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Surface Tension

Published: December 17, 2012

From the living room, Job could hear his wife and daughter laughing in the kitchen—he could smell the brownies baking in the oven. Instead of joining them he stood at the liquor cabinet and topped himself off another whiskey on the rocks. He watched the sour mash dissolve the edges off amber-flushed ice cubes, then glanced down at Lex. The dog was sleeping on the rug next to two mahogany leather couches and a cherry-wood coffee table, exhausted from swimming. Caren made Lex stay in the garage every night because the dog would chew and scrape the living room furniture with his claws. Job sipped his drink and grinned at the thought of letting Lex sleep in the house after Caren went to sleep, and how the next morning he’d praise the dog with treats for chewing up and destroying all the furniture in the house.

Job’s attention shifted to the golden retriever’s paws and limbs. They were twitching. Brain signals were sparking dreams down the animal’s nerve-endings, causing its legs to convulse wildly. He hoped Lex was dreaming about digging his nails so deep into those mahogany couches he’d rip out the yellow foam and metal springs. Or that his jagged teeth would clamp so tight around the coffee table’s legs he’d break them off in his mouth like an old bone or some chew toy. Job wondered if dogs had recurring dreams like he did, and thought about how fortunate animals are for being unable to distinguish dreams from reality. Lex could ruin every piece of furniture in the world whenever he went to sleep and upon waking up, he’d never realize none of it actually happened. Job downed his whiskey and slammed it on the windowsill. He looked up at their 64-inch plasma screen TV, powered off and mounted on the back wall—a fabulous, grand portrait of nothing.

At dinner that night Job couldn’t decide if he was eating in his own dining room or inside the pages of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. He glanced up at the crystal chandelier glimmering down on his wife’s stainless steel silverware collection. Caren had carefully laid the utensils atop ecru linens garnishing an antique, oak wood table. Abstract paintings decorated burgundy walls, glowing softly from the dim lighting. After serving Hope a thin slice of pot-roast at the head of the table, Caren placed the dish between two crimson colored candles. Job poured a glass of Cabernet from the wine decanter at the opposite end. He took a sip and stared at the three empty, gold-rimmed plates set around them.

“Why didn’t you serve our guests?” He pointed his fork at the plates and unoccupied chairs.

“They’re displays, Job. Why don’t you serve yourself some roast?”

“I can’t reach from over here,” Job grinned and took a sip of wine. “If only we had guests to help pass the meal around.”

Caren glared at him across the narrow length of the table.

“Anyone want some brownies?” Hope asked. She grabbed the glass pan and tried cutting the dessert into perfect squares.

“Why didn’t we use the china tonight?” asked Job.

“China’s only for special occasions,” said Caren, picking up her silverware.

“What could be more special than this quality time with my wife and daughter?” Job smiled, “Is the pool only for special occasions, too?”

“No. We were at the pool all day.” said Caren. She cut her knife into the meat while Lex whined outside the closed dining room door.

“I hate swimming in that pool,” said Hope, forking out crumbling brownies, “It gives me wrinkles.”

“Exactly,” Job responded, pointing his knife at Caren. “I hate swimming, you hate swimming, now Hope hates swimming.” He took another sip of wine. “Yet we own the most expensive pool in the neighborhood.”

Caren jolted out of her chair, its legs screeching against the wood floor.

“Come on, Hope. Let’s eat in the living room. Our show starts in half an hour.” She snatched up their dishes and Hope lifted the pan of brownies off the table. Caren balanced their meals on her forearm as she swung open the dining room door with her free hand. Lex burst through the opening, knocking into Caren and causing the plates to slide off her arm into midair. In a golden flash the dog leapt onto Hope’s shoulders, licking her face as the dessert pan slipped out of the girl’s fingers. The dishes shattered to pieces as roast, green beans, mashed potatoes, and brownies spilled across the hardwood floor.

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