Somewhere underground, deep down in the dark in these industrial catacombs of damp concrete walls and rusty pipes, I sat on a couch in a waiting area with my wife and daughter. There was a lamp in the corner and a bunch of old magazines spread out on the table before us. I got involved in a petty argument with my daughter while we were sitting there. We kept our voices hushed in accordance with some strange waiting room etiquette. She accused me of being lazy, and I took offense. I enumerated all the things I did for her every day. She mocked every word I said and threw them back in my face. She sneered at me in disgust and I grew more and more frustrated with her. Finally, I snapped at her in a suppressed growl, “I’m leaving!”
Just as I said this, these two women that I used to work with at the plastic factory came walking up to retrieve me from the waiting area. One of them, I knew, was a notorious cynic, and I knew that she had heard me blurt out “I’m leaving!” so spitefully, and I knew that she would think that it was an awful thing to say to my daughter, to throw such a threat of abandonment in her face, and I knew that she would sit in judgment on me for being such an awful father. So I tried to play it off. I tried to make it seem as though I had simply meant that I was leaving my daughter to go to work, not leaving our home and our family and her life entirely. The cynical woman just gave me a look and a wry smirk.
I got up and followed these women to further perpetuate this pretext that I was going to work. We climbed up a metal stairwell to another level which was still steamy and subterranean, but much warmer and better lit than the catacombs below. It was a maze of machinery and metal walkways. We passed my old boss’s office and he stood outside the door with his arms folded across his chest. He grunted as I approached, as though he had been watching and waiting for me. I had started working back at my old job on my days off from my current job, juggling between the two. But now both places had me scheduled for the same hours, and I would have to make a choice between them. I lifted my head and looked at all the pumping, steaming equipment around me. How did I end up back here?
It was almost time for the shift to begin, and everyone was headed over to the time clock to punch in. But I noticed another set of metal stairs off to the side where no one was paying attention. I climbed them and they took me up to the ground floor where the morning light shone through an open bay. There was no one around. I walked out of the building and off the property. I went strolling around the residential neighborhood surrounding the shop, admiring all the grand Victorian houses with flower beds and dogwood trees blooming in their yards. A pretty girl on roller skates waved to me from across the street. I turned a corner onto a main road. The morning traffic streamed by. I felt like I could float away.
And somewhere below, as though coming up from the storm drain along the curb, I could hear my boss grumbling, wondering where I was, wondering why I hadn’t punched the time clock, wondering why I wasn’t working now that it was twenty minutes past. I crouched down beside a tree and tilted my head to listen at the drain and I just laughed. The pretty girl was skating towards me down the sidewalk, looking like she needed to tell me something. I turned and stood waiting for her to get close enough to tell me what she had to say.