by S.P. Bailey
Martin inhales the odor of mold and fuel. He glances at the “reserved” sign bolted to the concrete wall behind his car. He pulls at his tie and undoes his top button. He starts his car. He drives up the garage ramp and into the light. Making his way down K Street through traffic, he finishes a call with a friend from college who handles a Colorado representative’s health-care portfolio. Martin’s clients—pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, physicians’ associations—pay him to maintain and cultivate such friends.
His commute home takes approximately one hour and twenty minutes at this time of day. He lives in Gaithersburg, so he usually takes the George Washington Parkway to the Beltway to I-270. The radio announces an accident on American Legion Bridge. The Beltway is out. Rather than cross to the Virginia side of the Potomac, he drives back into the city. Now his car crawls up Connecticut past DuPont Circle, the National Zoo, and the rest of affluent northwest DC.
He calls his wife to tell her that he will be late. His phone puts a sound in his ear in addition to his wife’s voice: children fighting. The people on this stretch of Connecticut (junior partner bohemians, late twenties and thirties, all apparently single and childless) provide a contrast to the world that fighting sound invokes. Approaching the Maryland border, he takes a left and then a right onto Wisconsin, which becomes the Rockville Pike. A Senator (C-SPAN Radio, tape delay) moves for unanimous consent.
Just outside the Beltway—having passed under it—he remembers Dana Jenkins, a lobbyist who worked at his firm before she got pregnant. Her decision to leave the firm—not just for the birth—angered several partners. Martin admired how in her last days at work she politely shrugged off both insinuations that she was throwing her life away and unsolicited day-care-center recommendations. Martin and his wife and a few other couples from the firm attended a small party last year at Dana’s home: a small colonial, immaculately restored, a few blocks off the pike.
Martin wants to go to Dana’s home. Impractical, inappropriate, socially awkward, he silently ticks off reasons for not pursuing that thought. Go to Dana’s house. The thought returns, now in command form. Again he resists. He laughs to himself. Turn now, something inside him demands. Go to Dana’s house. Now. No, Martin thinks. It makes no sense. I have no reason to go there. “I am not going to Dana’s house,” he says in full voice. He finds the sound of his own voice jarring.
The book in his brief case. Suddenly that is all he can think about. In his mind, the book opens to the beginning of the fourth chapter, where he was reading when he fell asleep last night. The bookmark he has been using pulls itself out from the fold. It rises from the book and turns to face him. He sees a tiny copy of a painting of Jesus Christ encircled by children. The painting is a glossy print on a card; the side opposite of the card bears the church’s 1-800 number and web site address.
He turns right. A side-street that will take him to Dana’s house. Rather than deter him, his sick feeling is a source of comfort. He felt that way most days of his mission, where he never got over the fear and revulsion that going door to door, street contacting, and talking to people on the bus aroused. The fact that he does not want to give Dana the card also spurs him forward. His desire not to do something, he knows, often signals that something is precisely what he ought to do.