Sara went next. She twirled the Merlot in her glass for a moment, then leaned in toward her web cam:
Job, as in the Bible character.
That was the name of the boy she dated all summer in the sleepy Vermont town where she’d just graduated from college. Job had long blond hair and looked a bit like Kurt Cobain around the eyes. He walked in one night to the bar where she worked carrying a small black sketchbook, took a stool at the end of the counter, and asked her for a Guinness. She was hooked.
This was the summer of 2008, when bankers and stock brokers were quietly popping pills and lying down in their beds or standing beside their skyscraper windows, though Sara wasn’t paying attention to the economy. When she wasn’t working at the bar, she and Job would spend weekends at his dad’s house at the lake. Job would sketch clouds or strangely shaped rocks from a lawn chair. Sara would lay out on a towel in her bathing suit.
One night, as they were sitting on the lawn drinking old-fashioneds Sara had made, they heard wheels kicking up the gravel. Two headlights flooded Job’s face. Before they could get up from their chairs, someone coughed in the dark and said, in a man’s measured voice, “Job? It’s Dad.”
Sara had never met a corporate lawyer before. She’d imagined, more or less, Cameron’s dad in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Someone who existed only as a voice on the phone calling his wife to tell her not to wait up. But there he was in the flesh: tall and thin, like Job, but haggard. A bit embarrassed. Job got up to help him with his bags while Sara stood awkwardly by. “Call me Hank,” Job’s dad insisted.
Hank, as it turned out, had very little to say about why he had shown up in the middle of the night, unannounced, over 100 miles away from his three-bedroom apartment in the city and the law firm where he’d worked as a partner for years. Wanted a change of pace, he said. That first night, he volunteered to take the upstairs guest room to stay out of their way, and he remained there, though he could barely stand up straight where the plaster ceiling sloped. The few things he’d brought he tucked away in the closet. He slept on Job’s creaky old twin bed with his feet dangling over the edge.
It doesn’t seem right, Sara told Job the next day when they ate lunch together in town. He doesn’t seem right.
Job looked at her with his soft brown Kurt Cobain eyes. Dad was definitely a weird dude. One time when Job was fourteen he’d left the family for an entire month (before the divorce) to hike the Camino de Santiago alone. He’d call every couple of days from random hostels to say he’d seen a truly spectacular tree or met a pair of elderly cousins who were nuns. Hank was a good provider, though; Job gave him credit for that. He and his sister never had to worry. After the divorce, he diligently appeared at Job’s soccer games, pecking out emails to his clients on his Blackberry, staring absentmindedly at the field swarming with children.
At first, Sara didn’t know how to talk to him. When she’d come over to their place on the weekends she’d avoid being alone with him in the same room. One Saturday afternoon she drove up to find him pacing the field in front of the house with his cellphone mashed to one ear. He was always hunting for a good signal. She brought in the groceries she had bought in town and had started frying garlic for marinara sauce when Hank walked in. He didn’t talk to her at first. When he did stick his head in the kitchen, he waved a big FedEx envelope at her.
What’s that, she’d asked. Proof, he’d said. As she started piecing it together (while boiling pasta, dredging egg-soaked chicken breasts through bread crumbs), Hank had cut his ties to his law firm. They couldn’t buy him out—not fully—but he was done. The end, Hank kept repeating, shaking his head. I just can’t stand to be there for the end.
That night the three of them took their plates out to the screened-in porch. A nice breeze had picked up. Hank brought down an expensive bottle of wine he’d bought in Italy. He told funny stories about Job when he was a kid and asked Sara about her customers at the bar. He never mentioned the firm or the end of the world as he knew it.
Soon after that dinner Sara and Hank began taking walks together in the woods behind the house. He knew nothing about husbandry; she’d grown up on a farm. While they meandered along the narrow trails, Sara stooping down occasionally to point out an interesting mushroom or a fern, they’d talk about New York, London, Buenos Aires, Tokyo—all the cities he’d visited, sometimes months at a time, living in fancy hotels on his clients’ dime. She’d never been to any of them. Sometimes Hank would talk about Job’s mother, back when she was young and beautiful and they didn’t have kids yet, and about the women he’d dated since—mostly other lawyers, a museum curator, a part-time cellist. They never talked about Job. He was like a birthday card you kept propped open on a desk. You knew it was there, you saw it every day, but you never picked it up to read.
The weeks went by and the nights started to get cool again, even though it was only August. Job spent his days in town now. Sara stayed at the house most nights, taking walks with Hank in the mornings, digging up huge rows of earth behind the back door to start a fall vegetable garden. Job had seemed more preoccupied than usual, but otherwise Sara hadn’t noticed much. When he came home one day, unexpectedly, in the middle of the afternoon, she was out in the garden weeding, her knees covered in dirt.
Do you have any idea, he’d said.
The world. The world out there. The economy. It’s all about to tank. And all this—he jerked his head at the garden, her bucket full of weeds, the house—look at you. You’re so goddamned…happy.
She’d stayed there a moment, the baby sprigs of kale prickling her bare arms. What she said in response, if she said anything at all, she couldn’t remember. She had walked into the kitchen and slowly washed the dirt off her hands in the sink, certain that she would never get to harvest those vegetables.
Within a week Job was gone. As he explained to her calmly, by email, his plan was to apply to med school. He’d work part-time in a lab and take the science classes he needed for pre-reqs. He’d live with his sister until he could get his own place.
They said their goodbyes formally, like adults, one night while Sara was working at the bar. He couldn’t stay for a drink, he explained, he had to finish packing. When she leaned across the counter to hug him, he recoiled just a tiny bit, then gave her a quick peck on the cheek. That was all.
For a whole week afterwards Sara kept away from the house. She thought about the woods. The new little vegetables choking with weeds. Hank. When she finally drove up one night after her shift, she saw a light on in the living room. There were boxes on the hallway floor when she walked in. A smell of something burnt came from the kitchen.
You’re here, he’d said, coming down the stairs with an armful of clothes.
They sat down opposite each other in the living room with the one lamp on: she on the ragged couch, he in the recliner. Like old times.
I didn’t know if you’d come back.
I didn’t know, myself.
You don’t want to join him? He’d like that, you know.
She shook her head. When are you leaving?
Soon. Hey, look, I’ve been thinking. Why don’t you stay here for a while? This is more your place than mine anyway. Spend the fall here. Stay as long as you want.
Let me take care of you, Sara. For a little while. For Job.
At this she’d started crying. After a minute, Hank went to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of whiskey. He poured them both a glass, then sat down next to her on the couch. After a while he turned off the lamp. They sat in the dark, drinking and talking, until Sara got sleepy and leaned over, letting her head drop against his shoulder. She remembers him stroking her hair.
The next morning, she woke up on the couch with an afghan pulled over her. The boxes, clothes, Hank—gone. On the coffee table, propped against a candle, he’d left her a note written on the back of a receipt: It’s yours. Below it were the keys to the house.
What did you do? Sara’s friends asked her through their web cams.
Sara shrugged. What could I do? I couldn’t stay there—not without the two of them. So I moved away. Got on with my life. Got a job.
Though I did run into Job a few years ago at our college reunion. He’s a doctor now—a cardiologist or radiologist. Two kids. I asked him about his dad.
Oh, didn’t you know? he asked me, a weird look in his eyes. He passed away years ago, not long after that summer—kidney cancer, an aggressive case. He was gone by Christmas.
No, I didn’t know. I’d never heard from Hank since that night.
Well, dad did pretty well right up to the end. He kept telling me, over and over, how he’d had the best summer of his life.