Fiction: The Odd Job by Ian Anderson

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I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my Saturday afternoon tea when Georgie comes in through the back.

He’s talking even before he closes the door. “Wait until you hear this one. You are not going to believe this one.”

Georgie has been doing odd jobs around the city since he got laid off at the factory last year. He goes over to the fridge and gets a beer. It’s only three in the afternoon, but I don’t say anything about the time or the beer. Georgie pulls himself a seat at the table and stares at me.

“Well,” he says, and lets it hang there between us.

“Well, what?” I say.

He asks if I’m going to ask him about the job. Twenty years of marriage, and I still have to invite him to a conversation he’s started.

“What about the job?” I ask.

“It was at a mansion in Roland Park,” Georgie starts. He’s excited; I can tell. “Manicured lawn, shaped shrubs, entrance with a terrace. The whole nine,” he says. “The place reeked of money, is what I mean—old money. I wondered why they picked my ad out of the paper, but I figured it’d be nice to see how the other half lives. I walked up to the front entrance and knocked on the door. After a few minutes, it opened, and I’m staring at this little old lady. She’s dressed in good clothes, but she’s got a face like a sideshow. I mean, it was a sin, I never saw a woman so ugly. She had beady eyes, lips like inner tubes, ears practically hanging off her head, and there was a hunch to her so she had to strain to look up at me.”

Georgie takes a swig from his beer for effect, but I don’t say anything. “So, we do the hellos,” Georgie continues, “and she shows me into the foyer. The place is just as nice on the inside. Big, sweeping staircase. A chandelier. Like I said, old money.

“I ask her what she needs done. I figure a leaky faucet, or a loose floorboard, you know?

But she says she needs all the televisions brought to the same room so they can see each other.”

“So they can see each other? What does that mean?” I say.

“That’s what I said,” Georgie says.

Georgie tells me the woman repeated just that. There were six televisions in the house: a small one in the kitchen, one in the den, three on the second floor—one in her room and two in guest rooms—and one of those large, flatscreen TVs from the 90s in the living room. “You won’t have to move that one,” she told him. “You can bring all the other televisions to it.”

“I think it’s funny, obviously,” Georgie says, “but I figure she’s paying real money, so what’s the difference?” Georgie’s finishes his beer with a long slug and goes to the fridge for another.

“Grab me one of those,” I say.

“That’s the spirit,” Georgie says and brings me a beer. “She followed me all around that house like a hunched shadow. I figure she must live alone and wanted company for the day; that’s why she called me about the ad. It was such a ridiculous request.”

“What about the TVs?” I say.

Georgie tells me about how he moved all the TVs like she asked. It didn’t take him more than an hour. When he set the last television down in the living room, the woman told him to hold on a minute. She looked all the TVs over, and then asked Georgie to put them in a circle so they faced each other.

“So I do that,” Georgie continues. “When I finish, she looks them over—again—and purses her face like she’s chewing lemons.”

“‘Something wrong, ma’am,’ I say.

“‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she says, ‘feels a little off.’

“‘How so?’ I ask.

“‘Just off,’ she says, and we do that dance for a minute, until finally, she says, ‘Maybe if they were all turned on.’

“Maybe if they were all turned on!” Georgie says to me. “Can you believe it? She wants them turned on.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I say, more spiteful than I intend.

Georgie gives me a look. “Are you in one of your moods?”

“No.”

“You seem like you’re in a mood.”

“Did you get them turned on for her or what?” I say, ignoring him.

“I told her I would have to go to the hardware store and buy more extension cords. She said that was fine. She said she would pay me extra for the trouble.”

“There’s the magic words,” I say, pointing my beer at Georgie. I’m not sure he picks up on my mocking tone.

“Damn right, there’s the magic words,” Georgie says. “So, I went to the store and got the extension cords. When I get back, she’s waiting at the door, and I think maybe she hadn’t left it since she showed me out. I run extensions to all the televisions. No easy task, mind you—there weren’t six outlets in the living room. I had to run them all through the house. In another hour, I had them turned on. The televisions sat there, blathering static at one another. I left her like that; she didn’t want the TVs moved back.”

Georgie finishes his story with a gulp of his beer, and we sit there in silence for a moment.

“Show me,” I say.

His face goes to puzzle pieces, “Show you what?”

“Show me what it was like to have all those televisions on, facing each other with static.”

“I’m not bringing you to her house,” Georgie says.

“Show me here,” I say.

“Now I know you’re in a mood.”

It takes some cajoling, but I get Georgie to agree to show me. We don’t have six TVs. I decide that our desktop computer can stand in for one of the televisions; a microwave for another. We’re still short one TV, but it’ll have to do.

Georgie goes around our home and carries the TVs to the living room. I follow him around. I feel my back, imagine there’s a monstrous hunch to it. We get the TVs—and the microwave and computer—into the living room. Georgie runs extension cords to the five devices, and I turn them on. We stand there in the middle of the living room, surrounded by the static on three TVs, static playing from a YouTube video on the computer, and the microwave humming with nothing in it.

“You left after that,” I say to Georgie.

Georgie agrees that he left, but he’s still standing next to me, so I give him a sideways glance.

“You can’t be serious,” he says when he catches my look.

“Just for a minute,” I say, showing him to the front door.

I close the door behind Georgie and lock it.

“Hey,” Georgie says in a muffled yell, “I don’t have my keys.”

I walk back and sit between the televisions. I turn the volume up until all I hear is the tearing sound of static. Georgie is right about my mood. I can feel the depression settling on my chest like one of those lead aprons they use for x-rays. Maybe it’s the depression, or maybe it’s Georgie’s story, but I’m thinking about this boy I knew in high school.

His name was Hank. He was a big football star—handsome in that stereotypical high-school kind of way; very popular. I only spoke to him once, but it was on the night he died. I was at a party, standing out back having a cigarette alone. Hank came out of the modest roar of the party and closed the door. He stood next to me, and we both looked out at the tree line beyond the backyard. He asked for one of my cigarettes.

We smoked in silence for a minute before Hank said to the tree line as much as me, “It’s funny. You can be in a room full of people and feel so alone. No one knows what’s going on in here.” He pointed to his chest or his head, I don’t remember. What I do remember is looking at  him. He had this melancholy smile on his face. It was so unlike the smile he had in yearbooks or at pep rallies. I think because it was honest.

He finished his cigarette and said goodbye. He left around the house, not through it, and the best I know, I was the last to see him alive. Later that night, he head-onned with a telephone poll fast enough to shear his car to the back seat. There was a month of mourning at school, and two assemblies about the dangers of drinking and driving and the virtues of wearing seat belts.

I never told anyone about what Hank said that night, not even Georgie. I guess I felt something about it. Guilty maybe, though, I don’t know why.

The televisions continue to roar around me. In another minute I’ll let Georgie back inside, but not until he gives me the address of the woman in Roland Park.

Ian Anderson is a writer and designer living in Baltimore, MD, with his wife and daughter. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief at Mason Jar Press, and his work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Lost Balloon, Okay Donkey, Baltimore Fishbowl, and elsewhere. When not writing, designing, running a press, being a husband or father, he is listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. He tweets about that and other things from @ianandersonetc.

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