The Twenty Dollar Suit
The man hadn’t worn a suit in over thirty years. When he was young he pitied other men his age who had to go to work in suits. He was going to be a great photographer of beautiful, nude women and would dress as he pleased. Well, he did not become a great photographer of beautiful women, nude or otherwise, and now at the age of fifty five he had to wear a suit. He adjusted his tie.
It was Friday. Standing just inside the main entrance of the hospital, the man saw through the glass of the two sets of automatic sliding double doors his relief coming across the hot parking lot. The parking lot was full of vehicles. His relief was middle age and wore a suit and tie, too. The men were “Greeters,” an entry level position. The two men stood together just inside the main entrance and watched the people, a few using canes or walkers, making their way to the entrance.
The man’s relief said, “Still in love with that young girl?”
“She’s thirty six.”
“You’re still old enough to be her father.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
On the way home, sitting in the air-conditioned chill of the 61B bus, the man was glad to have the suit on. He watched the many gravestones of a cemetery pass as the bus rubbered along Forbes Avenue and into Squirrel Hill. Finally, in Oakland the Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh came into view and he got off the bus at Forbes and South Craig and turned into the Panther Hollow Inn.
The man’s cousin sat on a high stool at the bar. A few college-age young people sat drinking pitchers of beer in the booths along the wall. One group drank beer and ate pizza. A man and woman gave the news on the muted TV above the bar top and the bar radio was tuned to a station that played the hits of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and of today. “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals came over the speakers. The song had been the man’s favorite song when he was young and full of dreams. The man sat next to his cousin. The cousin was sixteen years younger and taught mathematics at the local community college. The cousin was a full professor.
“Well well well,” the cousin said when he saw the man in the suit. The man saw the cousin was a little drunk. A beer mug and double shot glass sat on the bar in front of the cousin and both were empty. The cousin said, “You clean up nicely.”
“I feel like someone else.”
“Give it time.”
“Working for the man.”
“Think I like wearing a suit?” the cousin said. “At least now you’re working. I’ll buy you a few beers. You’ll feel better.”
“I’m sick of being broke. Where the hell’s the bartender?”
“Changing a keg.”
When the man left the PHI he spotted a 54C ready to make the left hand turn onto South Craig as soon as the light changed and there was a break in the straight ahead traffic. The man hurried to the bus stop on South Craig. He got off the bus in Bloomfield. He walked down Main Street and crossed over and made a left on Penn Avenue. The suit was hot. Man, was the suit hot. He walked down Penn Avenue until he came to a pottery shop and he went inside. A little overhead bell tinkled as he opened and closed the door. A strikingly beautiful woman sat at a table of unpainted pottery. She wore a rubber apron over her clothes and sat painting a vase. The vase had to be three feet tall. When she saw him she started laughing.
“I knew it,” he said. “I just knew it.”
“No no no,” she said, still laughing. “You look very professional.”
“It cost me twenty bucks at the second hand store. I got two of them.”
He walked to her and when he bent down she raised her face and closed her eyes. He kissed her lingeringly in the mouth. He straightened up and looked around at all the unpainted pottery that sat on shelves up and down and all along the walls. He thought, business must be good. Sunlight flooded through the display windows. The woman went on painting, quietly.
He asked, “Is something wrong?”
“Oh, you know Cleo.”
“I know her all right. Is anything wrong?”
“She doesn’t want me posing nude for you any longer.”
“I can’t afford to pay you more.”
“She doesn’t want me posing at all. She says you’re invading our private space.”
“Invading your private space,” he said. “What am I suppose to do?”
“Get someone else.”
He said, “Has she seen the last shots? They’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
“You’ll have to get someone else.”
“There is no one else. At least no one else for me. It’s the best work I’ve done in years,” he said. “In years.”
She wouldn’t look at him. He didn’t know what to do with his hands so he put them in the pockets of the pants of the suit. He said, “What exactly do you two do when you’re alone?”
She stopped painting and looked up at him. “What do you mean?”
“You know. When you…”
“When we what?”
“Do you ever think of me when you’re doing it with her?”
For a moment she said nothing. Then she said, “Why would I? This is not like you. This is not like you at all.”
“No,” he said. “It isn’t.”
“Where are you going?”
“It’s not you,” he said. “It’s me.”
“I never lied to you,” she said. “Not once did I ever lie to you.”
The little bell tinkled as he went out. He walked back to Bloomfield. He thought, we never had a chance; we really never had a chance. He waited at the bus stop in front of Del’s Bar and Ristorante. He thought about going inside for a few beers but knew he couldn’t afford to. He caught the 54C back to his apartment. Sitting on the bus and looking out the window, he decided to go to bed early that night. Tomorrow was Saturday. He knew it was going to be another hot day in Pittsburgh. He wanted to get up early before it got too hot. He wanted to get up early and buy a couple more of those suits.
This is Guy Hogan reporting for the Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette, a blog/magazine of culture for adults only. All photos of Paige Marie Evans were sampled from Egotastic All Stars.
Hail to Pitt!