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Milton couldn’t stop tapping a cigarette pack in his shirt pocket. His foot drummed an uneasy rhythm as he watched digital numbers on elevator display. Why’s this elevator so darn slow? It’s taking forever. Using his fingers, he worked a stranglehold of his shirt collar and tie free. Milton grimaced, feeling sweat soaking his shirt.

           Looking back at a sign on his office door, he snickered. Milton McFarland – Internal Records Distribution, he thought. Milton knew its real purpose. Mail room.

           On impulse, he walked back to the door. He used a nail file to scratch as much lettering away as he could.  

           With sluggish steps back to the elevator, it felt odd as if both shoes were sticking to the floor. It’s like stepping on gum, he thought.

           The elevator door opened and he stepped in. Milton pushed the lobby button. As he watched numbers changing on the display board, his mind replayed that conversation he’d just had with his boss.

           Kurt something or other. I can’t even remember his last name, Milton thought, recalling that conversation with exactness.

           "Sorry, Milt. There's really no easy way to put this."

           Milton remembered watching a young man searching for the right words.

           "It’s the damned economy... you know... everything’s electronic now. Email, texting, and... you know... well, we're letting you go," Kurt’s words ghosting away.

           Milton recalled looking at Kurt someone or other’s face, looking for some clue, searching for any indication of sincerity. Maybe it was there, but he couldn’t tell. He listened with care to each word in case there was a hint of a patronizing tone. He couldn’t be sure either way.

           This from a man, Milton thought, who is at least twenty or twenty-five years younger than me, a man who surely hasn’t celebrated his thirtieth birthday yet.

           I’m being fired by a man, no, a kid that HR dropped on me like a bomb.

           How old was I when I started to work for this company? Yeah, twenty-three years old, and twenty-seven years later at this same freakin’ job, this kid now showing me out the door.

           Milton remembered staring at the kid, Kurt, across a desktop. Milton felt his world skidding, and his jaw clenched. "You've got to be joking. You can’t be serious," knowing the kid was.

           "No, Milt, this isn't anything to joke about, I wouldn’t do that to you."

           "What about seniority? Damn it, I've given this company more than twenty-seven years. What about my work history, my record?"

           "It’s nothing personal," Kurt added and looked to Milton as if he recognized how lame it sounded.

           Milton scowled at Kurt something or other and held up his hand. “Enough, I’ve heard enough.”

           Do we have to stop at every floor? At each stop, Milton was pushed back, and Milton McFarland became more furious. He was embarrassed by how easy it was to give in when his boss added, "Oh, by the way, make sure you have your desk cleared out by close of business. I’m sure we don’t need to involve security, do we?"

           Oh, by the way, up yours! Milton didn’t have nerve to voice that thought, however.

           Now, he stared in silence at numbers until the elevator reached the lobby, a soft chime ringing out his escape.

           He waited for other passengers to exit, lemmings chattering their end-of-the-workday gossip.

           When the door opened he bolted from the elevator, his heels clack-clacking on marble tile, blinded for a moment by reflected sunlight dancing from glass windowpanes of a neighboring building. Swarming home-bound workers moved out of his way when they saw despondency on his face.

           Milton was brusque, waving away a doorman's cheery goodbye. It was uncharacteristic. He pushed through the revolving door and turned right. Milton was a human bulldozer, pushing aside sidewalk crowds until he reached an adjoining car park.

           There was some comfort in shadows of the garage, yet another insult, an out-of-order sign on its elevator. He trekked up the ramp, only stopping to tap a cigarette from its pack. He shook the match flame out. He felt something, a sense of panic as he counted his remaining smokes. Milton calculated how many he would need on his drive home. Do I have enough? It will be close.

           Why did this happen today?   

           "There's no easy way to put this, Milt." He replayed their conversation, "You're... well, we're letting you go... it’s the economy... you know." 

           Twenty-seven years! I gave that job my best for twenty-seven years, he thought. Ten-hour days I gave them, not to mention weekends. Where's the gratitude? Milton's forehead creased in a frown, a migraine that was slow to form, gripping his head in a vice.

           My parking space...

           The very top floor...

           Furthermost corner...  

           Even his thoughts seemed out of breath.

           Milton leaned forward, walking up the parking deck ramp, a zigzag pathway to the top floor. Gasping for breath, he tossed the filter of his extinguished cigarette against a wall, in that careless manner smokers have.

           Emerging from shade, he paused in a full brilliance of summer sun. Airless city heat was his reward for a long climb.

           Milton approached his car. Its cherry-red finish was sending up lazy heatwaves he could even see. He felt a sudden urge to kick his car.

           It was almost new, and he remembered his pride driving it home from the dealership. A week later he became obsessed, spotting a small dent on his driver's side door, souvenir of some inconsiderate ass in a shopping mall parking lot. That lone dent almost diminished Milton's pleasure in his car, and he no longer derived joy from its beauty. He felt an urge to drag his key across its bright shining paint, and then he did.

           He’d just realized he had forty-two more payments. . . and no job.

           He jerked his hand back from a poker-hot door handle which had spent a day baking in a summer sun. He envied those lucky enough to be assigned shaded parking levels below.

           Puzzled by his sudden lust to demolish his car, he eased into his driver's seat, turned on the ignition, feeling a promise of conditioned air whisper through dashboard vents. He turned the air control to maximum and dialed the radio to his driving home station.     

           Fifty years old and fired.

           Milton stored that thought for later consideration as he steered toward an exit ramp. By the time he corkscrewed down the ramp and reached the bottom level of the garage, he was shaking his head, feeling dizzy from speed of the downward spiral. Sam, garage attendant, blocked the exit, waving Milton to a stop.           "Hey, McFarland, you're late. You owe us for two months. If you don't pay by—” 

           He jumped aside when Milton accelerated toward him. Milton felt the jolt as he crashed through the parking gate. Shattering splinters flying past his windshield symbolized his emotions.

           Milton urged his car up to speed and entered a duel with stop and go street traffic. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, a Morse-code of impatience, and counted off seven blocks to the freeway ramp. The car’s heat gauge starting to climb, registering a mute protest. The air conditioning system, so full of promise, only sputtered fetid jets of air mixed in with diesel exhaust from a bus directly ahead.

           He looked at his pack of cigarettes. Damn, not enough to get me home, as he took out a new one and reached for his lighter.

           Milton approached the on-ramp leading to Eisenhower Freeway. A green light winked its invitation and Milton accelerated. It was a sudden feeling. He was liberated from his emotional state about a lost job. He bid a silent good-bye to an office building that now seemed like a penitentiary. He was leaving that city behind and almost felt a stirring of driving joy as his car leaped ahead.

           Get me out of this city, and I can always find another job... fifty isn't too old.

           Enthusiasm was short-lived, however. Driving down the access ramp, he glanced over his left shoulder and could sense no one was going to let him merge. Each car was nose to bumper of each car ahead. He believed they’d all conspired to keep Milton Wilson McFarland off the freeway.

           With no options, he slammed on brakes, feeling the seat belt grab at his shoulders. He sat, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. At an exact three minutes and forty-two seconds later, he made his move. He shot ahead into a merest gap in freeway traffic, clearing a fender by a measly four inches if that. A furious driver signaled his displeasure with a prolonged honking. Milton glanced back at an offended driver through his rearview mirror, a balding head reflecting sunlight, and a middle finger extended like an exclamation point. The man began gesturing wildly and appeared to be yelling at no one, or perhaps everyone.

           Maybe he was fired today too, Milton thought and puffed his cheeks full of air and exhaled air between tight lips. Bald-headed man in the mirror, reminded him of his old boss, before this new teenager, Kurt something or other. Milton was thankful he didn't have a gun in his car.

           He oozed along with freeway traffic, massaging his temples, while listening to a radio jangling a throbbing, rhythmic beat, adding pain to a blooming migraine. His darting eyes came to rest on a billboard proclaiming, "Metro's Florist at twenty-three convenient locations." 

           That sign urged readers to take flowers home to an adoring wife. My adoring wife, he flinched. This morning's fight had been a particular razor-sharp one, even by their standards.

           Flowers, I don't even know why I bother going home. It was a thought Milton often had driving home.

           As Milton let that thought float away, he saw an opportunity to switch lanes to his left, but the moment passed him by as swiftly as fluttering wings of a hummingbird. He was wedged in a stationary lane, watching in disappointment as the left lane of cars began moving ahead.

           As summer temperature passed the century mark his air conditioner belched an ineffectual attempt, unable to keep pace, not to mention dealing with smoke from Milton’s cigarettes. He tried stabbing his latest cigarette into an overflowing ashtray and gave up. Lowering his window, he disregarded the blast of hot freeway air and with a deft movement, flicked a cigarette with his fingertip. Watching ember's graceful arc toward the pavement, ignoring disapproving look from other drivers.

           A school bus pulled alongside to his left. Milton was reminded of his own children and smiled. One young passenger, a ten-year-old boy, directed an obscene gesture in Milton’s direction.

           I get no respect, even from kids I don’t know, he thought. I sure don’t get respect from my own children. Now, they’re nothing more than mouthy, brassy, disrespectful little people that I'm guilty of unleashing upon an unsuspecting world. Milton preferred to blame their behavior on his wife, believing she spoiled them.

           Traffic in Milton's lane at last inched ahead, just a little bit. Pounding music came to a stop as the announcer promised a traffic update for drivers trying to escape downtown Chicago. The Announcer’s update was replaced by a commercial urged Milton to get away for a romantic weekend in the Bahamas. That was followed by a public service announcement for Planned Parenthood. Talk about a perfect irony, Milton thought, a romantic getaway should follow planning parenthood, not the other way around.

           Was it just last night? He thought back to Marci, his girlfriend, slipping her arm through his as they walked back to her apartment after a dinner out. 

           "I'm pregnant," was her simple announcement. She did not sound enthusiastic, he remembered. Milton’s response to that announcement was to do what he did when faced with a complication. He did nothing and pretended he didn’t hear her crying as he closed the door to her apartment. He didn’t even say goodbye.

           Now, sitting in his car, Milton looked up. Traffic once again at a complete standstill. All these lanes, Chicago’s monument to urban planning, he thought. He saw lines of cars extending into an infinite haze, frustration etched on faces of his fellow commuters.

           Like that man, over there, standing beside a raised hood, steam rising from the radiator.  

           Milton rummaged his glove box for sunglasses as a sinking sun dropped to stare him square in the face. His body temperature was rising, and his emotional temperature was heating up even faster, nearing boiling point.

           The radio blared music again, hip-hop beat swelling to a crescendo. He thought he could in fact feel his brain preparing to reject his torment. He lit his last smoke, and a rush of nicotine fueled a hurricane bellowing within.

           Milton was asked later, in an interview, to describe what came next. He said 6:17 pm was the tipping point. He remembered 6:17, digital numbers flashing at him like a warning. “My thoughts whirled like a tornado; a pregnant girlfriend, ill-mannered children, a nagging wife, rude drivers, and twenty-seven years wasted on a nothing job. Those thoughts swirled, trapping me in a straight-jacket cocoon. My heart raced. It was a cocoon from which there was no escape.”

           Milton told the interviewer about scanning adjacent landscape without seeing any of it, his breath starting to labor.

           “My eyes fixated on traffic, stalled cars stretching ahead for miles,” Milton said. “There was nowhere to go. I embraced mental gridlock on the midtown expressway. Then an astonishing calm washed over me. I knew what I had to do and was amazed at my clarity of thought.”

           “What happened then?” the reporter asked.

           “I turned to stare at a man in the next car. That man returned my stare and frowned. Suddenly, I experienced a transformation wash over me. My anguish and distress melted away. It was replaced by a quiet calm. I think I broke into a small smile, more a grin perhaps.”

           Witness described the rest.

           As his grin widened, Milton stepped from his car and planted his feet firm on near-melting concrete. He started slow at first. Then, with mounting fury, he started with savage kicks, smashing his shoe repeatedly into the side of his car. It did little damage and looked in fact painful. He struck at windows with his fist. His first rush of rage appeared to be some type of cleansing.

           “It wasn't enough, however,” one witness said.

           Other bystanders filled in the rest of that story.

           Milton stomped to the rear of his car, unlocked its trunk to reach in to retrieve a tire iron. They say he looked at it for a moment as if admiring its potential.

           With a devilish grin, Milton began to walk around his car in a counter-clockwise direction. Starting with the passenger side he tried to be systematic, attempting to break all glass panes into shards. He struck windows, but their tempered strength offered valiant resistance, cracking but not breaking.

           He changed directions and walked back, concentrating on smashing turn lights, parking lights, and taillights - until small shards of while, red and amber glass was well and truly smashed. Side mirrors yielded with ease to smashing blows.

           When he was finished, he returned to the trunk and with steady calm, returned that tire iron to its proper place. He was, after all, a fastidious man.

           Milton then saw it, the right tool for this job. It turned out to be his definitive weapon. When he had rented it yesterday, he planned to use it for pounding in fence posts, a weekend project. He removed a huge sledgehammer from the trunk, caressing it, and then slowly raised it to hold over his head, like a priest offering up a chalice toward heaven.

           Evening sunlight flashed as it ricocheted off the dark beauty of Milton’s hammerhead. This is more like it, he grinned.

           He brought that hammer down with all his strength in an exquisite arc, as one witness described it later to police. To Milton, his hammer felt like an extension of his inner man, the hammer performing its destructive job, quite well. Car windows shattered with satisfying precision. Over and over his hammer rose and fell. Glass and cherry-red metal gave way, shattering and crumpling to the brute force of his hammer.

           He felt his sweat running, his muscles were aching, burning from a job well done. His migraine vanished as he became aware of cheering. Milton turned his head, peering up in surprise to see marooned drivers standing beside their cars. He heard cheering and saw their arms raised in salute. He realized what was happening

           I'm doing this for all of us.

           His chest puffed out.

           I’m a cowboy riding into town with guns blazing. I’m an army warrior charging a strong, fortified position.

           I’m a somebody after all. Take that, Kurt someone or other.

           Smiling and turning his body in a complete circle, hammer in one hand raised over his head, he acknowledged cheers. Milton had never felt such purpose in his life, not until this very moment.

           Then, he slowly lowered his arms and let his hammer fall from his grasp. It clanked to the pavement. A fleeting spark streaked off to one side as the hammerhead scraped on concrete.

           With chin raised and a hero-straight-backed walk, he zigged between cars stalled on the expressway. He walked to the edge of the road and, without stopping, continued climbing the grassy slope alongside. At the top of the knoll, he leaped a chain-link fence with graceful agility.

           Not too shabby for fifty, eh?

           Stranded drivers were still cheering as Milton stepped aboard a passing bus and disappeared from the story.

# # # 

 


September 04, 2019 20:21

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