The little floodlit podium swimming in front of him, gauze-edged like some beatific salvation until David pinched his eyes, rolled them dry in their sockets. Sitting at the end of the row with a palmful of malignant stubble that hadn’t been there earlier. A reporter behind him collapsed in full snore, the white of his throat shuddering while his phone flashed a square of bright and blue.
Somewhere in an antechamber the Tea Party was polishing bullshit talking points that he would dutifully report as if they would solve anything. He tried to find the capitol or a streetlight or anything of significance out the window but there was only the charcoal end of the day, glossy and exhausted. Standing, feeling a hungry queasiness and he had to shuffle with his hand on the back of the chairs like a drunk. There was hot water for tea at the rear of the room but no tea so he sat back down in his empty row. What the hell’s the use if this country can’t even afford goddamned tea?
A set of side doors opened, yellow light in the dark room. The Appropriations Chairman red-faced and smiling twenty seven minutes late. He read from a list of $100 billion that could be cut and he didn’t say Medicare or Medicaid or Defense and he didn’t say raise taxes and he didn’t talk about $1 trillion in interest payments and then he looked up into the dark and asked Questions?
David sitting there considering the blankness in his mind, the literal numbness and the absolute inability to act. He’d written questions down on his pad but his eyes blurred and when he looked up the press conference had ended and side doors were opening onto rooms full of aides with glasses of champagne.
He called his editor, gave his overview.
You want me to file?
No, no. We won’t run it.
What do you mean you won’t run it?
Nobody cares about this stuff.
We’re talking about fundamental issues with this country.
No one wants to read about fundamental issues with this country. I’m sorry.
Outside the wind bit through his scarf and he hunched down until his neck and shoulders hurt but still the cold all through him. A ticket under his wiper for being parked in the space too long. Kim wanted him to pick up cheese and a baguette for dinner and the first card he tried declined. The clerk staring at an endcap of soup and the second card went through and back in the car he tore up the ticket and rocked back and forth in the seat with the wheel in his hands.
At home the boys flashed around their mother and they bumped elbows along the walls.
The babysitter will be here in ten minutes.
He went down the tiny hall and up the stairs to change.
Dad dad dad dad bounding up behind him.
George did it George did it!
Did what? With his tie stretched between his hands, feeling the give in the fabric.
On the wall.
I didn’t do it.
In our room.
He stepped over a mess of coloring books and on the far wall a red streak like a wound in the bedroom’s blue paint.
I just painted this David said as if that meant anything.
I didn’t do it.
He did I saw him. Reggie younger and not knowing how to act.
An angry slice of metal and plastic. The car, a corvette, clutched in George’s hand, one side smeared with blue.
I didn’t do it.
He did I saw him last night he got up and hit the car against the wall.
David kneeling down and he felt so tired. George’s shoulders lean, nothing but bone and skin and hair that spilled over his eyebrows.
George look at me. Look at me. Do you remember doing that?
No daddy. No I didn’t.
Reggie go downstairs.
He’s not going to get in trouble?
I didn’t do it daddy.
You don’t remember?
No. Looking down at his socks and one of them was a different color.
Look at me. Give me the car.
George pulling at the front of his shirt, twisting his waist.
Give me the car.
What is it?
What’s wrong with me?
David standing there lightheaded again, rolling the wheel of the corvette back and forth with his thumb. In the low room the two beds pushed close together so they could fit a bookshelf, a dresser. This was what they would grow up knowing. He would work until he couldn’t and then that was it. They would have the rest.
He knelt down again and pulled his son into his arms. Nothing buddy, his voice hoarse, foreign. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Later their boots crunched down the driveway in the bitter wind and inside the car white gasps of breath.
George was sleepwalking again, he told Kim.
Again. He started the car, backed down the driveway.
What are we going to do?
He thought he said something, made some kind of response, but when he blinked his eyes stayed closed and a horn woke him as his bumper was idling into the street. He knew there had been a question but he couldn’t remember it, knew there was an answer but the words seemed lost, forgotten in the length of the night. Kim held his arm, looked into his face but the headlights had passed and it was too dark, now, to see.