There are more than 2000 hash marked lines on the beltway between my house and work. I get off at 5 a.m. and the only way I seem to get home is by staring at the hash marks off my left front fender. I count them and I stay to the right of them.
I don’t mind my job. I work nights at a security booth for a gated community. The pay is ridiculously good for the work, because the community residents place such a pompous regard on getting into their community. They value my ability to keep people out. But I don’t keep anyone out. The gate does.
There are two hundred gated communities in town. If anyone really wants to get into a gated community to kill people in their sleep, rape and pillage the women and children, steal the pool table imported from Italy, or drive really fast up and down the streets being obnoxious, most likely they will do it somewhere else. My job is easy.
Mostly I get huge tips from high school kids to write down a time in the log book ten minutes before they were supposed to be home. Some nights I’m convinced the parents moved to the gated community just for the log book. A third party to settle disputes. More often than not in the early morning there comes a mother in a silk robe driving an SUV. It screeches to a halt behind my booth, and she shuffles up in slippers to scrutinize my entries for the past twelve hours. I don’t mind. I like the kids. But kids shouldn’t be tipping that kind of money. And no woman who’s a mother should be wearing that kind of robe.
More often than not after midnight there is no one. And I sleep.
If I can’t sleep I look out the glass and stare at the gated community’s sewage irrigation fountain. Every community has one. A little pond. A pretty fountain. A sign not to swim or fish.
If I am asleep it is the sound of Mr. Hawthorne’s running shoes which wakes me. He lives at the back of the community, 10974 Eagle’s Wake Trail, Hawthorne M & N. He runs to the front of the neighborhood and then stretches near the pond. My last duty before I am relieved by the computer is to release Mr. Hawthorne into the world for his run.
He is gray-haired and sweet. He always smiles as he goes and shouts, “Thanks Annie!” with an arm thrown up to the sky.
I’m sitting in the garage, in my car. I can hear my husband calling. His voice holds so much. He thinks he’ll be late. He’s convinced that it’s my fault. He was up all night with one of the kids or the baby. If I was any kind of mother I would have been the one there for them. After all they were calling for me not him. He can’t find the shoes he wants to wear. He forgot to pick up the dry-cleaning so he doesn’t have the shirt he wants. If I was any kind of wife I would be the one ironing. There’s no food because no one went shopping this weekend because we had to go to that stupid christening/wedding/high school graduation party/50th anniversary celebration/work picnic/Christmas gala and why should I miss the game just to get groceries?
Him calling me says all of this and more. It doesn’t always say I missed you, I still love you, I need you to work so we can pay for the tree house that we bought on credit and then destroyed in the assembly process. And it never says, “Welcome Home, Dear. Did you have a good day at work?”
I don’t tell my husband about my tips. The tips go to the lunch room at Chateau Neuf with me alone. I thought once about taking Katrina my oldest girl for some special mommy time. But I knew her sweet innocence would reveal all to her father. So I let her have special time with him and I keep Chateau Neuf for me.
I hear myself say, “Welcome Home, Dear. Did you have a good day at work?”
“You would never believe these assholes.”
His voice trails off as he walks down the hall. He keeps talking for two hours from this point. Everyday.
It’s not that I don’t care about his work. I guess I do. I certainly should.
At the first hour into his monologue there always comes a single line. It doesn’t vary much from this:
“If I got a decent night’s sleep once in while I could handle it.”
We settle onto the couch. We turn on the TV.
What my husband doesn’t realize is that for all he knows I don’t sleep. He has never seen me at work. He must assume I am working. And yet he never sees me sleep at home. So the gall of him even uttering this line in my presence is unbearable. I hear myself say, “I suppose so, honey.”
There is one woman who comes to my booth almost every night. She wears her robe and slippers. She comes with a thermos and a radio and a deck of cards. Her husband is having an affair and her children never obey their curfew. She sits with me in my booth and we have a great time. She watches them pull through the gate. She writes down the time and then we play cards until she passes out in a heap on the cement floor. She has an air mattress that she stows in my cubby booth. Rarely does she bother to inflate it. When she does it fills up the entire booth. She sits on it like a chair with part on the floor and part going up the wall where the door is. It is hysterical. She always brings her stainless steel thermos. Sometimes she brings coffee but more often it is filled with white godiva liquer, kahlua and three cups of vodka over ice. She calls her thermos the Stealth Bomber.
We laugh a lot about the thermos.
I have never known her name. Her address is 12488 Peregrine Falcon Lane. Her husband is William F. Fessner. She told me once that she kept her maiden name. But she never told me what it was. Interesting. I worry sometimes that I will read in the paper that a certain woman has committed suicide. It will be her and I will never know from her name.
I am on the couch, reading a magazine in a moment of peace. The front door opens. Two feet stamp away the slush collected from his effort to make it to the mailbox and back before coming inside. Duty begins this way all the time.