The Retirement

📅 Published on August 25, 2021

“The Retirement”

Written by J.C. Fields
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 6.67/10. From 3 votes.
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“Forty years with the same company. That’s a long time.”

Robert Harris shrugged as he pushed the soggy salad around the paper plate with a flimsy plastic fork. He looked at the young intern sitting across from him. “Time goes fast, Thomas. It didn’t feel like forty years.”

“Aren’t they supposed to do more than—let’s face it—a crappy lunch?”

Robert put the fork down. “That’s what happens when a family company sells to a private equity firm. Get used to being under a cost-cutting edict.” With a grim smile he passed his hand over his plate. “This is my reward for being a loyal employee. I was told they made an exception for me.”

“Really? Why?”

“I’m the last original employee, on the last day of his career.”

The younger man nodded. “I like it here. Think they’ll offer me a job after I graduate?”

Robert stood. “Pray, they don’t. It used to be a rewarding place to work. Not anymore. Besides, they’ll sell it in a few years and everything will change again.” He dropped the barely touched plate of food into a nearby waste bin and headed toward the cafeteria exit.

As he got there, his new boss entered the cafeteria and smiled. “Last day, huh?”

Robert nodded.

The man, half his age with an MBA from Yale, put a hand on Robert’s shoulder. “Sorry I was late, just got out of a meeting. Did you enjoy the meal?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Good, why don’t you go ahead and pack your office. You can leave early since we need access to it.” He smiled as he looked Robert in the eye. “The individual taking over your responsibilities will be here Monday. She’s asked for it to be remodeled.”

He turned and walked away, not offering to shake Robert’s hand or say have a nice life. Robert shook his head as he rolled his eyes. Continuing on to the elevators he would take the ride to the sixth floor for the last time.

In his office, he sent emails to his customers, thanking them for their support over the years and reminding them he would retire at the end of the day. His last piece of business was to place the few remaining personal items into a white storage box: pictures of his son and daughter, the grandkids, an autographed baseball signed by Johnny Bench, and a small desk clock won twenty-five years ago in an interoffice sales contest.

He picked up the picture of his wife, Peggy. Before placing it in the box, he stared at her image. A tear formed in the corner of his eye and rolled down his cheek. The memory of that horrible Christmas day two years ago flooded back.

* * * * * *

“I sure love having the kids visit,” Peggy said, as she dried a saucepan he just washed. “But it’s also nice when they leave.”

He started to agree with her, but she stumbled, dropped the pan, and grabbed his shoulder for support. “What’s wrong, Peg?”

“I—I—uh—don’t know.” She blinked several times. “I’m dizzy.” She blinked several times. “I’ve got a blinding headache.”

Robert steadied her and led her to the bedroom. “Why don’t you lie down? I’ll get you a couple of Tylenols and some water.”

“You’re so sweet, thank you.” She looked up. “I love you, Bobby.”

“I love you too.” He bent down and kissed her. He hurried to the kitchen for the water and pills. He returned to the bedroom, placed the glass on the nightstand and sat next to her on the edge of the bed. Her eyes were closed. He nudged her on the shoulder and said, “Peg, honey, I have your Tylenol.” She was unresponsive. He glanced at the digital clock as he called 911 on his cell phone at exactly 10:05 p.m.

* * * * * *

Those words had been their last. He sighed and placed the picture in the box, swallowing hard to clear the lump in his throat.

At two-thirty in the afternoon, Harry Benson, head of Loss Prevention, stepped into his office, “Hi Bob, you ready?”

Robert shut off the computer screen, grabbed his suit jacket off the coat rack, picked up the box, and started to walk out of his office for the last time.

“Sorry, Bob, I have to search the box. Gotta make sure you’re not stealing paper clips,” he said with a big smile.

“How much longer are you staying, Harry?”

“End of the year. HR already talked to me. Remember, you and I are the same age?”

“That’s right.” Harry was a retired police officer and the only person left in the company Robert considered a friend. Their friendship started several years ago after a company newsletter announced they shared the same birthday.

Walking to the elevator, Harry asked, “Got any plans for your retirement?”

Shaking his head, Robert signed. “No, not really. I haven’t thought much about it since Peggy passed away. She and I had a lot of plans, but now…”

While waiting for the elevator, Harry was silent. Finally, as the door opened, he said, “Sorry. Being forced to retire sucks. I didn’t mean to remind you.”

Robert shrugged. “That’s okay. It’s just the way it is.”

Both were quiet until they reached the building’s entrance. Harry reached to shake his friend’s hand. “Good luck to you Bob. One last duty, I have to take your security badge” After ending the shake, with a grim smile, he held his palm open. “Call me sometime, let’s go fishing or something.”

As he placed the card in Harry’s hand, he said, “I’ll do that.” Although he knew he never would.

* * * * * *

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay, Daddy?”

The house felt less empty with the kids around. He hated how fast the weekend passed. Robert hugged his daughter tightly. “Susan, I’ll be fine. I’m meeting a few friends in the morning for coffee.” He broke the embrace, held her by her shoulders and smiled. “Like I told you last night at dinner, it’s going to take a few days to get used to being retired.”

Lying to his daughter did not come easy, but he didn’t want her to worry. She was the mirror image of her mother. Petite, slender, long dark blonde hair, and she possessed the same angelic face. He knew she had her own life to live and he did not want to burden her with his feelings. It was Sunday afternoon and his son-in-law, Eric, gathered their kids for the trip home to Kansas City. As he and his daughter walked to her car, Robert put his arm around her shoulder. “Thanks for spending the weekend. I’ve really enjoyed having all of you here.”

“Daddy.” She paused for a moment. “Why don’t you think about moving to Kansas City? You’d be closer and I wouldn’t worry about you so much.”

He smiled. “What would I do in Kansas City besides get in your way? You and Eric both have jobs. The kids are in school and we’d see each other less than we do now. No Susan, I think it’s best I stay here.”

She smiled and squeezed his hand. “Think about it.”

He nodded. “Okay—I’ll think about it.” As they backed out of the driveway, he waved. Not quite ready to go back inside the now empty house, Robert decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. Afterward, he would watch 60 Minutes.

* * * * * *

An infomercial for a glorified crockpot woke him at 2:13 a.m. Confused, Robert wondered why Peggy had not gotten him up by now. He had to be at work in a few hours. Realization of why he was still in front of the TV caused him to stare at the ceiling. A tear involuntarily trickled down his cheek. After a few moments, he slowly pushed himself up, turned the TV off, and headed for his bedroom.

The lamp on Peggy’s bedroom nightstand was on. “That’s strange. I guess Susan turned it on.” He switched it off and continued into the bathroom to get ready for bed.

He passed through the master bathroom and opened the door to their closet. A cold pocket of air hung there causing him to shiver. Thinking the furnace register might be closed, he checked. It was open. With a shrug, he undressed and slipped on a t-shirt and lounge pants.

Her clothes still hung on her side of the closet. He didn’t need the room, nor did he want to pack them away. He noticed a gap on her side, exposing her favorite nightgown. He touched the soft fabric, then drew the garment to his face and inhaled deeply. Memories of the intimacies shared with Peggy while she wore it made him smile. He assumed Susan had been in the closet earlier in the day. He left the gap and went to bed, ignoring the urge to take the gown with him.

* * * * * *

Coffee with his friends lasted most of Monday morning. The conversations were lively and he enjoyed the companionship. By eleven, most of the guys had paid their bills and left the small diner. Only Dave Cooper remained. He had been Robert’s counterpart for the West Coast for decades before the buyout. “How’d last Friday go?”

Robert shrugged. “Okay, lunch sucked, I packed my stuff and Harry escorted me out of the building. End of story.”

Dave laughed. “Sounds like my last day. Only I didn’t get a lunch.”

“You didn’t miss anything.”

“After I retired, I felt like you do right now. What the hell am I going to do?” He put his hand on Robert’s shoulder. “Relax, Bob, it’ll take a few weeks. You’ll get used to not going to work. I was miserable at first, but gradually, I found other things to do. Give it time, you’ll be fine.”

Robert looked at his friend. “If you say so.”

“Why don’t you join our Wednesday golf group? It’s a great way to kill a morning.”

“I haven’t played golf since Peggy…” He paused. “I haven’t played for a while.” He stared at his friend for a few moments. “I’ll be rusty.”

Laughing, Dave said, “No problem, none of us are any good. It’s more of a social gathering than a gold game.” He stood to leave. “One last thing, Joyce wants you to come to dinner Friday night. She has a friend she wants you to meet. No pressure, just a friendly dinner. Can you make it?”

Robert was quiet. He didn’t want to betray Peggy by dating. He hesitated. “I’m not sure about that right now. Who would want to meet a sixty-six-year-old widower?”

“A sixty-six-year-old widow,” Dave said, straight-faced.

“I’ll think about it.”

* * * * * *

Robert returned home late Friday night. Thoughts of canceling had occurred to him all week, but finally, he decided to go. As it had been when Peggy was alive, dinner with Dave and Joyce provided laughter and good conversation. Jolene was nice, but every time he looked at her, he saw Peggy’s smile or heard her laughter. It was unnerving.

He helped the Coopers clean up after Jolene left. While putting dishes away, Robert said, “Was it my imagination, or did Jolene laugh like Peggy.”

Dave chuckled, “Your imagination, Bob. She sounded nothing like Peggy.”

Shaking his head, Robert finished helping, thanked them for an enjoyable evening and said goodnight.

Just before entering the house, he touched the button to lower the garage door. When he walked into the kitchen, a chill ran up his spine. Every single accent light in the kitchen, dining room, and living room were on. Peggy loved the ambiance they added to their house, but he had not turned them on since her funeral. Frowning, he knew for sure he was not responsible. Standing in the center of the dining room, memories of the lights made him take a deep breath. He had forgotten how warm and inviting they made their home. As he slowly let his breath out, he remembered the cleaning service had been there earlier in the day.

Reaching to turn one off, he stopped. A cabinet door was open. One he had not opened in two years. Without hesitation, he walked into the kitchen to close it. After stepping on something hard and brittle, he glanced down and saw the remains of a wine glass shattered on the floor. He looked up at the cabinet and saw its twin precariously perched on the edge of a shelf, ready to fall. He stiffened, stared at the glass, and realized it was one of two he had bought for Peggy on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. After sweeping up the broken glass, he looked again at the lights. They filled him with wonderful memories of Peggy. He left them on.

The first thing he noticed as he walked into the bedroom was Peggy’s nightstand lamp on again. Before leaving for the Cooper’s, he had made sure it was off. He stared at it for a few moments, then turned and walked down the hall to the guest bedroom. If his daughter had made a surprise visit, why had she not call first? Plus, the question of why she would not clean up the broken glass filled him with a sense of foreboding. When he opened the door, the room was dark and empty. His stomach clenched as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck tingle.

After several moments of uncertainty, he hurried to his bathroom. His image in the mirror startled him. A gaunt face with dark circles under the eyes stared back at him. He ran a trembling hand through increasing grayer hair. He sighed, leaned forward, placed his palms flat on the bathroom vanity, and lowered his head. His eyes closed as he shook his head slowly. When he straightened, he noticed something white on the floor of the closet. He turned and froze. It was Peggy’s nightgown.

* * * * * *

Sleep eluded him the rest of the night. Each time the furnace kicked on, or a car drove by, he woke up. Afterward, it would take forever to get back to sleep. Finally, during the early light of dawn, he gave up and went to the kitchen to make coffee. As it brewed, he took two cups down from the cabinet, put Sweet ‘N Low in his and a little bit of creamer in Peggy’s. As he put the creamer up, he stopped.

“What the heck are you doing Robert? Losing your mind?” Closing his eyes tight to keep the tears from flowing, he took a deep breath and sighed. Finally, he emptied the cup with creamer, rinsed it, and placed it back in the cabinet.

A month went by without another fallen nightgown and lights-on incidents. Eventually, Robert developed a routine, which helped add structure to his life.  Most days were dull and boring. He spent his time cleaning the garage, raking leaves, winterizing the house, and playing golf on Wednesday. He enjoyed the group of guys he played with and found himself looking forward to the weekly event. Concentrating on remembering which lights were on when he left the house, he realized all of the prior incidents were his fault.

* * * * * *

Three weeks later, Robert was shopping at the small grocery store Peggy and he always used. The manager walked up to him and said, “How’s retirement going, Bob?”


“Would you like something to do three or four days a week?”

Robert smiled. “I would love something to do six or seven days a week. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I like to hire retired gentlemen to help sack and carry out groceries. I have an opening and thought, if you’re interested, you’d be perfect.”

“Yeah, I’m interested. When could I start?”

* * * * * *

A week later, Robert began working from three in the afternoon to eight at night Tuesdays and Thursdays and eleven in the morning to four in the afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays. He loved it. There was no pressure.  He got to interact with people, he made a little extra money and Wednesdays were free for golf.

One Sunday night, after working till six in the evening, he didn’t feel like fixing dinner. On the way home, he stopped for takeout. As he was getting a plate down, he felt a cool breeze pass him and heard a faint whisper.


He spun around. The kitchen was empty.

Only one person called him Bobby. Shaking his head, he tried to decide if he had imagined the voice. Unsure, he took his plate of food to the living room and picked at it while he watched TV.

The next thing he knew, he felt a hand on his shoulder gently shaking him. “Time for bed, Bobby. You fell asleep.”

As was his habit, he said, “Just a minute, dear, I’ll be right there.” He froze. The touch on his shoulder had been real and the voice, Peggy’s. He stared at her empty lounge chair next to his. With a trembling hand, he wiped a tear from his eye, stood up, turned off the TV, and went to bed.

* * * * * *

The weather turned cold and rainy on the Wednesday following his trip to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. With the golf game canceled, he spent the day reading and sorting through his DVD collection. After dozing in his chair several times, he went to bed before the local 10:00 o’clock news.

At 1:35 a.m. he awoke to the sound of gentle snoring beside him. Half asleep, he smiled and rolled over to put his hand on Peggy’s shoulder, just as he had for forty years. His hand touched nothing. He sat up straight and turned on the nightstand lamp. He stared at Peggy’s side of the bed, empty. Fully awake, he got out of bed and headed to the bathroom. As soon as he walked into the room, his foot stepped on something soft and slippery. Flipping on the lights, he looked down. A chill traveled up his spine. His foot was standing on Peggy’s nightgown.

* * * * * *

The days leading up to Christmas were busy. He worked at the grocery store as much as possible and volunteered at a food bank. His days were full, and getting home after dark was not unusual. One night while driving through the neighborhood, he noticed how bright and cheerful the Christmas lights were on the houses he passed. He smiled thinking of Peggy telling him to put the lights wherever he wanted, then changing everything until she was completely satisfied. Once completed, the house would always be beautiful.

As he pulled the car into the garage, an overwhelming sense of loss surprised him. He had not felt like this since the day she died. He sat in the car and let the tears flow. Finally, after calming down, he got out of the car.

Dinner was light, soup and a small salad. Afterward, he sat down to watch television and immediately dozed off.  The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was just ending when he awoke. He found the remote in his lap and turned off the TV. As he stood up, he noticed Peggy sitting in her chair.

“I’m so sorry, Bobby.”

He fell back into the chair and looked at her again. She was gone.

“I’m sorry too, Peggy.” After sitting for a few more moments, he got up and went to bed.

At 2:13 a.m. Robert heard her soft rhythmic snoring next to him. He did not reach for her, remembering what had happened the last time. Instead, he relaxed and relished the sound, a sound that had comforted him all those sleepless nights over the years.

The next thing he knew, the sun was up and shining through the bedroom window. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was after nine, later than he normally slept. Vaguely remembering what he had heard during the night, he looked over at Peggy’s side of the bed. The pillow was indented where she normally lay and he caught a faint whiff of her favorite perfume.

* * * * * *

The following Tuesday was busy at the grocery store. The weather forecast called for snow and possible freezing rain on Wednesday, so customers were stocking up before the storm. Since arriving at three p.m., Robert had not taken a break by the time it grew close to seven. He was busy sacking an elderly woman’s groceries when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a slender, petite woman, with grayish blonde hair enter the grocery aisle just beyond the checkout stand. Her back was to him.

He stopped and watched her stroll down the aisle. There was something familiar about her stride.

“Excuse me, young man, when are you going to finish? I’m in a hurry.”

His attention returned to the older woman he was helping, “Yes, ma’am, sorry. Thought I saw someone I knew.”

He was about to place eggs into a grocery sack when he looked up again to watch the woman moving down the aisle. As she turned the corner at the far end of the aisle, she stopped and looked straight back at Robert.

It was Peggy.

He dropped the eggs from about two feet high and raced down the aisle as Peggy turned the corner. When he got there, he was met by an empty cart.

He grabbed it and frantically looked around until the owner of the store rushed up behind him. “What the heck is going on Bob? You broke Mrs. Ferguson’s eggs.”

Taking a deep breath, Robert blinked several times before he turned and said, “Sorry, thought I saw a shoplifter.”

The owner frowned, but nodded and headed toward the egg section.

Robert ran his hand through his hair and felt moisture on his forehead. Looking at the empty shopping cart he shook his head. Just as turned to take it back to the front of the store, a cold pocket of air surrounded him.

* * * * * *

“Daddy, I insist you join us for Christmas.”

Robert smiled. His daughter was being protective again. “No, Susan, I felt like a third wheel at Eric’s parent’s house last year. Besides, I already have plans.”

“What plans could you possibly have?”

“The men’s club at church is serving Christmas dinner at St. Agnes. I volunteered.”

“Don’t you want to be with your own family at Christmas?”

“Yes, but your brother and his wife are going to North Carolina to be with her family. It’s no big deal. It works that way some years. I’ll see you the following weekend, just like we planned.”

The call ended after several more attempts for him to reconsider. He learned about his children’s plans for Christmas during the Thanksgiving holidays. But now as the time grew nearer, the idea of spending it alone grew less appealing.

* * * * * *

One hour into his serving shift at St. Agnes, Robert knew he had made a mistake. Dave Cooper pulled him off the line. “What’s wrong, Bob? You’re throwing food at their plates, not serving it. We’re supposed to be like Christ and embrace the poor.”

Robert stared at the floor. “I don’t know. I can’t help it. I see myself in those men. They’ve nowhere to go but here, alone and without family.” He raised his head and looked at Dave, his eyes moist. “I’m sorry, Dave. I should have realized this wasn’t a good idea.”

His friend smiled. “My fault. I shouldn’t have asked you. I didn’t think about how you might feel. Go on home, Bob. We’ve plenty of help.”

Shaking his head, he said, “No, I made a commitment. I’ll wash dishes and bring out clean trays, but I don’t want to serve anymore.”

With a fatherly smile, Dave patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Bob.”

With no appetite when he arrived home, Robert made a bag of popcorn in the microwave and tried to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on DVD. After an hour his interest waned, so he turned it off and went to bed. Sleep eluded him as he tossed and turned, his mind unable to forget the homeless, lonely men eating Christmas dinner by themselves at the church.

At exactly 10:05 p.m., he sat up and stared at the digital clock. Two years ago, to the exact minute, he made the emergency 911 call about Peggy. He lay back down and a tear rolled down his cheek. Several moments later he heard the sound of the bathroom door opening. He watched as Peggy, dressed in her favorite nightgown, walked to her side of the bed, pulled the covers back and lay down next to him. He rolled over and stared at her, not wanting the image to fade. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. He returned the embrace and hugged her tightly.

She kissed him again and said, “Merry Christmas, Bobby. I’ve missed you.”

* * * * * *

Susan’s sense of panic began to grow, having not heard from her father for two days. Calls to his cell phone went unanswered, likewise text messages and emails. Finally, she insisted Eric drive them the three hours to her father’s house to check on him. Afraid of what she would find, she called the local police department and asked for an officer to meet her at the house. When they arrived, the officer took her key and opened the locked front door. He returned several minutes later talking into his shoulder radio requesting an ambulance.

He turned to her, “It appears your dad passed away in his sleep.”

As tears welled in her eyes, Susan rushed into the house. She found her father in bed with the covers pulled back. He was on his side, his eyes closed and a peaceful smile on his face. One she had not seen for two years. Then she noticed her mother’s nightgown. Her hands covered her mouth as she started to sob, the nightgown appeared to be hugging her father.

Rating: 6.67/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by J.C. Fields
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: J.C. Fields

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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