End of an Era

The retirement party was held in a private room at Grimaldi’s, a nearby restaurant. Co-worker after co-worker congratulated Charlie Wilson.

“I wish it was me retiring, Charlie,” said Ted Sanchez, raising his glass of scotch in a salute. “I could use the change.”

Charlie smiled half-heartedly, raising his glass of wine, and thanked Ted.

“I’m going to miss you, Charlie,” Melissa Karr added. Charlie could swear he saw tears forming in her eyes. “You were like a second father to me.”

Father figure… just what Charlie wanted to hear from a pretty twenty-five-year-old.

“I’ll miss you too, Melissa.”

“Charlie, the dependable!” voiced Peter Banks. “There is no one here who can replace you, my friend.”

Charlie smiled. Apparently, they found someone with no problem, Charlie told himself as he stared at Angela Beckett, the new hire taking over his desk and work. Angela, a twenty-something, was chuckling it up with Robert Jensen, Charlie’s manager, or more accurately his former manager.

Plenty of other co-workers came over between drinks and eating snacks to deliver the customary congratulatory remarks about how they were going to miss good old Charlie. “Mr. Dependable”, as many called him. What a dedicated worker he had been, how he was always an important resource for information, background data and so much more. On top of that, everyone agreed Charlie was a good guy and was going to be missed.

Robert Jensen praised Charlie’s dedication and his many years as a model employee. He told everyone during his short insincere speech that Charlie’s retirement was the end of an era.

It was all bullshit, Charlie thought. Half of these people rarely, if ever, talked to him. Some did not even know he existed until they heard there was a retirement party with free booze and food. That’s when they came out of the woodwork.

Charlie recently turned sixty-two. He worked for The All-Life Insurance Company since he graduated from high school. He began his career in the mailroom and eventually after years of night classes, graduated from City College with an accounting degree. Slowly, he advanced to better positions in various departments eventually spending most of his time in a dead-end function in the Accounting and Authentication Division.

As the years passed, and technology became a standard and critical part of the job, Charlie never a whiz with computers became outdated. That caused his productivity and quality of work to slip below the new acceptable standards. At least that’s what big boss man Robert Jensen told him on that fateful day. Also present that day in Jensen’s office for the reading of his corporate will, aka separation papers, was Human Resource representative Donna McLean who urged Charlie to take the offered retirement package. If not, they would terminate him, and he would lose whatever benefits his years of service earned him.

Charlie accepted the offer.

The retirement package, along with the standard amenities, included six months’ separation pay. Not much for someone who dedicated most of his life to the company. Charlie was the one who always volunteered to work late at night, on weekends, on holidays, and against tough deadlines. No one else stepped up, and why bother? Everyone knew they could depend on Charlie to come forward. While co-workers always had or made excuses, legitimate or not, Manager Robert Jensen knew he could depend on good old Charlie who had no life outside of work. Some believed that was the only reason Jensen tolerated Charlie for so long. But now he was yesterday’s news.

Charlie may not have been computer savvy, but he had more knowledge about the inner workings of the company than anyone. Why you cannot skip certain tasks that seem unimportant to the twenty-two-year-old techies whose only aim was not about the company’s progress and success but making money. If their raises and bonuses did not meet expectations, they left, off to another job, and were replaced by a never-ending line of young computer whiz kids.

Stan O’Brien told Charlie he should travel. “Go see the world. Take advantage of the time now before you get too old or ill. You’re still young enough. Go visit family and friends! Make new friends!”

Charlie wondered why, if he was still young enough to travel, why the hell was he shown the door at work? Stan meant well, but Charlie did not like to travel unless it was in a car. Airplane travel terrified him. Even if he were willing to travel, where would he go? He had no interest in traveling. Working his entire life, Charlie had no friends, no real friends. He rarely dated over the years, and never more than once with the same woman. There was never any time to develop a relationship. At least, that’s what he told himself. Family? Charlie was an only child and always found it uncomfortable to form friendships. Both his parents died in a tragic car accident long ago. He lost contact with the few cousins he had, and these days did not know who was alive or who was not. In Charlie’s life, there was no one.

It’s now been seven months since the company he spent his life dedicated to put him out to pasture. These days, Charlie spends most of his time in his small walk-up apartment, only venturing out to go shopping, mostly for food or other essentials. Charlie tried dining out on a few occasions, but people would stare at him. Everyone else was dining with at least one other person. Charlie always sat there alone. He kept his head down to avoid looking at others, concentrating on his meal. But soon he gave up eating out. On the occasions when he desired to eat out, Charlie would open the drawer in his kitchen where he kept a pile of local restaurant menus, call one up, and have it delivered.

Charlie spent many hours every day reading books. An avid reader, he liked mysteries, thrillers, and biographies. Despite his lack of technology skills, Charlie managed to order books online, both paperbacks and hardcovers. While many read eBooks these days, they were too techie for Charlie. Besides, he liked to hold a book in his hands. It felt real. Charlie always had his television on, whether or not he was watching a show. It was more to have some noise in the house. Other than reading, Charlie spent a good part of his day gazing out the window, the one that overlooked Main Street. From his third-floor apartment, he watched people hustling by with their busy lives coming or going somewhere. He sometimes made-up stories about where they were going: the movies, shopping, visiting family, and friends, going out on a date, on their way to work or coming home from work. Wherever they were going, they had a purpose in their lives, and they were doing something about it.

Since Charlie retired, or more accurately, was retired, he had no purpose in his life. No purpose and no one.

On this winter evening, Charlie sat by his window, a book laid on a nearby table, as snowflakes began to fall. The kids will love it, he thought. He remembered how he loved the snow when he was a child. The evening’s darkness crept up quickly, but Charlie still sat there by his window, watching what was turning into a winter wonderland. For a moment, he wished he was young again, a kid, so he could run outside and into the snow, maybe even build a snowman. He enjoyed building snowmen as a kid. There wasn’t enough snow right now, not enough to build a snowman, but maybe later there would be. It looked promising.

Later proved to be too late. On one of Charlie’s last excursions outside his apartment to shop, he made a purchase that would prove to be his last… a pistol.

It was Christmas Eve.

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John Greco

John Greco

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Author of various short story collections including, "Harbor House," and The Late Show."