A soft hum resonated. Job looked up and forced his eyes to bring his grandmother back into focus. Her eyes, glued to him for he didn’t know how long, met his and it seemed to him that the hum might be flowing steadily through them. Though red lined to the point that the whites of her eyes appeared more pink colored than white, the gaze remained uncompromising. It was several seconds before she blinked, and the humming stopped.
She spoke again. “Go out and play, Job.”
Surprise widened his eyes and he jumped up from his chair, rubbing against the floor with an obnoxious vibration of friction and ran out. The adults, though watching him, paid no mind to his exuberant exit and as his feet pounded across the house and out across the threshold of the front door no made a move or a sound. If he had stopped to look, Job may have seen the smile in the corner of each of their mouths. But he didn’t.
Instead he patted down the un-worn path from his house to the hidden spot at the end of the road. The dust clouds shrouded his feet with translucent flecks of sand, making it appear that something magical were carrying him towards the rocky playground, Richard’s Rock. And it was magic, Job thought, that cause his family to let him go early, that would let him go at all. He continued to keep the imaginary magic linger around him, even as the dust around his feet. Both reasons would always seem incomprehensible to Job. That he was somehow allowed out of the house on a Sunday and that the Earth had been sucked dry so completely that there was nothing left but layers and layers of dead earth like the skin that peeled off after a sunburn both in long strips and tiny particles that seemed to stay stuck to the surface for far longer than it should.
He picked at a raw patch of skin with this very condition on his left upper arm, willing for the dead skin to make way for the fresh, healthy skin beneath the surface, for it to heal. But only a few small flakes parted ways. The rest remained obstinately attached.
As he grew closer, he wondered at the quiet. In the house on Sunday’s, quiet ran its usual course, interspersed with random moments of shared silence and the occasional interruption of a cough, but he had expected something more racous. No shouts or gleeful screams, nor even a vocal flurry seemed to interrupt the air from behind the hill.
At the base of the hill, a sandy embankment to the top of Richard’s Rock, Job planted one foot then the other, the sand falling away beneath each heavy step. The more he struggled upwards, the more shifting and unreliable the ground beneath his feet seemed to grow. If he looked back he expected to see a pile of sand building up behind him to form another hill and him, trapped in the valley between the two. He wasn’t but out of all the surprises that day, a growing hill made just from his footsteps would have paled in comparison.
Job’s foot struck the top of the hill and without looking up, he hollered at the top of his lungs: “Hey! I’m here!” Though his voice shouted in triumph, his final joining with the children of his class, his heart sank to his smallest toe, for no one was there. Not a rock moved. Not even a tell-tale cloud of dust remained to signal the recent departure. Job sat on the top of the rock and looked out at the magnificently empty view.