz barked at something; a man knocking on our neighbors door who lived on the other side from Hertz's owners. The man looked worn out. Breathing hard in a stream of fog like he had run there, he waited a few minutes, knocked again. He wore layers of dark clothes on that could hide dirt. He wore a knitted black cap and heavy boots a workman might wear. He waited a little longer at their door and saw that their driveway was empty of cars. He spat, then he must have seen our blinds were open. He walked towards our house and started up the walkway. Hertz barked madly. And the closer the man got to our door, the madder Hertz sounded.

I knew from past experience living on this street, that he would be looking for money, perhaps an odd job. They always wanted to shovel the walk when there was barely any snow like today. I never saw these people on heavy snow days. Once when there was an inch of feathery snow, that a person could have sneezed off the pavement, a man said he'd shovel our walk for fifteen dollars. I said no. Perhaps, I did know what it was like to live in a big city, or at least I got a taste of it living on Fourteenth street.

He saw us in the window and waved as he hurriedly walked to our door. He pointed for me to come meet him. I breathed deeply�"feeling the world on my shoulders. It was as I knew what was coming�"exhaled. Lisa stretched out on the couch, facing me so he could not see her face. She rolled her eyes. I wanted to too. As I opened the door he began speaking. Hertz stood off a few yards and continued barking.

“Sorry to bother you, but I'm having a run of bad luck. My tools are in my truck and my truck needs a fuel pump. I need thirty eight dollars for a new one. Do you have any work I can do? I could shovel your walk or rake leaves. Can You call your dog off?”

I wondered if he knew how strange it was to offer both jobs at the same time. There was no where near enough snow to shovel. And I had raked most of the leaves in the fall. Honestly, it pissed me off that he offered to do the leaves.

“I grimaced inside and said, no, I'm sorry we don't have any work today.” I pointed to the neighbors house and continued to say, “And the dog belongs to the neighbors over there. He wont listen to me.” It was the day after Christmas and frankly I wanted to be on the couch with Lisa. Her sister and brother-in-law spent the holidays with us. But were late risers�"this might be the only quiet time I had to spend with her before they waked at around noon. That meant two hours at the most.

The stranger said, but my tools�"I can't just leave them on the street. I don't have a canopy. Their just out there for anyone to take.

I said, No, we just don't have anything we need done.

He comes back at me: This is a real emergency. That's my lively-hood out there.

“Look we don't have any cash.”

I looked at Lisa and asked her if she had any cash. Her eyes burned hazel. Her pupils blossomed like a fire work. Not a small fire work, but the kind they shot up over the river for the city to see�"there was anger there. She could have boiled water with those eyes, as she said to me, we don't have any cash. I drew my lips together so they flattened out in a stoic grimace, raised an eyebrow and looked at him like that's all the explanation there should be. I expected him to leave.

“I can do the work while you go to the bank. I just can't leave my tools out there. I see your gutters are full of leaves. I will scrape them clean in this damn cold, with that damn dog barking. That's how desperate I am. I ran from twenty-ninth to try and get some work from your neighbors. They know me. I have shoveled snow for them in the past.” Hertz quieted, but watched us from the parking strip.

This may or may not be a lie. Last year the neighbors, Sheilah and Tony were gone for most of the winter traveling through the holidays when we had the big snow falls. I know because I ended up shoveling the shared driveway. And it fell in drifts and was hard work. I don't remember him out there helping me. The year before that the house was vacant and up for sale. But last year we were gone for a weekend�"he might have done the driveway then.

The bells at St. John's cathedral began to ring. The man was looking at me. So was Lisa. The bells started a Christmas carol, God rest ye merry gentlemen. It is an Episcopalian congregation just a few blocks behind our house. The steeple rose over the winter barren plum tree, the houses behind ours and is monolithic. A church built in the sixties but in the Gothic style, flying buttresses and all.

I'm Catholic, not a go to church every Sunday catholic but a believer none the less. I began to think of my days at Sunday school. Kids dressed in their Sunday best. We learned of Jesus' ways. We learned of the Saints. I thought of St Francis of Assisi. The naked man who gave all his clothes to those poorer than he. He lived a life of poverty and gave what he had away.

I remembered that I did have some cash. My mother gave me a hundred dollars for Christmas. I could use that money for food. I'm poor. Really poor. St Francis poor. But this man wouldn't go away. Every time I said, no, or we have nothing to give, he told me it was an emergency. And I want him to leave. Forty dollars for the gutters isn't much. And they need to be done. If I lost the forty�"I mean if I never saw him again, I would still have most of the cash. I'd help him.

But still, I was poor too and wondered, again, if this was the right thing to do. Lisa will be mad when I hand him the the money. I could tell she did not like this man. But I see myself in a future without Lisa, without parents. I see myself without worldly skills-- trying to make a living. Telling people I will write them a poem a for a dollar or knocking door to door asking for work, being pushy because I needed to be.
Yes! I was catholic, not an attend church every Sunday catholic--but raised Catholic and a believer and therefore felt I must do the Christian thing. I had been thinking about these things lately, what it meant to be Christian. The Jehovah witnesses had been coming to my house and teaching me from their book. It started as a joke in my head, or perhaps I was just curious about their perspective on things. But it has become an hour I look forward to each week. I get to talk about what God means. And they are open to questions and will discuss them with me. Lisa told me she was an Atheist. I don't like to talk God with her.

Though I would never be a fundamentalist, I had come to respect these Jehovahs as people. They were nice. When I found I was diabetic, it turned out that one of them was too. We spend the first few minutes of each Wednesday talking diabetes, comparing notes. I won't lie. They give me a kind of hope. I don't necessarily believe everything they tell me, but I do believe it when they say, if we all lived as God intended us, if we gave worship to him, he would govern us justly, all would be right in the world. I could wrap my head around it�"if all people acted according to God's commandments we would be in a much better place.

I said, stay here. I closed the door�"didn't trust him in my gut�"so I closed it, so he couldn't get in while I left. If Lisa got hurt by him, I wouldn't forgive myself. In the bedroom my money laid on the dresser top. I counted it. And doled out two twenties. When I came back into the living room where Lisa and the man waited�"I could see that wild look in here eyes was out of control. Her forehead looked rough like creased sand paper. I felt she wondered what I was doing. How I could give this guy our money?

I said, Look here is forty dollars. Will that get you by?

He looked a little pissed and said, I don't take handouts, I don't work that way.

“Well, then you can do the gutters, but not today it is too cold.”

I thought there was a chance he might really know the neighbors. And he might be trustworthy since he could have just taken the money. I would regret that line of thinking. I really wished he had taken it as a handout, and we never saw him again.

He said, OK-- if you trust me to come back. This will get me on the road. If it warms up I will come back later today or tomorrow.

That's fine, I told him, it should be above freezing over the next two days. He asked me if I had a nice Christmas. Something in me was skeptical�"did he now think we were friends? Was he casing our home out? Deciding if there was a fat booty inside. I said none of this but did say, A good Christmas. And you, I hope?

“It was good until this morning.”

“Oh yeah,” I'm made small statements, not trying to encourage the conversation. He got the idea, I thought. He waved. I didn't watch him leave. I wanted him gone. He scared Lisa. He scared me, but somehow he reminded me of myself in that future world where I might have to rely on myself and only myself.

When the door was closed behind me and after we had sat in silence for a few minutes, Lisa, with her folded brow, the man just disappearing down the street around the corner, said to me: You had cash? And You gave it to him?

“Yes.” I made a simple statement, not expecting Lisa to understand. I got up and went to read my email. Money was not the same for her as it was for me. Lisa had a good job and was not considering going on food stamps like me. We had discussed it the other day in the car. When I brought it up to her, she said, maybe I should be taking better care of you. She thought for a moment and said something, it was to herself I think, but she said it out loud; it was something that would make me understand how Lisa saw us. She said, but were not married. I sat silently as I drove her to work for the next few blocks.

“I don't understand what that means,” I finally said when the hospital where she worked came into view. She thought for a moment, I felt us go over the potholes in the road like small speed bumps. The car rattled and finally Lisa said: I don't know what I meant. I let it go. I think she regretted saying it. But I felt odd. I felt odd the next eight hours while she worked and I stayed at home. She was making a living. I was writing poetry. No one paid a poet, unless they taught, which I didn't have credentials for. And for any matter I doubted whether or not I was any good at it. I had submitted to magazines and poetry contests and always got back the thick envelopes. The ones stuffed with your manuscript. The rejections.

Later on, on that Monday after Christmas, the snow stopped. The clouds grew closer and the streets dimmed. I watched the neighbors drive up Fourteenth with their lights on and park in the street in front of our home. Everyone seemed to use our parking strip in the neighborhood. In front of our home was one of the few spots without no parking signs.

I didn't bug them right away waiting about half an hour before knocking on their door. They sat on the couch together by their front window. She was in a bathrobe, her blond hair wrapped up in a towel like Lisa did after baths. He was watching football. Seahawks vs. The 49er's. Their dogs barked letting them know I was there. They opened the door to their small craftsman home, that was almost the twin to ours', and greeted me. I explained to them about this man who had come to our door saying he knew them. Had done work for them. They drew blank expressions looking at each other than me. That's bullshit, she said from the couch. I nodded, thanked them for their time, and said I didn't really expect the man to come back and do the gutters. At the time I felt bad, Like I had been hoodwinked. I felt ashamed of myself for letting this stranger who I had no way of contacting get the better of me.

* * *

He came to our door three days later. I had not forgotten about him. I had felt low and relieved when I thought he wasn't coming back. But here he was. I still felt low, but a different kind of relieved. The sun shined. The crows were on our lawn. A murder of them. They seemed to watch him as he started to say,I'm not feeling to good, had to go the emergency room and get some meds. But I said I would clean your gutters. And I don't like to let people down. I have to tell you though I usually get 100 to 150 for a job like this, but since you did me a favor I will keep that in mind when I'm done.

I raise my eyebrow and think it over. I don't have that kind of money. Don't want to deal with giving him more. But he had returned once, he would again. This guy wanted a lot of money for this job. Well, if you aren't feeling good you don't have to do the work today.

“No. it's OK I don't like to let people down.”

How much more do you think you will have to charge?

“Well let me get on top of the latter and look�"I will try and keep the price down. You did me a solid the other day.”

There was nothing for me to do but get it over with. I had sixty dollars to my name. He wasn't getting more out of me than that.

Lisa's father, Dave, pulled up in his truck as Phil climbed the latter.

“What's this all about,” Dave asked.

We are getting the gutter cleaned, I said as I invited him inside. Dave pulled down his hat over his ears, and zipped up his jacket all the way. He was already getting ready to go back outside. He had come to go on a walk with Lisa. They had discussed him coming over during Christmas dinner. Inside, Lisa sat up�"as I asked him what he thought it was worth to do the job�"she wanted to hear too. Dave was a retired contractor and I thought he might have some feel for this kind of work. He thought about it, he said, going up and down latters was worth something. Then said he wouldn't pay him over 200 but more like a 100. I grimaced, but at least Phil was being truthful about the job's worth. Lisa had been sitting on the couch listening.

When she couldn't take it any longer said, You paid this guy in advance, and now he wants more money. You were helping him out. You guys agreed on forty and know he saying at least a hundred.

I think to myself, I will give him almost all my Christmas money. What would my parents say. I get a good idea. Lisa is mad at me. I know she thinks I could have have used the money on groceries. She said as much about the forty in bed last night. Now it is a hundred. I feel weak. Like wishy washy. But then there is St Francis. It doesn’t make me feel any better, but just maybe I’m doing right in the eyes of my Lord. But Lisa is right I have screwed things up--I might be short on bills this month.

Lisa and Dave readied to leave. I let them go on their walk even though I wanted to go with them. Someone had to stay behind and watch Phil. Someone would have to pay him when he finished.

Dave said, don't' let him steal the tools out of my truck.

About an hour and a half later their was knocking on the door. Phil had finished. He looked cold. It was still winter despite the fact it was an unseasonably warm day. I asked him what the damage was, how bad the gutters had been. He said they were in real need. They might have fallen off had we let them go any longer. He thought for a moment and said forty more would take care of my end. Again I doled out two twenties and gave them to him. Thanked him for the work. Told him how nice it was to do business with him. But inside I thought about grocery money. Thought about bills that I could have paid instead of these gutters. Phil left. Hertz barked from behind the neighbors gate as Phil headed west down the hill.

I started off to 7-11 on foot to buy some diet cola. Even though the store is only a few blocks away I planned to take nearly an hour for the round trip. I needed to think this out. Our dog, Muckles barked and whined. The loyal pit-bull in him wanted to go with me. To be my side. The loyalty between a man and a dog. I grabbed his leash and off we went.

Muckles smelt every thing.

Phil is eating a jumbo bite. Using the money he just got from to buy some food. I take a little solace in this--he needed food money.

Phil comes to our door a few days later. Saying he lost his wallet--that he has had a real run of bad luck. He says he needs twenty dollars to fill a prescription. I tell him my situation that I have forty dollars to my name. But he tells me I would be doing him if I let him rake some leaves. I tell him I don’t have the money. He repeats himself. I tell him I will give him twenty dollars for a future job. He smiles. I think he knows he has my number--that he can manipulate me. I have now given him all my christmas money. Lisa is flaming she heard the whole conversation--I know I am weak now and so does she. She is scared that Phil will rob the house, she feels he is a creep.

© 2012 JG

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Added on January 9, 2012
Last Updated on January 9, 2012



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