The Manchester Review
Steven Millhauser
The Slap
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ROBERT SUTLIFF. Some sixteen hours later, Robert Sutliff arrived at the station on the 7:38. It was an hour after his usual time. The lights were on in the lot, though the sky was still gray with the last light. He had worked late — tomorrow’s design presentation was a big one. He still needed a few hours after dinner to do a little fine-tuning, a little last-minute cleanup on the three logos he was planning to show them, each with six presentation pages, with and without type. That way he’d give them the illusion that they were actively involved in the decision process, that they were making a contribution to the final product, while he slowly steered them in the direction of the third mark, the one they wouldn’t be able to resist: the yellow-gold ring surrounding a solid dark coffee-colored circle, as if you were looking at a cup of coffee from above, and in the center a design of classic simplicity, in five bold yellow lines: a horizon line, a half circle representing the rising sun, and three sun rays. Coffee and morning, coffee and the energy of the new day, the energy of a new beginning, all in a visually striking, distinctive, versatile design. It worked perfectly on a two-inch business card, and it would work just as well on a ten-foot billboard or the side of an eighteenwheeler. He hurried down the platform stairs, the stone shining dully under the orange lights. He would talk up the first two designs, the tame one and the way-out one, then hit them with the winner. His car was parked toward the back of the lot, not far from a light pole. As he reached into his pocket for his key, he heard someone walking up to him. Sutliff turned. The man raised his arm and swung at Sutliff’s face. Sutliff heard the sharp sound of the slap, like a gunshot. “Hey!” he shouted, but the man was striding away. His cheek burned. The man had struck him hard, but it wasn’t a punch, he hadn’t made a fist. Sutliff angrily began to follow him, shouted again, and stopped. That was not how he did things. He knew exactly how he did things. Sutliff looked around, rubbed his cheek, and got into his car. He drove quickly out of the lot, turned onto Main, made a left onto South Redding, and stopped at the police station. A man in a trench coat, no hat. Five ten, five eleven. Short hair, brown, darkish, hard to tell. Clean shaven, mid-thirties. A stranger. They would send a car out right away. Sutlciff thanked the officer and continued on his way home. What angered him about the whole thing was that people liked him; people took to him. It was part of his success. It had been that way as far back as kindergarten. It had all come together in high school, where he’d set a new record in the hundred-meter dash, acted the part of Tom in The Glass Menagerie — Blow out your candles, Laura! — and nailed Sandra Harding in her living room in front of the fireplace after the spring dance. UPenn, Harvard Business. Now he was someone to watch, someone on the way up, though always with a friendly greeting, a kind word for everyone. The man had looked at him angrily. Sutliff tried to think who it could be. He had a good memory for faces; it was no one he knew. Sutliff loved his wife, his daughter, his work; there had been the one brief fling in the months before Amy’s birth, but that was two years ago, no husband in the picture, no brother, she’d been good about it, disappointed but not bitter. He had nothing to reproach himself with. Who would do this? His cheek felt hot. The man had swung hard but hadn’t made a fist, hadn’t wanted anything from him. A crazy mistake. The police would take care of it.