A Perfectly Good Ticket
From where he stood inside the Old Timey Museum, he could look out the window and see her. She was just getting off the ride, her face flushed, her grey hair blown back. She knew where to find him and ran in. “Lord, was that fun!” He smiled; he was always pleased to see her happy, like the other night at bingo when she won the pot. She looked up at him and said, “Honey, I’ve got Dramamine in my purse, if you’re worried about getting sick.”
“No, I’ll be fine, Bess. I’m just not ready.”
She batted her sparse eyelashes and said coyly “Well, I still want you to go on some rides with me, Charlie.”
He smiled. “I know, honey. Give me some time.”
Charlie tended to put things off. Now he was standing in front of a display of ancient artifacts. Bess pointed to a book in the case, the kind with authentic paper pages, and said, “Hmmm, I wish I could pick it up and smell it.”
Charlie sighed, “You’re tellin’ me.” He liked things from BEFORE. Some of his memories from BEFORE made him happy and others haunted him deeply, but any way you sliced it, BEFORE took up a lot of space in Charlie’s mind. People on the Infoscreen said that future generations might not care about BEFORE as much, but Charlie and Bess were alive during BEFORE, so they had actual memories of it.
Charlie pointed to an old popcorn machine and told Bess that there had been one just like it at the movie theatre in the little town where he grew up. He told her how his mama had made the best peach pies in that town. Bess’ eyes shone while she listened. She could get swept up in the romance of BEFORE too. Charlie took her hand to show her something in the music section of the museum when they heard cheering outside.
Bess squealed and pulled him out the door, “Look, honey! They’re on the Twirl!” She pointed to the sky where a young couple was dancing together, seemingly in mid-air, over the crowd. “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing?” she asked.
He saw tears spring up in her eyes. Everyone around them applauded as the couple flew gracefully overhead. People threw energy zips and light zaps up at them. The couple absorbed them, glowed, and then flew even higher. “It’s their time to shine” Bess whispered. She looked down for a while, and then up at Charlie and said softly, “You know I want to ride the Tandem Twirl with you, Charlie.”
“I know, honey. I know.” Bess waited for him to say more, but he didn’t. Charlie wanted to make her happy, but he didn’t like to be rushed.
They walked back inside the museum. Bess continued, “Well, if you’re not ready for the Twirl yet, you at least have to do Imagination Gyration, Charlie. I mean, honestly, it’s just out of this world. Whatever you conjure up in your mind comes shooting out of your fingertips!”
Charlie sat down next to the replica of a gasoline engine and said, “I will, honey, in a little bit. I’m still takin’ a break. That obstacle course was tough.” He figured he would do it later when it was his own idea.
Bess rallied, “Ooh, I’ve got it! We could do the Magic Muscle Machine. That’ll give you energy, Charlie.”
But he was looking beyond her, at an artifact from BEFORE. He walked over to it and nudged up his glasses, saying, “Well, I’ll be darned…”
They ate some real popcorn in the museum, which was strange after so many years consuming IDEAL FOOD. Bess laughed and winced; her gums smarted from chewing the actual textures. Charlie got emotional and asked the curator if by any chance there might be some vintage donuts to be had.
They had covered just about all areas of the Old Timey Museum when THE VOICE coming through the Infoscreens around the park muted all other noise. “Calling ticket number 0753221…Ticket number 0753221; please come to the Seismic Ride Water Slide immediately.”
Bess gasped, “That’s your number, Charlie!”
“Shit!” he yelled.
Already some Park Bearers were entering the museum and heading toward them. The Bearers approached quickly and laid gentle hands on Charlie to guide him toward the big slide.
“Wait a minute. Hold on! Could I just have a few more minutes to ride the Tandem Twirl with my lady?”
“No sir, I’m sorry. Each admission ticket is good for one Seismic Ride Water Slide. No trades or exchanges. When they call your ticket number, it’s your turn to ride the slide. No exceptions.”
“But I’m not ready!” Charlie yelled. He looked at Bess, but she was out of words.
The Bearers firmly moved him out the door of the museum, and propelled him in the direction of the slide. Bess struggled to keep up. Charlie would have given anything to go back to five minutes earlier, when Bess was trying to push him to go on that ride. As they cut through the crowd, Charlie thought of all Bess’ pushing over the years with such fondness, now that it was in the past.
When they got to the entrance of the big slide, Bess grabbed on to Charlie, but the Bearers pried her hands off and snapped Charlie into his seat. They stuck a special flag on his cart; the kind that told people this was someone who was alive BEFORE. Now Charlie and the flimsy little flag were heading upward. Most people walking near the slide stopped briefly and waved to him or quietly applauded, as was polite.
Charlie watched Bess’ despairing face get smaller as he started the long ascent to the zenith of the slide. He looked down and saw an old geezer walking alone, and wondered if Bess would be in the park long enough to ride the Tandem Twirl with someone. He wanted her to get the chance.
The early evening air on his face, Charlie’s cart kept climbing and he peered around. The park looked so exciting suddenly. Passing just below was a group of young guys, laughing and jostling each other, without a care. The setting sun cast a golden light on everything now, and he spotted two teens ducking behind the museum in a passionate grope. Further in the distance he noticed a small boy fall down, and faintly heard, over the breeze in his ears, the boy’s high-pitched scream as his daddy helped him up. He looked hesitantly towards the sparkling lights of the Tandem Twirl and saw an old couple getting strapped in. They were slow as they stiffly squirmed into place, but they were smiling and the crowd below was hooting and hollering.
When Charlie finally got to the top, he could see the whole park. He couldn’t make out people’s faces anymore, just shapes; shapes that moved along in tides, getting on and off rides. It was a pulsing hum that Charlie wished he could be back inside. With an ache, he admired it from above.
Soon enough it was his moment. He was poised in front of the small door. He took one more look down and then, WHOOSH. Charlie was gone.
No one in the park, not even the Bearers, could tell you for sure what the slide was like. There were rumors though. Every decade or so there might be a malfunction. Someone would disappear down the slide, and then get spit back out. By all accounts, the slide and what lay beyond it, was indescribable, awesome.
Park goers walking by might have noticed the old lady, distressed and alone, but there were thrilling rides to get to, obstacle courses to conquer, and kids that needed to use restrooms, so no one stopped. Eventually some Bearers came and escorted Bess to the Lost and Hoping to Be Found Center. She waited alone for a long time, until a brown-eyed female Helping Tron sat down next to her and asked, “Are you alright, ma’am?”
“No” Bess said and collapsed into the Tron’s lap, “Charlie wasted his ticket.” The words cascaded out, “I wanted to ride with him. He wouldn’t do it. He would never do it, God damn it.”
“I hear you,” said the Tron.
“I waited and waited, but he wouldn’t do it.” Sorrow filled up her torso.
The Tron put firm hands on her back; Bess’ body started to shudder with anguished sobbing. She heaved out words in between “We never did it… we never will…he’s gone… so much time…wasted, God damn it.” She cried and cried while the pretty robot stroked her hair.
After some time like this, Bess calmed down. Her heartbeat steadied, her breathing got slow and deep. The skin on her face felt tight from where the salty tears dried, and the muscles around her eyes, forehead and jaw were relaxed.
The Tron’s arm display flashed green and the word “Regulated” scrolled across the screen. The robot pulled her hands back and said in a smooth voice “I’m glad we’ve had this time together. Be sure to drink plenty of water and visit again if you…”
Bess reached up and hit the override button. The Tron fell silent; hands resumed gentle caressing. Bess closed her eyes. She would stay put in the Tron’s lap a little while longer. She had nowhere to be, and this was comforting. It felt soothing. It felt like BEFORE.
Copyright 2015 Maureen Sullivan