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The crash sounded like a small bomb going off in the kitchen.
"Shit!" said Sandra Olson, watching the puddle of orange juice grow beneath the spout of the sippy cup.
"Sit! Sit! Sit!" little Sara cried with delight as she pounded the tray of her high chair.
Ken Olson looked up from his coffee and The Wall Street Journal as his wife and child engaged in that daily ritual of mortal combat called breakfast. "Sandy, are you trying to instill all your bad habits in our daughter before she turns three?"
Sandy knelt down with a paper towel to clean up the mess. With her other hand she picked up the sippy cup, licked the spout as if to remove the germs it acquired on the floor, and handed it back to Sara. "I think for now, we're okay. You can't tell what she's saying because her elocution sucks."
"Sucks! Sucks! Sucks!" the two-year-old sang out.
Sandy winced and silenced little Sara with a spoonful of cereal. "Ken," she said quietly, "I have a confession to make."
"I've got to be at the airport at eight," Ken said as he gulped down the last of his coffee. The tall, thin thirty-four-year-old executive with blond hair and pale blue eyes was focused on making his getaway. "Pennington wants me to pick him up at the company jet. Me. Just me. After months of sitting in crowded conference rooms trying to make an impression on this guy, I've finally got time alone with him. I've been working on this town meeting of his for two weeks, and today is the big—"
"Kennnn!" Sandy insisted as she pushed her dark shoulder-length hair off her forehead and flashed her big brown eyes. "You're not listening to me." Even barefoot in old sweats, wearing no makeup and half her baby's breakfast, she had the power to stop him dead in his tracks. She cocked her pretty oval face to one side and stood up straight, making her short buxom body as tall as she could, her hands resting defiantly on her full round hips. A pose that just dared him to ignore her. "I said I have a confession to make."
Ken froze in place. "Okay, Sandy," he pleaded, and raised his watch arm in the air, "please make it fast."
"I don't know why you're in such a hurry to go pick up the bastard who's coming to fire everybody's ass."
"Listen," he said, exasperated, "I know for a fact that he's interested in my turnaround plan. He made that clear at the last meeting of the Leadership Circle. And besides, I hardly think he'd be videotaping himself and all the employees at the town meeting if he were going to announce that everyone's getting laid off."
She gave him the big brown eyes again, full blast. "Ken, I've been job-hunting for you on the Internet." He started inching toward the door. "I sent your resume to a bunch of headhunters. Made a pretty impressive presentation of your career."
Ken stopped in mid-slink. "You did what?"
"I'm trying to get you a new job."
Ken fought a wave of anger. "Jesus, Sandy! You can't just send my resume around. You have no right. If word got out, do you know what that could do to my career? We get graded on commitment! How do you think I've gotten a promotion every year? And made it to the Leadership Circle and got Tom Pennington to notice me and read my reports? I'm really starting to make some headway. Don't you get it?"
"What about your commitment to our life?" Sandy demanded. "What about our freakin' life?"
"What's wrong with our life?" Ken gestured at the well-appointed kitchen of their three-thousand-square-foot mini-McMansion on the quarter-acre lot in the new subdivision of Beaver Creek Estates, in Beaver Creek, Ohio, just outside Dayton. "My parents never even dreamed of living in a house this nice. It's bigger than our last house, and it's got a new designer kitchen."
"What's wrong?" Sandy asked. "What's wrong? That company moves you to a new job every time you turn around. This is what? Our fifth house in six years? We've got boxes in the living room we haven't unpacked from the last move. I should have my teaching certificate already, but we've never stayed anywhere long enough. So instead, I'm, I'm, I'm assistant head of the goddamn company day care center. We're such nomads; even I have no choice but to work for that company, too. It's like growing up in the army with my father all over again." With her free hand, she gave an exaggerated salute.
"That's not fair," Ken said. "We are not your father and mother. For one thing, I don't drink. Two, you are not clinically depressed. And three, I don't think we're headed for a divorce. Or is there something I don't know about?"
Sandy took a deep breath. "I don't give a flying you-know-what about the countertops. And FYI, our glorious new designer dishwasher is on the fritz. Ken, I want us to have a real life somewhere, with real roots, and real friends, and a real community."
Sara started fussing. Sandy stuck a spoonful of cereal in her daughter's mouth.
"Sandy," Ken said quietly as he reached for the door, "everybody moves around a lot these days. That's just the way it is. The people in the company, they're our community."
"You call those corporate robots people?"
Ken replied quietly through clenched teeth, "Sandy, I don't have time for this right now."
"Ken," Sandy said through equally clenched teeth, "wake up. They're going to shut down your freakin' plant and close your division, and all we're gonna get is a crummy severance package and then it's going to be twice as hard to find a new job. So I started looking for you now."
"Sandy," he said, "I really have to go. This could be a very big day in my career."
"Listen, I hear company gossip, too. You think the other mothers who come to the day care center just sing Barney songs? I promise you, that company is going to screw us all."
Ken stood in the open doorway, one foot tapping nervously. "I really have to go now. Will I see you at the town meeting?"
"I don't think so. That's not exactly a great field trip for twenty kids under the age of four." Ken turned to leave. "Ken, wait a minute, I want to finish our discussion."
"Sandy, I have to go to the airport."
Sara started crying. Sandy picked up the child to quiet her, bouncing the baby girl on her hip. "Ken, I just want to protect us."
"What do you think I'm trying to do?" Ken said over his shoulder.
"I still love you!" she shouted at the closing door. "Even if sometimes you are an asshole."
"Ath-hole!" Sara blurted happily, spraying a mouthful of cereal onto her mother.
Copyright © 2007 by Glenn Kaplan. All rights reserved.