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The truck swerved into the left lane and pulled up alongside him. It pressed within inches of the Volvo and the passenger window slid down. Ohlund saw clearly the outraged expression of a burly, stubble-cheeked man who leaned across the bench seat and screamed at Ohlund, “Why don’t you just die, you stupid old faggot!” The truck accelerated and swerved abruptly in front of Ohlund’s car, again the horn blaring, and a thick fist emerged from the driver’s window, middle finger extended, a final insult before the pickup’s tail-lights sped off into the distance.
Ohlund had to circle the block to come back to the wine store. Pulling into a parking stall, he remained in the car a few moments, slumped in the driver’s seat, his heart pounding.
Dr. Ohlund’s grandson Luke assailed him at Clare's front door and spent the next twenty minutes hanging onto him, regaling him with a steady stream of enthusiasm. When they were called to the dinner table, Ohlund took his customary seat, with his wife and daughter across from him and Luke at his side. His son-in-law, a sullen presence, sat at the head of the table. Food was passed around. Nora and Clare made conversation. The males ate in silence, half listening as the women discussed the new development area at the base of Burke Mountain, which would, according to Clare, increase the population of the suburb by 30,000 residents, further burdening the already congested roads. “They’re making a mistake,” said Clare. “People will suffer for it.”
His daughter’s reference to congested traffic brought back to Ohlund the contorted features of the irate pickup driver, the man’s violence and hatred. Ohlund must have looked pale, for Luke said, “What’s wrong, Grandpa?”
“Quiet,” snapped the boy’s father. “Eat your supper. Grandpa’s tired. Probably wore him out with all your yapping.”
“Thank you indeed for your concern,” said Ohlund. Clare and Nora stopped eating. Ohlund hadn’t intended the sarcasm in his tone, but there it was. Nor did he see the glance that passed between his wife and daughter; he was being attentive to his grandson. “I’m fine,” he said to the boy. “It’s just that some of us have to work very hard.”
“Dad...” said Clare.
Her husband glared. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What?” said Ohlund.
“Are you referring to me?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand you.”
Robert threw down his fork, it struck the table with a clatter. “Fuck it!” he shouted. He left the room.
“Dad,” Clare whispered, “Robert got fired today.”
“What? He did? But surely he knows I didn’t...”
Luke was red-faced, his voice shrill. “You always do that!” he shouted. “You always pick on my Dad, and make him mad! You never leave him alone!”
All three adults turned to Luke, astonished. The boy dashed out of his chair. In the doorway he shouted at his grandfather, “I hate you! You’re stuck-up and mean!” Then he ran to his room. The slamming door sounded like a gunshot.
Perhaps it was a mistake to have followed his son-in-law’s example, to have stormed out of the house like a stage actor. It was dark. At least the rain had stopped. For twenty minutes, walking quickly, he’d allowed himself to fume. Now, out of steam, he paused for breath in a spiral of unfamiliar cul-de-sacs. A sky full of cloud above. No sign of life but for the blue glare of a television from a window. He’d forgotten his phone. Human error. Bad days. They make us sorry for ourselves, thought Ohlund. He thought of Nora and Clare. Of Robert. And then he remembered the pickup driver, his rage. Ohlund thought of his grandson. Remembered the dead boy on the gurney. The boy’s mother. Which made him remember about the hit-and-run driver. And that new nurse, so pale.
Dr. Ohlund thought he could hear frogs. Perhaps he was lost.
Headlights rounding the corner exposed him, alone on the sidewalk. With relief, with embarrassment, he recognized his Volvo, with Nora at the wheel. She pulled up to the curb and Ohlund got in on the passenger side. His wife looked at him, and he sighed. “I’m incompetent,” he said. “I make a mess of everything.”
Nora laughed, but there was compassion in it. Her arms went around him, and with one hand she stroked his back. It was here, he thought, in this space they had created together, that there was the least pain in the world.
“Clare’s talked to Robert,” said Nora. “And Luke already misses you. Let’s go back now. There’s still some healing to be done.”
Yes, thought Dr. Ohlund. He shouldn’t shirk. There was much to be done, and there was always human frailty.