Oliver’s screeching howl wrenched Tim out of his dream, pulling him away from a pleasantly erotic scene and tossing him back into the dreary surroundings of his apartment.
His son gave another insistent scream from the next room over. Tim could hear the boy kicking his little feet furiously against the bed. A moment later and Oliver was now kicking his feet against the wall, resulting in a series of bangs loud enough to alarm Millie, their miniature dachshund. She sprang up in alarm from where she was resting by his feet and hurried away to hide behind the torn-up ottoman in the corner.
“Oliver!” Tim barked, voice still rough with sleep. “Stop!”
The toddler just wailed even more insistently, screaming something incoherent. Tim winced, passing a hand over his tired face. Bright sunlight was filtering into the room from the gap behind the curtains, and Tim wearily turned on the phone by his bedside to confirm that, once again, he had missed his alarm and was going to be late for work. With a groan, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and staggered out into the hallway, opening Oliver’s bedroom door.
Inside, Oliver was red-faced and wide-eyed, crayons clutched in his chubby fists. Tim watched as the kid hurled the objects with impressive force at the opposite wall. Tim ducked as Sunshine Yellow and Emerald Green went flying over his head to clatter somewhere behind him.
Oliver screamed at him and attempted to scurry past. Tim caught the squirming three-year old in his arms, lifting him high off of the ground back over to the bed. He forced his son onto the covers and held him in place with one of his palms on the boy’s chest. Oliver twisted and yelled, kicking out his legs in protest. Tim leaned back as far as he was able to avoid the flurry of kicks and opened the drawer beside Oliver’s bed one-handed, blindly pulling out first a t-shirt and then a wrinkled pair of khaki shorts. His hand explored the confines of the drawer deeper and emerged once more with some faded underpants and a ball of socks.
“Olly!” Tim yelled angrily. “Why are you so hard? Stay still! If you let Daddy get you dressed I’ll let you watch Jordie Bear. Do you want to watch Jordie Bear?”
At that, Oliver’s plaintive scream became a tremulous whine.
“Good,” Tim said breathlessly, releasing his grip slightly. “Good boy.”
He eased away from the bed and hoisted the toddler up.
“Arms, please,” Tim instructed and Oliver dutifully lifted his soft-skinned arms over his head, allowing his father to first remove his sleeping shirt and then replace it with the cheery red t-shirt.
“Thank you,” Tim said. “Legs!”
And Oliver stretched out his legs so Tim could tug down the child’s flannelette pyjamas and underwear. Quickly, Tim manoeuvred his son into the new underwear, shorts and socks.
“Wait, wait!” Tim ordered, holding Oliver still so that he could quickly pass a small comb over the boy’s flaxen hair. Oliver’s hair was so fine and thin that Tim could clearly see how small and pink his boy’s skull was.
“Hungry?” Tim asked, carrying Oliver into the living room and hurriedly putting him in front of the television and turning it on. He flicked the channel over to an early morning children’s program. Mercifully, his lord and saviour Jordie Bear was currently on TV, avoiding yesterday’s debacle when the bear had not been on the programme and they’d had on some bullshit called, ‘Marggie and the Fidget Spinners’. Oliver had thrown a tantrum so intense that it had left Tim with something akin to PTSD for the rest of the day.
Breathing another sigh of relief, Tim left the entranced Oliver in front of the TV and rushed back into his own room. He was running so late there was no time to have a shower. That meant that there was no time to spend enjoying the one highlight of his day: jerking off under the warm stream whilst daydreaming about Deborah at work. Not that it mattered – his morning erection had wilted with Oliver’s first eardrum-piercing screech.
He’d neglected to do the laundry, again, and he hadn’t ironed any of the other clothes hanging in his closet. He gave yesterday’s outfit an experimental sniff, and, finding it moderately acceptable, put on the faded blue button-up and dog-hair covered slacks. Back in the living room, Oliver was still glued to the tv screen, where Jordie Bear was now dancing around a set of large foam ABC blocks and singing an insipid song about bananas.
Tim had already slung over his shoulder his own workbag (containing his wallet, cellphone and a tupperware container of yesterday’s lasagne), as well as Oliver’s backpack. The kindergarten provided them to all of the kids, and it was emblazoned with a 90’s style geometric print on a navy background.
When Tim switched off the television, Oliver predictably began to scream again, banging his fists against Tim’s shoulder as Tim struggled out of the house and locked the door one-handed. Outside and away from the protective shield of the apartment’s air-conditioning, the outer patio was already boiling hot. It was going to be another blazing hot day, but, hey, it had nothing to do with climate change, right? That was the great thing about Humanity: their incessant inability to see the big picture and plan for the future. That was why it was climbing up to 35 degrees in the middle of winter, and why Tim, a 26 year old whom had never known anything other than a hand-to-mouth income, had ended up impregnating a woman whom un-ironically wore leopard-print leggings.
It was a battle to get both bags and struggling toddler down to the car, not to mention the unpleasant skirmish which was strapping Oliver into the car seat. By the time Tim had slid into the driver’s seat and hit the ignition he was so sweaty that wet patches on his shirt had formed underneath his armpits. In the rear-view mirror his brown-eyes were bloodshot and frantic-looking.
He switched on the radio and drove the car out of the parking garage, narrowly avoiding first one of the bollards outside the gate and then an SUV driven by a prissy-looking blonde wearing sunglasses.
“Hurry along and get your latte, or go to your fucking yoga class,” Tim snarled, veering away from her and holding down the car horn as he did so. The interior of the car was still uncomfortably warm, even with the air-con at the max, and Oliver whined and complained in the back.
At the next red light, Tim hunted inside of Oliver’s backpack and pulled out a juicebox, unwrapping the straw and stabbing it into the box.
“I know, buddy, I know,” Tim sighed, throwing the bag into the backseat and handing the juice to Oliver with one arm outstretched. “Mmm, yummy juice, eh, Olly?”
With a squeal of delight, Oliver took the offered juice and noisily sucked the liquid through the straw, distracted for the moment and quietening down.
“I’ve put some breakfast in your bag,” Tim said, eyes watching the road as the car turned onto the congested highway leading to Oliver’s kindergarten and Tim’s office. “The ladies will give you some food when we get to Small Miracles, okay?”
He switched on the radio and a shock-jock morning host programme, mentally on autopilot as the car made its regular journey past the kindergarten, the short stretch of highway through the CBD and finally to the Canston Global office. It sat on the seventh floor of a depressingly drab building painted in shades of grey and red. He found a park as quickly as he could (in the only spot left, on the far side of the carpark several sections away from the entrance in as isolated little cul-de-sac) and then sprinted across the boiling tarmac to the blessedly cool lobby.
Tim’s heart was still beating fast as he swiped his keycard inside the elevator and ascended up to level seven. When he finally entered his office a series of faces poked their heads up from over the top of their cubicles. Some smiled, others did not, and Tim gave a sheepish wave as he scurried over to his own little cubicle tucked in the middle of the labyrinth of pastel-blue partitions.
Whenever he was late or had made a mistake it was his most fervent hope that Bessie, his supervisor, would somehow not notice or just have the sympathy to let it slide. As expected, however, five minutes after he had scurried into his cubicle, signed into his workstation and begun looking through the tasks assigned to him via his inbox that he realised she was standing right behind him. Her humourless visage was reflected in the glass of his monitor.
He swivelled slowly in his chair and gave her a weak smile.
“Hey, Bessie. Sorry I’m late.”
“You’re supposed to call anytime you think you’re going to be late,” Bessie said quickly, piggy eyes watching him the way a toad might look at an errant fly.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Tim apologised again. “My son was just acting up so much-”
“That doesn’t matter,” Bessie cut him off. “A lot of people have kids and they find a way to get here on time. If you’re going to be late you need to call me. That’s all there is to it.”
Tim nodded, suitably cowed. “I won’t let it happen again.”
“What are you working on right now?”
“Uh, I think I need to create a presentation deck for the next showcase -”
“No, I don’t want you doing that again,” Bessie cut him off again. “Your slides are always so sloppy and ugly. It’s a waste of time, you doing any kind of design. I’ve got some spreadsheets to make up to present to the client next week. You can handle that this morning and then when that’s done go and talk to Andrew; he needs someone to help him finish his proposal.”
“Okay, sure, what -”
“And make sure you update your timesheet,” Bessie said sternly, pointing vaguely in the direction of Tim’s computer. “Dock your pay for the morning.”
“But I’m here!” Tim protested, brow furrowing.
“Doesn’t matter,” Bessie replied shortly. “This is the third time you’ve been late and you haven’t been updating your timesheet properly. Fix it and then send it to me so I can check it.”
With that, she lumbered away back to her lair. Exhaling slowly, Tim turned back to his computer and resignedly opened his timesheet. Luckily, his company did allow for its employees to listen to music while they worked, so he plugged in his earphones, muted his phone and started on his tasks for the day.
The next nine hours passed in a kind of hopeless fugue. He took some comfort in the methodical nature of it all and tried to ignore the beckoning view out the window, of the outside world and the promise of freedom. The sun reached its zenith point above and then began the day slid towards darkness, casting long shadows across the parking lot. Bessie assigned him extra work an hour before 5, so that by the time Tim completed the work the office was practically empty and silent save for the steady hum of the hibernating computers surrounding him.
Fortunately (or not), Tim’s ex had Oliver for the night, which meant that Tim was now free to enjoy a few precious hours of freedom. He could go to the movies, hit up a bar with friends or simply enjoy the pleasures of a home-cooked meal, glass of wine and a long hot bath.
Deciding to see if any of his friends were about to join him for a home-delivery pizza, Tim searched in his bag for his phone and turned it on. His wallpaper, that of a tropical beach, was covered up by a series of notifications messages, time-stamped from 10:00am onwards. He flicked through them all curiously. The first was from the Small Miracles kindergarten whilst the rest were from his ex. He opened her chat log with some measure of trepidation. Sarah had a tendency to put him on the defensive from the word ‘hello’.
Her most recent correspondence was a series of 20 to 40 second voice messages, waiting expectantly for him to listen to. He clicked listen on the most recent one, a deep frown settling on his features as her familiar and disliked voice crackled out of the phone’s cheap speakers.
“Tim – what the fuck is wrong with you? Why aren’t you answering me? I’ve just been to see your mother and Oliver isn’t there. You were supposed to leave him at the kindergarten! Where is he? It’s my night to look after him. He’s not just your son, he’s my fucking son, too. You don’t have full custody yet, asshole! If you don’t tell me what the hell is going on – just stop playing your little games! I’ve had it. If you don’t call me back then I’m just going to drive to your apartment and break in. I’ll smash everything in there, I don’t care. Don’t try to keep my son from me! So, stop playing around! I’m so sick of your shit!”
Tim stared at the screen, brow furrowed in confusion. He flicked back to the main screen of his phone and saw the first message of the day, a missed call and a voicemail sent by the Small Miracles kindergarten at 9:54am that morning.
“Hi, Tim, this is Jennifer from Small Miracles. We’re just calling to check if Oliver will be coming in at some point this morning as we’ve planned a small field trip to the park today. Please let us know so we can arrange to have a member of staff stay behind and wait for him. Thanks again!”
Tim stared at the screen, a soulless panel of blue light in the palm of his hand. His mind raced, replaying the events of that morning.
He’d woken up. Dressed Oliver. Dressed himself. Grabbed the bags. Put his boy in the car. Cut off some silly blonde in an SUV. Oliver had drunk his juice-box and quietened down. And then Tim had listened to the shock-jocks on the morning radio, eyes heavy with exhaustion, and driven through congested streets.
And then what?
He thought about it. Realised.
Driven past the kindergarten without stopping. Parked the car and rushed to work without seeing the backseat and the sleeping toddler there. Worked for nine hours straight whilst the hot sun beat down mercilessly upon the cars in the parking lot. Worked as the day crawled by and the temperature soared to 40 degrees.
The phone’s screen switched off. Now it only showed the blurry reflection of Tim’s contorted face as his eyes slowly lifted to the window he’d stared longingly out of all day. It was dark outside. There wasn’t anything left to look forward to anymore.