Strands of grey hair were becoming islands growing in her ocean of dark hair. She and Tom had talked many times about the naturalness of growing old, of accepting the aging process. “Funny we think of aging as a process like a manual we must read in order to grow old.” Louise was speculating out loud again, seeking to involve her husband of twenty five years in conversation as he tried to read his newspaper. “You and that damned paper. You’d think the world will go away if you didn’t read it the first thing in the morning.”
Tom looked up from the paper he held, folded and refolded to make reading it more manageable. “Yes, I fear the world would disappear if one day my paper should fail to find it’s way on to my porch. It’s always been that way, you know that. And thank you for letting me indulge in my morning ritual.” His eyes dropped back to the words he had just finished reading.
Louise rose from the table and refilled her cup with the remaining tea. She always had tea in the morning and Tom always had coffee. She always wanted a conversation to start her day and he the newspaper. Twenty five years of habits formed like a border which the other could not cross, or at least would not anyway. Louise sipped the last of her tea and placed the cup and saucer in the sink. Tom would wash it with his mug after he finished his paper. He just had to have a coffee mug, another difference be tween the two of us, she thought. He was already dressed for work and I still in my night gown and robe. The morning was slipping away and she must get dressed. Well, she thought, at least we will drive to work together. That much we have in common.
Tom was already in the car, warming it up, the heater on full blast, covering the low sound of the radio. He had turned it on out of habit. their old radio station had gone the way of the Dodo and the only sound from the speakers was that low noise of something more modern that their two children had approved. A light snow had fallen last night and he had taken the time to dust it off the walk with a broom. The promise of clear and sunny skies would melt what remained on the driveway, at least that was his thinking at the moment. Louise got in the car and buckled her seat belt. “Might be a bit of black ice on the roads this morning. I’ll keep an eye out. The county trucks may not have been out with so little snow.” And with that Tom put the car in gear and backed out into the street. “Looks like the day will be clear and sunny.” he said as a statement of fact. Tom was used to stating facts, that was his business as finance manager at the bank. Time was money and he was always to the point.
“Could we stop by Anne’s, I need to buy a few things and the store has a sale on today.” It was not so much a request but a statement of fact. Louise had become use to putting her requests as statements of fact because Tom would listen more closely. She was thinking that poetry were statements of fact Tom would read them voraciously. “Perhaps we could stop by the bookshop, there’s a new volume of poetry I’d like to buy.”
“I’m sorry dear, I was paying so much attention to the road that I didn’t quite get what you were saying. What was the second place you wanted to go?” Tom had spent most of his life focused on the job at hand. Didn’t matter what that job was, one just paid attention and then when it was over one could relax. “You know me, dear, I ‘m always focused on driving when I get behind the wheel.” When they reached the Real Estate Board office he pulled the car up to the door so that her walk would be short. He watched her open the door to the office and walk in before continuing the next five blocks to the bank. He had rated his own reserved parking space, the result of hard work and the sign of respect.
As Tom walked towards his office the bank manager, Phillip Ruben approached him. “Tom, could I see you in my office when you have time this morning?” “Let me hang up my coat and hat and I’ll be right there, Phil.” The manager winced when Tom called him Phil but not from the informality of address.
In Ruben’s office Tom sat in the arm chair by the side of the manage’s desk. “What’s on your mind, Phil? Any special request?”
“Tom, we go back a long way. I started as a teller and you as a clerk to old Mr. Jenkins in the loan department.” Ruben put his hand up, “Now don’t say anything right now, just listen. I have a very painful duty to perform and you might as well hear me out. The regional management has decided to close this branch. They feel we aren’t generating enough business and I have no argument to counter their decision. So they are merging us with the Central Park branch and we will be making a few changes.”
“What kind of changes, Phil?
“The move is slated for next month, the management thought it best to waste no time. So half of the tellers and three quarters of our loan officers will be let go. Those with twenty years will be offered a pension buyout and the rest a severance package and help finding positions either within the region or with outer banks.”
“That is bad news. We have some very good people working for us. anything I can do, Phil?” It was like Tom to offer to pitch in and help out. He had always felt it his duty to see the bank through thick and thin.
“Tom, this is the worse part. Your position has been eliminated. You have almost over twenty eight years with us but I’ve been told that there are no positions open for a financial analyst in the region, not even nation wide. I’m so very sorry to be the one to tell you but I didn’t want anyone else to do that job. We go back so many years and I couldn’t let a stranger do that to you.”
Tom was in shock. For the first time in his life he felt the shock of disappointment, of disloyalty, of utter uselessness. “I don’t understand, Phil, the banks isn’t doing that poorly. the recession will lift in a few months. What happened?”
“The bank took on too many loans that turned into non performing. The top management got caught speculating in mortgage backed securities and had to take too many losses. Pure and simple, top management speculated, more like gamboled, and lost big time. Most of our employees here are taking the brunt of those bad decision. I doubt that I will survive more than a year myself. I have a package for you, it’s a buyout option. I don’t known the terms but I understand there’s generous. Why don’t you take the package to you office and look it over. Take your time. If you like we can go to lunch later and discuss the matter.”
Tom was crest fallen. Hard work and loyalty out the door. He picked up the envelope and walked back to his office. Other employees were in that same state of shock as their packages were hand out. a few women were crying whole some of the men looked like zombies at their cages or desks. Later when picked up Louise he was very quiet and distracted. “Here, you drive, my attention span is shot.” That was all he said. Louise started to press him and then stopped. Woman’s intuition interceded on her behalf and she drove straight home.
Inside the house Tom sat in the living room for a long time, very silent. Then he erupted. “God damn it! All those years of loyalty and now this is my reward!” Louise listened in horror not daring to interrupt. She had never seen Tom so agitated and talkative. She listened for that hour of rage and storm and disenchantment. Then Tom fell silent once again. Finally he came into the kitchen and said,”Is dinner ready?” The voice was demanding, almost hurtful. “No.” was all she said. “Then let’s go out for dinner. I need a crowd in which to think. I have something important to tell you.”
The next morning at breakfast Tom wasn’t reading his paper. He looked straight at Louise. “I’m not likely to get another job. You’re going to have to get use to me coming to breakfast in my pajama’s and talking my head off. Louise looked at him in horror.
When love is new it speaks in a loud voice as if staking a claim. After that claim is filed and the years have soften that voice into a bare whisper do we understand the dance we do in silence.