“Damn it, Ken, the city says we need permits for the building. They shut down construction.” Ralph stormed around the room, his face red, his hands waving. “What are we gonna do?”
Ken wanted a martini extra dry, but he knew he’d spend the rest of the day hunting down the right people in the city to begin to process of getting the permits quickly. “I’ll expedite the situation.”
“You should have seen this coming,” Ralph said.
Ken resisted the urge to tell him that he had seen it coming, and he had warned Ralph in writing. It wouldn’t matter. Life was cruel that way.
It was close to five, and the city offices were closing. But it didn’t matter. Ken still had to go over all the plans for the building site. He had to talk to the architect, the engineer, and the construction manager. When he left at seven-thirty, he figured the roads would be clear, but there was a Phillies game and a rare Thursday Night Football game. Traffic was a mess. It was as if all the mystic forces in the universe were conspiring against him tonight, along with Ralph, the city, and every motorist in Philadelphia. He let a string of curses fly when a taxi cut him off.
When he pulled into his driveway, it was almost nine. In the gloom of the solar lights he could see a bunch of deer roaming through the back lawn munching on the bushes, and he wished he had a crossbow. The damn things had overrun the area. They looked pretty, but they were dumb and destructive. He was tired of dealing with dumb and destructive things and people.
The front door jerked open, and wife greeted him. “You missed dinner.”
“Yeah. We had a problem with the permits for the site.”
Caroline’s mouth tightened, but her voice remained even. “It would have been helpful if you called.”
He didn’t answer. He pushed past her and dropped his briefcase on the bench by the door. With the kids away at college it was just the two of them, so at least it the house would be quiet.
The kitchen smelled like burned chicken, and he wondered why she hadn’t kept a better eye on it. Then he decided he didn’t care because he didn’t feel like chicken, burned or otherwise. He just wanted that martini.
He dealt with morons all day; he didn’t have any obligation to satisfy them at night. He wasn’t a goddamn fireman there to solve every single catastrophe in the world, but when he wasn’t around everything went to hell. All he wanted was some peace and quiet and a martini or two, but he heard the continual unspoken accusation from Caroline radiating in his ears.
You’re late. You’re inadequate. Why don’t you get a better job?
It was always there running like a counterpoint to everything. He wanted to tell her, “If you hadn’t let yourself get pregnant so fast, if you hadn’t insisted on three kids, maybe I could have got a master’s and got a better job. If your job paid more, we wouldn’t always be short. If you didn’t spend so much on the kids, we could go on vacations. If I got a break one in a while, life would be easier.”
He glanced around to see if she was behind him, but she wasn’t. He mixed himself a martini, heavy on the gin. He dropped in three olives, brought the shaker, a glass, and the bottle of olives, shuffled into his office, and slammed the door. He settled into his recliner and put up his feet. Lately he hated coming home, but tonight, he thought he might turn on the television and settle in here and relax to the mayhem of Thursday Night Football. Dallas vs. the Eagles. Sweet.
After all, Caroline had taken over the bedroom, decorated it in fluffy white with pink flowers, and that stupid cat of hers always slept in the middle of the bed. God forbid he should try to come between Caroline and her goddamn Sam. He was a big bastard too, half Maine Coon and half alley cat. She rescued him from the SPCA, and he loved Caroline and only Caroline.
Ken swallowed his drink. Damn he hated that cat. He poured a second martini. He finished that drink a little slower and thought about mixing a third, but he felt a little woozy. Where the hell was Caroline that she couldn’t fix him something to eat?
He shuffled out into the hall. “Caroline!”
When she didn’t answer, he didn’t bother with the lights; he just started up the stairs. Goddamn Caroline. He felt his foot collide with something soft, and an unearthly screech sounded in his ears. Two glowing green lights launched themselves at him and he stepped back into air.
Ken hit his head against the wall then rolled limply to the bottom of the stairs. The cat stood on his chest hissing furiously.
“What the hell!” He heard Caroline, but her voice seemed far away.
The hall light snapped on. Feet clattered down the stairs. He felt the cat leap off his chest and land on the floor with a thud.
“Oh my God! Are you all right?” Caroline’s voice barely penetrated the fog. “Oh, darling. Oh baby, that was a bad, bad fall.”
Ken waited for her to lean close, but she didn’t. He opened one eye to see her cradling Sam and kissing him as if he were the most precious thing in her life. For a moment, just before everything went black, he swore the cat winked.