Unemployed

By , Roslyn Heights, NY
Mr. Henry Bank stared at the beautiful streaks of pink and purple across the mid-afternoon sky. He then looked ahead of him and saw hundreds of men and women waiting on line at the soup kitchen, which gave him chills. Henry stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and looked back at the twenty-story office building in which he used to work at. He could hardly believe he just lost his job. He knew of some people he was quite friendly with who were unemployed, but he was sure that he would never end up like those people.

Earlier that day, Henry went through his normal work-day routine. He left his apartment on West 52nd Street at a quarter to six and walked three blocks to the local diner. He ordered his usual: a piece of toast with strawberry jam, two eggs sunny side up, and coffee. He then strolled down 2nd avenue to his office building in which he worked as a writer for a small entertainment magazine. When he walked into the building, he noticed that the secretaries were not there. He glanced at his watch. 7:02, which was reasonably late for the secretaries to show up. Henry shrugged and assumed they were taking a break. He continued walking to the stairwell.

Henry walked up four flights of stairs until he reached his floor. The office was basically empty with only a few of his colleagues there, holding brown boxes and collecting items on their desks. The rest of the desks were mostly cleaned off. Henry, slowly walked to his boss’s office, dreading what he was about to hear. He knocked on his manager’s door and he heard a small voice say, “Come in.”

Henry opened the door and saw Mr. Tyson sitting at his desk with a sulking face. He had a cigar in his mouth and his grey hair was standing in all different directions. He looked up from his newspaper and fixated his jade eyes on Henry. Henry looked away.

“Mr. Tyson, is there something wrong?” asked Henry while staring at a picture of his boss’s family that was on the desk facing him.

Mr. Tyson sighed and said, “I’m very sorry to inform you that our office will be closing for good tomorrow. You ought to gather your things sometime this morning. Everything will be even crazier after lunch. I am so sorry. If you need anything let me know.”

Henry left Mr. Tyson’s office shaking. He could hardly believe his ears. This had to be a joke. He thought the company was doing fine. The other day, his coworker, Marvin, said that this company would probably be the last one to go out of all of them.
Henry walked down 2nd avenue, ashamed and embarrassed. His head hung down and his hat covered the defeated look on his face. He slowly dragged his feet through the dirtied snow. He passed Goldman’s Deli, which was where he used to take his son years ago. The windows were broken and the only remaining piece of furniture was a chair in the middle of the room. He continued walking until he saw a bar. This should occupy me for a while. Henry thought to himself.
He walked into the bar and heard a bell jingle ever so slightly. The bar appeared very small. Henry noticed a little bar only ten feet in front of where he stood where five people sat in silence. Four small tables stood in the middle of the room with only a couple of chairs. A drunk man sat in one chair, slumped over and passed out. The walls were painted a gloomy gray color and the wooden floor on which he was standing on creaked with every step he took. Henry walked up to the bar and took a seat next to a man with an unshaven face and a black and blue on his eye. The man gave him a dirty look.
“What are you looking at?” The man said.
Henry looked away. The bar tender appeared from a walkway, which was behind the bar. The bartender had hair as black as the nighttime sky and her eyes an icy blue. Her perfectly white teeth glowed against her tanned skin. She was wearing a floral tea length dress and her hair was pinned up in a perfect ballerina bun. A name tag on her shirt read Hello My Name… Georgia.
“Hello sir. Would you like me to get you anything?” Georgia asked.
“One beer please,” he said. She gave him the beer and Henry took one long sip.
“Where do you live?” Georgia asked. She stood there waiting for his answer.
“I live on 52nd street. I was walking home from work and I thought I might as well stop in. I need a drink or two.”
“You had a rough day?”
“Yeah,” Henry responded. He took a long sip of beer and stared at the light snow falling gently on the sidewalk outside.
“I lost my job today,” Henry blurted out. He stared at the glass, mesmerized by his reflection. His eyes were red from the long, tiring hours he worked each day. The only day that he was able to rest was on Sundays, which would not be the case anymore.
“Aw, poor baby. What happened?” she questioned.
Henry sighed and said, “The company I work for is going out of business. It’s shocking. One day you go to work and everything’s normal and the next day the whole company turns upside down. I guess that’s how it is these days,”
“I understand. My brother lost his job a few months ago. He was a banker. Now he’s roaming the city streets selling apples. I offered him to live with me, but he refused. He said that he can manage on his own. Never saw him since.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Haven’t seen my brother and sister in years.”

“Do they live close?”

“Nah. My sister lives in California and my brother lives somewhere in the Midwest.”

“What a coincidence. I’m leaving for Los Angeles tomorrow morning. My good friend gave them to me. Her father passed away a few weeks ago so she decided to stay to help her mother.”
“You taking anyone?” Henry questioned.
“ Yeah, that guy over there,” Georgia pointed to a man sitting at the other end of the bar. “He’s been beggin’ for a ticket for months.”

“Do you have any extra tickets?” Henry asked. He started biting his nails nervously. This could be his big chance.

“Of course not. You think I’m goin’ ‘round town givin’ people free train tickets. He earned that ticket.”

“Would you consider selling them to me?”

“For how much?”

Henry took out his wallet and took out a lone twenty-dollar bill. That was barely enough to buy his family a meal. He showed her the bill and said, “Would you sell me that ticket for this.”

Georgia looked at the man in the corner. He was completely passed out. He probably forgot that she gave him the ticket and if he noticed, it wouldn’t matter. She would be thousands of miles away.

“Fine. I’ll give you the ticket for ten. You’re gonna need the rest for a decent meal.” Georgia said. Georgia walked briskly to the back room. She came back a moment later with one ticket. She handed Henry the ticket and he then read it to make sure it was correct. The ticket read, January 24, Los Angeles, California, 7 AM.
“Thanks ma’am. Well I gotta run. Nice to meet you. Maybe we’ll see each other tomorrow.” Henry said.
“I’d like that,” said Georgia.

Henry stood up and left the bar with nothing but his empty briefcase, a brown cardboard box contained with nothing in it but a couple of pictures in their frames, a desk lamp and ten dollars in his pocket. He continued to walk down 2nd avenue. The streets were covered with thin coats of clean, white snow. As he walked, his feet made deep imprints and light crunching noises. How could something be so beautiful in a time of complete misery? Henry thought.

After almost twenty agonizing minutes, Henry reached his apartment building. He looked up as if he never saw a building this big before. He took a deep breath and walked inside. He took off his hat, and dragged his feet across the carpeted floor, which was so dirty that he couldn’t even make out the color anymore. It just appeared black.

He sluggishly walked up the ten flights of stairs making a loud and painful noise with each step he took. He finally reached apartment number 504A. The numbers were rusty and the door had a hole right near the knob from when his son used to play baseball with his friends inside the house. That was nearly seven years ago, and they still never bought a new door. They were able to afford it, no doubt, but Henry simply had no time to buy one. He stood there for a moment and thought of what his family would say if he left. Then, Henry realized that his family needed him. Even if he was nothing without his job. He promised himself to suck it up and to forget about the ticket sitting in his pocket. There was no way he was going on that train.

He took out his keys from his jacket pocket and put it in the knob. The next few moments felt like hours as he turned the key and opened the door. He saw his wife in the kitchen with her dark green apron on, stewing soup and listening to the radio. She listened to soap operas, which were her favorite. When it rained on the weekends, she would listen to them all day and make Henry listen with her. Henry hated them, so he would usually take out the daily newspaper and pretend to listen.

“Hi Henry,” Valerie said. She pushed her short curly blonde hair behind her ears. She was holding a glass bowl full of broccoli. She placed it on the cherry wood kitchen table.

Henry stood there squeamishly. He knew he had to tell her. He just didn’t know how to begin. He put his briefcase on a chair, put his hat and jacket on the coat rack and walked to his son’s room. He pulled down his suspenders as he knocked on the door.

“Come in,” he heard a very low-pitched voice say. Henry opened the door and saw his son, Jack, sitting on his bed, reading Huckleberry Finn. His square-framed reading glasses were perched upon his small, button nose. His dark curly hair fell right on his eyes. He sighed and said, “What is it pop?”

“Son, I need you in the kitchen. I need to talk to you and your mother.” Henry said shakily. He could not cry. It would only prove him weak, which would not work. He pivoted and walked out of his son’s room. His head was pounding. He sat down at the kitchen table and gestured for his family to sit down. His hands were shaking uncontrollably, which always had happened when he was nervous.

“Valerie, Jack, I got a raise,” Henry exclaimed. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did not feel like telling his family about the news. He simply wasn’t ready to face humiliation.

“That’s fabulous Henry!” Valerie said while giving him a kiss.

Jack smiled and said, “Great job pop,”

Henry smiled back at his son. He had never felt so fake in his entire life.

Valerie looked at Henry very curiously and said, “Henry you look a little bit tired. Are you okay?”

Henry looked at her and nodded. He then said, “I think I’m going to go to sleep. I’m quite tired. I haven’t slept more than four hours this whole week.”

Henry kissed his family goodnight. He flopped onto his bed and finally fell asleep after hours of cursing himself about not telling his family.

At about three o’clock in the morning, Henry woke up. He rolled over to his right side and watched his wife sleeping peacefully, as if nothing had happened the night before. He got up and started getting dressed. He had made a very hard decision last night and he decided that it was the right thing to do. He walked to his small, crowded closet and took out his dusty, old suitcase from his 30th birthday. He used it plenty of times for business trips and for when he vacationed with his family.

Henry grabbed as many clothes as he could and packed them into the suitcase. He went to the bathroom to collect his toiletries and wrote out a note to his family. He put it on his wife’s night table. He then kissed his wife and his son, one last time and left. He looked at his train ticket that he stashed away in his drawer last night and looked at the time that was circled in red ink. Los Angeles, California. Five o’clock. He was going to get on that train and he was never going to come back.





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