George was a sad little man that had spent his entire working life in Washington D.C.  The last twenty years he'd been at the same job, in the same windowless office, at the Census Bureau.  He lived alone now and had only a few more months until he would retire.  He didn't always live alone for his wife, Linda, of many years had passed away only a few years ago.  Most people said it was for the best because she had spent most of her life in an Iron Lung after contracting polio as a young woman.


George and Linda lived all their lives in a small apartment just a short walk from George's work.  A neighbor had taken care of Linda's needs while George was away at work.  George was more like a robot than a human most of his life.  He rose at the same time and went to bed at the same time.  He ate different meals each day but they were the same for each day of the week.  You could tell the day of the week by what George ate in the morning, took to work, and had in the evening.  When Linda was alive he rose earlier then now for he fixed breakfast for both of them, fixed her lunch and his, and kissed her on the cheek as he left for work.


Across the hall was the lady that took care of Linda during the day.  Much of the time she just kept both doors open to the apartments and would speak to Linda occasionally asking if she needed anything.  The neighbor also took in ironing to help with the bills.


George always went the same way to work.  As he passed the corner grocery he'd wave at the couple behind the counter.  They used to laugh about being able to set their watches by the time that George walked by.  Down at the deli he would stop at the newspaper vending machine and buy a newspaper.  He would read the news over his lunch period and do the crossword puzzle in the evenings.  Sometimes he'd sit next to Linda and together they would try to figure out the answers.  Over the years Linda had become very good at remembering many of those words that were peculiar to crossword questions.


During the winter George would always sit at his desk for lunch.  He'd take the telephone off the hook, hang a sign at the entrance to his cubicle saying "Lunchtime", as he read the newspaper and ate his lunch.


When spring came George would walk across to a park and sit on a bench with his lunch.  He'd read his newspaper and enjoy the sunshine.  One day as he sat reading his paper he saw a particular homeless person pushing his shopping cart down the sidewalk.  He man was checking the garbage cans for anything of value.  He collected aluminum cans and occasionally would find part of a sandwich or some other small discarded morsel.  This particular day George really didn't feel like eating his sandwich so he yelled at the homeless man across the street.  The man slowly pushed his cart across the street and carefully approached George.




"You want my sandwich?"


"What's wrong with it?" The man asked not moving to take the sandwich.


"Oh nothing, I just didn't feel like eating it today.  You're welcome to it."


The man slowly reached for the sandwich with uncertainty.  He acted like he wasn't sure what George was going to do but he'd be ready to protect himself.  "Thanks," The man mumbled as he stuffed the sandwich into his mouth while he pushed his cart back across the street.  George finished reading his paper and soon found himself back at his desk for the afternoon.


The following day in the park George was not surprised to see the same homeless man coming toward him as he sat on his favorite bench.  George had finished his sandwich but as the man approached he offered him the few remaining cookies.  This time as the man slowly reached for the cookies George noticed how very deformed the man's right hand was.  He briefly wondered about the hand and then put it out of his mind.


Each day for several weeks the man would show up pushing his cart.  George had started making an extra sandwich to give to the man.  Finally one day as he handed the sandwich to the man he asked him if he wanted to sit down.  The man seemed surprised and thought about it for a minute and finally just sat down.


As George folded the newspaper and placed it on his lap he said, "You’re welcome to go ahead and eat the sandwich if you like."  The man nodded and took a large bite out of the sandwich.  George realized this probably had become the man's main meal of the day.  "Have you been out here for very long?"  George asked.


"Long enough," he mumbled.


"Where do you stay at night?"


"Why do you want to know?"


"Just wondering."


"Yeah, well wonder with someone else."


"It's not necessary to be so anger."


"Angry?  Ha.  You'd be angry too if the world crapped on you like it has on me."

"I'm sure your right.  I've got to go back in now but we can talk more if you feel like it.  If you don't that's alright too."  Before the man could answer George stood up and walked across the street into the building.


Over the next few weeks the two individuals slowly began to talk about things.  George discovered that the man was more willing to talk when after George has told him something about himself.  As time went on George started to realize that there wasn't much to tell about himself. 


One day they were talking about working and jobs and the man said, "Yeah, well I haven't worked much since I tore my flipper to pieces."  As he said it he held up the badly deformed hand and gave a slight smiled through black and broken teeth.


"How did that happen?"  George asked.


"Well it's a long story.  A few years ago I was trying to make it as an artist.  I'd done a few pieces that I'd pedaled for spending money when I met a lady.  This wasn't just any lady but one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen.  She agreed to let me paint her.  I tried several times but wasn't happy with the results.  We became involved and I kept trying.  It seemed that the more I tried the worse the results were.  Ya' know what I mean?"


"I'm not sure.  What'd you do?"


"Well, I stopped for a while and tried again later.  I'd painted other people and been pleased with the results.  But with her the more I tried the more frustrated I became.  She was very good natured about my painting but I could tell she was just humoring me more than anything else.  One night we got in a big argument and she packed up and left."


"Sounds sad.  Did she come back?"


"No but that's not the sad part.  I took a claw hammer and tore my hand to pieces.  I just kept hitting it and hitting it to punish it for not painting the picture I wanted.  When I finally finished this is what's left."  As he held up the hand, George thought he saw a tear fall down his cheek.


"So I guess you never did much more painting."


"No but I've thought about it a few times.  Now I spend most of my days just trying to survive.  It's not bad, except in the winter."


George looked at his watch and realized that he was going to be late.  He quickly stood up and almost ran across the street.  As he did he realized that he'd left the man without commenting.  But then as he thought about it he didn't know what to say.  The remaining few months seemed to almost fly by until it was time for George's retirement.  The man had come by at lunch more infrequently and bad weather kept George at his desk.  They never talked about the man's hand again.  Finally the day arrived and the people in George's little office took him out for his farewell lunch.  A young fellow that had only been out of college for a couple of years had become George's boss and at the lunch he thanked him for his many years or service and gave him a small wooden plaque that said, "In Appreciation for Your Many Years of Service."  George thanked him and said he'd miss everyone.


That was George's last day so he cleaned out his desk and everything fit into a small cardboard box.  He walked slowly home that day but still remembered to wave to the couple at the corner grocery.  When he got home he sat down on the couch.  He thought about Linda and about his job and about the man in the park.  Then he walked into the kitchen and took a claw hammer and tore the wooden plaque into tiny splinters.