Baird never planned on being a father. It was something that just happened. First comes (something resembling) love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage. When he looked at Imzie, his small daughter, he wondered how and if she would ever survive childhood and become an adult. He was a terrible father, he knew. He cared for her, of course, and wished all the best for her, but he couldn’t help wishing that she belonged to somebody else.
When Verlie came home, he was happy—not happy to see Verlie but happy she was there to relieve him of the terrible burden of looking after Imzie. After ten hours, he felt as wrung out as if he had just come off a hard day’s work at the shoe factory where he once worked.
Verlie was wrung out, too. She was pale and her hands shook as she looked through the pile of mail.
“Where’s Imzie?” she asked.
“Asleep,” he said. “Where else would she be?”
She went into the bedroom and when she came out she had taken off her uniform and put on her bathrobe. She went into the kitchen to get started on supper.
He sat down at the table, his back against the wall and watched Verlie peel potatoes.
“Did something happen at work today?” he asked.
“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to stand it,” Verlie said. “I got in trouble today and I think I’m going to be fired.”
“One of the patients, an old woman, filed a complaint against me.”
“What kind of complaint?”
“She said I deliberately threw her glass eye in the trash.”
“She threw it in the trash. By mistake. All I did was empty the trash.”
“You knew it was in the trash?”
“Well, truthfully, I did know, but I pretended I didn’t. I was trying to teach the silly old cow a lesson to try to get her to be more careful. Honestly, I never heard such a fuss over a stupid old glass eye. It’s just an old marble. She can easily get another one.”
“So they’re going to fire you over a glass eye?”
“Well, there have been a few other complaints, too.”
“All those old people do is complain. They don’t have anything else to do.”
“Maybe if you apologize, they won’t fire you.”
“I’m not apologizing. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
While they were eating, Baird said, “If you get fired, we’ll probably end up in the poor farm.”
“There isn’t any poor farm anymore.”
“Maybe there should be.”
“You get a job,” Verlie said. “I’ll stay home and take care of Imzie.”
“You know I’m doing the best I can.”
“I hear they’re hiring men at the bottling plant.”
“I’m not working at the bottling plant.”
“I hold degrees in English and history. Nothing else need be said.”
“You’re always talking about not wanting to be like other people. If you worked at the bottling plant, you’d be the only one there with so much education.”
“And what would we talk about at lunchtime?”
“Why did I ever marry you?” she asked.
“You tell me.”
“I think there was something there that attracted me once, but I can’t remember now what it was.”
“Divorce me and go live with your mother. She has lots of money and she’d be glad for the company.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To be absolved of all responsibility?”
“I’m no good for you or for Imzie. I’m not even any good for myself.”
“My mother told me not to marry you.”
“I know. She doesn’t like me.”
“Can you blame her? Have you ever been nice to her? Do you like her?”
“No, I don’t like her. She gives me bad dreams. I’m sure she flies around at night on a broomstick.”
“There, you see what I mean! You have a terrible attitude toward people. That’s why you never get along in the world.”
“I get along in the world as well as anybody else.”
“Other people have jobs and nice homes and attractive children. I want what others have.”
“I’ve been thinking how some people just aren’t cut out to be parents,” he said. “My own father was a terrible father. He never said it, but I knew when he looked at me he wished I had never been born.”
“Your father was a confused and sad person,” Verlie said.
Baird pushed his plate back and lit a cigarette.
“You’re smoking too much,” Verlie said.
“We just had a dinner of fried potatoes and lima beans,” he said. “You’re not as hungry when you smoke.”
“You can have as many lima beans as you want.”
“I never want lima beans.”
“Go hungry, then!” she said. “Smoke yourself to death! I don’t care!”
“Why, what’s the matter, darling?” he said mockingly.
“Imzie is a wonderful child,” Verlie said.
“She deserves better parents than us.”
“She’s not like either one of us. Where did she really come from?”
“She’s God’s little gift straight from heaven,” he said.
“In a little while we’re going to get another little gift,” she said.
“Just when you think your life can’t get any worse, it does.”
He spoke then to try to comfort her, saying they would get along and that everything would work out fine, but he didn’t believe a word of it. He was terrified at the thought of bringing more innocent life into the world. He couldn’t breathe. He felt as if his heart and internal organs were being compressed.
After supper, Verlie left the dirty dishes in the sink and called her mother. The conversation lasted an hour and a half. Baird went outside so as not to hear Verlie’s aggrieved voice.
When Verlie’s phone conversation ended, she tended to Imzie and then went to bed without a word. A few minutes later, Baird heard her snoring.
He turned on the TV with no volume and sat in front of it, not caring what was on or what was being said. They could have been talking about the world ending tomorrow and he wouldn’t have cared, except for Imzie.
About eleven o’clock he got up and went to bed, in a different room from the one where Verlie and Imzie were sleeping. He slept for a couple of hours and when he woke up he knew there would be no more sleep for him.
The house was so familiar to him he didn’t need to turn on a light. He put a few things into a small canvas bag: toothbrush, change of clothes, flashlight, three books, including the Bible. Then he silently dressed and placed his bag, along with his coat and hat, by the door.
He took one last look at the place, going from room to room. It had been his home for five years, ever since he and Verlie married, and it sobered him to think that he was very likely seeing it for the last time.
The last thing was to look into the darkened bedroom where Verlie and Imzie were sleeping. He didn’t want to take the chance of waking Verlie by going all the way into the room, so he only stood in the doorway. He said his silent goodbyes and then left.
He walked two miles to the edge of town and began walking along the highway. The farther he got from town, the more traffic picked up. Big trucks on overnight runs. He stuck out his thumb and in just a few minutes a driver stopped for him. He climbed up into the cab of the truck, looked into the driver’s face, and smiled.
After the initial greetings and the inevitable where-you-headed questions, the driver didn’t seem to care about talking. That was fine with Baird; he didn’t care about talking either.
He was so tired now and believed he could sleep. He put his head back and closed his eyes.
The plan was to lose himself in sleep, maybe to sleep forever, or until something outside of himself woke him up. And if he did wake, he would be in a new land—a different world—and he would be the kind of man he knew he was always meant to be. It was out there somewhere. All he had to do was wait for it to find him.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp