Alice Niemand had been working for the company two years when the young Hasidic man died, and it made her look at her things, the cashmere cardigans and the pebbled bathmats, and consider how she had earned the money to buy them. On a normal day, it was easy enough not to examine: she never went into a workplace, never talked to anyone who did the same job she did, never discussed aloud the clients whose reputations she had repaired, never shook their hands or heard their voices, these lawyers and dentists and PTA mothers with some angry review or mug shot to suppress. The man who was dead—nineteen, a boy really—had been the victim of sexual abuse by the Yeshiva teacher who had been Alice’s client. The boy had claimed to be his victim, she reminded herself, but then came another feeling, lower in her body, which seemed to ask, in the way it roiled: why would anyone claim that?
On the coast of California where the garnet had eroded to make the sand purple, and from a multi-colored veranda in the New Orleans garden district, and in view of children pushing toy boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg, she had reviewed files summarizing lives and careers and misdemeanors, had typed the stiff sentences that financed her comfortable life. Her parents were as impressed by her new place in the world as they were intimidated by the gifts she sent to their sagging split-level home in the middle of the country. What could they do with an iPad that they couldn’t on their computer, the pauses between their thank yous said, what should they put on these asymmetrical walnut serving boards? Would she be visiting sometime? They were sorry to say they did not have the money to make it to New York. It was never mentioned that the cost of the things Alice sent could have easily covered the flights that would put the three of them in a room together.
Alice had bumped from one Craigslist apartment to the next in the years after college, making friends chiefly to learn from them, when to tilt the head in the course of flirtation, how to conduct oneself in an expensive restaurant, never telling anyone about her father’s job ringing up purchases of gas and Snickers, her mother’s meager income selling Mary Kay cosmetics. She had visited the office, a hyper-color portrait of Silicon Valley opulence, for three interviews and a training session. It was her last month in San Francisco and the last hiring period in which the company bothered to meet anyone in person.
A guy on a skateboard had careened down an aisle that separated two rows of desks, clipping the heels of the formal, uncomfortable shoes Alice wore, and she watched as he landed on an L-shaped couch and began to comment on a Ping-Pong game. To the right of a freestanding iron staircase nearby, a man jogging on a treadmill typed on a computer that hovered above it. “Casey prefers the running desk to the standing,” Alice’s tour guide explained, with a satisfied laugh that she understood she was meant to mimic. In the company kitchen, the snack foods, arranged by color, sat up straight on transparent shelving. “There is such a thing,” she heard a departing tour leader say to a group of new IT personnel, “as a free lunch.”