They went to Shepherdstown when Jessica decided she was going to study photography. They rented an aching white clapboard house that Jacob busied himself with fixing for discounted rent and they lived off of loans and ate mouthfuls of macaroni. Jessica took pictures of everything – the fence Jacob was halfway-finished painting, the shadow from the open pantry door on the bubbled linoleum in the kitchen, a withered orange that Jacob had chucked out into the grass. The sun in Shepherdstown was open and brutal. He spent the summers with his shirt tucked into the back pocket of his jeans.
She got work at Arby’s and lost all the weight she could lose before he told her he was getting scared. So she ate more. Leveled out. She would pull the same stunt over and over during their time together. Drop. Gain. Drop. Level out.
He made a name for himself as a handyman, rescuing diamond earrings from sinks and teaching Shepherd professors how to use their lawn mowers. He built out a couple of decks with the teenage boy next door and split the money with him. The middle-aged Jewish woman who lived across the street watched him with the weedeater from her living room window.
Sometimes the gas in the stove went out. He fixed it. Sometimes the gutters would pop off the side of the house. He would fix them. Sometimes Jessica’s nose would start bleeding and he’d hold a washrag against her face and tell her to hold your head back, goddammit Jess stop tilting.
They lived in Shepherdstown for a couple of years and Jessica changed her major from photography to English to psychology to photography. She asked him to write stream of consciousness paragraphs on the backs of sandwich bags and she took them to the coffee shop and held her forehead up with her fingertips and tried to understand what was going on in his brain. She lost interest. She took pictures of him shaving. She took pictures of him eating macaroni.
She graduated with a fine arts degree and took a job in Lewisburg taking pictures of rich people eating out for the chamber of commerce. Jacob found work with an old friend who was doing commercial contracting. He mixed concrete and smoothed it out across grids of rebar. He bought six packs and finished them in one sitting. In her extra time Jessica hung sheets in the spare bedroom and set up collapsible tables and developed pictures of the tree in the backyard and of her feet in mud puddles.