Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2318470-The-Last-Train-Ticket
Rated: E · Short Story · Travel · #2318470
An old train and old memories
         With considerable effort he lowered himself down onto the bench and scooted inch by inch towards the window of the train. A bit of wincing pain in his hips. A younger man, who was also boarding, placed the old man’s walker beside him in the aisle seat. No one would sit next to him now, but he didn’t mind. The window was already open and let in a cool Rocky Mountain autumn breeze. He closed his eyes and took as deep a breath as he could before coughing it back up a second later. He thought it smelled like wind. Or maybe even decomposing leaves. It reminded him of Marge either way. She loved this train ride. Loved spotting the deer and naming the birds, the train moved slow enough you could even spot mushrooms. Those red ones with the white spots, whatever they were called, she loved finding those. The kids did too. They had all inherited her supernatural ability sense when a good mushroom lurked under a log or behind a boulder. They’d seen a moose once from this train, right up near the tracks. The closest Marge had ever been to one. “Could have reached out and touched it” she used to say. He closed his eyes and he could hear her voice saying it; telling that story for the one hundredth time. She told him that story the day before she passed. She wished she could ride that train through the mountains one last time.

         The train jerked forward to start the trip a bit harsher than he had expected. It hurt his chest. And he winced a bit before continuing to gaze out the window.

         A grove of Aspens up ahead glittered a brilliant gold in the fall sun. First time they rode this train, she made him promise they could plant some Aspens when they got home. He laughed and made some joke about starting an arboretum. He couldn’t remember the joke exactly, but he could still remember her laughter. She picked the most expensive Aspens. She didn’t even look at prices, she just had a nose for finding the most expensive item whenever she shopped. He planted the small collection of Aspens smack dab in the middle of the backyard, just like she ordered. The kids loved to play by them. When they got older, they would challenge each other to see how far they could climb up the slippery white trees before sliding back down. Those trees were massive now, although he hadn’t been back to the house in years.

         When the railroad was first built it had been a short spur to a small mining operation. As the train twisted upward through the mountain, if he looked closely enough, he could still see the scars carved into the rocks by the pickaxes and rods once used to build the narrow gauge railway. He thought about the calluses those men must have had. The rattle they must have felt in their bones when they set off the dynamite. He remembered the explosive fight he and Marge had had back in whatever-year-it-was. Even years later, if he looked closely enough, that scar was still there too. But in the end it forged something beautiful. He doubted that the old miners thought much of the beauty of this train line back when they were hauling rocks and silver, but no doubt this line had always had glistening Aspens chiming in the wind and songbirds calling out to one another in a gorgeous chorus. They were probably just too busy to listen to them back then.

         The train whistle startled his heart and he realized he must have dozed off. His chest hurt a bit more now. A dull pain, but deep.
One year, the train conductor had invited some of the children onto the engine after a loop around the spur. On her turn, his daughter yelled, “All Aboard!” and pulled the whistle about half a dozen times. There’s a look only kids are capable of making where they smile almost entirely with their eyes and it looks like electricity is about to shoot out of them. When you’re a parent, and you see your kid make that face it feels like your whole soul is enveloped in warmth. It was such a little thing, and it only lasted a moment, but even now the old man could still feel that warmth. It comforted him like a soft blanket and he closed his eyes. He was so tired all of a sudden.

         A little while later the train finished its short loop of the spur. The young man from earlier came by to help him with his walker. He called out, “sir” a few times, but the man seemed lost in a pleasant dream. He gently shook the old man. His head limply fell to his shoulder. There was a bit of commotion after that, but none of it disturbed the peaceful look on the old man’s face. He looked happy, content, with a wry smile. And in his hand, his last train ticket.

© Copyright 2024 James Vogner (jamesvogner at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2318470-The-Last-Train-Ticket