Bad Habits Die Hard

by Steven Cuffari

It was a beautiful spring afternoon in the suburbs. The weather was perfect. The sun was out and there was not a cloud in the sky. Martin Teggler was sitting at his desk in the office development where he works about a half hour away from his home. It was the middle of the afternoon as he typed away on his keyboard when his cell phone rang.

“Hi baby. What’s up?” he said, answering the phone. He twisted his wedding ring clockwise on his finger as he waited for her to speak.

His wife, Martha, was at home holding her belly as she sat at the dining room table. A puddle of water was at her feet. She took a deep breath and said, “Marty, it’s time. Come home now.”

“What?” Martin shouted, jumping to his feet. “But you’re a month away!”

“It’s happening now. My water broke. Just get here now,” she said in controlled breaths.

“Okay. Yeah. Of course. I’m leaving now,” he said, shaking the cobwebs out of his head. He threw his things into his bag and rushed toward the lobby of his building, but stopped half-way there. He began twisting his ring again, thinking and then huffed. He turned back and rushed to the office of his boss, Carl Parl. He knocked on the door, but went through without a response, knowing that Carl would probably ignore it.

“Teggler. What have I told you about barging in here? I’m busy. Whatever it is will have to wait,” Carl said, just barely glancing up at Martin.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Parl. But I have to go home early. Is that okay?” he asked.

Carl looked up at Martin and put down his pen. He sighed and walked over to him. “Why should I let you go home early today, Teggler?”

“My–” Carl cut him off.

“You know, you come in here late every day. You constantly bother me with your problems… I–”

“I came in early yesterday,” Martin said.

“You came in at 9am on the dot. That’s not early. That’s just not late. And now you’re in here bothering again. What gives, Teggler?” Carl crossed his arms and waited for a response.

“My wife just went into labor,” Martin said.

Carl’s eyes went wide. He shook his head and rubbed his forehead. “You know, Teggler,” he said. “You should’ve started with that.”

“So I can go?” he asked.

“Of course! Get out of here!”

Martin turned around and rushed out the way he came.

Carl stood there and watched, shaking his head.

 

Outside, Martin ran across the parking lot, dodging people and cars. He threw his things into the back seat of his mini-van and jumped in the front. Throwing the car into reverse and hitting the gas pedal, a car behind him blew its horn.

“Fuck!” he shouted. He could see the other driver flip him off. “Sorry, sorry. Come on,” he whispered.

When the driver was finally clear, Martin sped out of the lot and jumped onto route M-9 toward his neighborhood. At every traffic light, he got as close to the corner as possible and slammed on the gas as soon as the light went green. He whizzed by car after car, sometimes swerving and passing them as necessary. At the corner before he had to turn off onto the side streets, he stared up at the red light, twisting the ring on his finger. The more he thought about Martha alone in the house, waiting and in pain, the faster his heart beat. He crept inch by inch past the “stop” line. There was no traffic coming from his left or right.

“Come on, come on,” he begged.

But the light stayed red.

“Ah, fuck it,” he said and swung the car around the corner, tires screeching. He gunned it straight, made a left, then a right, then another left, went straight for a few more blocks and then made a final left. A hundred yards before his house, he slowed down and gently pulled the card into the driveway. Just as he put it in park, his phone started to ring. He reached into his bag on the back seat and answered it. It was Martha.

“Hey, baby. I’m here. I’ll be right in,” he said, jumping out of the car, leaving it running.

Martha was lying in a stretcher in an ambulance, grimacing and clutching her stomach. “Honey, I couldn’t wait for you…” She let out a pain-soaked groan. “There was blood…”

“Martha, oh my god! What’s happening!” he begged, covering his head with his arm, grimacing as well.

“They don’t know…” She groaned in pain again. “Just come…”

“Okay, baby, okay,” he whispered. He jumped back into the car and tossed the phone in the back seat. Again, his tires screeched as he spun the car a hundred and eighty degrees and pointed it toward the hospital. It was another half hour away from his house. He swerved from street to street until route M-9 was a few blocks away, directly in front of him. He trained his eyes on it like a laser sight and sped toward it. Just as he was about there, another car came barreling toward him from the left. He swerved out of the way just in time, but heard a loud crash behind him. While his car kept moving, he looked back and saw the car that he just missed continuing down the street.

“Holy shit,” he whispered to himself. He had just barely avoided an accident. When he turned to look at the road in front of him, another car was coming at him, head-on this time. Again, he swerved and just barely escaped.

“Fuck!” he shouted.

This time, he pulled the car over and looked around. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’ve gotta get it together,” he said to himself. He took a deep breath and looked at his watch. He was still twenty-five minutes away. Putting the car back in drive, he looked around again and got onto route M-9.

 

Martin drove much more carefully after nearly getting whacked by a moving car twice in the span of five minutes. When he finally arrived at the hospital, he pulled into the parking lot, paid for a space and rushed into the hospital’s emergency entrance.

 

Inside, there seemed to be a crowd of people all trying to get attention. Martin joined a line of people waiting to check in and twisted the ring on his finger. He looked around the room and thought to himself, How do I not know what to do at this point! He didn’t want to wait, so he let himself past the check-in desk and through some doors that led to what seemed like a main corridor.

He was surprised at how easy it was to get in. Now he just had to find the labor area. Ashamed of his ignorance, he asked doctors and nurses that rushed by, but they ignored him. He was just about to go in a random direction when he saw Martha at one end of the corridor being pushed in a wheelchair. She was crying and talking on the phone. He wanted to call out to her, but was interrupted when several EMTs pushed a gurney in through the doors.

As he jumped out of their way, he got a glimpse of the person on the gurney. The face was badly battered, but he immediately recognized it. It was his face. He couldn’t help but feel dizzy at the sight of it, but still he chased himself down the corridor. When he heard one of the EMTs tell the doctor, “There’s too much damage, I think we’ve lost him,” Martin could no longer hold himself up and he fainted.

 

Later, Martin woke up alone, sitting on a bench in another one of the hospital’s corridors. Things now seemed much more tranquil. He rubbed his head and stood up. A sign in front of him said Labor and Delivery Unit. He sighed in relief and followed it, rushing from door to door, hoping not to draw attention to himself. No one seemed to mind. No one seemed to notice him at all. He began to panic when he got to the last few rooms without finding Martha. Images of her crying in pain flooded his mind. He imagined the worst had happened and his heart began to beat rapidly.

But when he finally came to a room and saw her flushed face resting next to their newborn baby, he got chills from his hair to his fingertips. He rushed to their side and gently put his arms around them.

They didn’t seem to notice him at first, which worried him. But then Martha began to stir and stretch with the baby in her arms. “Marty?” she whispered. She smiled without opening her eyes. “Is that you?”

“You did it, baby,” Martin whispered. Twisting his ring as he watched them sleep, he removed it from his finger and placed it on the table next to their bed.

“Marty…” she said one last time as tears rolled down her cheeks, and Martin faded away.

THE END