It was a surprise when Jim announced that an old pal called Bob would be visiting. He had spoken of friends from his past, but never had he mentioned this one.
“Bob, Robert? Roberto?”
“Fair enough,” Paula said. “What is he like? Would you say he’s kind? funny? Peachy? Merry? Depraved? Perverted?”
Jim wouldn’t describe people.
“Bob,” he said, “appears to have become prosperous”.
The dog padded in and sat near his feet, as if to console him about that.
Only a few weeks later, retired Bob from Auckland plonked down on the lumpy living room sofa and talked about his awful flight. “Like the sky was full of holes,” he said.
“Food was so-so. You don’t expect that in first class,” he said.
Bob was large and puffed on an inhaler. Paula offered vodka. “Good call,” Bob said.
“What are you doing with your time these days?” Jim said. Bob was a collector of rocks.
“Here’s why I dig them. You can’t ever know what’s inside a geode until you crack it open,” he said.
Jim glared, as if he’d said something rude.
Bob pulled out a rock from his flight bag. It looked like a dinosaur egg.
“This is a little geode for you both,” he said, and he handed it to her.
“Aw! Thanks,” Paula said.
She held it up to her face to feel the plainness of its skin. Jim glared at Bob. “I hear that in first class, you’re offered a geisha for breakfast.”
“Hahaha,” Bob said, but his cheeks became shrimp pink.
“Gotta take the dog out to pee,” Jim said, and left.
Paula and Bob were alone in the living room. “I’m imagining what’s in here,” she said. She shook the rock, then pressed it against her ear as if it were a shell. Bob watched. She could feel his eyes on her neck, could feel the warm corner of a tag on the back of her blouse, scraping her skin.
“You’ll have to crack it open with a sledgehammer, but carefully,” he said.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” she said.
Bob finished his vodka and asked for another. She poured herself one as well.
“Tell me about the wonders of first class,” Paula said.
“Everything about it is excellent. Usually. It’s probably just what you think.”
He looked like a once-in-a-lifetime person, his face fallen down and old but sweet.
“How long since you and Jim seen each other?” she asked.
“I can’t remember,” he said. “But I wanted to try again.” He shook his large head.
The fabric tag on the back of Paula’s shirt felt painful. She couldn’t remember where Jim stashed the scissors. Every time she used it, it disappeared.
“Excuse me,” she said to Bob, and walked into the kitchen. Jim kept squireling away the very objects she needed the most, stashing them in hard-to-reach places so that she’d have to ask him for help. She hunted around quickly, and then gave up. She took her shirt off and sawed at the tag with a dull kitchen knife. Standing topless in her kitchen, alone like this, made Paula feel better.
She thought about what it would look like to Bob if he suddenly wandered in for a glass of water. If he did, she’d figure out something to say—or maybe she’d offer him a sweet. He seemed like a man who’d forgive a person for their nakedness while digesting a donut.
And what might she say? She’d say that this had something to do with the hole she had long ago dug herself into. And how she imagined that somewhere inside it, she once glowed.