It was a pleasantly warm fall day, the sort of day that makes you think nature is trying to pull a fast one. I came out of the lobby, emerging from the fake reflected warmth into the honest sunshine, wanting to eat my yogurt and fruit sitting on the stone fountain in front of our building. I saw Tom, who worked in my department, talking on his phone in a hissed whisper.
"Look, I have to go," he said. "Yes. I know. I'm sorry. Yes. OK. We can talk about it when I get home. Yes. OK. Fine."
He looked puzzled. His dark hair was mussed.
"Hey, Tom," I said.
"Hey, Jules," he said.
I said, trying to sound cheery, "I guess I don't have to ask how you are."
He barked out a laugh. "No, no you don't."
I looked at him, in stained Dockers and a dress shirt starting to come untucked. I wanted to take care of him, tuck his shirt in and make him a sandwich.
"Is it Caroline?"
He took a long sip from a bottle of Orangina.
"It's everything- there are a hundred problems that you don't know the answers to, and she doesn't know either, and the kid, the kid is just constantly unhappy, and you don't know why. I love them, I love them to death, but it's like they are these vampires, just draining you of your essence. You feel like a total failure, all the time, and I'm not sleeping well, and then she calls me today and starts yelling about how I bought the wrong wipes, and now she's out of them, and she's too tired to go to the store, and..."
"I just had this thought of just taking the whole box of wipes and just throwing them at her. And you know I'm not like that. It really feels like I'm losing it, Jules."
I didn't know what to say. I had met his wife at the Christmas party, a short, curvy, dark woman who looked me over with suspicion. It was off putting, because I hadn't done anything yet.
"You're not like that, Tom. It's just a thought. You'll be OK."
"I hope you're right," he said, his voice tight. He cleared his throat and stood up. "I'm going to take a walk," he said. "I need to clear my head."
I watched him walk into the warm afternoon. It was the fall, where everything dies and goes to sleep, and he looked crumpled like the brown dead leaves on the surface of the clear water in the fountain. It was so sad that his wife didn't understand him. Or maybe it was Tom who didn't understand her? I scraped the last bit of yogurt from the bottom of the container, swallowed it, and got up, tossing it into the trash.
published 8 February 2012