It was still dark when the alarm
went off for the first time. His finger arced up over the the bolster and down to the snooze button
in a practiced, unerring
curve. Nine minutes later, and nine more after that, he hit his mark again. Three for three, but now the day was oozing by the curtain
s, washing the color from his dreams. When it rang again, he switched it over to news radio
and lifted himself from bed.
He swept the curtains aside, letting light fill the room. While the traffic man chattered about a pileup on the loop ("watch for delays"), he allowed himself the little delight of following the dance of the dust motes in the sunlight for a moment.
The hot shower, the rough towel, the cruel shave. The underwear, cigarette, hair brush, tooth brush later, he chose a tie. It was the color of a healthy liver, with the pattern of a wild life, a daring life, sketched subtly in a darker hue. His shirt was aggressively white, his suit a stealthy grey.
He slipped past his wife's room, past his son's locked door, down to the kitchen, where the coffee, which was timed to start with his second snooze, waited. He took his thermal travel cup from its place in the cupboard, filled it, and went out to the garage.
He buckled up, started the car, and pressed the garage door opener button. Nothing happened. The traffic man said "the backup is building past the Memorial Overpass". He switched off the radio and closed his eyes. The image of the dust motes floating in the morning sunbeam filled his vision, and he thought for a moment of staying there in the dark garage, with his engine idling urbanely until the gas tank was empty.
The seatbelt seemed unnecessary, and he unbuckled it. The motion was part of a smooth habit, and he found himself opening the car door. The exhaust fumes hit him now, and he stumbled out of the car, eyes burning, and pressed a button on the wall. The garage door rumbled open, and he got back into the car and put it in reverse.
Deftly, automatically, his fingers pushed buttons to roll down all the windows and turn the radio back on. The traffic man said "Expect delays of up to 45 minutes". He checked his watch. He was running twelve minutes late already. He didn't bother closing the garage door before squeaking his tires out onto the street.
Murphy Road would take him far out of his way, but it would probably be quicker than that gridlocked Loop, and at least he could keep moving. As he headed out of town, traffic thinned and his head began to clear. It seemed that very few commuters were willing to stray so far from their usual track as Murphy Road, and he was soon rolling along at sixty-five. The windows were still down, and the traffic guy was an unintelligible burble. He punched the scan button on the radio and turned it up. There was some song he had never heard before playing, and he turned it up some more. It was a pretty good song. He had ordered the premium stereo option, and the song sounded even better loud, so he turned it up a bit more.
The lapels of his grey wool jacket were flapping at his chin, so he drove with his knees, stuggling to get out of it. Free at last, he tossed it into the passenger seat and rested his arm on the window like a trucker. Another song came on, better than the last, and he turned the radio up a bit more. As he approached the river, bugs began to smack and smear on his windshield. One hit the sleeve of his white shirt, he drew his arm back inside the car. He was rubbing at the stain with a paper napkin as he topped a rise, but he saw the chicken for an instant before he hit it. In his rearview mirror, he watched the hen tumble into the ditch, but what he would always remember was a cloud of white feathers, floating in the sunshine.
He braked onto a dirt track that led down to the riverside next to the bridge and turned the radio down. At the river's edge he stopped the car and got out. There were no dents, no blood on the front of his car. He was about to get back in when he heard a call.
An old wino, in wino rags, with tangled wino hair was shambling out from under the bridge toward him.
"Sir, you killed mah chicken. You killed mah damn chicken, sir."
He turned to face the bum and pulled out his wallet. The old man stopped short, pulled himself to the best height he could muster, and began shouting.
"You think you can pay ME for that chicken? I'm a Vietnam Vetran, and that chicken's been with me since Missoula and you're a goddam trash ASS, sir. That's what you are and I'll take you and your goddam car to COURT cause I'm a VETRAN and that chicken..."
He didn't hear the rest, because he had leaped into the car and gassed it, spitting up dust that hung before him in the morning sun as he backed out onto Murphy Road.
When he pulled into the concrete catacombs of the parking garage, he was nearly an hour behind schedule, but he did not hurry. As he walked up the ramp, pulling on his jacket, he could hear the tink-tink-tink of cooling metal around him. He was not the only one to be late that morning.
The lobby of his building was a glass atrium, with green plants and flowing water. The sun shone in through the high ceiling, and there was not a speck of dust in its upscale beams. A coworker squeezed in as the elevator door slid shut, and he pressed the button for the 27th floor.
"Heckuva commute today, eh?"