Sidney Foxcroft sat in the oxblood leather chair he had inherited twenty-five years earlier from the previous chairman, and sighed. His mahogany desk, cleared of all its papers, had the faint smell of polished wood. His calendar had no entries for the days, weeks and years that were to form his retirement. Nancy Melton, his secretary had gathered up his personal items. There weren’t many: bric-a-brac, degrees and certificates, personalized coffee mugs, a black and white photograph of his mother and father in front of a tent at Eagle River. It all fit in two cardboard boxes stacked on the conference table in the corner.
He’d miss the view: the lake, the skyline, the Hancock Center. “Big deal,” he thought. “I’ll find new views, better views.” He’d miss the sense of purpose, the need to meet the goals of the company he had built. He told himself he looked forward to a life without these challenges, one with new goals. He also quietly feared he could not live without those challenges. He worried he would be unable to establish goals that would motivate him. How could a frivolous retirement match corporate competition? He was hoping to land a seat on the board of another corporation—who would not benefit from his years of experience?—but so far, no offers.
He had said his formal goodbye to his secretary. They had been together since the beginning, since he was the one buying up small companies and digesting them. She came over to his side of the desk. He stood and they hugged. “Thanks, for all you did,” he said. She was crying.
He had made it clear he didn’t want a goodbye party. “I’m not kidding, Nancy. Don’t plan one of those surprise things either. I’m serious.”
She promised there would be no party. She knew too well that no one was in the mood. She had overheard two of the vice presidents talking about the takeover. “The old bastard was finally hoisted on his own petard,” one said. His time has come. Today’s his last day.”
“Grief counselling will not be necessary, said the other.” They laughed. She wanted to punch them in the face.
“I’ll walk around and say goodbye to each of them,” he told her. “That’s the sensible thing.” He winced when he heard himself say it. It was his credo, to be sure. He could imagine it on his tombstone: “Sidney Foxcroft, 1945 to 20--, Dynamic yet Sensible.” It sounded hollow to him now. He would leave his office, walk out of the building for the last time, wealthy beyond anything he had imagined as a young man. Wealthy and gloomy.
On his way home, he stopped at his club. As part of his separation agreement, the company agreed to continue to pay his dues to the River Club for the next five years. It was something his lawyer had asked for. “Scotch and soda, Brian.”
“Very good, sir.” Brian put a folded Wall Street Journal on the table next to Foxcroft’s chair.
Several club members stopped by. “Congratulations, Sid. Enjoy the good life,” one said. The others mouthed variations on the same theme. They were smiling. Foxcroft didn’t question their sincerity, but he was bothered by the feeling that they knew he was forced out as part of the takeover. Yes, the paper said he would remain as a special consultant to the chairman for a two year period, but business people understood that the last thing the new chairman wanted was to see Sidney Foxcroft anywhere near the corporate offices.
He finished his drink and drove to an apartment he kept near Lincoln Park. He’d purchased the apartment years ago for his mistress, Lucinda Markum. She had been with him for eight years, starting two years before his wife died. After his wife’s death, Foxcroft wanted Lucinda to move into his house in Lake Forest. She declined, saying it wouldn’t look right and it wouldn’t feel right. He promised to find them a new home, but before he could, she left him for a younger, even richer man.
He sat down on the window side of the bed. A new high-rise partially obscured his view of Lake Michigan. He told himself he’d stayed with the company too long. If he had gotten out when he was younger, gotten out on his own terms, he could have started a new company. Hindsight. Now it was too late; he no longer had the stomach for it. He fell asleep before the evening light fully faded from the room and he didn’t wake up until ten the next morning.
It was a bright early fall day. He took a long walk. The bright colors of the loose hanging leaves waiting, it seemed to Foxcroft, for the signal to fall, felt both hopeful and sad. He stopped at Toast for breakfast. He was used to eating alone, preferring not to listen to the pathetic attempts of his underlings to raise this budget, cut that project, alter the corporate priorities he had set down only months before. They seemed to him not to understand that they were cogs in the wheel that only he was turning.
He turned onto Michigan Avenue and headed south. He stopped briefly at the Nordstrom’s window and again at Saks. He walked by UGG without bothering to look. There was a wedding underway outside of the Wrigley Building. He crossed the street to avoid weaving through the assembled guests and on-lookers. The appointment with his estate planning lawyer wasn’t until three.
Robert Sachs' fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, the Chicago Quarterly Review, the Free State Review, the Great Ape Journal, and the Delmarva Review among others. He holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Spalding University. His story, “Vondelpark,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017. His story, Yo-Yo Man, was a Fiction Finalist in the 2019 Tiferet Writing Contest. His story, Old Times, was the Fiction Winner in the 2021 Tiferet Writing Contest. Read more at www.roberthsachs.com.