The Lunch Date by Martin Green.
I opened my eyes. The bedside clock said nine AM. In the first few weeks after Id retired Id slept late, until ten and sometimes even later. I guess I was making up for years of getting up at six. Id discovered that when you got up late the day was much shorter. More recently Id been getting up earlier and the days had become longer.
Sun was coming through the blinds. It was a weekday morning in February. In Sacramento, wed been having nice sunny days since the first of the year, or ever since Id retired. My wife Sally was already out of bed. I could hear her in the kitchen talking to our two cats. I could also smell fresh coffee. I d awakened with a little feeling of anticipation I hadnt had in a while and realized that it was because I had a lunch date downtown.
After finishing in the bathroom, I entered the kitchen and said, Good morning to Sally. One of our cats, Mickey, was on the table, sitting on the morning newspaper. The other, Binky, was sitting in my chair. Both were intently watching Sally as she sliced strawberries onto her cereal. What are you doing today? Sally asked me.
Im having lunch with Patricia Barnes.. Pat was my old assistant, whod replaced me as section head.
Id retired, after 27 years as a research analyst with the State of California, at the end of last year, which was the same time as Id reached my 62nd birthday. I might have retired a couple of years earlier as Id been thoroughly fed up with the endless meetings, countless memos and stupid bureaucracy of the State, but then Id transferred to the agency that oversaw childrens health concerns and had actually somewhat liked what I was doing. I didnt really do any research there; my job was to try to untangle the agencys computerized data system, which had become a mess. I thought Id managed to do so but in the weeks after Id left Pat had called me at least once a week and Id returned to the office to clear up loose ends.
I thought everything was taken care of at the office, Sally said.
I think things are in good shape, but I just want to make sure the system is running okay.
Are you doing anything before your lunch?
No, I dont think so. The sprinklers are all working and I raked up the leaves yesterday.
When are you going to call that editor? Sallys friend Nancy, whod been a fellow teacher, knew everybody and when Id retired shed given me the name and number of Tom Hoskins, who put out an alternative weekly newspaper called the Sacramento Gazette. Shed said that Tom was always looking for new writers for the paper, who were willing to be volunteers; the Gazette didnt pay anything.
Im a research analyst, not a writer. I dont think hed be interested in me.
You wont know until you call him, Sally, ever sensible, pointed out.
Well, I dont have time to do it today.
Hmmm, said Sally.
Sally, a few years younger than me, had also retired, but although she didnt teach anymore she had a part-time job in the catalogue sales department of one of the big department stores. She was working this morning. After shed left, I went back into the bathroom, showered and shaved, probably more carefully than usual. Pat, whom Id recommended to replace me, was a woman in her forties, attractive and smart, divorced with a young son. In January, Id come into the office at least once a week as problems with our data system kept popping up. As Id told Sally, things seemed to be in order now and Pat hadnt called me in a few weeks. This time Id called her, suggesting lunch and wed agreed to meet in the office at one.
After getting dressed, I finished reading the paper, then did the crossword puzzle. The cats as usual followed my activities with interest. I saw it was still before eleven so went out to the back yard. Sacramento, and California, was in the midst of a long drought, which was why wed been having day after day of warm sunny weather. Id just mowed the lawns so that had been taken care of. I saw that a few of the shrubs could use pruning and made a mental note to do that later in the week. Otherwise, Id repaired a broken sprinkler last month and everything was working. I went back in and played around with the cats until it was time to leave.
I found a parking place pretty close to our building. The usual number of State workers were out, most returning from lunch, maybe a few going to lunch. Some hurried along carrying briefcases, on their way to meetings. I took the elevator up and found that our usual receptionist wasnt at the front desk. I asked the girl sitting there what had happened to Carmela. Shes gone to some other agency, I forget which one. Can I help you?
Yes, Im here to see Pat, Patricia Barnes.
Oh, you must be Paul Lerner. She said to tell you she was sorry but she had a staff meeting and couldnt meet you for lunch.
I felt suddenly deflated, but said, Did she ask me to call her?
I dont think she said anything else.
I see. Mind if I look around the place. I used to work here.
No. Go ahead.
I walked around but didnt recognize anyone in the outer office that I knew. I looked into a few cubicles, but they were either empty or, in the case of two or three, occupied by strangers. I wondered if thered been a complete change-over since Id left. On the way out, I told the new girl at the front desk, who was staring intently at her computer, to let Pat know Id been there
. She said, Okay, and I wondered if shed remember.
I left the building and briefly wondered if I should have lunch in one of the State buildings by myself, but I didnt feel very hungry. I went back to my car; some lucky person would get my space. I drove home. The house was empty and seemed very quiet. The cats were on the sofa, taking their afternoon naps. I checked the answering machine for messages. Nothing. I sat down. Maybe, I told myself, it was time to call that editor.
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