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Peter Dowd

by Fred Vogel



Fred has been published in Literally Stories, Straylight, Crack the Spine, Clever Magazine, Literary Orphans, Unbroken Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon.


                                                                                                       
Peter is reading the morning paper, trying to ignore the constant knocking at his door. He knows it's his mother but is in no mood to deal with her at the moment. Peter keeps his apartment in tip-top shape even though his only visitor is his mother, a petite whirlwind who has the uncanny ability to make her son feel guilty about everything he does, as well as everything he should be doing. Peter's father left the family twenty years ago by way of a sturdy rope.

Peter's mother: Peter, open up. I know you're in there.

Peter: Mother, please. Just leave me be.

Mother: You forget I have a key.

Peter acquiesces.

Peter: What do you want, Mother?
 

Mother (entering the apartment): Well, the rent would be nice. But I'm not here for that. I have wonderful news to share. My boyfriend says he can get you a job.

Peter: Please do not refer to him as your boyfriend. He is at least eighty-something. He has long passed the age of being referred to as a boy.

Mother (ignoring his words): He has a friend whose son owns one of those mailing businesses and he is in need of immediate help at the counter.

Peter: Not interested in the slightest.

Mother: Get interested, Peter. You need to be doing something.

Peter: I wish you would simply mind your own business.
 

Mother (handing Peter a piece of paper): Here's his number. His name is Thomothy. Just mention my Bill. He's expecting your call.

Peter: Thomothy?

Mother: That's right, dear. Give him a call.

Peter: Thomothy?


Peter is behind the counter at the mail/ship/copy/scan/fax store, assisting customers. He is not at all comfortable wearing the uniformed golf shirt, replete with a UPS logo, but is doing his best to be a good employee.                                                                                                      

Peter: Good day, sir. How may I be of assistance?

Customer #1 (handing Peter a thumb drive): Could you send this to my home email?

Peter (holding the device up to the light): What is this?

Customer: It's a thumb drive.

Peter: Not familiar.

Customer (perturbed): A flash drive?

Peter shakes his head.

Customer: For Christ's sake, is Thomothy here?
 

Thomothy appears from the back work area.

Thomothy: Hello, Ralph. What’s the word?

Ralph: More like two words…Basic training.

Thomothy: Peter is our new man on board.

Ralph: Where's Rosemary?

Thomothy: She had her baby.

Ralph: Sounds ominous.

The two share a laugh.
 

Peter (still examining the device): How in blazes does this thing work?

Customer #2 (standing at the copier): It seems to have jammed.

Peter: What did you do to it?

Customer. Nothing. It just jammed up on me.

Peter: For no reason at all?

Customer: Apparently.

Peter: I find that hard to believe.

Peter: Good day, madam. How may I be of assistance?

Customer #3: Do you still carry those cute little cards?

Peter: I am not sure what cute little cards you are referencing.

Customer: Those little enclosure cards. I don't see them anywhere.

Peter: Have you looked on the card rack?                                                              

Customer: Of course I have. That's why I'm asking if you still carry them. Maybe they're in back.

Peter: They would not sell very well hiding in the back, now would they?

Customer: You are quite an ill-mannered young man.

Peter: I appreciate the compliment, madam, but I am afraid I am not so young anymore.

 

Peter: Good day, sir. How may I be of assistance?

Customer #4: I'm hoping to get this bottle of wine to Salt Lake City by Monday.

Peter: I am sorry, but wine is not allowed in Salt Lake City.

Customer: What do you mean 'now allowed'?

Thomothy: I think what Peter means is we cannot ship wine into Utah. They have strict rules.

Customer: I still don't understand.

Peter: What is there not to understand? They're all Mormons in Utah. And Mormons do not drink wine. Or anything else of real value, for that matter.

Customer: Well, sir, I'm not Mormon and I once lived in Utah.

Peter: Whatever for?

Customer: What do you mean?

Peter: I mean, sir, in words as clear as the vesseled nose on your beet-red face, why would any non-Mormon live in such a wretched place?
 

After depositing his pittance of a severance check, Peter heads to The Minstrel for an early lunch and beverage.

Francine, the cross-eyed bartender: Peter. What brings you here this time of day?

Peter (settling onto a bar stool): Truth be told, my dear, I have been canned.

Francine: You must be getting used to it by now.

Peter: You certainly would think so. Did you know there are people in Utah who are not even Mormon?

Francine: It takes all kinds.

Peter: I suppose it does. Tell me, Francine. Have you ever felt lost?

Francine (presenting Peter with a cosmopolitan): Can't say I have. Do you feel lost, Peter?

Peter: Very much so, I'm afraid.

Peter is in his mother's apartment.

Mother: You know, Peter, my Bill went out of his way to help you land employment. This is not the way one shows their appreciation.

Peter: Please inform your octogenarian friend I no longer need him to make any further detours on my account.

Mother: What happened, Peter? Why were you let go?

Peter: For speaking the truth, I suppose. It seems as though whenever I speak the truth, terrible things happen. Maybe I should just lie like everyone else. Maybe I should simply be like everyone else.

Mother: A bit melodramatic, dear?

Peter: I am afraid I do not belong in this world. No one understands me.

Mother: Violins at the ready.

Peter: Even you don't understand me, and you are my mother. If a mother does not understand her own flesh and blood, where is there hope?

Mother: There is nothing to understand. Whenever you get a job, you get let go. Think long and hard, Peter. Where does the blame belong?

Peter: The list is much too long to recite.

Mother: Is it, Peter? Are you so sure?

Peter: I am not so sure of anything these days.

Mother: I've asked this before and I'm asking it again. Please go see Dr. Wiser.

Peter: Mother…

Mother: Hear me out, Peter. I believe it would be in your best interest. He has done wonders for me.

Peter: I simply was going to ask if you would pay for the visit.

Mother: I will gladly pay. And I'll go you one step further – I'll reduce your rent by one-third if you promise to give the doctor a fair shot at helping you.

Peter (with a tear meandering down his chubby cheek): I promise, Mother.

Mother: That's my good boy. Now give me a big hug.

 

Peter is in the waiting room, waiting to speak with his mother's psychiatrist. He is thumbing through an issue of Road & Track when his name is called. He finds himself with an erection, which he haphazardly adjusts while being lead into the doctor's office. Peter becomes mesmerized by the colorful fish in the aquarium built into the wall behind the doctor's desk.

Peter: My, those are lovely.

Dr. Wiser (swiveling around to view the aquarium): Ah, yes. They give me so much pleasure. 

Peter: Simply breathtaking. May I ask, do they ever eat one another?

Dr. Wiser (ignoring the question): So, tell me, Mr. Dowd. What brings you here today?

Peter: My mother believes I need guidance.

Dr. Wiser: In what direction?

Peter: In all directions, I suppose.

Dr. Wiser: Well, let us begin Do you mind if I call you Peter?

Peter: Is there not a couch for me to lie on in case I need to release my frustrations? Or to vent my anger? Or to cry out, if need be?

Dr. Wiser: We got rid of the couches years ago. I find it more productive to discuss a patient's situation face to face. Is the chair not to your liking?

Peter: Not a fan of the squeaking.

Dr. Wiser: Naugahyde.

Peter: Indeed.

Dr. Wiser: So, Mr. Dowd, tell me about yourself.

Peter: Please call me Peter.
 

One hour later.

Dr. Wiser: My goodness, I had no idea.

Peter: I live it on a daily basis.

Dr. Wiser: I am so sorry.

Peter: Well, how did I do?

Dr. Wiser: You were outstanding. Let me just say you would make a remarkable case study, if you would be willing to participate.

Peter: Is the pay worthy of my time?

Dr. Wiser: That depends. How much do you feel your time is worth?

Peter ponders the question and realizes the answer.

Peter (extends his hand): We have a deal.

Four sessions in, Peter decides to abandon both Dr. Wiser and the study.

Peter: He wanted me to be a guinea pig.

Mother: Oh, Peter, don't exaggerate.

Peter: I will, under no circumstances, be a test dummy for the benefit of the psychiatric community.

Mother: You promised me you would give it a go.

Peter: I did, Mother. But one month has proven to be more than I can bear.

Mother: Then expect a rent increase, effective immediately.

Peter jumps back on the job-search horse but after a week of unsuccessful interviews, he finds himself back at The Minstrel,

Peter: You know, Francine, the more I explore this so-called job market, the more I wish I could open my own business.

Francine: What type of business?

Peter: Men's suits. I've always considered myself a connoisseur of fine clothing. It may surprise you, but I was once quite the dresser.

Francine: Oh, I believe you, Peter. You are a handsome fellow.

Peter: Why, if I didn't know any better, Francine, I would say you are flirting with me.

Francine: Just keeping the customer satisfied.

Peter: And doing it wonderfully, I may add. Maybe you and I should run off together.

Francine: On whose credit card?

Peter: You are always one step ahead of me.

Francine: And at least two drinks behind.
 

Peter is starting to view Francine through different eyes. Francine, however, continues to see Peter only through her crossed-eyes.

Peter: I suppose you wouldn't consider investing in a new business venture I have in mind.

Mother: You suppose correctly, dear. But, just for the sake of supposing, what type of business are you thinking?

Peter: Clothing. Men's suits, in particular. Quality over quantity. It is a lost art. Attention to detail. Men now buy their suits from warehouses or over the internet, of all places. How in the world can one purchase a proper suit without first trying it on? The world constantly behooves me.

Mother: It was so nice when men dressed as gentlemen. A suit and tie, a colorful handkerchief in their breast pocket, dramatic wingtip shoes with argyle socks. What a splendid look.

Peter: My thoughts exactly. The world runs in cycles. What is popular today may not be tomorrow. One day men will go back to wearing elegant suits and fancy shoes. Someone just needs to lead them in that direction and I want to be that man. I am in need of your support as a financial backer.

Mother: Peter, I'm surprised at how motivated you seem with all this. I haven't heard you go on with such passion since I don't-know-when. It's so wonderful to see. Now if only I could believe a word of it.

Peter: Mother, what on earth do you mean?

Mother: I'm sorry, dear, but I don't think you have what it takes to follow through on such an endeavor. Your motivational skills are, how shall I put this, lacking? You need to be realistic and find yourself a decent paying job. You're not getting any younger.

Peter: Could it be, Mother, that it is you who has been holding me back all these years?

Mother (handing Peter a box of tissues): Now, now, dear. With ideas like that swirling around in your head, I suggest you pay Dr. Wiser another visit.

 

Dr. Wiser (handing Peter a box of tissues): I don't believe your mother sees you as a complete failure.

Peter (blowing his nose): I believe she does. And it hurts me to no end.

Dr. Wiser: You might try to keep in mind the Chinese saying: Failure is the mother of success.

Peter: Fortune cookie material?

Dr. Wiser: No, Peter, it's an ageless saying. In order to succeed, we often need to fail.

Peter: I want to open a clothing store but Mother does not think me capable.

Dr. Wiser: Do you see yourself as capable?

Peter: Yes, I believe I do.

Dr. Wiser: That's a wonderful start. Now you need to do what it takes to make it happen.

Peter: I misread you, Doctor. You are a good man.

Dr. Wiser: Thank you, Peter, as are you.

Peter: Please send my mother the bill.

 

Peter is nibbling on a turkey sandwich and sipping a cosmopolitan at The Minstrel.

Peter: Francine, I believe I am learning more about myself each and every day. Dr. Wiser is helping me through issues I may not have known I had.

Francine: You do realize you could have paid me the same money you are paying that doctor and I would have given you the exact same advice.

Peter: But you are not a professional.

Francine: I'm a bartender, Peter. It doesn't get more professional than that. I have listened to a thousand different stories over the past twenty years. I know who is okay and who isn't. And you're okay in my book. You just need to have a little more faith in yourself.

Peter: May I have a tissue, please? I believe I have something in my eye.

Francine (handing Peter a box of tissues): Blow away, Peter. There's no one here but you and me.


Peter remembers little of last night but knows this is not his bed that he finds himself. He wonders if it's time to discover something less potent than a cosmopolitan. He recalls overhearing two men at a bar once discussing the merits of something called absence or words to that effect. He will investigate. He turns in the direction of the snores and grunting sounds coming from his bed companion. Peter is overjoyed to discover they are emanating from the orifices of Francine, the bartender. His attempts to get out of bed are compromised by the nauseous head-spinning that is making this most mundane movement much more difficult than it need be. He gropes along the floor until he gathers up his clothing and locates the bathroom and closes the door behind him. He dresses, leaning against the wall for support, hoping to abandon the scene before Francine wakes and realizes who it is she has brought home with her. The last thing Peter wants is for Francine to be disappointed. He wishes he could remember if they had a good time. Peter relieves himself, remembering, at the last possible second, to lift the inner lid, yet forgetting to put it back down once he has finished. He is splashing cold water on his face when there's knocking on the door.

Francine: Peter? Are you okay in there?

Peter: Yes, I am fine.

Francine: Are you planning on staying in there all day?

Peter: Francine, I apologize if I have done something to shame you. I am afraid the cosmopolitans got the better of me. Please try not to hate me.

Francine: A little late for apologizes, Peter. I'm afraid you've made me pregnant.

Peter: Whaaaaat?

Francine: Just messing with you. Come on out. I need to use the potty.

Peter exhales a deep sigh and opens the door. He is ready to face the music. What he is not ready to face is the face of the morning-after Francine. Her crossed-eyes are accentuated by the harsh bathroom lighting, while most of her makeup is no longer in its original place. 

Peter is back at his apartment, having showered off the remnants of last night. As is his custom, Peter wipes the fog from the bathroom window, stares at himself, and begins a one-way conversation.

Peter: Who are you kidding? You are not exactly a perfect catch. Francine is wonderful. If you blow this, I will never speak to you again. I mean it. Listen to my words: Do not blow this.

Mother: All clean, are we, dear?

Peter wraps a towel around his nakedness.

Peter: Seriously, Mother. You mustn't be sneaking in here and frightening the daylights out of me.

Mother: Oh, don't be such a dally wag. You possess nothing I haven't laid my eyes on before.

Peter: Privacy, Mother. I need my privacy.

Mother: I didn't hear you come in last night.

Peter: It was late.

Mother: But I did hear you come in an hour ago. Where in the world were you?

Peter: It is none of your beeswax, but if you must know, I was spending time with my new lady friend.

Mother: Do tell, a new lady friend?

Peter: Correct. And not to shock you, but she and I had intercourse.

Mother: At the same time?

Peter: Of course at the same time.

Mother: Well, not to shock you, dear, but I had intercourse as well.

Peter: Mother, please. I'm still a bit under the weather.

Mother: My Bill is quite the lover.

Peter: No more, I beg of you.

Mother: We did it twice, if you must know. Anyway, what's the name of this new lady friend of yours?

Peter: Her name is Francine. And she is the most beautiful woman I have ever known.

Mother: The cross-eyed bartender, Francine?

Peter: The very same. And I wish you would hear yourself, Mother. It would not hurt you in the least to rise above your shallowness and insensitivity and show compassion for the disabled.

Mother: Francine is not disabled, dear. She just doesn't have the ability to see things clearly.

 

Peter arrives for his meeting with Stu Cross, the bank's loan officer, to discuss financial options for Peter's proposed clothing store.

Mr. Cross: You mentioned over the phone Mr. Dowd that you have a proposal you wish to present to me.

Peter: I do, indeed. I would like to open a clothing store, but lack the necessary funding.

Mr. Cross: A clothing store. Men's, women's, children's?

Peter: Men's. I know little of women's clothing and even less of children's.

Mr. Cross: Where are you thinking of opening this store?

Peter: Wherever you feel would be the opportune locale.

Mr. Cross: It's not for the bank to decide where one's business should be. However, we can certainly give our opinion when you present us with your proposal.

Peter: Proposal?

Mr. Cross: Why, of course, Mr. Dowd. We will need your business proposal in writing to present to the committee.

Peter: I have nothing written down. It is all in my head.

Mr. Cross: I suggest, then, you take those words in your head and jot them down. It's much easier for us to decipher the written word than it is to be mind readers.

Peter: I was hoping for a 'Yes'.

Mr. Cross: Hope springs eternally, Mr. Dowd, but, unfortunately, not here. Bring us your proposal in writing so we can give it our full attention.

Peter: I see. You are well aware there are other banking institutions who would jump at the opportunity of being my financial banker.

Mr. Cross: I do. The ball is in your court.

Peter: I am not sure I even know what that means.

Mr. Cross: The next step is yours.

Peter: Still at a loss.

Mr. Cross: Bring in your proposal and we will go from there.

Peter: Go from where?

 

Peter is on the phone with his estranged brother, John, with whom he has never seen eye-to-eye.

Peter: John, are you open to giving me a loan so I can start a business?

John: I am not.

Peter: May I ask why?

John: You may.

Peter: Why?

John, Let me ask you, why should I?

Peter: You probably should not.

John: Well?

Peter: I believe I am a changed man. Though unsuccessful, I have been attempting to procure employment for quite some time. I have found a passion in my desire to operate my own business. And I have a new lady friend.

John: Mother tells me she is a bartender.

Peter: An excellent bartender.

John: Right up your alley.

Peter: Why is everyone making all of these obtuse comments to me? Up my alley?

John: How about par for the course.

Peter: Enough with the riddles, for goodness sakes.

John: Peter, let me think about what you are asking me, alright?

Peter: Thank you, John. My best to Shirley.

John: Sylvia.

Peter: And the children.

John: Child.
 

Peter is at The Minstrel.

Francine: Hello, my big, handsome fella.

Peter looks around, before realizing it is he Francine is addressing.

Peter: (climbing onto a bar stool) Good afternoon, my dear.

Francine: I thought you had forgotten about me.

Peter: Impossible. I will cherish our blissful evening forevermore.

Francine: You don't remember a thing about it, do you?

Peter: Refresh my memory.

Francine: We went back to my place and you ravaged me. Over and over again. You were an animal. A beast.

Peter (shocked at his actions): No!

Francine: Peter, I'm joking. You were the perfect gentleman. I was the ravager.

Peter: Thank goodness.

Francine: But you didn't seem to mind.

Peter: I suppose you could say the ball was in your court.

Francine: Excuse me?

Peter: Oh, never mind. Cleverness has never been a strong suit of mine.

Francine (placing a cosmopolitan on the bar): Here you go, big guy.

Peter: You know, Francine. I am considering switching to absence.

Francine: Abstinence?

Peter: Heavens, no. Absence. I believe it is a drink.

Francine: You mean Absinthe?

Peter: That may be it.

Francine: Trust me, you don't even want to know about Absinthe. That stuff will kill you.

Peter: I certainly would not want that to happen. Especially now that I have a lady friend.

Francine: Is that what I am to you, Peter, your lady friend?

Peter: If you will allow for it.

Francine: I think that would be very nice.

Peter: You put a smile on my face.

Francine: Are you ready for round two

Peter: Round two?

Francine: Are you ready to repeat last night's performance.

Peter: I am indeed. Another cosmopolitan, s'il vous plait.

 

Peter and Francine are in bed, having completed round two.

Francine: You're really serious about this clothing business, aren't you?  

Peter: Very much so.

Francine: Have you planned things out? Initial costs, location, workforce, suppliers?

Peter: I have yet to put anything on paper. But I do have a good grasp of what I would like.

Francine: Are you looking for a partner?

Peter: I have already spoken with my mother but was turned down. I mentioned it to my brother and he informed me he would get back to me.

Francine: I didn't know you had a brother.

Peter: Only through blood.

Francine: What if I were your partner?

Peter: How do you mean?

Francine: What if I loaned you the money?

Peter: I am afraid, my dear, a bartender's salary would be no match against the expected costs of such an endeavor.

Francine: I have fifty-thousand dollars in savings. How does that match up?

Peter: I am frankly aghast. If I may be so bold, how in the world have you been able to save up such a large sum of money?

Francine: I'm a prostitute.

Peter: Heavens.

Francine: If I'm going to be your lady friend, you are going to have to realize when I'm joking.

Peter: And that was a joke?

Francine. Yes, Peter. That was a joke. Do you have any idea how much a good bartender makes?

Peter: Fifty-thousand dollars?

Francine: Now you're getting with the program.

Peter doesn't even bother to ask what the expression means.

Francine: So, what do you say, Peter?

Peter: Why, it would be an honor to have you as my partner.

 

Peter and Francine answer the bell for round three, where Francine easily defeats an already spent Peter with a flurry of devastating body thrusts.

Fast forward eight months and Dowd Fine Clothiers is a reality. Peter is as well-behaved with his customers as can be expected.

Customer #1: The vest feels a little snug.

Peter: Forego a few meals and it will fit perfectly.

Customer #1: How about we jump up a size?

Peter: Very well. My mother taught me the customer is always right.

Customer #1: Good for your mother.

Peter: She passed last month.

Customer #1: I'm sorry.
 

Peter: I do miss her. I never realized how much I needed her aggravation in my life.

Peter grabs a handkerchief from a mannequin's breast pocket and blows his nose.

Customer #2: Do you have this in a gray pin-stripe?

Peter: Whatever for?

Customer #2: I'm a gray person. It's who I am.

Peter: Oh, my. We must instill some color into your world.

Customer #2: I'm also big on black and tan.

Peter: Of course you are.

 

Customer #3: I gotta tell ya. This sure beats the pants off of shoppin' at the mall.

Peter: I appreciate the compliment, I think.

Customer #3: Yeah. All the salesmen there just want to measure my crouch.

Peter: I can honestly say for the first time in my life I am at a loss for words.
 

Peter is at The Minstrel, sipping a cosmopolitan.

Peter: How is my little Peter today?

Francine (patting the bulge in her tummy): Little Peter is doing just fine. He told me he wants to be just like his daddy when he grows up.

Peter: Well, please inform the young man he would do himself, and everyone else in this silly world, a tremendous favor if he would set his sights higher and be more like his beautiful mother.

Francine: Do you really think I'm beautiful, Peter?

Peter (looking into his wife's crossed-eyes): Indeed I do. Indeed I do.


 

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