It was cold early dawn when he went outside; grass, silver with the tiniest dew. Water droplets reflected his pale face and extended arm like an Escher engraving as he wiped the windscreen. Minutes oozed like winter molasses before the engine warmed enough to behave.
One more year, he thought, rubbing stubble on his chin, wondering if he should go back in and shave again. One more year.
When heat finally came, moisture from breath on inside glass evaporated like unanswered questions. He merged in rush-hour traffic, another fish in a stop-go-stop school of autos. A radio announcer offered little to improve his mood. News centered mostly on the results of human stupidity in action.
His route to work was engraved in memory, Grand Canyon deep, carved by a Colorado River of impatient traffic. Nineteen years supplied seven times the cars and only two more lanes. He would have lit a cigarette, but didn't, remembering his pledge to stop. A morning cigarette and coffee were wed as tightly as after-work beer and pretzels. He took a deep breath. Relax… .
A SUV to his right cut in front of him. The miss was only by inches.
"Jesus Christ," he hissed, heart racing. "Asshole! You coulda at least signaled!"
He fought to calm two-cups-of-coffee nerves. A commute that had once taken eighteen minutes now took close to an hour. To his left, the driver was applying mascara. The one who’d cut in front was talking on a cell phone. His doctor's advice about stress management was wedged between an almost empty gas gauge and the reality that he was already two minutes late to work.
Damn it! He pictured the set of his manager's jaw as he walked to his six-foot cubicle. The guy’s rules are his riches. The son-of-a-bitch plays with rules like a guy running fingers through a pirate's plunder.
Gangsta-rap slammed from the speakers before he could turn down the volume. Crap! He touched the scan button. An easy-listening station replaced rap. Again he found himself reaching for that non-existing pack of smokes.
Only one more year… . He pictured surf, sand and tropical foods. I can smell the flowers . . . simmering chilies and beans. Early retirement. . . . that’s it . . . the answer to this stress.
He was thinking about his savings while trying to buckle his seat belt when the cars in front of him suddenly stopped.
The ambulance driver closed the rear doors, climbed back up in the cab, turned on emergency lights, and glanced at his partner.
"No reason to hurry . . . no vital signs. Following too closely, I bet. No one gets the picture. This is the third one in two days. Guess he was in a hurry.”
His coworker dropped bloody gloves in a container marked, Hazardous Waste and nodded.
"Probably, but ya know what I don’t get? Why everyone is in such a hurry to die.”
* * *