All Stories, General Fiction, Humour

A Profession That Pays by Matt Phillips


For a long time, it rained. We moved into the house in late October, before Halloween. I was surprised at the rain, how long it lasted. First it was days. The days became a week. And, finally, it had been raining off and on for three weeks. It was almost Thanksgiving. We were drowning. Sammy didn’t care about the rain. It didn’t bother her. She’d say, “nobody cares, Don. This is the Pacific Northwest. It’s gonna rain, OK?” I got up every morning and went straight to the front door and opened it. Rain.

We moved onto a street with elegant, pointy-roofed houses. On some of the houses the paint was peeling off in little flakes. But others were well-taken care of and I knew all along that I would be judged for not mowing our lawn on a regular schedule. It was winter. The grass wasn’t growing so well, despite all the rain. I wouldn’t have to worry about mowing the lawn until spring—thank God.

One day, our neighbor—name of Curly—came by and introduced himself. “What’s your profession, Don?” Curly had straight black hair and rectangular glasses that gave him eyes like a robot.

Normally, I wouldn’t answer the door, but Sammy was at work. She worked in an advertising agency downtown where she helped brainstorm commercials for health non-profits. I hesitated answering Curly’s question, but I couldn’t keep it from him. I knew it would get out––my job.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh, you work from home.”

“Yep, what about you… Curly?” His name felt weird in my mouth, like it was a warm marble inside my lip. I looked past him at the gray street where rain fell in a soft drizzle.

“I teach over at the JC. You know, the cool kids.”

I nodded and closed the door a few feet.

“What do you write?”

And there it was. I opened the door again and leaned against it. I was in a blue bathrobe and I tied the belt tighter, crossed it into a perfect bunny-eared knot. “Novels,” I said. “Mostly novels.”

“What kind of novels? Popular fiction, thrillers, mysteries? What kind?”

“I write erotica.”

Curly’s jaw fell open and he looked at me over the ridge of his glasses. He had day-old stubble and his blazer was spotted with marinara sauce. I waited for him to judge me.

“You mean, like, sex books?”

“When I was a kid, my buddies and me used to call them ‘soft-dick-fuck-books,’” I said. “Our moms used to read them.”

“That’s a creative name. You make a pretty good living then, huh?”

Again, I nodded and closed the door a few feet.

“OK, well. I just came by to invite you and your wife over for dinner tonight.”

Again, I opened the door. “Tonight?”

“Yeah, I know. Short notice. Look—my wife, Charlene, she sent me. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

Curly tapped his chest and adjusted his blazer. “Say, around eight?”

I looked past him. The rain came down harder and made little noises like insects walking across clouds. “Around eight. Sounds fine.”


Curly and Charlene made roast chicken stuffed with potatoes. We brought two bottles of sparkling wine and a pre-made salad from the liquor store a few blocks east. After dinner we went into the living room and turned on some music. Curly chose Miles Davis—an album I’d never really listened to before, and Charlene asked him what the hell was wrong with Simon & Garfunkel. Me and Sammy sat on the sofa and Curly and Charlene sat across from each other in chairs from the kitchen table.

“So,” Charlene said, “an advertising executive and a writer. This neighborhood is really moving up.” She clapped her hands slowly and smiled at us. She was a short, skinny woman with eyebrows that nearly touched. “We used to think we were slumming it.”

“Well, you know,” Sammy said.

I looked at Curly. He looked back at me. Miles Davis played his trumpet.

“Let’s open that Champagne,” Charlene said. She went into the kitchen.

“It’s not Champagne,” Curly called after her. “It’s from California.”

“Whatever,” Charlene said from the kitchen. She came back out with four regular wine glasses and popped the cork on one of the bottles. She licked the tip of the bottle when a little foam came out and Sammy frowned. Curly shook his head. Charlene poured everybody a glass.

“Well,” I said, “a toast?” Everybody raised their glasses. “To the rain.”

We clinked and took a drink.

“This rain just won’t stop,” Charlene said.

“I know, right?” Sammy clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

Curly raised his glass and pointed it at me. “Don’s a writer, Charlene. He writes those books you read when we travel back east—the ones that have all the sex in them.”

“No kidding?” Charlene said.

Sammy slapped my knee. “Old Don here is a real cash-cow,” Everybody stared at me and shook their heads.

“No kidding, that’s so great,” Charlene said. “I only read those when I’m trying to pass the time, you understand?”

“I understand.” We all took gulps of sparkling wine and swallowed. “It started as a hobby and then, well, it took off, I guess.”

“Don does pretty darn good,” Sammy said.

Charlene smiled at Curly. Her eyebrows separated and then joined back together. “My hubby teaches sociology over at the JC. He’s a social scientist.”

“Doesn’t pay that great,” Curly said, “but the insurance is awesome.”

“He stays there for the benefits,” Charlene said. We all nodded and drained our glasses. She popped the cork on the second bottle and poured us more sparkling wine. “Good stuff, isn’t it?”

“I love your house,” Sammy said. “It’s so… is rustic the right word?”

“I think so,” Charlene said. “All this stuff is from garage sales.”

We looked around at all the stuff. She had pictures on the walls of snow flurries coming down onto farmhouses, wild horses running through sage grass, old pickups speeding past diners. There were antique lamps in places it wasn’t necessary to have light. Charlene and Curly didn’t have a television. The coffee table was an old wooden trunk that was stamped with block letters: “Property of US Army.” The sofa felt worn down, like the springs inside were giving up and giving in under all the weight. “Nice place,” I said.

“Thanks,” Charlene said.

Curly raised his glass and cleared his throat. “Another toast: To good neighbors.” We clinked our glasses and took long swallows.

“You know what?” Charlene leaned in close toward Sammy and smiled. Her eyebrows separated again. Charlene touched Sammy’s wrist. “You should come to some garage sales with me. We’ll get that house of yours decorated by Christmas.”


Curly and Charlene saw us to the door. We all shook hands on the patio and Sammy and Charlene kissed each other on one cheek. Curly nodded at me with his lips locked together. I nodded back and gave him a thumbs-up sign. “Bye now,” Charlene said. She closed the door.

I took Sammy’s hand and we stepped down from the patio and onto the sidewalk. The wet cement was covered with brown and red leaves from the now-naked trees. I looked up at the sky and, for once, it was clear and bright and airy. I squeezed Sammy’s hand and tried not to step on any wet leaves—I thought they might be slippery.


Matt Phillips


Header photograph: By Helgi Halldórsson from Reykjavík, Iceland (Here Comes the Rain Again) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

4 thoughts on “A Profession That Pays by Matt Phillips”

  1. Hi Matt, a writer who is a ‘cash cow’, how ambitious and he wears his dressing robe at work, yes and as expect sex sells. I felt the awkwardness of this between the neighbours, since the writer was earning substantially more than the ‘professor’. A social ‘dig’ I expect at the academic class – intelligent poorly paid but loyal to their principles. Incidentally Matt in the UK there is another meaning to ‘benefits’ it sometimes refers to welfare payments.
    I found this a story interesting with its subtle tension between the lines.



  2. I enjoyed James’s perceptive take on your story.
    You have crafted together a well thought out piece that flows effortlessly.
    All the very best.


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