The mortar was chipping away, but the bricks themselves were stout, and the windows and the door were clean and shone with welcoming light. I shifted the valise from my right to my so that I could grab the doorknob, and grunted as the pain in my elbow came back. The last few days had been oddly pain-free, as if my body wanted to give me a present before we came on this journey, but there were no such things as miracles, and all journeys come to an end.
I’d been in a lot of train stations during my time – sure, planes were faster, and for a trip across one of the world’s great oceans, there was no substitute – but I still felt the same thrill I had as a kid as I stepped across the threshold. This one brought back memories of trips with my grandparents across the country, off to see the Empire State Building and the Washington Monument and the Liberty Bell. There was even a pay phone, in an actual phone booth – not one of those aluminum contraptions that dotted the landscape before they all died out, but the kind Cary Grant would have ducked into while involved in some madcap adventure.
A TICKETS sign beckoned me from across the room, and I shuffled across the oak floor to pick up the pass that would take me on this last journey. The floor in the center of the room was spongy, as if the supports weren’t as strong as they needed to be, and I moved as fast as my hips would allow me until I reached the counter. I didn’t think it really would rot out from under me, but I hadn’t come this far to fall into a basement, broken and twisted and crying in pain. There wasn’t anyone at the counter, and for the first time, I was afraid. Was I too late? Did – had I missed it? Sweat broke out on my brow, and I felt that pain in my chest – that pain that had first let me know it was time – come back, harder and sharper than ever before. I whimpered, not like a man of eighty seven, but like a puppy not yet weaned.
As if he’d been waiting for my distress, the ticket clerk appeared. His blue uniform was neatly pressed, clean, and trimmed in gold, but how he carried the weight, I could not tell. He was the gauntest, least substantial man I’d ever seen, and the grin on his face was like my pain given sentience. “Ah, Mr. Alexander. My deepest apologies – I was out back visiting the necessary. I hope I did not cause you distress.”
“No. Not at all,” I said, more to stop him from talking than to really answer him – questions like his were always rhetorical. I didn’t want to know him at all, didn’t want to see him any longer than I had to, and I didn’t want to hear him utter another word. Alas, the miracles still hadn’t appeared.
“Very good. Just the one bag, sir? It is quite a long journey, you will find.” He laughed, and it was somehow worse than hearing him talk. “Well, it is of no matter – it’s not like you can go home and get it.”
The agent pulled a tiny white slip from a yellowing envelope and stamped it, the red ink faintly reading “One Way ONLY”, and handed it out to me. I grabbed the ticket carefully, knowing I didn’t want to know what his touch felt like, and worrying that I would find out – that, and more – all too soon. He grinned again. “Track Seven, sir. Your train will be departing shortly, so if you need to visit the necessary, you’ll have to hurry.”
I shook my head. I had to go, but I wasn’t sure how – they hadn’t let me eat since I’d died in the hospital, ten … no, eleven days ago now. But I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. The sign behind me pointed the way to the tracks, and I turned to shuffle down the hall into the eternal decay of time.