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Ralph knew the battle was lost, had known it the moment the phone rang and he heard his wife’s voice informing him of the new lunch plans. He fought grimly to retain his dignity as he capitulated, knowing that it didn’t matter much since Sandra knew he didn’t have any left, at least as far as she was concerned. A pair of muttered sentences later and he was off the phone, able to return to his work but now committed to leaving at 11:45.

The distraction of knowing that he was going to be leaving midday interrupted his concentration throughout the two hours he had before he needed to leave. The precise ordered lines of the spreadsheet gleaming whitely at him from the monitor as always, but he had trouble returning to his task of filling in the neat little boxes with the numbers that waited patiently on the reports in front of him. A sudden jolt of concern over whether he should take Route 2 or the interstate to reach the restaurant would interrupt him, or the dilemma of whether he had time to make a new mug of tea and allow it cool enough to finish before he left, or some other thought conspiring to destroy the ordered rhythm he normally enjoyed in his world of balance and precision.

It was with a mixture of relief and irritation when he rose from his chair at 11:40, giving himself five minutes to don his coat, take the elevator to the lobby, then descend the two flights of stairs to the subterranean parking garage where his car awaited him. For five minutes he worried and wondered over whether he should take the interstate or Route 2. As his car nosed out slowly into the drab grey light of the day, Ralph Ebbets saw that it was already 11:47, and anxiety plucked at the tatters of his soul.

*

“Hey, Pop, didn’t expect you to show up.” Chris gave his father a brief hug as Ralph shrugged out of his long woolen coat, the material trapping his elbows to his sides so that Ralph could only squeeze ineffectually at his son’s waist. “I know you don’t like leaving work during the day.”

Ralph answered with an absent nothing as he flashed a barbed look at his wife across the table. Sandra’s defenses were formidable, however, and the dart flashed uselessly off the walls of her self-regard as she kept her eyes elsewhere. He settled into his chair while his wife and son continued the conversation they’d been involved in before Ralph’s arrival, something about Chris’ school. He gingerly took the menu from the table in front of him and looked down its offerings, searching hopefully for a turkey sandwich on white toast with lettuce, a single slice of tomato, and a thin sheen of mayonnaise and mustard to match the neglected and useless lunch left sitting forlornly on his desk. He was unsurprised that there was none to be had.

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