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.
Sandra’s tone cut through his concentration, as she knew it would since she used her veiled-edge tone, the one she reserved for discussions of her husband in front of him. “I’m just thankful that you aren’t studying accounting like your father,” she said, “or else you’d be condemning yourself to a life of numbers and columns and spreadsheets for the rest of your life.”
“There are plenty of numbers in engineering,” Ralph interjected testily, but Sandra dismissed his statement as mere quibbling with the flick of four fingers of one hand.
“Look at him,” she went on, “forty-five and already looks older than my daddy.” Ralph’s teeth clenched at daddy, a word that should be forbidden to a woman over forty. Only the truth of her words prevented him from mounting any defense against her. With his soft paunch in the middle and the tonsure he’d developed on the top, he did look older than her father, whose silver hair was dignified and shoulders still set square at seventy.