After I finally punch out, I drive slowly home through the darkened streets of the town and then out onto a country road. No radio on. After awhile I look at the road and wonder where I am. For a moment I think I am lost, but then I realize it is just misty out. I am the only car on the road. I feel almost as if I am driving through the netherworld.
My house is dark except for the lone light on the stairwell they left on for me. I take my boots off by the garage door and start to go up the stairs, but stop. I find a plastic garbage bag in the closet, and then carefully step out of my navy blue work pants. I don’t think there is any blood on my black t-shirt, but I take that off too. I tie the bag up and set it in the garage, just as I tied off a red bag at work containing my yellow traffic vest.
In my socks, I go up the carpeted stairs now, careful not to make a sound. The house is cool, the window air-conditioner in the living room is on, and there is the sound of a fan whirring, pushing the cooled air down the hallway. In the first bedroom, their door open, the girls, eight and twelve, are fast asleep next to each other.
I slip into the bedroom at the end of the hall where my five-month-old baby daughter and her mother sleep. I go into the bathroom and shut the door and only then turn on the light. I strip the rest of the way and then get into the shower. Under the hot water, I quietly soap my skin — soap until I am clean of the outside world.
I towel myself dry, shut out the bathroom light, and then reenter the sleeping room, which is illuminated only by a tiny night light.
On the edge of the bed I sit for a long while and watch mother in our bed and child in her closeby crib as they breathe without labor. Then I get in bed and put my arm around my baby’s mother, and she takes my hand and holds it tightly to her.
And I lie there wide awake.