It was Rob’s turn to drive the twins to day care. As usual the noise and chaos of the morning departure was stupendous, enough to make a strong man quake. Davey, eighteen months old, was perfecting a full-throated imitation of Tarzan of the Apes. Julianne carried him yodeling out to the minivan on one hip, her briefcase slung over her shoulder and a bulging diaper bag hooked over the other arm. In the living room Rob wedged the filled juice bottles into Angela’s diaper bag and scooped his daughter up. “No!” she shrieked. She raised her arms into the noodle position and almost slipped right out of his grasp. He foiled her by grabbing one chubby leg.
“Come along, sugar pie.” With his free elbow he pushed the new storm door open. He had installed it himself only last weekend, and made a good job of it — a white steel frame and door with a safety grate over the glass and a self-storing screen.
“No no no no!” Angela howled. Rob stuffed her expertly into the car seat in the center seat of the van. Before she could wiggle away he clicked the latch home. In the other car seat Davey had already accepted the inevitable and was philosophically eating Cheerios by the fistful.
Rob slid the door shut on the pair of them and waved at Julianne’s retreating back. “Bye, darling!”
“Have a good day, hon!” she called over her impeccably tailored pink shoulder. “Don’t forget to tell Miss Linda about the shots.” Then the Washington D.C. commuter bus roared into view at the far end of the suburban street. Julianne sprinted to catch it, her satin blonde hair bobbing.
Julianne was always in a rush. Years of hurrying in high-heeled designer pumps had taught her to run as fast in them as in sneakers. But she had cut it too fine this time, Rob decided. The bus showed no signs of slowing down. The gray diesel plume of its exhaust streamed out straight behind like a fox’s tail. Probably the driver hadn’t even seen her. Shaking his head, Rob went around the maroon van to the driver’s side. If only Julianne would allow herself five more minutes! Now she would need a lift to the Vienna Metro station, and that would make them both late. The family schedule had no slack in it at all.
The revelation came to him suddenly, just as his fingers touched the van’s fake-wood door panel. The bus driver had indeed seen Julianne. Rob was absolutely certain of it. The knowledge was plainly visible to him. The blue of the May morning sky over his head was not more obvious. The rotten bastard! Taking out his petty frustrations on an innocent commuter — Rob jerked open the door, seething.
A warm solid wall of sound and odor hit him in the face. The twins yelled in stereo and he realized that at least one diaper was very thoroughly soiled indeed. Bitter experience had taught Rob there was never any percentage in postponing the inevitable. Holding his breath, he climbed up between the seats and clawed a diaper bag out of the back with one hand, unlocking Angela with the other. It was fifty-fifty the diaper was hers, and she was sobbing with rage, in desperate need of soothing. Cheerios crunched underfoot as he backed out. Davey had broadcast his snack with happy liberality, onto the dashboard, over all the seats, and into his sister’s clothing and hair.
Then Rob stared, the screaming child muffled against the knot of his necktie. The bus had stopped after all. But not at the bus stop, not for Julianne. It had halted right in the middle of the street. A few passengers were climbing out, and others were crowded at the front. Julianne came trudging back. “Thank God you haven’t left yet,” she said. She tossed her briefcase into the front seat. “You’ll have to drop me at the station.”
With his free hand Rob shook the orange plastic changing pad open and laid it on the driver’s seat. “Sure — can you hold her for me?”
Out here in the open air it was evident that Angela wasn’t the culprit. Julianne took the hiccupping toddler and said, “Now what?” But when Rob hauled Davey out in a hail of falling Cheerios no further explanations were necessary. The stay-dry gathers had utterly and visibly failed in their duty. Rob held his reeking son and heir at arm’s length to save his tan sports jacket. Sighing, Julianne pulled the wipes and a complete change of clothing out of Davey’s bag.
“What happened to the bus?” Rob asked as he wiped.
“I didn’t see. The other passengers said the driver went into convulsions or something. A woman with a cell phone called 911.”
“Lucky there wasn’t an accident.” An ambulance sped past the bus and halted, lights flashing. Rob didn’t look up. The appalling condition of Davey’s clothing and car seat commanded his full attention.