Once upon a time, in the land of Uz, there was a man named Job. He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and avoided evil. Book of Job
Job Sunstrum felt sound, and saw it. He held the hum of a vacuum cleaner in his hands: it was an invisible egg with the smooth, cool feel of glass. A sensation so real he followed its curve with his finger. He left the vacuum sitting in the kitchen, running, occasionally for hours at a time. Listened to the vacuum’s whirr with his eyes closed and smoothed the glass egg in his hands. He rose from these sessions calmed, refreshed, clear-headed. Untroubled, for a time, by the fear and guilt that dogged him.
Others might have called this pastime meditation, but not Job, as contemplation of nearly any kind other than prayer was discouraged in the circles he travelled. “It’s not good to leave the mind empty,” said Pastor Ludwig Henschell from his pulpit at Godsfinger Baptist. “An unoccupied mind is the playing field of the devil.”
The voices of the congregation as they sang a hymn produced, for Job, concentric rings of colour, like the rippling circles falling rain created on the surface of a slough. His friend Will’s voice was the deep blue-green of a spruce tree. Stinky Steinke’s was the blue-black of a crow’s wing. The sopranos’ circles were small and brilliant, in dazzling whites, yellows, peaches, pinks. Penny Blust’s was the colour of pink lemonade. The altos tended to the purples, like Barbara Stubblefield’s, the blue-violet of flowering borage. Circles of colour that rippled outward, blended with one another. A vision Job experienced out there, projected a half foot in front of him, as if onto a transparent screen through which he saw the world around him.
Job sometimes stopped singing, lost his boundaries of self to the pool of colours, in the same way that he expanded, then dissipated, into the expanse of prairie and arching sky as he drove the paved roads. He startled awake to his shrunken self when the hymn came to an end, just as he did while driving when he met an oversized stop sign or rumble strips, a series of bumps on the asphalt that warned mesmerized drivers of an upcoming intersection. But when he was submerged in the congregation’s singing he also felt a certainty, a thrill of recognition as if he had unexpectedly seen a beloved on a strange street in an unfamiliar city. The passion of aha! Of eureka! Though what it was he knew, what it was he had discovered, he couldn’t say. It was a feeling that lasted for just a moment after the song was over. A knowing. At these times he knew God was real with the same instinctive confidence with which he knew how to breathe.
It was a phenomenon he kept to himself. He had tried telling his best friend, Will Stubblefield, when they were still children. Job and Will waited for the school bus together at the Sunstrum mailbox. Sang with each other in the junior church choir. Competed against one another with their 4-H calves at Whoop ’er Up Days. Visited each other’s homes after school, slept in each other’s bedrooms, and once when they were twelve they spent the night out in the field together, though Job’s mother had made Jacob, Job’s older brother, join them to make sure they didn’t get into trouble. Plagued by mosquitoes and smelling of insect spray, they snuggled in their sleeping bags and, with Jacob snoring beside them, waited for a show of northern lights.
Just before midnight the adventure took a turn. “I’m cold,” whispered Job. “Mosquitoes driving me crazy.” He wondered at his brother’s blissful sleep, how the mosquitoes’ whine and bites didn’t wake him. At fourteen, Jacob had grown stinky and large with burgeoning manhood. Job watched his step with his brother, anticipating his moods as he did his father’s. Just as his father would inflict the strap, Jacob would trip him up or wrestle him to the ground, twisting his arm behind his back.
“Let’s zip our sleeping bags together,” said Will.
Job listened a moment to hear that his brother was still asleep. “I don’t know.”
“It’ll be warmer.”
Job, who was used to doing as he was told, or merely asked, zipped his sleeping bag to Will’s as quietly as he could for fear of waking Jacob, who, he sensed, would put an end to this sleeping-bag business. Jacob rolled over, snorted. The boys eased their way into their bed and Job pulled the edge of the sleeping bag over his face, to warm his nose, to ward off the insistent mosquitoes.
“You ever kissed a girl?” said Will.
Job weighed his answer briefly, and decided to answer truthfully. “No.”
“Me neither. Let’s practise. With our pillows.”
Job felt a queasy warning in his stomach that he felt each time he was about to step into unknown territory. The whole of Job’s sexual education, as provided by his father, had been delivered in two sentences: “Keep that thing in your pants,” and, after Abe had shot a feral tomcat dead just as it was mounting a barn cat, “That’s what you’ll get if I ever catch you screwing around.” He knew his father suspected that he had begun to abuse himself. One cold night, Job had taken his mother’s blow-dryer from the bathroom cabinet and used it to warm himself under the blankets. The warmth was a relief, but it was the hum of the blow-dryer he enjoyed most. It generated a smooth cylinder in his hand, one he could run his hand up and down. It had the feel of glass, as if he were holding his mother’s clear glass rolling pin, one of the few wedding presents that had survived the years. He closed his eyes and stroked the cylinder, visible only to him, enjoying its smoothness, thrilling at the knowing that came along with it. He didn’t hear his father’s knock and Abe walked in on him, blow-drying his thighs under the covers, stroking his invisible cylinder, his knees making a tent of the blankets.
“Stop that!” said Abe.
Job pulled the blow-dryer out from under the covers, turned it off. “What?”
Abe waved a great paw at him. “Whatever it is you’re doing.”
“I was just warming up.”
“That’s your mother’s blow-dryer, for God’s sake. It’s just sick.” Abe slammed the door shut behind him.