7:05 a.m. My father has a tuft of blood-soaked toilet paper fixed to his cheek like a small red carnation. His suit coat is bunched up tightly around his shoulders. Up ahead, in the stalled traffic, a tractor-trailer is letting out some thick nasty fumes.
“Dad, you’ve got toilet paper on your cheek.”
He feels around and tears it off, grimacing. Blood trickles down his chin.
8:06 a.m. “Late again,” my father mutters as we hurry down a long beige hallway through a back door. We cut through a room of copiers and office machines. At one machine a woman glances from my father to a clock over the doorway. We pass through a room of coffee pots and microwave ovens and enter a maze of beige walls, arriving at last at my father’s cubicle. Inside there is a computer and a filing cabinet and a phone and stacks of manila folders. There are some old embarrassing photos of me in a cowboy suit and one or two of my mother. “Sit here,” my father says, patting the back of a chair. “Be right back. Need coffee.”
“Can I get juice?”
My father thinks this over. “Juice. Sure. We might have juice.”
8:45 a.m. Still waiting for my juice. About ten minutes ago a woman stopped by and asked me my name and how old I was. She seemed nice. She asked me what I was doing and I told her nothing. Just drawing on this pad of paper. She smiled and wrote something down in a black binder and briskly walked away. A few minutes later the telephone shouted my father’s name.
“He’s not here,” I said.
“Oh,” the telephone said. “Who’s this?”
“Chris, will you bring me the Stenson file? Pronto.”
I looked around on my father’s desk, but I couldn’t see anything called the Stenson file. I told the telephone this, but it pretended not to hear.
9:15 a.m. “Sorry it took so long,” my father says.
He has forgotten my juice.
“Ran into my boss and we had to go over some things.”
“The Stenson file?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
I shrug and go back to my picture. I have found some red and green and yellow highlighters in a desk drawer and I am hard at work on a rainbow.
“That’s a really nice rainbow,” my father says. Then, “Ah, here it is.” He picks up the coffee mug I gave him for Father’s Day, the one with World’s Best Dad on it, and says he’ll be right back.
10:39 a.m. A nice, pretty woman introduces herself as Carol and brings me a can of Minute Maid. “So, you’re Chris?” she says. “Do you like computer games?”
She brings up Minesweeper on the computer screen.
“Just don’t let anyone catch you playing that during work hours,” she says, laughing.
I don’t get the joke. I thought she meant real computer games.
11:49 a.m. My father returns. “Sorry,” he says again. "Just found out I have a lunch meeting with some clients. I wanted to take you across the street to Fridays, but… Are you hungry?’
“Okay,” he says. “I’ll see if Carol can bring you a burger from Lardees. And some fries and a Coke. How does that sound?”
“Yeah. I got this lunch meeting. You haven’t seen the Stenson file lying around have you?”
“Never mind. I think I know where it is.”
12:45 p.m. I’m really starting to get hungry when Carol comes by with the burger and fries but no Coke. “Here you go,” she says. “Tell your father he owes me.”
“Yeah. Big time.”
Carol looks off into space. She says, “So, what do think of where your father works?”
“It’s okay, I guess.”
“Yeah. I guess,” she says. “Remember what you’re supposed to tell him?”
“He owes you.”
“Damn right,” she says.
2:30 p.m. My father returns from lunch looking pale and tired, muttering to himself. He looks at me distantly for a moment, then he says, “I guess today hasn’t been much fun for you.”
“It’s these deadlines,” he says. “We’ve got everything going on at once. The boss thought he was so smart, cramming a whole year’s activities into two weeks —”
I swivel in my chair.
“Anyway, look out. I need to use the computer.”
I get up so my father can sit down. I look at the clock. In another thirty minutes school would be out.
4:40 p.m. My father comes back with a cup of coffee and says, “I’m going to have to work late. Do you have something you can do?”
He frowns. “There might be a TV in the AV room. You could probably watch that if you’re quiet. Yeah.”
The AV room is basically a big closet full of TVs and VCRs and DVDs. After a few minutes of cursing and tracing cables, my father gets the TV working. I sit on the floor on some old cables and watch Batman cartoons. My father promises to bring me something from the vending machines later and closes the door. After a few minutes the lights go off. When I panic and jump up, they come back on. When they go off again, I try not to move so they stay off. I make a game of being still.
6:50 p.m. My father wakes me up. “Ready to go, buddy?”
It takes me a while to remember where I am. Then I remember I’m in a closet with a bunch of TVs. My father turns off the TV and locks the door.
We go out the same way we came in, through the back way. In the copier room we pass the same woman we saw coming in. She looks at us and her eyes go automatically to the clock above the door. As we slip out the back exit I look back at the woman. She grins at me.
We drive home in silence. Once we’re across the bridge, the traffic begins to thin out. I turn to my father, hunched at the wheel.
“Thanks for taking me to work.”
“Forget about it,” he says.