It had been a month, and Ben hadn’t really talked to anybody. His mom a few times on the phone from New Hampshire—she was concerned. And the people working at the Saturday morning farmers market where he was buying all his broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and the cashier at the corner grocery where he bought the beans and pasta. But no one else, unless he met somebody on his walk, had a chat about the weather or the landscaping or how bad the traffic congestion had gotten.
He used to talk to people every day. Mostly about stuff like deadlines and bug reports and code freezes, but also about how life was going, how were their wives, their kids, was he dating anybody? He didn’t exactly miss it, but it seemed like something you should keep up with a little. Sometimes his voice didn’t work when he tried to use it.
He called Seth and made plans for dinner on Saturday. Seth was his oldest friend—they’d met in middle school—and he lived ten miles away, but they usually only saw each other every few months. They were both so busy. Seth was a high school math teacher, plus he had a three-year-old daughter.
Usually Ben drove to Seth’s place—a house on a quiet street—but he wasn’t in a rush now, so he walked to the train. It was about a mile walk on each end, but he was used to walking. The yards on the way to Seth’s house had roses blooming, or dusty green cactuses, or little penned-off gardens with kale and lettuce growing.
Seth’s wife cooked while Seth and Ben played with the daughter. She had a little table with trains on it. She was moving a little wooden train over the track, knocking over little wooden trees and people that got in its way.
“What have you been up to?” Seth asked. “Now that you’re not working.”
“Nothing,” Ben said.
“Like really literally nothing?”
“I clean and cook and walk.”
“So like literally nothing.” Ben raised his eyebrows, impressed. He looked over at his daughter, looked back at Ben. “Sounds nice.”
Ben nodded. He didn’t tell Seth about the part of the day where he just sat.
All through dinner, Seth’s wife talked about different women she wanted to set Ben up with.
“You should get married,” she said, spooning a second round of food onto his plate. It was lamb stew over couscous. She was a really good cook and it was hard to stop eating. Even the three-year-old was shoving fistfuls of lamb into her mouth, getting sauce all over her face. “You’ve got lots of time to meet somebody now.”
Ben used to want to meet somebody, to have kids, to live in a house. But now he couldn’t think of why he would need that. If he wanted kids, family, food—he could just come over here. He smiled, nodded, chewed on a bite of lamb and wondered how he’d never noticed that cumin seeds were delicious.