There’s nothing I hate more than wasting time, except talking about it. Yet I knew there was a pointless fight to be had as soon as I got home from the office. So I took the highway, hoping to speed down the left lane, get to my wife quicker than usual, and get the argument over with fast. That way, maybe, I could some sleep before waking up early the following day, et cetera.
On my way home through Friday afternoon rush hour, though, a blizzard hit. And with it, bumper to bumper traffic.
Cursing myself, the doubled dots of red break lights ahead looked like rows of traffic lights ad infinitum, while in the rear view mirror blinding me were white flood lights shining through the sharp, crystalline snow. There was no moving. Only delay.
Pressing the ignition, my car engine grumbled to a halt. In the new stillness, I began hearing echoes of horns, the blaring of automobiles of all sizes, like trumpets vs trombones, brass horns vs saxophones. A cacophonous call and response, of people who wanted to get home, some because the person in front wouldn’t move, others because the people in the back wouldn’t shut up. They wanted peace, so they honked. Soon that stopped, though. And more and more car engines turned off, all of us either resentful or anxious, alone with our thoughts, and angry.
With the horns dying down, the roaring of the icy wind picked up. There would be no silence. And I hated myself for next doing the most detestable thing — after gripping the wheel tight with one hand, and with the other emailing clients until the battery on my phone died — that is doing nothing, doing nothing productive. Gray skies everywhere. And fighting myself.
I should have stayed at the office, I thought. If only my wife had not called me home earlier than usual. At least my phone could have charged longer, or the blizzard might have passed, and we have had the fight at the same time, but with less idling in the car. She didn’t need me to cook, but couldn’t eat by herself. The kid was at her parents’ for the weekend. We had planned a date night tonight. Now I was letting her down. What’s new.
Out the window, I noticed a few mufflers spewing hot gas into the violent frost. Still, a few cars were on. Maybe folks needed the heating. But I saved fuel, and remembered the spare scarf in the glove compartment, a scarf which could keep my neck warm, as I mumbled the words I might use at the house against her, later.
Fingers finding the cool groove of the unlocked plastic latch, a burst of cold weather slashed the windshield, and rocked the car, made me hesitate, then flinch. Especially when someone honked in excitement, two short jabs of the horn, but to no reply — only ensuing awkwardness. I opened the glove compartment.
A gurgle in my throat made it hard to swallow the spit suddenly in my mouth. Hunger and hate mixed in my stomach like a sour brandy with a moldy lemon in it. My mouth watered more, filled it with more spit, which wouldn’t go down. Late for dinner, there wouldn’t be any food left. And I found the scarf.
They were at it again! my mind screamed at the honking. That bastard who had honked twice did it a third time and pushed a couple of lunatics to react.
But in my hand I still held that long scarf, its black, red, and white threads, frayed, stained by mucous and coffee, so crunchy and plushy with them, from not washing it. Leaving it in there uncared for, for so long.
. . .
I hate wasting time, because I’ve got to make money. And talking about it is the ultimate waste of time, with small talk at a close second in the rat race to the bottom. But then, stuck in the blizzard, the howling wind and the ninja star snow flakes hitting the side of my vehicle parked on a highway, there was one thing left to do: think.
Think and wait. Think and wait. Wait and watch. Like those traffic lights coming off, with the release of the break pedal, cars coming back on, and one by one, drivers driving on.
The wind banged and crashed against the side of the car, making it rock still, but at least we were crawling forward. Inching our way to our respective exits along the highway. One car making room for another. In the glove compartment I found a cable, plugged it into the 8V charger, and popped my phone in.
Two missed calls, and too many email notifications. I put the phone on airplane mode, and drove forward.
Up ahead, between the windows of a tall building, someone had strung a bunch of green Christmas lights, and made it look like a tree. Not a Christmas tree, though, but an Easter tree: round, full of eggs and ornaments. Bunnies and groundhogs. Spring time and fertility. Everything green.
If I weren’t a lawyer too then I wouldn’t get my wife, but I do. She made partner at her firm this month, whereas I was made partner at mine half a decade ago, which is when I bought this hunk of junk I’m driving now, useless. Sidebar, we have one kid, but wanted two. We stopped trying after a while.
And I mention this because I made it home. I met my wife. And there was a glow about her. A glow which reminded me of that sidebar. Of empathy. Of death.
“I’m pregnant,” she said, hands made fists, and trembling. “I want an abortion.”
I knew, and she knew I knew, that it wasn’t mine. She would ask me to take her to the clinic on Sunday.
“Did you make an appointment?” I asked.
Suddenly here hands relaxed. I didn’t want a fight, and neither did she. And we laughed.
“Yeah,” she said. “I–”
I put my hand on her shoulder, and felt her soft for the first time in a long time. We walked to the kitchen.