It was only Monday night, but Ted already felt like he’d worked a month with no break.
He managed a weak smile as he pulled his beater into the driveway and flashed dim headlights over the property. The afternoon storm had ripped a hunk of roofing off the little house, and one downspout had popped away from the dingy siding.
Branches were strewn all over the yard.
Looked like Ted would have another busy weekend, if it ever came. He parked and stepped into the grassy gravel, legs aching and wobbling from the long day and the longer drive home.
He could hear the kids yelling from inside the house, and the smell of burnt bread filled his nostrils as he opened the back door to the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” Patty said, looking at him from the the sink, where she was running water over a steaming, charred blob. “The stove is out, so I had to microwave some hamburgers. I forgot they were in there when Max ran out.” She smiled. “Could you see if you can find him? The kids are pretty upset.”
“Sure,” Ted said, and headed out to look for the dog.
That night, after he carried Max back from the creek side and after a meal of cold hot dogs and after the kids were tucked in, and after he kissed Patty good night, Ted drifted off into a sound sleep.
He dreamed of fancy cars and big houses and sunny days spent playing with his family instead of working until his body was broken. It was like paradise, until a knock at the door jolted him awake.
Heart pounding, Ted eased cautiously to the front door. No one else in the dark house even stirred.
“Who’s there?” Ted asked in a whisper.
“I’m here to make your life better, make it complete,” a voice said from outside. “Is there anything missing?”
Ted looked around him, eyes adjusting to the low light from the street lamps splashing through the windows. The living room was tiny, with cheap toys strewn across the floor.
The TV was old, and had a wire hanger for an antenna.
Max slept in a corner, still emanating wet dog smell.
From down the hall, Ted could hear the kids breathing hard, and Patty snoring.
He glanced into the kitchen, where the microwave clock mocked him … “3:51.” He had to be awake for work in less than an hour.
Finally, Ted, turned back to his late night visitor. “No, we have everything we need.”
When the alarm went off at 4:45, Ted woke with a smile and rubbed a light hand over Patty’s shoulder. He hopped out of bed and stretched, ready for another day in paradise.