The Ticket

I have never done anything unpredictable. But that changed today when I woke up, packed a bag, went to the airport and randomly bought a ticket to Los Angeles.

Gary thought it was perfectly predictable. He called it a textbook case of escapism. But that’s Gary for you, he predicted all my behavior patterns. Like when I stopped stalking Tina, he said it was a sign that I was getting better. I told him it was the restraining order. When I told him how my probation officer, the Czar of Glasgow was following me, he nodded, finger to chin, and upped my medication.

But this was different. I’d gone to the airport. I’d purchased the ticket. I’d watched those massive collections of sheet metal and bolts take flight before I had to rush to the bathroom and vomit. There I’d blacked out in the stall.

“John, you wasted $400. You understand that, right?”

I pretended not to hear Gary. Or that bit of annoyance in his voice today. And while I was convinced I could do Gary’s job by now, I secretly enjoyed our chats every Tuesday at four, which, besides vomiting on the floor and passing out is the reason I’d never fly to Los Angeles. But the ticket was in my coat pocket. A jolt of magic against my ribs. It made the world feel tingly. That I could show this to people and board that deathtrap. That I could crash and burn and fall to the sky and explode. My back broke out sweating just thinking about it.

I must have been talking out loud because Gary untangled his elbows and let go with a sigh. “John. Listen to me.”

I turned my face but my eyes lingered on his shelf of books. What Gary called the ghost ship.

“John.”

I got my eyes around. Gary did that peering over his glasses thing he thought projected authority but instead made him look like a kid playing doctor. He was a tiny man, so unthreatening you wanted to grab him and toss him aboard the lifeboat with women and children. Now he was reaching for the phone, threatening to call the czar. Even his wedding ring was too big for his finger.

Behind him sat a picture of him with an equally diminutive olive-skinned woman. Like two kids playing house. I tried to imagine Gary on top of her, the gentle missionary, rocking in such a way that his bony hips wouldn’t dig into her pelvis. He was probably a selfless, albeit boring lover, I’d guess.

“John. I’m going to call.”

I shook my head.

“You’re not allowed to leave the state. So let’s talk about why you would buy a ticket to Los Angeles.”

I shrugged. Gary shifted again. Tonight, Gary will have dinner with his (Indian?) wife. He’ll cook, tilapia, something colorful on the side that goes with the wine. He’ll ask about her day—because he was accustomed to asking questions. To listening. Perhaps that’s what she loved most about him. She looked like a professor, maybe an admin, at the college, something intellectual—a small source of both friction and pride between the two of them—and so she was accustomed to hearing her colleagues going on about themselves.

Gary shut down my thoughts. “What about your job?”

“What about it?”

“Do you still have it?”

“The ticket?”

“The job, Gary.”

The job. “Yeah. I still have my job at the Dollar General. I still watch fat kids come in with fat parents and buy enough candy and junk food to feed a movie theater for six bucks. I still want nothing more than to bludgeon the next person who walks in wearing jogging pants asking if we drug test. I still feel a small, yet vicious rage trying to claw its way out of me and into the world at the very sight of the color yellow. I still want to drive over to Tina’s house and ask her why she doesn’t come in the store any more. I’m still afraid to fly.”

Crap. I was talking out loud again. Gary sat up, fixed his glasses and reached for the phone. “I should call.”

I stood up. Felt that ticket against my side.

“John. What are you–”

The last thing I remembered was Gary’s yellow shirt.

 

 

–PeteFanning/2017

 

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