tilly with the others: part 20

interlude 2: owen

"Oz! Get in here, asshole." The voice was Tony di Lucci's, and Owen knew better than to jump when that asshole said to jump. He walked carefully and deliberately to the sales office area, pretending to take care over the cup of coffee he was holding.

Tony and Vijay were waiting for him at his office door. All the other salespeople had posters of recent-model luxury cars on their doors. Owen's had a photo of a vintage Bentley and a poster for the movie The Wizard of Oz. "We're OFF to see the Wizard!" it said in big red letters, above Judy Garland prancing down the Yellow Brick Road with the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.

"You did it again, man," said Vijay.

"Did what?" said Owen, fishing his office keys out of his pocket.

"Haven't you looked at the awards board yet?" said Tony. And then to Vijay, "Goddamn asshole hasn't even looked at the awards board yet."

"Frank told me last night," said Owen, opening the door and setting his coffee cup on his desk.

"Top seller, best margins. Fourth goddamn month in a row. You're making us look bad, Oz."

Owen shrugged. "Just trying to get by, same as everyone else. Seems to me I've sent some business your way, Tony."

"That's what really chaps me, Oz. You're out of here at six o'clock, on the dot, every goddamn night, and you still do the best volumes. What gives?"

Owen walked out of his office, ducking his head through the doorway in the practised, graceful way of the very tall. The awards board was down a staff-only corridor that led to Frank's office. This month's award used the same photo as the other three —  taken in Frank's office, with an excessive use of flash that made Owen's blonde hair look white and his pale skin look reflective. At least Brenda, Frank's secretary, knew her way around photo editing well enough to get rid of the redeye, although now that he thought about it, his eyes weren't that shade of blue either.

Top Performer, June 2012. O. Zondernaam.

"Nice. The awards company spelled my name right." Vijay laughed, but Tony spluttered off random expletives that didn't even add up to an insult. The previous three months of awards had come back with "Zondernaam" spelled with only one "a", and Brenda had had to have them redone.

Tony wandered off to the showroom, probably to speculate with a junior sales assistant on "how Oz had done it again." Vijay followed Owen back to his office.

Owen got as far as inside the door when he realised someone was behind him, and turned. Vijay extended a hand.

"Fuck Tony," said Vijay. "You earned it, and you give your extra leads to people to make us all look good. I just wanted to say thanks."

Owen shook his hand. "Just remember me when it's your turn, eh Vijay?"

"Sure." Vijay took half a step out the door and paused. "How's your mum?"

"She's good. I just visited her with the girls a couple of weekends ago. Why?"

"Alison said Beth was worried about her."

Owen hit the power button on his computer. "Beth's a worrier. And my mum's always been on her own trip." He pointed to the Wizard of Oz poster on the door. "I definitely inherited some of her sense of humour. I mean, who puts up something like that when they're selling cars?"

"It works, though. I've heard people dropping their car off for service asking if the Wizard is in so they can say hi. Some of them, I don't even think you were the one who sold them the car."

Owen yawned and picked up his cup of coffee. "Yeah, even Mercedes owners like the odd funny."

Vijay left, and Owen sat down behind his desk. He pulled out a stack of sticky notes and wrote "Call Ma" on the top one. He'd told Beth that the retirement home idea wasn't going to fly, not after the way Ma had reacted when he brought it up after Dad's funeral.

He checked his e-mail, finished the paperwork on the last two deals from the evening before. The photo of his parents that he kept in his office caught his eye, and he turned the frame so it faced him better. It was from just over a year ago. Knowing what he knew now, he could see his father hadn't been well, but at the time no-one had known. It was from maybe three months before the diagnosis, and at least five months before the hospital.

His mother had a nice dress on, a pearl necklace, nicely coiffed hair, and far more fashionable glasses frames than most women her age would go for. Owen shook his head. Tilly — and he did think of her as Tilly even though he had always called her Ma — always seemed to be in disguise, like she was going to switch back to peasant blouses and love beads the moment the camera was turned off. His dad was the one who looked comfortable in a suit. In the old photos of them from university, his dad was the one who looked like the long hair and beard was a disguise.

Someone knocked on his door. Owen looked up sharply to see a young couple standing in the doorway.

"Are you... Oz?" said the woman.

Owen stood and held his hand out. "Owen Zondernaam," he said. "What can I help you with today?"