The next morning, Jill showers, straightens her hair, puts on mascara, and leaves for work. She arrives before the property managers and she spends hours returning messages and coordinating repairs on leaky roofs and broken pipes and graffiti tags. On most days, the work is satisfying. She enjoys deploying roofers, plumbers, electricians, plow trucks, and carpenters to this-that-and-the-other place to fix her development company’s properties, most of which were in Portland, the city of her birth, ten miles away from where she now lives. At noon, she returns to her apartment, eats a small piece of chocolate, cries in the bathroom, then reapplies her makeup and returns to work.
When work ends at five, she drives home and finds herself again in the parking lot of her apartment building, staring up at the sky-blue vinyl siding and rusty gutters. The windows in the adjacent apartments glow with warm yellow light while hers remain dark. She looks at each of the four apartments in this building and wonders if they’re all like hers. In her apartment, the front door opens to a small living room, which then opens to a small kitchen and dining area, with a closet-like bathroom nearby. The bedrooms and master bath are upstairs. The thought of entering the apartment makes her stomach ache. She begins to cry again, then quickly wipes her eyes, backs out of the driveway, and heads north.
In forty-five minutes, Jill turns off the paved road and slows down when she sees a tall woman shoveling a path to the front door of a log cabin.
“Farrah,” Jill says as she leaves the car. “I need you.”
Farrah puts down her shovel. A concerned expression crosses her face. “Good to be needed,” she says solemnly. Farrah, as Jill knew she would, wraps her big arms around her. “It’s okay, whatever it is,” she says.
They stand in the cold while Jill cries. Then Farrah says, “Let’s get inside. We’ve got the stove going. Some hotty toddy—what do you say?”
Jill nods. Farrah leads her inside.
Jill loves Farrah’s cabin. She wouldn’t want to live here—she couldn’t live this far from Portland, or any city—but sometimes a little isolation helps clear her mind. Farrah’s cabin was a perfect place to escape from Rick after she filed. He spent those first few days calling Jill hourly, begging for forgiveness and occasionally cursing her out.
Farrah, too, is a comfort. She used to work for the painting company that Jill’s boss hired for their new construction and renovation projects. They spoke so often on the phone (“Farrah, we need you at 299 Congress Street today!”) that, one day, they agreed to meet for lunch. Jill discovered that they had some mutual friends, but what drew them together was their shared story: Farrah was divorcing a man who cheated, all the while wrestling with what that would mean for her teenage daughter. Meanwhile, Jill was slowly unraveling the details of Rick’s affair with the convenient store clerk. Jill felt nobody understood her better, so it felt natural for Jill, who kept her feelings to herself, to share them with Farrah now.
Farrah nods at each detail. When Jill finishes her lukewarm toddy, Farrah takes the mug from her and refills it and Jill drinks it quickly. She likes this kind of pain, the hot toddy burning her lips and tongue, because it makes sense and she knows it will go away.
“Christina will come around,” Farrah says. Farrah’s daughter Julie had once left home to live with her father, whom Farrah referred to as Shithead. She and Julie didn’t speak for years. “It makes you wonder whether it was worth it.”
“What’s worth it?”
“Having children,” says Farrah. “My experience with Julie made me regret becoming a mother.”
Jill catches her breath. “Really?”
Farrah nods. “Oh, hell yes. Little shit broke my heart. Shithead said to her: Choose me or your mother. I had rules, he didn’t, and she was a teenager, so she chose him. I could have died of a broken heart.”
“I get that,” Jill says.
“But now it’s better,” says Farrah. “I feel like I’ve done some things since then that helped.”
“What are they?” Jill asks. “I’ll do anything.”
Farrah paused. “Well, part of it is waiting for them to mature. That’ll take awhile, of course.”
Jill wants to ask: “How long?” But she knows the question is unanswerable.
Then Farrah taps her head. “Mostly I rearranged some furniture up here.”
Jill imagines her brain like her living room. A sad couch, a lonely armchair, a flat rug made of failure. “I don’t follow you,” she says.
Farrah stares at some far away place. “I had to let her go and move on with my life as if she didn’t exist,” she says finally, still looking away. “I had to stop caring.”
Jill stared at her mug. “I don’t think I can do that.”
They were quiet for a long time. Then Farrah sighs. “Well, there’s no silver bullet. Maybe the whiskey is as good as any solution.”
Jill laughs. “Usually is.”
And they laugh together. It feels good, this laughter, because the worst thing had already happened. There’s nothing left on earth that could hurt her more than this.