Rumpus Original Fiction: Biswell and Hope and the Job, A Story in Five Epiphanies

By

I.

“What if the past is always better than the future,” Biswell says, “by definition?” He’s rinsing off in Hope’s shower, which is now his shower now. She’s rubbing fog from the mirror and putting on mascara.

“That’s a strange thing to say to your pregnant girlfriend.”

“Is it though? I’m an idealizer of the past. We’ll want our offspring to do that so we look better than we were, as parents.” Biswell’s own father had been fairly sketchy, post-divorce. He’d miss pick-ups. He’d bow out of school events, last minute, or just not show at all.

“Well, if you really think the past is better than the future, you could try to live faster, get more of your life behind you,” Hope says. Does this mean she wants him to hurry up and get a job already? He’s self-conscious about the unemployment thing, the dropping out of law school thing.

She pulls the shower curtain back. “But, upon reflection, do you really think your mother did a good job?”

Biswell feels very naked and now he’s thinking of his mother. Are men bound to marry their mothers on some level—or is it possible to become some virilized version of her? The past would then meet the future. “The future scares me. That’s fair enough to say. It’s unknown,” he says.

 

II.

“Do you want the job or not?” the manager asks, his head looming over the V-neck of a sweater vest like something freshly born, as if the sweater vest is some woolen vagina. Is this how it’s going to be now that Hope’s pregnant? Birthing everywhere he looks.

“Of course not. But yes,” Biswell says. The manager is his cousin, Brent, and so he’s being a little more honest than he should.

“Look,” Brent says. “I get it. We sell windows. It’s not super fun. But I need to know where your head’s at.”

My head is in plain view, Biswell thinks.

“Which is it?”

Biswell inches forward and puts his forearm on Brent’s desk. They’d smoked pot together a few times at Thanksgivings, after Biswell’s parents’ divorce. The Nomadic Thanksgiving Years. He feels like they should be able to speak plainly. Philosophically even. “You’re asking me if I want to die on the inside—you know, the death of my soul—or the outside—as in poverty and starvation. And, for now, I’m choosing to die on the inside—you know, existentially, first.”

Brent blinks at him. “Are you saying I’m dead inside?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe there’s something you do, outside of selling windows, that recharges you.”

“I can’t hire you.”

“Why not? C’mon. Just because I said—”

“You know why not.”

“I was just joking about dead souls. You know me. You know how I get sometimes.”

“That’s why I can’t hire you. I know you.”

 

III.

“How’d it go with your cousin?” Hope asks.

“I don’t know. Selling windows? I’m not sure it’s, you know, something I should really do.” Biswell is finishing a documentary on 9/11. He’s sitting on the futon. He’s just finished a bowl of udon noodles.

“Everyone’s selling something.”

“You aren’t.”

Hope smiles. “I’m good. That’s why. I’m a very good person.” She counsels victims of domestic abuse. She gets them and their children safe housing, helps them rebuild their lives.

The credits roll, the music is devastating. “I just got September 11, “ Biswell says.

“What do you mean you just got it?” Hope says, walking over to him, blocking his view of the credits.

“I mean, I got it intellectually before. But I missed the human element.”

“Ten years of firefighter tributes and blind people getting out with their seeing eye dogs and all of that footage again and again… and now you get it? I mean, did you miss Jon Stewart’s impassioned speech to congress?”

“I think all of that actually got in the way—of really feeling it. I’m a slow processor.”

Hope bends down a bit. She looks him in the eye in a way she’s never done before. And then she slaps him. It’s so quick that he feels the sting before he registers that her hand—chapped from winter—rose up and struck him.

She stares at him, her eyebrows raised.

“Now that I felt,” he says.

“You’re not as slow a processor as you think.” She picks up his empty noodle bowl and walks to the kitchen.

He reaches up and prods his cheek. “It stings and feels kind of numb at the same time—almost like someone else’s face.”

 

IV.

“Brent, hey, it’s Biswell, and I’m sorry to be leaving a voice mail, but I haven’t been able to get through and I want you to know that I’d love the job.” Biswell is standing in line for free coffee at Starbucks. The wind is harsh. He’s actually wearing the scarf his mother gave him for Christmas, which he was sure he’d never do when he opened the box. “I was being a jackass. And all in my head. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” What’s wrong with me? What is actually wrong with me? he thinks. “I’m really sorry I intimated that you might be dead inside. And look, I know I don’t deserve a second chance but if you need someone, I’m here and I’d love to prove that I can sell windows.”

I’d love to prove that I can sell windows.

The person in line in front of him—a twenty-something college kid with a shaggy beard, turns around and looks at him. Not a pity look, more of a curiosity. Like this bearded college kid couldn’t stop himself from seeing the face that matched the hideous admission: I’d love to prove that I can sell windows.

Biswell pretends he’s busy with his phone. He’s the person who said I’d love to prove that I can sell windows.

And maybe he means it. Maybe he’d really like to prove it to his cousin Brent, to himself, to Hope. It’s what fathers sometimes have to prove.

 

V.

Biswell can see Hope through the office window of the downtown clinic where she works. This is the main hub for their fundraising and administrative work. Much of Hope’s efforts are done in secret locations, where the women and children can be protected and cared for. Hope has told him a few stories. She deals with horrific trauma all day long. He realizes that injustice makes him so nauseous that he can’t get close enough to it to exert change.

He’s brought her a Starbucks latte and knocks on the window.

She looks up. At first, she’s irritated, her brow creased. But then her eyes land on him and she smiles like she really loves him. And he thinks of her behind glass like something preserved, like a display of Hope, in a perfectly temperature-controlled environment, which is how he might best interact with injustice—and love.

This is why some fathers bolt; Biswell gets it now. Maybe it’s why his own father slipped away: he was weak. Biswell imagines it though, going home and packing up and disappearing. Men do it all the time.

She makes a little clapping gesture and points to the front door. She’ll meet him there.

She’s a good person. He feels like a horrible person. He wants to warn her. But she wouldn’t believe him. He plays charades with her friends. He’s going to sell windows. He wears the scarf his mother gave him for Christmas. He brings her Starbucks.

He decides that this is what life is sometimes—doing things and continuing to do them. He takes a breath of cold air, lifts his shoulders, and walks to the door.

***

Rumpus original art by Zach Swisher.


Julianna Baggott is the author of many poetry collections and novels, including Pure (Grand Central, Hachette) and Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders (Little Brown, Hachette), both New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Her stories, essays, and poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Agni, at Tor.com, and on NPR. She teaches screenwriting at the Florida State University Film School and is the creator of Efficient Creativity: The Six-Week Audio Series. More from this author →