Charlie treated himself to an early lunch. After all, the morning had been hectic. More meetings than he could count, or cared to remember, and non-stop phone calls. He was exhausted.
Before the phone could rudely interrupt him again, he scurried from the glass covered building and began his usual route to retrieve lunch. Out the front door, turn left, walk toward Howard’s for a three-meat sub, tomato, extra slice of cheese, and a small squirt of relish, but not too much.
But Charlie reached the sidewalk outside the front door and stopped. Instead, he turned right. He walked a hundred yards and turned down a street he wasn’t familiar with. His legs carried him past delicatessens, cafes and sandwich bars. A variety of aromas wafted out to the sidewalk and tempted Charlie to stop but he didn’t. Something told him not to stop. Not yet.
He reached the end of the block and turned left without a second thought. A few minutes later, Charlie stumbled upon a small, out-dated hot dog stand perched at the edge of a gorgeous park. The vendor looked old and tired. His apron was dirty, stained with grease and dried up ketchup. No customers. Charlie opted for a chilli dog, with extra onion and mustard.
That was reasonable, Charlie thought. He thanked the man and turned his attention toward the park. A bench was occupied by another man but there was enough room for Charlie. He sat down, ignored the other man, and took a grateful bite. He wondered how he hadn’t come upon this park before.
Charlie awoke from his mustard-induced haze and turned to the man beside him.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“You get that dog from Jose?”
The man pointed back toward the old man, and the hot-dog stand that once again had no customers. Charlie thought it was obvious considering it was the only stand in the area.
Charlie had a short lunch break and thoughts of upcoming meetings, deadlines, phone calls, and projects raced around his busy brain. Talking right now wasn’t a priority.
“It looks good.”
“Bread’s a little dry,” Charlie muttered as he took another bite. He glanced at his watch. He was due back in 19 minutes for another meeting.
“You work around here?”
Charlie answered without looking up.
“On a lunch break?”
The questioning began to irritate Charlie. He couldn’t understand why this man felt the need to ask such obvious questions, and cause Charlie indigestion at the same time.
The man was about to ask another question and then bit his tongue. He looked apologetic. He knew he’d bothered Charlie.
“I’m sorry Sir. I don’t mean to bother you none.”
Charlie took another hurried bite and glanced at his watch. 14 minutes. His foot was anxiously tapping the ground and he took another mouthful. He looked around, hoping to spot somewhere he could grab a quick coffee to take back to the office. His eyes passed the man, who was still looking at him, as he turned back to his lunch, and at that moment something engulfed him. He stopped eating. The anxiety racing through his tapping foot slowed.
He put the last chunk of hot dog down beside him, took a breath, and leaned back into the bench.
“No it’s fine. I work in an office up on 6th. Small glass building. What about you?”
The man wore a cheap, oversized suit. His tie was new, although creased and crooked, and his hair was dripping with too much hair gel. He was clean-shaven but still rough around the edges.
“Lookin’ for work. Had an interview at Miller & Roberts earlier this morning. Yeah, nah don’t think I got that one. Got another at Alfred, Prentice & Cooper soon. Maybe I’ll have more luck with that one. Can only try huh?”
“Are you a lawyer?” Charlie asked.
The man smiled.
The man looked sheepish. His smile slowly faded and his eyes looked for the comfort of the ground. Charlie wondered what the suit was for but didn’t ask. The man changed the subject.
“Havin’ a good mornin’ so far?”
“Nope. Busy as hell. Hammered by meetings and phone calls all morning. I’ve got another meeting in 13.. no 9 minutes. I don’t even know what it’s about. Probably because my manager doesn’t have anything better to do than waste my time. But what else is new right?”
Charlie rambled. Not for the first time, the man changed the subject as he looked to the sky.
“I could soak this sun up all day.”
It was more statement than question but Charlie answered anyway.
“Uh yeah. Sure.”
Charlie scoffed down the rest of his hot dog and noticed a blob of mustard had leapt onto his light blue business shirt and left a horrid brown-yellow stain.
“Damn it! This day’s just getting better!”
The man laughed. Charlie turned and glared, a look of part frustration, part curiosity.
“Sir, if that’s as bad as your day gets, your life ain’t so bad.”
Before Charlie could respond, he was startled by the horn of a van. He turned and noticed a uniformed man get out of the van and walk toward the bench. The man on the bench started to get up, and turned to Charlie.
“I appreciate the chat, Sir. The name’s Fisher.”
He reached out and shook Charlie’s hand
“Charlie. Good luck with your interview.”
The man in uniform reached the bench and looked at Fisher.
Fisher inhaled deeply as he closed his eyes and tilted his head up toward the sun. He paused for a few more seconds. He finally exhaled and gave the uniformed man a slight nod.
He turned to Charlie and winked. Charlie watched as Fisher and the uniformed man got into the van. As the van turned around and started to drive away, Charlie noticed the writing on the side.
Department of Corrections.
Charlie wandered back over to the hotdog stand. For the first time all day, he forgot about the watch on his wrist. He looked at Jose and pointed back in the direction of the departed van.
“You know him?”
The old man nodded.
“Fisher’s been in prison for a long, long time. Got caught up with the wrong crowd. He gets released in a month.”
Charlie couldn’t hide his confusion. The old man obliged.
“A few weeks before they’re out, they try to find work, otherwise they out on the street.”
A month later, Charlie realised it was lunch time. He rode the elevator down to the ground floor and approached a man in the foyer.
“Ready to go?”
Fisher unclipped his badge and stuffed it into his pocket. He pushed the mop and bucket into a small storage closet.
The two men walked down to Jose’s, bought lunch, and grabbed the first empty bench they found. They soaked up the sun and inhaled the fresh air, while the trickling water of the nearby fountain blocked out nearby street noise.
Both men munched away on their hot dogs, and not once did Charlie look at his watch.
Thanks for reading my short story experimentation about a fictional man named Charlie Norman. All comments/feedback are very welcome. Check out my other Charlie instalments below: