by Jeanarre M. Davis
My first impression of Phillip was that he was blessed with ignorance. I remember how I used to envy him for that. Yet my impression was one without bias, one without words, one without an introduction. Phillip was a man of many things, conviction topped the list, but did not complete it. Perhaps everyone who saw him could tell that there was something there, and perhaps those who knew him understood.
Winter, Spring and Summer were the months where one cannot tell much about anything or anyone. Every-one is busy keeping warm, cool, or dry, but fall is the most reveling of all seasons. It is the time to strip away the waste of what has come and gone, and to prepare for what is ahead. Guards are down, and purity has a small window to show itself.
I paid him little attention, if I paid any at all. I never had any reason to. He was not noticed nor was he ignored. Our lives, personalities, values, morals, everything that made us existed on different scales. I was logical, fast-paced, living for a challenge, and needing the rush of pressure and excitement. Phillip…just went. Everyday for over twenty years felt like the same occurrence.
September 17, was the first time I became aware of him. He came in the general store for soap, but left with milk, rubbing alcohol, a handful of peppermints, and the daily paper. His arm, the left I think, was in a sling looking awful bad, but he still carried his bags in that hand. Maybe the sight of him wincing out of the store and down the street is what caught my eye.
After that day, I started seeing him at gas stations, grocery stores, even parking lots of theaters or businesses. I never heard him talk much. He only wore a look. It was not anger, happiness, nor was it depression; it was more of a cross between confusion and exhaustion.
It wasn’t until five months later that I discovered a mugging delivered him into the bed of the local hospital and in the hands of questionable doctors…capable, but questionable. The article read that a Campten county man was on his way to work when two teenage boys attacked him with a lead pipe. They got away with his wallet containing all his personal affects and fifteen dollars.
The attackers were never found, the extents of the internal injuries were unknown, and mental anguish was probable. Phillip spent three days in intensive care and an additional week at the hospital recovering. Few visited him, mainly co-workers. He was released on a Sunday evening, and returned to work the following Monday.
Over the next two weeks all he heard was, “hey Phil, how you doing?” or “do you need anything? If so, just holler.” or “Phillip, you look like you’re getting along much better.”
I think the first thing he said was, “It’s nearly three. I was supposed to get out of her at noon, but money’s low.”
“Time is more valuable. You should use it better instead of wasting it here.” I told him.
He nodded. “Think I’ll stay a few more hours.” He walked away shuffling his feet.
It did not take long for his incident to be forgotten. A fifteen hundred dollar lottery winner was the next big thing in town. He nearly returned to his old habits. He spoke even less, and was not too trusting. Hardly gave anyone the benefit of doubt anymore.
He just went to work only to return to his apartment. It wasn’t shabby, as you would expect if you saw him. He wore oversized plaid shirts, mostly green and blue ones with tan slacks. His apartment, on the other hand, was rather nice. He had two bedrooms, one for him and one he made into a sitting room. He preferred it better than the actual sitting room because he thought it was quieter. I thought they were the same, but he knew different. There was a dining room he never ate in, since he enjoyed all of his meals in the kitchen where he prepared them. There wasn’t much furniture since it was only him, just what was supposed to go where it was supposed to be, along with a wicker chair in every room except the bathroom and kitchen.
It stayed that way until he met Rexford. It was an instant bond from the first second. Rexford quickly became Phillip’s main priority. When they were apart, Phillip thought if he was getting lonely in the apartment, and when they were together, Phillip thought about if he needed anything. Other than food, water, and minute attention, I for one could not imagine what else a cat could need.
I began to see a deeper side to Phillip that changed my idea of him shortly after his employment at the train station ended.
Mr. Reed informed him that, “his services were no longer needed.”
That’s when he began working at the press factory. It lifted his spirits and turned out to be a better job for both him and Rexford since he would make it home everyday before dinner. He sold what he wouldn’t need anymore, and moved across town into a smaller apartment. Phillip adjusted to it, and liked how it made finding Rexford easier.
Life was going well for a moment, and things were looking up for Phillip, especially since he had met Sandra. She was pleasant. A fine fit for him. She liked his meek manner and he loved how she was straightforward, assertive in her character, her appearance, and her knowledge of the world outside Campten County, since she was from Virginia, 30,000 miles away. What drew Phillip to her most was how she adored Rexford. Pronouncing his name with an ‘u’ rather than an ‘e’
The three would go to the park for picnics, go ice-skating at the lake, and to the spring carnival. Phillip decided since he was rooted at the press factory maybe it was time to ask Sandra for her hand in marriage. He wore his brown suit to dinner that night. Rexford thought his blue suit was better, but Phillip didn’t want to do too much. Brown would be best. He bought her a red rose and waited for her.
When he got back to the apartment, there was a note waiting for him. It read about how she, “missed home…” how she “missed life.” Phillip overlooked where it read, “although you’re a lovely man, very nice, and mannerly, we’re simply too different.” He kept the letter in a box on top of every article about the mugging.
Maybe I was too quiet for her.” He told me while Rexford annoyingly licked his front paws. “Maybe she was never really comfortable here.”
“I think you’re better off.” I said shooing that cat away. I didn’t even believe what I told him myself, but I hoped to high heaven that he did.
Philip was scorned, but eventually healed. He kept working, and kept spending time with Rexford. Once he began working more hours, he donated money to the children’s hospital and neighborhood schools. Now that it was only him and Rexford, he figured the community needed the extra money more than he did. During the summer, he kept the windows opened to cool the apartment down. It was a good season to keep stock of orange sherbet and lemonade in the refrigerator.
He mainly enjoyed the Summer because it was the only season where he would get home early. One day, a Thursday if I recall it correctly, he made it home hours before dinner looking forward to find Rexford waiting in the wicker chair that faced the door. “Rexford! Rexford!” Phillip called out for him, but there was no answer. Phillip checked all of his usual hiding places. He checked under the bed, under the sink and behind the chair. The now medium sized gray cat was nowhere around. Phillip asked his neighbors if they had seen him wandering out, which he never did, but there was a first time for everything.
Not one soul had seen the cat. Phillip wrote notices and put them on surrounding trees and poles. There was no response to them. It was as if Rexford had never existed. Phillip removed the picture he had taken of them from the refrigerator and placed it in the box on top of Sandra’s letter.
“Wonder if there’s anyone around here who could use his things. Been over a month now. I Don’t need them any longer. His bed is still new. He liked sleeping on the sofa anyway. Maybe I need a new one of those.”
“Maybe,” I told him “cheaper just to cover it.”
He nodded and settled down in the chair.
Working nearly took his mind off Rexford. He enjoyed listening to Mr. Paul and Mr. Sam argue everyday over who was pulling more weight. Phillip thought that it didn’t matter since they both received the same pay. No matter how much extra you did, your pay did not go up, only down if your performance slipped.
That was no concern to Phillip. He was always on time, if not early. He only took off if he was too ill to get out of bed, which was rare. He felt secure in his place, and enjoyed what he did. He kept to his space and kept his space to himself.
The last time Phillip and I talked was when he arrived at work and saw all of his co-workers standing outside in the rain.
“This is nonsense!” He heard one of them shout. “Absurd!” Mr. Sam yelled shaking his fist towards the chained building. Phillip made his way to the front of the crowd where he read the note for himself. It read that the building had been closed down by the bank, which translated into all of them, including Phillip were out of a job.
Mr. Wellington, his boss caught eyes with Phillip. He didn’t say one word, just dropped his head, turned and walked away with an angry mob yelling at his back. Phillip eased out toward the street and returned home. His bed was probably still warm.
I hadn‘t heard form him in a while, then one day out the blue he came around.
“It’s dark in here. Bet it will be cold soon too. This chair isn’t even the same. I could go back, but I don’t want to. It’s nice here. At least I like it. I can be quiet here, but I don’t think I have a say.”
“There’s plenty you can do.”
He sifted his position. “Still may have to go back.”
“Well then,” He never did take to my advice much. “Maybe you’ll be better off.”
“You sound sure.”
“Go where it feels more like home.” I just decided to say what he already made his mind up about.
He left his apartment and went back home. There was family there for him and he would eventually be himself. Phillip no longer wanted to talk to me as much. He acknowledged my presence, but didn’t speak. It was better that way. It didn’t matter too much to me. He lives at Campten County’s Mental Hospital occasionally reading items from a box he carries under his arm, and I live upstairs.