Ticket to Ride – by Bob Corpening

Richard Banks sat alone in the chill night air, waiting for the bus. The seat was cold underneath him, but he didn’t seem to care. He wasn’t sure why, it just didn’t matter to him right then. Nothing did.

The bus stop was located squarely atop the tallest mountain in Caldera County, and usually offered a superb view of the surrounding landscape. Family homes, small businesses, parked cars, empty parks, all sat silent and still beneath him, disturbed only by the occasional enraged traffic light or gentle mischief of the wind in the trees, all only ever so faintly illuminated by the light of a handful of stars and a newborn moon. All so far beneath him, all so far away. For once, Richard Banks felt a true sense of calm descend upon him, a feeling that at long last he was alone, just inches from peace.

He didn’t have long to wait, he knew. His ride would be there soon.

He glanced at the bus stop sign, its lettering faded to grey mush, its colors a muted nothing. A forgotten place, visited only infrequently, and even then, only in passing. He patted his pockets, looking for his ticket. A brief wave of unease passed over him as he realized his pockets were empty. He looked once more through his pants, turning out each pocket in turn, then worked his way through his coat, and finally, even checked his shirt. Nothing. He was sure he had that ticket, he had to. And yet… he couldn’t for the life of him remember ever purchasing one.

The gravel road crunched behind him, set back a ways from the street. Whoever it was must be coming from the hiking trail. Mr. Banks turned in his seat, straining to distinguish a human figure from the swirling shadows.

His nerves rattled as a younger man, no more than thirty, with a heavy-looking rucksack stepped out of the darkness and under the waning iridescent light of the bus stop, sitting down next to him. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Dad,” the young man mumbled.

Mr. Banks shook his head, blinked once, twice, three times. That young man was his son, Charles Banks. “Chuckie,” he whispered, his hands resting now uncomfortably in his lap. “Oh, it’s been too long. You’ve grown, haven’t you?”

The man, his son, Chuckie, didn’t look up. He kept his eyes on the gravel around the bus stop, the muscles on his jaw clenching together, the veins on his forearms popping as he squeezed his hands into fists. “It’s been too long, I know,” Chuckie said. “I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hope you can forgive me.”

Mr. Banks smiled at his son, that familiar sense of peace falling over him like a hefty weighted blanket. He reached out, set his hand gently on his son’s shoulder. The man seemed not to register the touch, but the muscles in his forearm relaxed and his hands spread open on his knees; the clenching in his jaw dissipated, and a melancholy smile spread across his slender lips, his emerald green eyes flickering faintly in the flickering golden light. Mr. Banks’s own eyes, there on his boy’s face. It put his soul at ease, recognizing himself in his boy. He knew he would not be forgotten.

The bus would be arriving soon.

Mr. Banks wondered if he should be worried about the the missing ticket, but he quickly parted ways with that thought. Things would work themselves out, he was sure. He needed to attend to his son.

As Mr. Banks looked back, he noticed the boy had his hands in the rucksack, was pulling out a sleek, white, ceramic jar with a solid-looking lid. The recognition spread across his face: an urn. And not just any urn.

“These past few years have been hard, Dad,” Chuckie said. “Without you… the world just seems colder. Lonelier. Like I just don’t have anyone to fall back on anymore, if things don’t go so well.” Chuckie looked up, unseeing, his eyes misted over. “I’ve got a family now, Dad. A daughter. Isla.” Mr. Banks nodded. Named after the boy’s aunt, no doubt. “And my wife, Yolanda.” Tears were streaking down the boy’s ruddy cheeks and dripping from the tiny rocks underfoot. “I wish you could’ve met them.” His hands clenched tight to that perfectly white, smooth little jar of dust and cherished memories.

Mr. Banks smiled; a sad, knowing sort of smile, squeezed his son’s shoulder tight. Chuckie turned, looked, and straight through him all at once.

 The boy sighed, and Mr. Banks sighed with him, holding tight to his boy. He was ready. They were ready.

Chuckie cleared his throat, tears welling in his eyes, rolling down his ruddy cheeks. “I just couldn’t let you go. But it’s time for me to move on, to let you move on too. Just how you always taught me, isn’t it?”

 Mr. Banks nodded, and his son removed the lid, setting it down on the bench. Chuckie walked to the mountain’s edge, holding the urn tight to his chest. A swift gale blew across the mountaintop, and Chuckie seized the moment, turning the urn over, letting his father’s ashes blow into the wind and flutter off into the midnight sky. Chuckie exhaled, and walked back to the bench. He slid the lid of the urn back into place, slid the urn back into his rucksack, slid the rucksack over his shoulder. Then he looked directly into his father’s eyes. Mr. Banks couldn’t hear the words over that sudden wind, but he knew what his son had said.

“Goodbye, Dad. I love you.”

With that, Charles Banks turned and began his way back down the mountain, the gravel crunching once more under his boots.

Mr. Banks wiped the tears from his eyes and stood. He reached in his pocket, pulled out his ticket, and waited. In the distance, a pair of glimmering orbs flickered, coming closer and closer.

Mr. Banks took a step forward as the bus set down in front of him. At long last, he was ready to go. The doors slid open, and he stepped inside, handing over his ticket. The doors slid shut behind him, and Mr. Banks drifted off into the night.

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