I reach up and straighten my tie as I gaze at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I look down at my shoes and reach for the towel to brush the dust off, then stand and look at my best oxfords to admire the new shine. I take a deep breath and go downstairs.
“Daddy!” my little girl says from her high chair. She reaches her arms up for a big hug. I lift her and toss her gently in the air, catching her securely in my arms.
My wife comes over and takes her from me. “Oh dear,” she says as she picks up a wet rag to wash the milk from my tie. “You shouldn’t have picked her up,” she chastises.
“How could I ignore my little girl or my wife,” I say as I kiss her on the mouth. We hold each other tight for a few moments and then I release her.
She giggles as she looks at my face. “You have chocolate,” she says as she takes the rag and wipes my face. “You’d better go before we get anything else on you.”
“It’s okay. If they don’t understand,” I say as I give my daughter a raspberry on her belly and hear her squeal as she grabs my hair in delight, “I don’t want to work there.” I lean over and give my wife a kiss and say, “I’ll be back in a little while.”
“I’m not going to say good luck, because you don’t need it,” she says with a coy look.
“That’s right. I’ve got everything I need right here,” I give them both another kiss and lift my briefcase off the counter. I walk out the door and get in the mini van. I back down the drive and wave at my family, who is standing on the front porch. I drive to the interstate and merge with the commuters. Traffic comes to a stand still and we slowly creep forward. I glance around at the other drivers and see their frustration transmitted in various forms. One man is slapping his palm against his steering wheel, a woman has her elbow resting on the open window while she rubs her forehead, and another man in a work van is making rude gestures and swearing. I turn the radio up and try to ignore the anger.
A few minutes later, I see the cars ahead begin to increase in speed and look toward the emergency lane. I see a woman in a skirt suit pacing along the side of the road. She’s holding her phone up in an attempt to get a signal. I honk my horn and wave at her. She looks at me and shrugs. I make my way across two lanes of traffic and back up to park in front of her disabled luxury sedan. “Pop the trunk,” I instruct as I remove my suit jacket and roll up the sleeves of my best dress shirt. She greets me with relief, “I haven’t been able to get a signal. I’m on my way to an interview,” she announces.
“Well, it won’t be long before we get this fixed,” I say as I hand her my cell phone. “I’ve got three bars. Call and let them know and I’ll get to work.” I reach into her trunk and remove the spare tire and jack. I kneel down next to the vehicle and she stands next to me facing the traffic and waving her arms at the drivers to move farther over. “You might want to move out of the way,” I suggest.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to hit you,” she disagrees with a frown. “They’re pretty unrelenting.”
“Looks like a couple of sharp nails,” I mention as I point to the damaged tire. A few minutes later, with the tire changed, she tries to shake my hand, and I say, “I’m pretty messy.”
She laughs, “You were pretty messy when you arrived.”
I furrow my brow and accept the compact mirror she offers. I gaze at my reflection to see the milk stain on my tie, chocolate smeared on my face and my hair standing on end. I explain with a smile the departure from my family and she laughs knowingly.
“I have the same situation at home. Although my children are a few years older. Beyond the really messy stage,” she reaches into the car and pulls out a wallet filled with pictures of her family.
I show her mine and say as I run my fingers through my hair to try to flatten it, “Family life is great, isn’t it?”
She laughs and says, “Now you have grease in your hair.”
“I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do at my job interview,” I say. “It’s the first one I’ve had since I was laid off a year ago.”
“If it will help, give them the number I called and have them ask for Madeline. I’ll back you up,” she says as she shakes my hand again.
“You’d do that?” I ask.
“It’s the least I can do for all your help,” she acknowledges. “I hope your interview goes well.”
“Yours too,” I say as I hold the car door open for her. I wait until she’s strapped in and close the door. I wave at the traffic to stop so she can merge. We wave at each other and I get in my van. I put my signal on and wait until I’m able to again join the throng of commuters. I dial the phone number from the printed email to inform the company of my tardiness.
Half an hour later, I arrive at my destination and find a spot in the parking garage and find myself facing my reflection in the mirrored elevator doors. Not only is my hair, tie and face a mess, but I also see the knees of my pants are gray with road grime and my once shiny oxfords scuffed beyond repair. “Oh well,” I say as I make my way to the room number listed on my printed email. “I apologize that I’m late,” I say as I walk in the door to the interview and look around the table at the three people seated, “I had to fix a flat tire…” I turn to see a woman standing behind me with a smile on her face.
“I was just explaining the morning I was having and how the kindest man stopped to help when no one else would even look in my direction.” Madeline extends her hand and says, “You’ve got the job.”
Image courtesy of Gerlach, via Wikipedia Commons