~~This story previously appeared in The Yale Review (1990)
They stand on the sidewalk in front of their apartment house, trying to decide how to get to Newark Airport. Lief is carrying both suitcases because he doesn't trust his wife, son, or daughter to keep hold of them. He's spent most of the morning making plane, train, and car-rental reservations, and he feels tense and not sure if he wants to go to his mother's funeral at all. The last time he visited her, seven months ago, she only recognized him intermittently, confusing him with his cousin, Daniel, the last child she brought up. She looked so frail he could hardly stand to look at her. He much preferred the days when they quarreled.
Lief feels pressed down by the small details of travel. Perhaps it would be calming to walk over to the nearby PATH station at Fourteenth Street, and then just grab the shuttle bus from Newark. He took this simple route on his last trip to Tennessee. Everything worked out fine.
But what's the headway on the shuttle, and is there even a regular schedule? Among his many well-organized telephone calls, he's forgotten to check this one crucial point. Or, they could go up to Forty-second Street to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and catch a bus directly to the airport.
"Whichever way you want," Ina says in a tired voice. "We've got plenty of time. But it's four dollars by bus just to get us all to the Port Authority.
Lief hates taxis. The cabdrivers unnerve him with their wild driving and strange routes. He likes to know exactly where he's going. He doesn't want any confrontations or terrors. On the other hand, as they stand on the busy street corner, he notices that both Max's and Sophie's shoelaces are untied. He feels so tense that he doesn't think he can make it several blocks to the PATH station without screaming at them as their laces, already frayed and grimy, drag on the filthy sidewalk.
His bright, articulate children, nine and thirteen, aren't able to keep their shoelaces tied for more than ten minutes. He's also noticed that Ina sometimes leaves her shoelaces untied. It must be a genetic trait. Although Leif is careful and orderly, he is not calm. Orderliness merely keeps at bay the chaos he feels breaking out all around him.