five-minute mark, he had learned that Bruce had a B.A. in social work, and an Early Childhood Education Certificate. He hated the caseload as a social worker and always wanted to run a daycare, but it’s unusual for men to work with children in this day and age with all the suspicion, and on and on and on.
Oh, how much people will share. James saw Bruce naked inanimal form, snarling and crouched in waiting, praying to be asked to spring upright and grunt out a story.
“How is Sarah doing, anyway?” asked Bruce, laying a hand on James’s forearm.
James was struck by guilt: He had not been thinking of Sarah. He had considered the situation decided.
“We have to wait. The prognosis is still vague.”
Bruce nodded. “Just keep us informed.”
“Same here,” he said, gesturing toward Finn, who had separated himself from the circle of readers and was stacking plastic animals: a bear riding a tiger; a hippopotamus astride a dinosaur.
“I’d like to live in that world,” said James.
“A world where a tiger gives a ride to a bear. You know, everyone helping one another out.” He was joking, but Bruce lit up.
“If only!” he said.
James turned to find Finn, anticipating his first public sendoff. But the boy was captivated by the stacking animals, frowning as each pair toppled.
Suddenly, Bruce let out a chirp: “You know, James, I remember you from TV, right? Aren’t you on TV?”
“I used to be.”
Bruce clapped his hands together.
“Ha! I knew it! You know, we have a lot of famous people at this daycare. Ruby’s mom wrote that cookbook, the one about organic baby food? And in the kindergarten room, there’s a little boy named Luke whose mom was in that miniseries, the one about the hockey wives?”
James clucked his interest, but he did not appreciate being in this particular lineup.
James leaned into Finn’s line of vision, tried to catch his attention. He felt Bruce watching as he blew him a kiss that went uncaught.
James crossed the street, glancing back at the daycare.
As he did at least once a week, James walked back to the TV station where he used to work and sat facing the building on his favorite bench. He thought of these visits as a kind of crime-scene reenactment, as if by going back again and again to the site of his firing, he could make sense of it. He lit a cigarette.
The day James got fired had not been the worst day of his life. He was as still as a man Tasered to the ground and he contemplated this calmness as Sly—his old friend, his boss—sat across from him, slick with sweat, panting, saying what they both knew was coming. “This kind of television isn’t resonating in our research.… It’s not you, we think the world of you, it’s the genre … the demographic … the economy … the Internet …”
James’s mind was a jumble of all the things that made this moment not so bad: the unwritten novel, the untapped potential, the upcoming summer.
He had suddenly thought of a parlor game he and Ana had played in the early years of their marriage. “Who are you? Four things only.” James, when he read aloud his own list, was always: “Husband, journalist, hockey player, future novelist.” He thought that listing his marital status first would flatter Ana, but she saw through it. When Ana did James, she put journalist first. But now what he had written had come true: He was mostly her husband.
Ana would know what to ask. Severance package. Legal loopholes. He got into her head, tried to emulate her thinking, as ordered as a plastic binder divided by tabs. James said someadult-sounding things, and Sly gave answers. Sly even lowered his accent to something kind of Cockney for the occasion, as if they were a couple of British coal miners at a union meeting in the Thatcher years. Then, when Sly had wrung out every cliché, he leaned in, as if about to go for a hug: “I’m so sorry, mate.” He reached out a hand. James thought: