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Surface Tension

Published: December 17, 2012

“Cabernet, Job?” Caren asked, leaning over the table to hand him his meal.

“Sure, why not,” he replied, grabbing the pearl plate. “No work tomorrow, plus it’s the last supper before our favorite show ends.”

Caren smiled and walked out of the room, stepping over a lounging Lex to pour her husband a glass of red. She grabbed the wine bottle and paused. The dog had been sleeping a lot lately. She wondered if Lex was getting sick or needed to see a vet.

“Your favorite show?” Caren called from the kitchen. “You made fun of the contestants all season.”

“True, but I’ve learned to sympathize with them,” he said, smiling at Hope. “Especially that juggling mime, what the hell’s he gonna do with his life if he gets eliminated?”

“Language dear—”

“What about the dancing ninjas, Daddy?” Hope interrupted her mother.

“I’m sure some spoiled teenage girl with an MTV show will hire them for her birthday,” he winked at Hope as Caren handed him the wine. “But employment rates for mimes have to be plummeting in this economy.”

“At least he juggles,” responded Hope.

“Cheers to that,” said Job. The three lifted their glasses over the center of the table and touched the rims together. Lex’s ears perked up at the noise. The dog’s eyes opened. They were bloodshot and he started to growl.

That night in Job’s dream the electric blue corridor burned fiery red. Black smoke flooded into his nostrils, mouth, and lungs, suffocating him as if the dark abyss broke down a levee and splashed down the hallway in an ashy deluge. Orange embers melted the blue bolts off the walls, revealing glimpses of scorched, wooden beams stretching across infinite nothing—the foundation of his dream cracking and splintering under quick whips of fire. The entire corridor turned like a cylinder rolling down a concrete slope, gaining speed, spinning faster. The hallway seemed to breathe—expanding, contracting, hyperventilating like Job, who collapsed on the stone tiles gasping for air. An oak wood door smashed on the ground in front of him, emitting a shockwave that brought the red carrousel of flames to a halt. Someone—definitely someone—pounded from behind the closed door. Job wrapped his fingers around the door knob and pulled his body off the floor. He knew he’d die, asphyxiate, if he didn’t open it and the dream stopped.

Just an oak wood door and nothing else. A silent fixture standing in the limitless space of his skull. Job was deep inside his own brain, wading through the ocean of his mind—calm water he’d walk on every day before drifting to sleep, where the undertow always dragged him into the depths. The electrical surging of his neurons calmed to a gentle pulse. In that instant, the door became who he was, a single image created by billions of intricate cells not so different from stars lighting up a universe. He took a deep breath, twisted the knob, and opened it.

In the morning, still half-asleep, Caren thought about how lovely her husband had been the night before. The way he clapped for the dancing ninja’s—Hope’s favorite—while secretly pulling for the juggling mime. Not to mention his playful sarcasm at dinner. It seemed to erase the wrinkles from his forehead and rejuvenate his graying hair to the bright blonde that caught her eye so many years ago. She smiled in her almost-awakened state when she thought about his ‘Job’s Got Talent’ rendition. He had wrapped a black T-shirt around his head to resemble a ninja, and then dropped half a dozen airborne tennis balls while trying to juggle. She had never seen Hope laugh so hard before.

Eyes closed, she rolled to her side and reached out her hand to graze his warm body. Except he wasn’t there. She opened her eyes and saw only the white, ruffled sheets and gold covers hanging over the bedside. Pillows were strewn across the carpet. She removed her ear plugs and grabbed her phone. The screen flashed 9:02am. She slid out of bed, put on her pink-nightgown, and noticed Job’s orange prescription bottle of Lunesta lying open on the floor. Round, light-green pills were scattered across the ground. She bent over, picked one up, and read two letters etched in the circular tablet. O C. She dropped it instantly and covered her face with her hands. Tears watered over her eyes. Outside, Lex was barking. Her blurred vision shot over to the window and she saw the dog whining at the crystal blue corner of the pool. Someone had removed the tarp.

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