Barney left the office early that afternoon. It wasn’t quite 4:30. He didn't know why, he just felt like it, and he stood in the parking lot with his keys in his hand wondering what to do next. The old wanderlust was back again.
If he went home now the house would be empty, Barbara didn't leave her real estate office 'til six––sometimes later. He opened the door of the Toyota and thought to himself ... I could be in Allentown by six. He got in and switched on the ignition then gunned the motor. "Well, why not?" he asked himself. "By morning I could be in Cleveland––who'd give a shit one way or the other?"
He wondered if Barbara would miss him tonight. Probably not. Not right away. As they grew older their need for each other had dwindled little by little, and now that their son, Peter, was married and gone there wasn't a lot to hold them together. Barney was 55 last week––got jogging shoes from Barbara and what was supposed to be a humorous birthday card from Peter ... it wasn't––not very.
He drove out the gate and headed west. "A toothbrush and a razor." He'd need them by morning ... "that's all I need ... and a credit card ... how about it, Barney? Let’s go somewhere. What’s out there?"
He asked himself the same question thirty five years ago alone on a sunny, breezy afternoon off the coast of Ogunquit, Maine in a Sunfish sailboat. He was twenty years old that afternoon. He'd be a senior at Tufts next year and he’d done nothing exciting in his life so far. He thought of keeping the sun in back of him, heading east until he ran ashore––who knew where. But then a hundred reasons told him not to do it. What would happen when the sun went down. When he lost sight of land. If it was a cloudy night and he couldn't find a star to steer by. If the weather changed. The “ifs” outweighed the “why nots,” It seemed insurmountable.
But the idea of it stuck with him all these years, and lately he began to think he made a mistake by not going. If he made it he would be a different man today, he would have lived a different life. He wouldn't be driving west in a six year old Toyota wondering if his wife would miss him.
With the sun in his eyes he found himself on Rte. 22 in the middle of New Jersey. The rhythmical beat of the Toyota’s tires on the joints in the road were a constant reminder that he was approaching a point of no return. Even if he turned around now and headed back home he would be late enough to need an excuse when Barbara looked at the kitchen clock and said. ‘Well, where have you been?”
Maybe it was the sun in his eyes, maybe not, but as the miles passed he began to worry a little. Income taxes were due next month ... his credit card was due to expire ... and his heart pills––he could see his heart pillls sitting on the bedside table. The practical side of life! It was Johnny-on-the-spot to thwart him thirty-five years ago and it was here with him this afternoon.
“Well,” he said to himself, “how you gonna face up to that, Barney old boy?” The fuel gauge read zero and he figured this would be as good a time as any to take stock.
“Check yer oil?” the attendant asked.
“Good idea,” Barney answered. “How far is Allentown?” he added.
“Half hour, bout thirty miles I guess. You’re from New York, right?”
“That’s right, why?”
“Over the radio. The big explosion, I thought maybe you seen it.”
“No. I guess I left before it happened. Where was it?”
“Out in Long Island. I never heard of it––something like Siasset,” He shrugged his shoulders. “Sounded like that anyway.”
“Syosset. I live there. Damn! That all you know?”
“Gee, Sorry––yeah, that’s all I know. Gas explosion. I think they said 22 dead.”
Barney paid off the attendant, then sat in the car looking at the road ahead. Chances are the explosion was nowhere near his neighborhood––probably at some fast food joint in town. He should go on, the way he planned. For once in his life he should follow through.
He turned on the radio––all he heard was commercials. The attendant was looking at him. He had to do something.He rolled the window down ... “Is there a turn-around up ahead?”
“Coupla miles ahead, Big jug handle takes you over a bridge and back on route twenny-two goin’ east.”
The same feeling of indecision came back to him thirty-five years ago. He hadn’t planned ahead, and he knew he’d regret whatever he did. He had two miles to make up his mind. That was where the turnaround was––after that it might be too late. He could see it up ahead.
A sign flashed by “Rte. 22 Eastbound––Next Right.”
He took the east bound turnaround. “How could I wake up tomorrow morning in some flea bag hotel and not know? Maybe it’s fate. Who knows what it is? Maybe I was never meant for running away. That’s what it would be ... running away?”