Voices

DETAIL FROM The Mercy of Fra Martin
de Vizcaya,
1639
(Oil on canvas, 290 x 222 cm)
BY Francisco de Zurbarán

Bill stands and looks out the window of Harry’s Bakery. Three weeks and the medication is not exactly kicking in, no strong message, more like a hand on his shoulder that seems to convey the idea of relief, the possibility that the end of his long depression may be around the next corner. Could he trust that message?

With this thought, the day slows down, as if four o’clock was a barrier to time and it would be all right to waste some of it — a bonus, part of the compensation in a low-paying job. The sun is stalled on the other side of the river, its hot rays blocked by the awning Harry put up in better times, its blue and white canvas now faded to dirty grays.

No two of the young trees along the sidewalk look alike, but the town’s public works department has tried: each thin trunk is wrapped in burlap and supported by wires pegged to the ground.

The peak from two-to-five is over now. Harry is not in the shop and Helen and Darlene are making boxes by rote, folding the flat white cardboard until each piece becomes a cube. They’ll be out the door soon, Bill thinks.

He wonders if his wife will make the 5:52 out of Grand Central. He should call her. Segments of memory float in from his first marriage, when he was the one who took the commuter train every day. He recalls the joy of coming home when his children were young. “Where’s Yessel?” he says to himself, replaying the game of finding all six of them, one at a time, a hide-and-seek ritual they invented. All the pet names come back. “Where’s Gerolt? Where’s Gedda, Missey Yin, Yessel, Mar-Tea and J-o-h-n?” His silent voice rises as it did then, his sing-song, Daddy is being silly voice.

As an explorer on the continent of finance, he is unable to see into the landscape, has no map and no compass, can’t remember what he did then with seventy thousand dollars a year, now that he is earning a fraction…

The money he once earned is now a mystery to his deficient but ever-present accounting system. As an explorer on the continent of finance, he is unable to see into the landscape, has no map and no compass, can’t remember what he did then with seventy thousand dollars a year, now that he is earning a fraction of that.

Good thing the layoff didn’t come when the children were young, when there was, as his mother used to say, “All Those Mouths To Feed.” Probably feeding children is the strongest motivator of them all for “Putting Food On The Table.” His mother again.

When he ended up on the street two years ago, downsized, something less than family survival was at stake. He had saved some money and after more than a year of interviews and freelance work and some unemployment checks, he’d settled with a good deal of misgivings for the four to twelve shift at Harry’s Bakery. Simple, really: he could walk to work now, and he’d be eligible for social security in three years; in the last five years in advertising he had not gone up the ladder, so he had to get off the ladder.

What would his friends say? He had dealt with that question very badly, avoiding some people, but easily giving up suits and ties, swallowing some pride, and joking about the warmth of the bakery’s ovens as a welcome change from his earlier profession.

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