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Surface Tension

Published: December 17, 2012

“What the hell are you doing?”

Job brushed the wet hair from his eyes and gazed up at Caren. She stood at the pool gate, dressed in a light-pink nightgown.

“Thought I’d go for a midnight swim,” said Job, breathing heavily as he drifted to the shallow end.

“Midnight?” Caren rubbed her eyelids. “Christ, Job. It’s 2:30 in the morning, you have work in five and a half hours.”

“That late already?” A soft wake trailed behind him. “Must’ve lost track of time.”

“The dog started barking in the garage,” said Caren. Her eyes locked onto the pool’s rippled surface. “I finally heard him when I took my earplugs out to get some water.”

“Is that so?” Job waded neck-deep in the water.

“Then I noticed all the doors in the house were open.” She covered her face with her hands. “Even the front door. I ran to the guest room and you were gone.” Her voice choked between sobs. “I was so scared Job. I thought we were getting robbed—that Hope was getting kidnapped.”

Caren slumped against the gate and slid down the iron rails. She buried her head between her legs and wept, tear drops mixing with chlorine on the wet deck tiles. Job could have thought she was freezing the way her body seemed to shiver and how each facial pigment burned a varying shade of red. Somehow it reminded him of when they lived in an unfurnished, one bedroom apartment in South Chicago. Before he earned his MD. Before Hope. Back when they shared nothing but a king-sized mattress and a 10-inch, box-shaped television monitor—cracked screen, no cable. Those mornings he’d have his arm around her, pointing the remote at that static square, flipping between infomercials and local news until she’d wake up, smiling, on his shoulder. She’d make him coffee and organize his MCAT papers while he made her laugh with his impersonations of Billy Mays and those clueless, deadpan news anchors.

Job emerged from the shallow end, sloshing up the pool steps. He gripped the silver railing as warm water wrapped around his legs, pulling at his ankles while the night air chilled his soaked skin. He stepped out and walked over to Caren, body dripping as he helped her off the ground.

“No more late-night swims,” Job said.

“Promise?” She released and wiped her nose.

“Absolutely,” Job grinned, “I hate swimming.”

Caren stared at the water’s coarse surface. Thousands of blue and turquoise ripples were blinking at her as if something in the pool had been awoken.

After work the next day, Job sealed the pool with a winter tarp. Over the following weeks he joined Caren and Hope to watch their favorite television shows in the living room. He’d tell them American Idol contestants lip-synced, The Bachelor was scripted, and the Golden Globes were rigged. When he grew weary of his own commentary, he read from his Kindle and wrote line notes in a journal Caren supplied him. Every night he tucked Hope in bed and read her chapters from the Vampire Diaries—Caren’s suggestion—until she dozed off. He moved back into the master bedroom and always made sure to kiss Caren goodnight before going to sleep. Throughout all of this, he limited himself to one drink a night. But he kept having the recurring nightmare, so he had a colleague write him another prescription for OxyContin.

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