My mother arranged for me my very first job, just as her mother did for her.
    “We work,” she said, “but then we leave.”
    She unfolded the family tree of the temporary lives recorded before ours. My aunt with her stack of resumes. My grandmother with her dainty paper coffee cup. My great-grandmother behind a desk, and on the desk, a nameplate with someone else’s name. “Filling in!” she had written on the back of the photograph, in legible, steady script.
    “I’m just filling in. You’re just filling in,” my mother explained. “See?”
    She didn’t have to explain. I already knew it in my bones, in my knees, in the way you understand things about yourself even before you hear them spoken aloud. I knew I, too, would always find myself somewhere new, someone new, for the rest of my life, like my ancestors, like theirs, like theirs, like theirs. The top of my head measured just above the side of my mother’s full blue skirt, where the fabric emptied into a hidden pocket, where unbeknownst to anyone but me, my mother stored a bright set of inky pens.
    She drove us for three hours, deep into the suburbs. We stopped along the way for sandwiches, and she said, “Why don’t you order for the both of us? I trust you.”
    I ordered burgers instead, and she applauded my initiative.
    “Nice improvisation,” she smiled, squeezing ketchup from a packet. We ate at a picnic table under a stately oak until the juice from the burgers soaked the buns, until the birds came to claim our soggy fries. The lake nearby was full of children in canoes, running their fingers through the water, wanting and not wanting to capsize, in equal measure. When I finished my food, I stretched out on the grass and looked up at the light that filtered through the branches of the tree, until my mother’s face encroached on the view, her head hovering above me like some newly built nest.
    “Time to go.” She smiled, and we piled back into the car.
    We sang along with the radio. Something about the seasons, something about eternal love, and then several songs with lengthy metaphors. She opened her window, then closed it, her short dark hair nicely whipped with wind. I pulled a single leaf from a single strand.
      “Thanks, kid,” she said in a voice that felt too kind, too sweet, settling a score that hadn’t yet been unsettled.
      I dozed off with my head tilted all the way forward, as if sleep were a somersault I couldn’t complete. When I woke, my mother had pulled over to the side of the road to check her directions.
    “What’s wrong?” I asked.
    “I think we’re lost,” she said, but I knew that she knew where she was going. She didn’t have the frantic flutter of confusion in her eyes. Her finger traced the map with an absent sort of attitude, and she looked straight through the paper to something just beyond the visible world. She was making a decision.
    For a long moment, like a dimple in the day, I thought she might turn around and take me back to our living room, our kitchen. The particles of dust hung in midair over the dashboard, and the rear-view mirror was filled with homeward potential. Then the moment broke, the engine kicked, and she merged into traffic. Our car continued along its intended route.
      When we arrived at my new job, she left me with a leather-bound planner. “To fill your days,” she said in the customary fashion, “until none are left.”
    My mother had no other children, and she adjusted her hosiery as she walked away.
    The job was in a lovely little house with a lovely little door. There were more doors inside the house, seven doors precisely, in total. My job was to open the doors, then close them, every forty minutes, every day, all day long, until otherwise notified. The instructions were laminated and taped to the inside of a kitchen cupboard, which, being a cupboard and not strictly a door, I never had to open or close again if I didn’t choose to do so.
    My favorite door was blue and small. For a child, perhaps, or a pet. The door was at the far end of the house, and it was difficult to see what was on the other side. It only ever opened halfway, but it was important to make sure it was open when specified, even if only a crack, and, later, closed. I had a glorious, shiny wristwatch to keep track of time. But time kept no track of me, and soon my arms and legs shot out and up, and I was grown.
    I learned to do everything in forty minutes. Some tasks that were shorter I extended for the sake of clarity and precision. Brushing my teeth, for instance, or combing my hair. A forty-minute sneeze is something I know how to do, and it’s not even listed on my resume.
    The doors, I imagined, opened to a city somewhere beyond the house, to a knowledge somewhere in the deepest pit of myself. Each squeaky swing closed still felt like an opening, over and over again. Or perhaps the doors kept the house alive, like valves to the atria of the heart, pumping whatever substance the house needed in the right amounts, at the appropriate rate. First the small blue door. Then the master bedroom, the second bedroom, and the third. The bathroom door and the door to the basement and the front door of the lovely little house.
    Across the street sat another lovely little house, with a lovely little door surrounded by cream-colored hydrangea. One day, I opened my front door at the scheduled moment, and the front door opened across the street. There, behind the door, was another little girl like me, though neither of us was truly little any longer. She had a glorious, shiny watch like mine, with a tiny face and a skinny gold band.
    Her name was Anna, and we met in the center of the road on our quiet street where it seemed no cars ever passed, except for the truck that came to drop off bread and cheese and eggs once a week. We waited at the ends of our driveways, sometimes mine, sometimes hers, and waved at the driver as he drove away.
    “Friends?” I asked.
    “Neighbors,” she said. Then later: “Yes, friends.”
    We played the customary games. We found ropes and jumped them. We found coins and tossed them. We bet the coins on probable events.
    “I bet my house will blow down.”
    “I bet my house will fly away.”
    We were two little girls with property, with nothing to our names. We drew straws for keeping track of time. We drew the scotch for which to hop. We drew doodles in our leather-bound planners, but only on the first page and the last. The days have only so much room for frivolity.