whiskyI slowed to a full stop twenty-eight miles before my exit, glanced at the car’s clock, looked back up at the roughly parallel lines of brake lights glaring in front of me. One of my passengers awoke.
“At this hour? What time is it anyway?”
I looked at the clock again. “About 1:30.”
No one expects a traffic jam in the middle of a Tuesday night, not exactly party time in these parts. Didn’t these people realize I had to wake up in a few hours to go to work in the morning? My passengers didn’t. They could go back to sleep. I had a commuter train to catch in less than five hours. I turned on the radio, flipped around the dials for a while, found no useful information.
Thirty or forty minutes later we passed the ruined car and the dented guardrail. There was no traffic the rest of the way.
My wife and teenage daughter woke up as we pulled into the driveway. The passengers were staying at our house. While my wife asked them about their flight and prepared something for them to eat I downed a shot or two of whisky, washed quickly, and went to bed.
I could hear snippets of their absurd conversation, their laughter as I lay on the bed, sleepless. I shouldn’t have had that whisky. I should have eaten something.
Contrary to habit, I didn’t hit the snooze button when the alarm went off. Though I was out of bed earlier than normal, I barely caught my usual train. As I settled into my seat, I checked off the items on my person. I had my money, wallet, train ticket, ID, phone, laptop. There were times when, well-rested, I managed to forget one of those things.
I didn’t contribute to the 10 a.m. interdepartmental meeting. I can’t even remember what was discussed. Afterwards my boss reprimanded me. I was a key player. I was causing the team to fall behind. I explained about the trip from the airport, the traffic jam, told him I’d do better next time. He walked me to my cubicle to sulk, stalked off to his office.
I had some routine work I could do until quitting time. I could turn in early, have a better tomorrow.
At about 2:30 that afternoon I received an email from the Human Resources Risk Management department. I clicked on the link embedded in the message. A picture of a corpse, its white shirt almost completely covered in blood, being extricated from a car wreck appeared on the screen. The photo was captioned by a quotation from one of the rescue workers: “I’ve never seen anything like it. The attitude of his body seemed to say, ‘I’m sorry. This is the last time I’ll inconvenience anyone.’”