by CHANTAE EATON
“Beep beep, beep beep.” His alarm sounded promptly at six a.m., the same as it had every Monday since his eighteenth birthday. Today it did not fulfill its duty in rousing him. Rufus was already awake and had been for some time. He’d spent the last three hours staring at the cracks on his bedroom ceiling contemplating the day ahead. He was so lost in concentration that he barely registered the sound as the clock roared to life. He rolled onto his side and slapped the top of the clock to quell the ringing. He knocked it from its perch on the nightstand when he did, and it shattered as it hit the floor. A sigh escaped him. He tossed back the covers and sat upright, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, and looking down at the plastic pieces strewn about the hardwood floor. He grimaced. The alarm clock was a birthday gift from his mother. He pictured her now, wearing the same jestful smirk she wore when she declared, “Now that you are an adult you will be responsible for getting yourself out of bed before school!” The clock had served him well for 16 years but now it was just another thing he’d need to replace. Another expense he could not afford.
He rose from the bed and stumbled across the floor to the bedroom door. He proceeded down the hall to retrieve a small brush and dustpan from the linen closet. A familiar voice could be heard calling to him from the bottom of the stairs,
“Honey, are you up? Breakfast will be ready in fifteen minutes!”
“Be down in a minute Emily!” he muttered, carefully sweeping up the pieces of the broken clock and placing them in the trash receptacle. He began dressing for the day, pulling on the grey dress slacks and white collared shirt his wife laid out for him. He fiddled with his purple tie for ten minutes before becoming irritated. He tossed it onto the dresser and grabbed his sport coat. He paused for a moment, taking stock of his reflection in the mirror. Course stubble carpeted his jawline. The toll of countless sleepless nights hung heavy beneath his eyes. He sighed again, casting his eyes to the floor, and trudged downstairs to the kitchen.
Rufus entered the kitchen to find his wife and children already seated around the table. “Good Morning Daddy!” his youngest daughter squeaked. She rose from her chair and raced toward him, planting a tight hug around his left leg.
“Good morning Pumpkin!” he replied, patting her on the head. Rufus took his place at the head of the table and picked at the breakfast his wife had prepared. He didn’t have much of an appetite,
“Honey, my check engine light is on again, I think you need to take it into the shop,” Emily said. An agitated sigh escaped him.
“Ok, I’ll drop it at the shop on my way into work; you can take my car today.” He said hesitantly.
“Oh, and Coach Moss called, Dylan’s soccer fees are past due, we have to pay $600.00 by Friday or they won’t let him participate in training.”
Rufus dropped his fork. It made a loud clanging sound as it hit his plate. He closed his eyes in frustration and took a deep breath. “I’ll take care of it dear, No worries!” He was lying. Lately all he did was worry. His wife was oblivious. She was a stay-at-home mom with a penchant for online shopping. She hadn’t worked a day in her life. She had no idea what the state of their affairs really was, and he had no intention of telling her. Not if there was a way for him to fix it. He rose from his chair abruptly.
“Sorry to rush off, I need to hurry if I am going to get your car to the shop and still be on time for work.” He paused for a moment looking deeply into his wife’s eyes and thanked her for breakfast. His tone was brittle, but his words rendered unending gratitude. Something about his actions made Emily feel uneasy.
“Are you feeling ok?” she asked. He nodded and kissed her on the forehead. He made his way around the table, hugging each of his children tightly before hurrying into the den to retrieve his keys and briefcase.
He grabbed his laptop and a stack of papers from the desk, dumped them into his empty briefcase, and shoved his keys into his pocket. “I love you all!” he called and pulled the front door tightly closed behind him. A few minutes later the green Ford Taurus sputtered out of the driveway and he headed off down the road with Rufus at the helm.
He drove around for almost two hours before parking the car in the empty lot at Crawford Woods Park. He had been coming here for months. His charade had held up nicely and so far, his family was unaware that he had lost his job. He had gone on several interviews, but nothing had come to fruition. He had either received rejection letters or no response at all. He opened his briefcase and began rifling through the various papers. He organized them, placing them in a neat stack on the passenger’s seat next to him. He opened his laptop and double-clicked the word document on his desktop labeled “Budget.” He stared at the screen for several minutes before slamming the laptop shut in frustration. Tears began to well in his eyes. He felt as though he had failed his family. “Some adult I turned out to be.” He thought.
Rufus exited the vehicle leaving the keys in the ignition and his cell phone in the cupholder. Raindrops pounded down upon him as he proceeded walking briskly toward I-95, the busy section of highway which ran parallel to the park. He paused briefly at the curb, looked both ways, and then stepped out into oncoming traffic. He heard the screech of brakes on the pavement and felt a giant burst of pain radiate through is body before everything went black.
Three days later; Emily sat on a creaky wooden bench in the lobby of the Covington Police Station. “Emily Cline!” an officer shouted from behind the glass. Emily approached the counter and slid her I.D. to the officer through the opening in the window. He returned the I.D. and placed a clear plastic bag on the counter. “One cell phone, one set of keys.” He began to naming the contents of the bag while marking each item off a list as he did so and slid the bag over to her once he was finished. She sat down on the bench and began rummaging through the contents of the bag. Among the paperwork, Rufus had left in the car were several overdue bills, a foreclosure notice, and a copy of their life insurance policy. She pulled out his cell phone and powered it on. The green notification light began blinking, notifying her of unread messages. She waded through various emails and texts before dialing the voicemail box to listen to the unheard voice messages. The first message began to play. “Mr. Cline, this is Stan Bardswell from KOA Corporation. We met several weeks ago, and we were impressed with you during your interview. We would like to formally offer you the position of Supply Chain Analyst. Please give me a callback, we’d like to get you started at soon as possible.” The message trailed off as Emily lowered the phone from her ear. She sat there frozen with the weight of the world on her shoulders.