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Surface Tension

Published: December 17, 2012

After returning from the pharmacy, Job pulled his Chevy Tahoe into the garage, yanked off the ignition, and clicked the button to close the steel garage door. He sank into the leather seat and stared at the gray, insulated walls surrounding his vehicle. Soundless. His eyes shifted to the silver keys dangling in the ignition, and he wondered what carbon monoxide tasted like—that is if it wasn’t tasteless. He imagined it smelling like strawberry anesthesia, and how it would resemble cigarette smoke lingering in the air of some bar. He glanced down at the shining, plastic Walgreens bag lying in the passenger seat. It made him wonder if carbon monoxide produced a high like OxyContin, or even alcohol, when the fumes filtered into someone’s lungs. A euphoria that would quench his sober, dried-out organs, which he felt were flaking off like dead brown leaves buried beneath a skin of white frost. Something to lubricate his muscles and bones, which moved like rusted gears grinding metal against metal. Only this time it would last forever. It’d be like drowning, as if the garage were a pool. Similar measurements, water replaced with gas. No more dreams. No more irony of having to take painkillers to tuck his daughter in bed and kiss his wife goodnight. His hands trembled as he reached for the starter key, moistening the black, plastic Chevy logo as he pressed it firmly between his thumb and forefinger. One twist. He closed his eyes.

“Daddy!”

Job’s eyes flashed open. Hope stood smiling at the opened kitchen door.

“Are you trying to take a nap in the car, mister?” She placed a hand squarely on her hip, just like her mother. Job slid the keys out of the ignition and grabbed the Walgreens bag.

“Unlike you, I couldn’t get any sleep last night,” said Job. Hope stared up at her father as he got out of the car and shut the door. He forced a smile, “Too many nightmares from reading you The Vampire’s Diary.”

“It’s Vampire Diaries scaredy-cat.” She laughed, hopped off the door step, and hugged him. Her head rested just above his waist, inches away from the bottle of pills rolling around in the plastic bag.

“What you got here?” Hope snatched the bag from Job’s fingers and ran to the corner of the garage. She pulled it open and peered down at the fluorescent orange prescription bottle.

Job took a deep breath. “Those are Daddy’s sleeping pills.”

“Why do you have to take pills to sleep?” she asked.

“Because Daddy gets restless from working all day.” Job approached his daughter, arm extended. She pulled the bag to her chest.

“Shouldn’t that make you tired instead?”

“Not always—”

“Can I try sleeping pills?” She interrupted him.

“No, Hope. Pills are for adults only.” Job tried to speak in an authoritative, fatherly tone.

“Why are they only for adults?” Hope asked again. Job shook his head, cornered the girl, and reached for the bag. Her eyes darted to the floor and she handed it to him.

“Because adults need them.” Job folded the bag into a wad and stuffed it in his pocket.

“You know who you remind me of Daddy?”

“Who’s that, sweetheart?” He reached out and stroked his fingers through her soft, hazelnut hair. He examined each follicle, trying to remember how his daughter looked when she was dirty blonde.

“A combination of the Grinch and Simon from the X-Factor,” she said. His daughter smiled so hard he thought her cheeks could touch her eyebrows. Job grinned.

“At least they have reasonable taste,” he said.

“Whatever, Simon.” Her face froze briefly before beaming up again. “Aren’t you excited about America’s Got Talent tonight?” Job looked down into Hope’s eyes. He sometimes forgot they were dark-brown, just like his.

“Yea,” he responded, “I am.”

Later that evening, Caren set the dining room with her typical choice of candles, linens, and favorite assortment of silverware. Only this time she decorated the table with her pearl china. It was the season finale of America’s Got Talent, which qualified as a special occasion for the Ridley family. Caren poured herself a rare glass of Chardonnay at the head of the table, while Job dined across from Hope instead of his usual seat at the far end. Caren carefully measured the proper portions of turkey, gravy, stuffing, and asparagus before scooping them onto the decorative dishes and serving them to her daughter and husband.

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