Andrew Plattner

Application

One night last sum­mer Chet swerved his Lexus onto his own front lawn, crashed into the twen­ty-foot high wil­low tree there. After pulling him­self out of the car, he decid­ed to take a piss while stand­ing direct­ly in the still-beam­ing head­lights. Across the street, lights went on in a few hous­es. Rachel, the woman he lived with, jogged across the yard and tried to get him inside. Someone called the police and, at age fifty-nine, he was arrest­ed for the first time in his life. Drunk and dis­or­der­ly. Rachel bailed him out in the morn­ing. She drove the Lexus. “I’m nev­er going to do that again,” he said, after they stopped along the curb in front of the house they shared. He was not more spe­cif­ic than that. There were mud­dy grooves in the lawn.

Didn’t see that tree?’ she said.

I saw it.”

How fast were you going?”

I just want­ed to give it a nudge.”

After they took you away, I backed the Lexus off the lawn,” she said. “Kind of sur­prised the thing is run­ning.”

They say it’s a good car,” he said, in an absent way. “I’m going to sit out here for a minute, all right?” She left him there. He watched her pull the front door shut to the house they shared. She was twen­ty years younger than Chet. He hung his head and when he looked up again, he con­sid­ered the oth­er hous­es in the neigh­bor­hood. He imag­ined going over to each one, knock­ing on the door, try­ing to explain. Instead, he got on his iPhone and looked up a num­ber for a local land­scap­er. In a while, he exit­ed the car. Inside, Rachel wasn’t wait­ing for him. Chet would nev­er pledge to give up drink­ing. But when he want­ed to go out, he could ask some­one to pick him up. Or, he would take taxis.

Chet had any num­ber of friends like liked to drink with. He and Tom Borchardt went out togeth­er about once a month. Tom would only have a cou­ple of beers. It was all he want­ed and he knew how to make them last. Tom was Chet’s age and a man­ag­er at the IGA store near the inter­state. Chet imag­ined that Tom, like any num­ber of his bud­dies, had a thing for Rachel. Tom liked to tease Chet, say things like, How did an old squid like you get some­one like that?

It’s not like you think, Chet want­ed to say. He’d rather make Tom laugh. Once Chet said, I’m Jack Lemmon to her. Save the Tiger Jack Lemmon, not JFK Jack Lemmon. Chet felt him­self smile. He was drunk, and felt peace­ful. He said, One day I’ll just be a lemon in her hand.

Lucky you, Tom said.

Chet and Tom went out togeth­er one night, and they sat in the Plimrose Tavern. Tom had to be at work at eight the next morn­ing and had one Heineken and then half of anoth­er one. Chet knocked back gin and ton­ics. Tom drove him home. As Chet pulled him­self from Tom’s mini pick-up, Tom said, “Hey, I think some­body left you some­thing.” Outside the front door was a plas­tic gro­cery sack with some­thing inside it. “Must be nice, all these good things wait­ing for you,” Tom said. Chet waved at him. At the door, Chet picked up the sack, then he went inside. Chet was drunk. Inside the sack was a cake box. He stuck the sack in the refrig­er­a­tor and ambled his way down the hall.

At sun­rise, Chet emerged from his bed­room and went to the kitchen. Somewhere, Rachel had music play­ing. They slept in dif­fer­ent rooms these days. Insomnia for each of them was worse when they shared a bed­room. Chet made cof­fee and once it began to brew, he opened the refrig­er­a­tor door. He saw the plas­tic sack and inside the sack was the cake box. He won­dered if it was from a neigh­bor … to com­mem­o­rate some­thing. Perhaps his first year of not dri­ving drunk. Thanks for not run­ning over our chil­dren. Those fuck­ing neigh­bors, he thought.

He opened the box and found a man’s shoe, a dress shoe with a scuffed toe and a worn leather sole. The pad inside the shoe had curled; even though it had been refrig­er­at­ed, the shoe had a musty smell.

Right away, the shoe seemed omi­nous, he couldn’t explain it. He tried to under­stand what it was doing in a cake­box. He won­dered if he ought to be fright­ened. He decid­ed to take the box and the shoe from the kitchen table, place them on the floor. His mind raced. He tried to think of any­one who might have left him such a thing, per­haps as a won­der­ful, cod­ed mes­sage. I still have the oth­er one … you for­got them … when you spent the night with me. That night of mag­ic. He want­ed to smile at this. No, he thought. That wouldn’t be it. It wasn’t a shoe of his, any­way.

He stepped into the rec room car­ry­ing two mugs of cof­fee. The house had been built in the 60s; the pre­vi­ous own­er had put a bar in one cor­ner of the room. Mini-fridge, linoleum counter, three stools. On the counter, Rachel’s CD-radio played “Ave Mary A” by Pink. Though he liked the song, Chet halved the vol­ume. He set a mug next to the play­er, looked over to the two sol­id white man­nequins in the cen­ter of the room. Rachel used one male, one female; they were for her eBay store. The male wore gray shorts, no shirt. The female had on an orange, one-piece swim­suit. White visors rest­ed on the crowns of their heads. He walked clos­er to the win­dow that gave a view of the back yard, saw her stand­ing in the grass, hav­ing a smoke, look­ing out to the hous­es in Clement Circle. The devel­op­ment was nice; big lawns, hand­some young trees. Maples, oaks, wil­lows.

Chet and Rachel had met three years ago, when she was thir­ty-five years old, at the pub­lic golf course. She hung around the club­house, round­ed out four­somes. The club pro didn’t mind; she was pret­ty, even helped pour drinks at the bar. She nod­ded and smiled to Chet when­ev­er their paths crossed. When he asked her to join him in a round, she imme­di­ate­ly accept­ed. During their round, each tried to let the oth­er win and it took for­ev­er. They began to date and he picked up the checks and after a while, she stopped protest­ing. He invit­ed her to live with him; she said she’d need a week to think about it, but then called to accept a cou­ple of days lat­er. He promised life would be easy and sim­ple and they wouldn’t place a lot of expec­ta­tions on one anoth­er.

Not long after she moved in, his stock port­fo­lio nose­dived. The port­fo­lio had been built from an inher­i­tance left to him by his moth­er. When the news came, he made him­self a stiff drink and went to tell Rachel, who was sit­ting up in bed, read­ing. He sat on the edge of the bed and tried to make light of things. He said that if the stocks took anoth­er hit like that, they both would have to get jobs. He grinned at this; her expres­sion stayed stony. He knew enough about her; what hap­pened to Chet’s invest­ments was not an unfa­mil­iar sto­ry to Rachel. She’d grown up around mon­ey, gone to good schools, done some trav­el­ing. Then one day her moth­er called her and said Rachel’s father had just been arrest­ed for mail fraud and tax eva­sion. While her father did a year and a half in a medi­um secu­ri­ty prison, Rachel mar­ried a wealthy, mid­dle-aged lawyer who’d been chas­ing her for years. He cheat­ed on her and after she left him, she mar­ried anoth­er man and cheat­ed on him. When she moved in with Chet, she want­ed them each to take a pledge of fideli­ty. Sure, he’d said. Of course.

He sat on the sofa, lis­tened to anoth­er song by Pink, felt like switch­ing to radio, some­thing less chal­leng­ing; a call-in sports show. He heard Rachel cough on the oth­er side of the door and when she opened it, she said, “Oh.” He nod­ded in the direc­tion of the cof­fee mug on the bar counter. Rachel was a slen­der, olive-skinned woman. Her brown hair held sil­ver strands. She was bare­foot this morn­ing, wore black jeans, a brown and blue striped t-shirt. Mug in hand, she sat down on the sofa, a few feet from him. Chet could smell the smoke on her. Beyond the man­nequins, the rec room win­dow held lemon-col­ored sun­light.

In a minute, he said, “Somebody left a shoe in a box on our doorstep.”

A shoe … right, my moth­er,” she said. “She called yes­ter­day. I told you about it.” She hadn’t but he didn’t say any­thing. “She want­ed me to find a cer­tain pair for my father, she wants to sur­prise him. She thinks they might not make them any­more … these Florsheim wingtips he used to wear. She tried to explain it to me what they looked like. But it frus­trat­ed her some­how. We decid­ed it would be sim­pler if she just dropped them off.” Rachel shrugged. “I guess one tells you plen­ty.”

Chet said, “I thought maybe some­body had a mes­sage for me. From one of the neigh­bors.” He thought she might ask about what time he got in last night. They sat in the qui­et. He’d gone to bed with­out check­ing on her. He didn’t knock on her door when he’d been drink­ing, they had a rule about that.

I don’t know what they could tell you,” she said.

He brought his mug to his lips. “So she wants to buy him an old pair of shoes?”

Not old. Just bet­ter con­di­tion than what he has. She wants to get a deal. Of course, she didn’t say that. Those had to cost two-fifty a throw back in the day. She wants to get him going again. Get back out there. Legally or oth­er­wise.”

A pair of Florsheims usu­al­ly don’t hold that kind of pow­er.”

She wants to tell her­self she’s try­ing to get him going. That’s what I think, any­way.”

They drank their cof­fee, the CD played. “Where are they head­ed?” He ges­tured in the direc­tion of the man­nequins with his mug.

Why par­adise,” she said. “The clothes any­way. Those man­nequins stay with me.”

Well, they have to make a liv­ing.”

Where is that shoe?” she said.

Kitchen table.”

She left the rec room and in a moment he heard water run­ning in the kitchen sink. He imag­ined Rachel’s moth­er, whose name was Audra Britt, car­ry­ing the sack to the door, leav­ing it there with­out knock­ing, then walk­ing back to the curb, get­ting in her car and dri­ving away. She didn’t approve of the rela­tion­ship between Chet and Rachel, though she would nev­er say as much aloud, cer­tain­ly not to Rachel. Chet had tried to imag­ine Rachel’s reac­tion to the news that the fam­i­ly for­tune had been lost and her father was head­ed for jail. Rachel had told Chet a lit­tle about it. She hollered at her moth­er, What will I do now! What can I count on! Rachel regret­ted it; she said she was more ashamed of that than any­thing her father had done. Not long after Chet told her about his falling stocks, she start­ed her eBay busi­ness. A cou­ple of times a week she drove the Lexus to sec­ond hand stores. The Salvation Army. She found oth­er stores over in Walker County. At first, she took cell­phone pho­tos of the clothes she bought and post­ed them on her seller’s page. He offered to buy her a dig­i­tal cam­era and even­tu­al­ly they went in halves. Rachel laid out a pair of pants or a sweater vest on the kitchen table and took pho­tos. She list­ed the sizes, along with con­di­tion (like new, worn at the cuffs). Sales, at first, were slow. She decid­ed that the clothes need­ed to be mod­eled, though she did not think it would a good idea for him or her to actu­al­ly put on the clothes–even if they fit. She would hold up a sky-blue blouse, held the sleeves out with her arms, tucked her chin on the neck­line. For a bet­ter built woman than I am, she’d write. Look at the beau­ti­ful col­or! He held up items, too: a black blaz­er, a madras shirt, kha­ki pants. Nice for casu­al times, she’d write. Some wear. Sales improved. She pur­chased the man­nequins from a depart­ment store going out of busi­ness. Those helped. It seemed as if she was sell­ing every­thing she brought in. She kept the man­nequins in the rec room, liked to use the nat­ur­al light from the win­dows. She usu­al­ly took her pho­tos when the sun was ris­ing or set­ting.

He remained on the sofa, lis­tened to the foot­steps in the kitchen. It sound­ed as if she were limp­ing. One qui­et step then a heav­ier one. What was she doing, wear­ing the shoe? He squint­ed at the sun­light. He thought, She works at this. She’s solv­ing things. She won’t need any one to sup­port her. He felt sweat on the back of his neck. He didn’t love her, he prob­a­bly nev­er had. But he liked it that she was here. It still felt like he had a chance at some­thing. He placed his hand on the back of his neck, told him­self I worked, too, once. I worked at a lot of things when I was com­ing up. I didn’t love it but I liked it. I shined my shoes every night. I am not the man I was. What man can say that, Rachel? I’ve tried to take things more eas­i­ly, enjoy my time. He felt drained, out of ener­gy. She dis­liked his jum­bled, needy, hang­over talk.

He walked out to the kitchen, found her seat­ed at the table. On the floor, near her bare feet, the shoe was out­side the box. She shrugged and said, “I get it. I know this type of shoe. I’m get­ting all these flash­backs right now. When I was a kid, he slapped on the Aqua Velva. Then, at some point, he moved on to CK.”

What did he wear in medi­um secu­ri­ty? Chet thought it, knew bet­ter than to speak it. He under­stood that she was already annoyed with him. He thought about say­ing, Maybe you can order me a pair. He sat at the table. He said, “Listen, I want to talk to you.”

She looked thought­ful.

I am going to quit drink­ing,” he said.

She watched him and her expres­sion wasn’t unkind.

He said, “I am. Starting today. I just … it’s just time to stop. I’m tired of feel­ing this way, you know?”

It would be bet­ter for you if you quit.”

I just want to be some­body else. Someone a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.” She regard­ed him patient­ly. “What?” he said. “I’ve been think­ing about this. It didn’t just hit me.” His mug was on the table. His arms were on either side of it; he held his hands in loose fists. “Goddamnit,” he said.

What are you going to do today, Chet? Who’s mak­ing break­fast?”

Just talk to me for a minute, OK?”

All right.”

He exhaled. He said, “I’m sor­ry. That shoe, it got under my skin or some­thing. Your mom is mess­ing with me.”

Right. She knew you’d come home drunk, find the shoe, flip out.”

He con­sid­ered not say­ing any­thing else. He did not look at her when he said, “She put a shoe in a cake­box. She’s telling us some­thing. Maybe I’ll start an eBay store.” He eyed his mug, shook his head. “I’m gonna take the Lexus out, have the guy look at it. It was gasp­ing a lit­tle the oth­er day.”

I can do it. I wan­na take this shoe back. I guess I don’t see them enough. They only live across town. It’s not like I’m mad to them.” He wait­ed for her to add, Anymore.

Chet said, “The mechan­ic flirts with you. He did that last time and I was right there with you. He won’t pay atten­tion.”

Maybe he’ll do a bet­ter job if it’s only me.”

We ought to go togeth­er. We ought to do more things togeth­er.”

Going to see a mechan­ic?”

No. We could ride out to your par­ents’ house togeth­er.”

She tilt­ed her head. “Why?”

Just because.”

You and me, it makes my moth­er uncom­fort­able. It’s who she is.”

Your father won’t mind.”

My father is OK with every­thing now. That’s sort of the prob­lem, Chet. At least as she sees it. I think I’m begin–”

I want to go out there with you.”

Her faint eye­brows nar­rowed. “No. You are just hav­ing one of … your days. I’m not in the mood for dra­ma. I don’t want to sit around and lis­ten to you and my par­ents try to get to know one anoth­er.”

Well, I’m going, OK?”

In a moment, she said, “Fuck it.” She leaned down, stuck the shoe in the cake box, closed the lid, set it on the table and shoved it in his direc­tion. He caught it before the box knocked over his mug. She said, “Take it. I’m not rid­ing with you. Don’t both­er me again today, either.” She stood, left the room. He heard her steps, a door close. He sat at the table and then he stood, picked up the box and went to the front door. Beyond the wil­low tree, the Lexus was parked in the dri­ve­way. The land­scap­er, a friend of Chet’s, had been of the opin­ion that the car crash hadn’t hurt the wil­low at all. The emer­ald-col­ored leaves swayed in a light breeze and he walked a quar­ter-moon path around it to get to his car.

He backed out onto the street, put the Lexus in dri­ve. The box rode in the pas­sen­ger seat. At a stop sign, he looked over at it, said, “Go to hell,” then went ahead. At the next stop sign, he glanced at the box again. The Lexus sput­tered, lev­eled out. The mechanic’s shop wasn’t far, a mile and a half away and when he got there he saw a car occu­pied each space in the garage’s three bays. Chet parked next to a tow truck, made his way for the office, the wait­ing room. He flipped through the pages of a Car Buying Guide. On the TV on the shelf above the cash reg­is­ter, a real­i­ty-court judge seemed angry about some­thing. He seemed to be chew­ing out both par­ties.

What seems to be the prob­lem?” a voice said.

Chet turned, nod­ded to the mechan­ic who owned the shop. Ben was his name. He had big hands, pale arms. Thin hair on top. He smiled at Chet. “Just seems to be miss­ing,” Chet said.

I can check,” Ben said. “In about an hour. You can wait or you can come back.”

Lemme think about it.” Ben con­tin­ued smil­ing. Chet said, “She’s not with me today.”

Huh?” Ben said.

Chet watched him. “I’m sor­ry,” he said. “I’ll come back, OK?”

Suit your­self.”

Chet pulled off the lot faster than he should’ve, waved in the rear view to the car he’d cut off, didn’t check to see the driver’s reac­tion. The smell of motor oil was still in his nos­trils. At a stop light, he thought about how he had once dressed for work, the after shave he’d used. He’d been mar­ried before; he and his wife had both worked at office jobs. They’d had a good love life, for a while. He looked to the cake­box, imag­ined he should have tak­en the inher­i­tance and start­ed his own com­pa­ny. What could I have come up with? I just know how to show up. He exhaled, felt his shoul­ders sag, heard a car horn behind him, and pulled ahead.

The IGA where Tom Borchardt worked was not far away. Chet need­ed to speak with Tom. Traffic moved slow­ly for some rea­son; the dri­ve to IGA last­ed twice as long as it should’ve. The store’s lot was half full and after he pulled into a park­ing slip, he looked to the box and con­sid­ered stuff­ing it into a trash can near the store entrance. He left it where it was, walked for the store with his hands in his pock­ets. The air felt cool inside the store and he went to the cig­a­rette counter, asked the female clerk there if she could knock on the door to Tom’s office, which was adja­cent to a dis­play of by-the-car­ton Marlboros. She did this and when the door opened, she point­ed with her thumb and Tom looked in Chet’s direc­tion. Chet said, “Coffee?” Tom held up five fin­gers. Chet couldn’t think of what he need­ed, but he walked up and down aisles in the store. Then, he made his way over to the bak­ery, where he ordered a cof­fee and a choco­late donut. He took a place at a booth for two in the lit­tle restau­rant there. On the wall above him were framed pho­tos of past Employee of the Month win­ners. These were stu­dio shots and he con­sid­ered the expres­sions of the peo­ple in the pho­tos. Then, with­out a word, Tom slid in across from him. He held a can of soda and wore a white but­ton down shirt with a maroon neck­tie. The shirt was small on him. Tom’s soft look­ing gray hair was combed to one side, his mus­tache neat­ly trimmed. The thumbprint-sized faint patch­es of bro­ken blood ves­sels under each of his eye sock­ets looked promi­nent in the bright light of the store.

Tom popped the lid on his soda. “I thought you’d sleep till noon.”

I guess I have stuff on my mind.”

Who brought you the din­ner last night?”

Chet had a bite of donut in his mouth. After he swal­lowed, he said, “It was … a shoe. Something for Rachel’s eBay store. That’s the way it is around our place. Half-dressed man­nequins. The odd shoe. I want to ask you some­thing. No bull­shit­ting around. If I need a job, will you give me one here? Can I get some­thing like that?”

Tom fre­quent­ly looked amused at what Chet had to say. He brought the soda to his mouth, said, “What kind of work are you think­ing about?”

I could wear a short and tie like you do. No prob­lem.”

Managers and assis­tant man­agers wear those.”

I could go open col­lar. I could stock shelves. Absolutely. I am seri­ous­ly ask­ing you this.”

Stocking shelves is where you would start.” Tom’s expres­sion had changed. He looked a lit­tle more like a man­ag­er.

What col­or shirt do I wear for that?”

Light green.”

Chet drew in a long breath, let it out. “All right. OK.” His voice was qui­eter. “Stock boy.” “Where do I apply? I mean, is there an appli­ca­tion form?” He took a sip from his cof­fee. His hand seemed to be trem­bling. “How long did it take for you to get where you are?”

Four years to make assis­tant man­ag­er. And that’s when this chain was doing real­ly well.”

I’m a quick study. When I have to be.”

It’s real­ly about sta­mi­na.” Tom had his elbow on the table, and the side of his face rest­ed against his palm. “The offi­cial appli­ca­tion is just … paper.” His eyes moved out to the store floor. He watched cus­tomers, employ­ees. “Is this about your girl­friend?” Tom said. “If she wasn’t liv­ing with you, would you be won­der­ing about a job?”

Chet felt indig­nant, yet he couldn’t find any­thing to say. “I don’t know,” he said. “Is that some­thing you ask appli­cants?”

I’m ask­ing that as your friend.”

Right.” Chet’s mouth felt dry. Beyond the restau­rant area was an end­cap dis­play of saltines. “Stock boy,” he said. “I can’t imag­ine her lik­ing that. Maybe she’ll see she needs to work hard­er, too. Maybe we can see if we actu­al­ly have some­thing in com­mon.” His eyes went to Tom. Chet felt like adding, There. OK?

Tom said, “Hey, we’re hav­ing a sale on tilapia today. Big sale. We’ve got the tilapia mar­ket cor­nered back there. You like tilapia, buy a few pounds.”

Sure.”

We had a chance to order so much and get a big dis­count from the whole­saler. Went a lit­tle over­board. It’s a trendy fish sup­pos­ed­ly.” Tom smirked. “So we’ll all be eat­ing it for a while. You’re fun­ny, you know.” His voice turned qui­et. “You’re full of shit, but you’re fun­ny.”

I’m not kid­ding you about work­ing here.”

Say the word, I’ll put you on.”

Thank you.” Chet nod­ded, he exhaled.

Any time.”

Chet said, “I’m going to buy that tilapia now.”

Aisle sev­en, straight back.”

Chet dropped his nap­kin and cof­fee cup into a trash can, went down aisle sev­en and asked for three pounds of tilapia. The young woman work­ing behind the counter wore a hair net, had fin­ger­nails paint­ed bright blue. The wrapped fish felt heavy in his hand and he asked if she could pack ice around it. She used a clear plas­tic bag for this. Chet picked out a pack of mints as he wait­ed in line to check out and he paid for every­thing, then stepped out into the morn­ing sun­shine. He set the bag on the floor­board of the pas­sen­ger side. He drove for the mechanic’s shop. “All right, a job,” he said, his voice soft. He cut his eyes in the direc­tion of the box that held the shoe and said, “Stick that in your pipe.”

He sat in the wait­ing area while his car was up on the hydraulic lift in the garage. Someone had changed the chan­nel on the TV, it was tuned into CNN. The sound was low and he watched with faint inter­est. From the garage, it sound­ed as if some­body were pound­ing on a met­al pipe with a wrench, then the sound ceased. Laughter echoed. Chet had cho­sen not to work after get­ting his inher­i­tance; part of this was because he was a nor­mal human being who want­ed an easy, good life and there was also the hope that a lot of free time would some­how pro­duce a more fas­ci­nat­ing, pas­sion-filled exis­tence. He could not say that had been the case. He thought of Rachel, what he had first hoped for when she moved in. Chet had learned some things through his only mar­riage. He and his wife had placed a lot of pres­sure on one anoth­er. They pan­icked when they were not hap­py; they wor­ried they were not right for one anoth­er. He could not help but think of Rachel’s par­ents, they each had white hair already. Of course, they weren’t going to think much of him, an old­er man tak­ing in their daugh­ter, some­one they had cared for so ten­der­ly when she was a child. She was an object to Chet, a sug­ges­tion that his own aging process was not absolute, that he still could feel like a vital man. He tried to imag­ine him­self as an eighty-year-old, stooped for­ward, his shak­ing hands stock­ing shelves.

He had already more or less decid­ed he would not be tak­ing the shoe over to the house of Rachel’s par­ents today. These peo­ple were strangers to him; the attempts at social­iz­ing were stiff and morose. At one of their rare get-togeth­ers, Chet and Rachel’s father sat in lawn chairs in Chet’s back­yard. The men were drink­ing beers and the woman were inside. Chet thought it would be all right to ask, so he said, Can you tell me about prison?

There’d been a pause. Chet was fair­ly cer­tain he’d offend­ed the guy and didn’t say any­thing else. Medium secu­ri­ty, was the first thing Rachel’s father said. After anoth­er minute, her father said, I received a lot of advice before I went in. I was told to have all of my den­tal work done, get a thor­ough phys­i­cal. The idea was med­ical care at medi­um secu­ri­ty wouldn’t be so good. I found it to be decent, actu­al­ly. The staff was quite kind.

Chet would’ve been inter­est­ed for him to say more, but he didn’t.

All ready,” Ben the mechan­ic said, as he stepped into the wait­ing area while rub­bing his hands into an oily-look­ing rag. “Fuel line. I got the dam­ages here.” At the cash reg­is­ter, Chet held over a cred­it card before Ben showed him the bill. After Ben hand­ed Chet his receipt, he pulled Chet’s car out to the lot, then got out of it and walked straight for the garage. Chet guessed this might have been because the inside smelled like tilapia, though actu­al­ly it didn’t. There was still plen­ty of ice left in the plas­tic sack. If any­thing, the inside of the car smelled like gas and oil. Chet drove for his neigh­bor­hood, under­stood the effects from his hang­over were gone. He thought about a cold beer and he thought, Sure, I can always have that.

Inside the house, he put the tilapia away, then walked down the hall of Rachel’s bed­room and knocked on the door, which was already open a crack. He stuck his head inside; she leaned back against the head­board, the lap­top stayed bal­anced on her thighs. He took a step inside, wait­ed for her to object. He took a seat on the edge of the bed, an arm’s length from her bare feet. “I didn’t go to your par­ents’ house,” he said. “I went to the IGA on Harrison, applied for a job. I want to work. I want to be like you, I want to be work­ing on some­thing.” He faced a bureau as he spoke.

What am I work­ing on?” she said.

Your store. Dressing the man­nequins. The shoe .…”

The shoe?”

I see you are fig­ur­ing things out, Rachel. You want a full life. I’m hap­py for you.”

I’m not fig­ur­ing out any­thing. What are you talk­ing about?” He turned to her. She said, “What would you do exact­ly at the IGA, Chet?”

I don’t know. Start at the bot­tom. Stock shelves.”

You must be kid­ding. Are we broke? Tell me. Are we broke?”

No.”

You’re hav­ing a very strange day today.”

What’s wrong with apply­ing for a job?”

Are you telling me you want me to leave? Just say it then. Be a man about it.”

That’s not what I am say­ing.”

I am not work­ing, OK?” she said. “I’m play­ing around, I’m dress­ing man­nequins in used clothes. You’re see­ing things that aren’t there.”

What’s wrong with work­ing? I don’t think I under­stand.”

I don’t work, OK? That’s not how I want to live my life.”

What you’re say­ing … it doesn’t sound good, Rachel.”

I don’t care how it sounds. I want to be tak­en care of. I have inter­ests. I make a lit­tle mon­ey with my store. I don’t want the pres­sure of own­ing a busi­ness. Come on. You’ve been on the wrong side of things all day today. Do you want me to leave? You didn’t answer my ques­tion.”

No,” he said, right away.

You want to work, work,” she said. “I don’t need to be dragged into that. What are you going to do, wear a uni­form?” He didn’t answer. “You didn’t grow up rich, Chet. You don’t know what that’s like. You lucked into some mon­ey and you live easy. We live easy here. Even if this is a lit­tle less than what I’m used to. I’m not com­plain­ing though, all right? I know what I’ve got. My lit­tle store is pret­ty cool. I don’t mind sift­ing through bins of used clothes. I like to think about lives oth­er peo­ple have. I’m not a snob. I don’t mind going to sec­ond hand stores at all. I think about peo­ple strug­gling and then I feel for­tu­nate. Because I know I am not going to strug­gle. I am not going to do that. That isn’t me. What kind of work would you do at the IGA? Be in charge of some­thing?”

No,” he said. “I haven’t applied yet. Not offi­cial­ly. I don’t want you to leave, Rachel,” he said. “I was afraid of that this morn­ing.” His voice turned qui­et. “I’m not broke.” He didn’t say any­thing else.

It wasn’t easy grow­ing up rich,” she said. “We had a colo­nial style house, three sto­ries, out in Woodlands. Our unhap­pi­ness was dif­fer­ent than it is now. We all just kept ask­ing for things and get­ting them.”

You men­tioned that once, I think.”

My par­ents … well. I’m try­ing to hold onto some­thing here. Men my age don’t under­stand. They want, they want too much.”

All right,” he said. “Jesus.”

I just want to start this day all over again. At this point,” she said. He nod­ded with­out look­ing at her. “Hey,” she said. “I’m not leav­ing, OK? And you’re not ask­ing me to?” He shook his head again. He under­stood he was not going to feel any bet­ter today. It was just one of those days where that wasn’t going to hap­pen.

The box with the shoe is in the pas­sen­ger seat,” he said. He was think­ing about the next time he would go out drink­ing with Tom, if the sub­ject of work­ing at the IGA would come up. Chet was a bit embar­rassed and of course he was los­ing inter­est in the idea now. He knew that Tom would not bring it up. If Tom felt sor­ry for him it wouldn’t do either of them any good for him to say it out loud. Not unless they had some knock down-drag out argu­ment about some­thing and Tom need­ed to get his atten­tion. Chet could not pic­ture this hap­pen­ing. What was there for them to argue over? “I bought tilapia for din­ner, a whole lot of it,” he said.

She said, “I can go on line to look for recipes.” Her voice was return­ing to nor­mal.

OK,” he said.

I can print some out for you. That OK?”

He said, “Did you find a match for the shoe? The ones your father used to wear?”

She con­sid­ered his face. “I’ll be able to find some­thing close to it,” she said. “I need to see it again, though.”

I’ll bring it in.” He sat on the edge of the bed for a minute longer. He pic­tured the worn shoe on the kitchen table; the two of them look­ing at it, then Rachel search­ing for a com­pa­ra­ble brand on eBay. It was remark­able what you could find on eBay if you looked long enough. “Let me know about that recipe,” Chet said. He stood, then left the room. When he closed the door, he did so qui­et­ly.