89. The Job

They’d been called to Italy on a tour and the offer of a job. Currency, selling currency. “We have to spread ourselves,” he said. “We can always come home if it doesn’t work out.”

“And living in Italy,” she said, “not much longer than a year, perhaps, could open all kinds of doors later for us. And it’ll be good for the kids.”

At the Firm’s front desk, a woman wondered who he was, gave him a smile full of empty recollection. She spoke into a phone. A company official shrugged his shoulders. “You’ve come from the states?” he said. “All this way? There must have been a mistake, a grave mistake.”

He showed the man all the documents, the names, the correspondence, everything impressive. He told the man his kids were all prepared. They’d found a school. The executive had it all on his desk and shook his head. The man said he knew none of the names. The executive was sorry but that it must have been a mistake, an incredible ruse.

He still had his job back home, and she was a woman of means, but the kids were waiting across the ocean. They rode in silence back to the hotel. Through his head went lists: who to call, who to blame, lists of all the questions he hadn’t asked. He ran through the phone calls, the transfers; they’d studied the language at the dinner table together. The months past of genuine preparations, now all an elaborate nothing, no more than the noise that passed the windows in little gusts.

“God,” she said. “It’s amazing. I’ll bet the hotel’s been broken into, all our things gone. It may be that sort of joke.”

He looked at her and thought about laughing.

Back at the hotel, they found the lock apparatus indeed broken. The mattress had been tossed against the television. All their clothes torn to shreds, the laptops stomped to death. Across the walls where there had once been paintings someone had drawn round heads with crosses for eyes with her lip stick and with her nail polish.

“This isn’t happening,” she said.

He went to the window and saw a man with what looked like her bag speaking to a cab driver, other cabs waiting.

“Look,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. That guy has your bag.”

They took the stairs, flew the few floors down. She told him they should call the police. But he was rushing down with the last few months of mistakes in his head, all the promises he’d given his children. On the street, they saw the cab pull away. They ran to another cab and said in practiced Italian to follow.

The cab took them to a wooded area, maybe the edge of a park, the other cab already stopped up ahead, which he thought odd.

“I left my wallet back at the hotel room, in my bag. Shit,” he said. “And I don’t have my bag,” she said. The driver, who spoke English, said, “You need to pay.” He showed them a knife. The smile on the driver’s face told him that the driver knew something, something more dangerous than the fare.

With suddenness, he took her by the hand and they ran into the woods. That fast. He took her hand and started off. That fast.

“Don’t look back,” he said.

“How could you forget your wallet?” she wanted to know, running out of her shoes.

He heard the cab driver shout something. Here, the trees grew tall and the bushes thick and he could sense a river, docks, small boats. He heard the driver’s breathing. He remembered the thinness of the knife, the mattress against the wall, a round face with X eyes, and the feel of his wife’s hand wet and hot in his as they ran.

He heard more voices behind him, a crowd chasing after. He heard the word “thieves.” At a narrow pier a young man was tying a boat, the motor running. He pushed the young man into the water and he pulled his wife into the boat with him so that she fell to her knees, and they were off, turning into the current. On the dock, four men appeared. One took out a pistol and fired it, but fired high, and they appeared to be laughing as they pulled the young man out of the water, who was laughing too.

His wife’s hair reminded him of branch trimmings and snakes. She kept saying, “This is crazy. This is crazy. We have to find someone.”

“All we have to do is find someone,” he told her, as the little boat bucked, turned on a shallow log, and nosed into the other shore. He fell forward and hit his chin. She, falling forward too, pressed her fingers into his buttocks.

He yanked her into mud, water, and low grabby tangle and they bulled their way into the edge trees. “God,” he whispered. “God.”

“Stop it,” she said. “Stop it.”

They came out onto a trail that might have been made by carts or small cars. “We’ll call when we get back to the hotel,” he said. But he didn’t finish saying “hotel.” He breathed out “ho” then felt a great weight at the small of his back, which split him in two. Something hard and gritty snapped at his mouth. For a moment he saw nothing, tasted blood. Then he sat up with immense nausea, opened his eyes and saw fallen leaves, sand, and the trunks of thin trees.

First he said, My mouth hurts. He said, My back hurts. Next he said, “Sandra?” Next and louder he said, “Sandra?”

He stood. He hobbled up the dirt road and saw ahead, where the this path met an actual road, a yellow truck, no, two yellow trucks. He began a run, calling her name. A long arm reached out and waved from a window as if a party was over, as if a friend was just departing. The truck drove away and the other followed.

At the new road, he felt her absence. He said her name more than once, but he couldn’t, at the same time that he uttered her name, which was all he could say out loud, place the name. All he could say was the name and wonder what it meant. Her name and the long arm out of he yellow truck that had waved with a gentleness he couldn’t fathom. He seemed to feel it was saying goodbye, that it meant goodbye. He said her name and asked what it meant, and he also had a feeling that somewhere in those clusters of buildings in the distance was his house, a cup of coffee, work, and that the name he kept saying softly had something to do with it and then he looked down and saw that he wasn’t wearing shoes and he wondered why. Why was he wearing black socks in this place, this place he couldn’t recall?

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