This is a continuation of the story I’m Getting Too Old For This. I’ve tried to make this a stand alone so I hope you’ll find it satisfying even if you haven’t read that part.
“You know, I remember when all this was corn field, dotted with farm houses and silos,” Ray nodded towards the window. They were now passing by a suburban maze that sprawled out for miles before merging into a cluster of skyscrapers in the horizon. Ah, so he is a clinger, Chang thought. He’d have to be, to remember that far back.
“That so?” Chang said, unfolding his VR Specs to put them on.
“I understand,” Ray said. “Avoid the clinger.”
That caught Chang off guard. But he realized right away that it really shouldn’t have. Ray had had plenty of time to develop that kind of ease with being plain-spoken. Chang decided that his best tack was to be direct too. “Has that been your experience?” Chang asked.
“In most cases, no. But you’ve hardly hidden your derision.”
“Derision might be too strong a word.”
“That could work. Distrust would be better.”
Ray nodded his head, but said nothing. Chang had to concentrate hard on not smirking. Again he had that feeling that it wouldn’t be right to go back to watching the movie. That would confirm Ray’s insinuation about him.
“So you’ve made up your mind about me without knowing a single thing about me.”
“Well I know you have a bad heart,”
“I know that you don’t want to die, not today anyway.”
Chang had run out of things to say that he knew for sure about Ray. Everything else was conjecture.
“Okay Chang. You practically saved my life today.”
“Practically?” Ray interrupted with mock anger.
“You saved my life today.” Ray corrected, smiling. “One good turn deserves another. I’ll give you one shot to redeem yourself. Ask me one important question about myself. One.”
“And you’ll give me the truth?”
“I promise, for what that’s worth, to give you an honest answer. Then you will know something of substance about me. Then you can make your judgement.”
“But then you will say it’s not a fair judgement because I still don’t know enough.”
“That depends on the question you ask.”
Chang slouched back in his seat and stretched out his leg. Ray took out a pack of cards from his duffel bag that he had pushed under his seat. He lay out a game of solitaire and got to playing.
Chang went to the washroom. He walked up and down the aisle for a few minutes. How did he find himself in this mess? And why was he taking this so seriously anyway? In half an hour he would get off the train and never see this man again. But Chang really wanted to discredit the implication that he was prejudiced.
“Two questions.” Chang said, when he finally sat down again.
“Okay, I’ll grant one point of information,” Ray said.
“How many terms have you lived?”
“I’m on my tenth.” Ray was shuffling his deck. Chang whistled softly.
“How have you been able to do it? And I don’t mean tell me how you cheat the system. Tell me your process for deciding to do one more term, and then another.” Chang felt he wasn’t doing too badly. He’d already nailed Ray for being a cheat.
Ray laughed. It sounded to Chang like Ray knew he’d lost. Chang waited as Ray tapped the deck of cards on the table to get them into a neat pack.
“Let’s clear one thing up. I’m not a cheat. There is no legal limit to how many terms a person can have. They’re just hoops to get through, and I’ve been able to meet every requirement every time.”
Chang shrugged, in a way that said, if you say so.
“To answer your question,” Ray split the deck, then used his thumbs to separate each one and layer them one on top of the other. He pushed everything together and packed them neatly. While he waited for Ray to think, Chang wondered about what Ray’s answer would be. Chang himself was just on his second term and he didn’t much feel like going for a third. Off the top of his head, he knew one reason he didn’t want to stick around was that he didn’t want to see what kind of monster his grandson would become. Well not with the way his parents were raising him anyway. But then again, he did want to be there for the little bugger.
“I’ve steered clear of any serious commitment. To any place or anyone. I’ve maintained a kind of,” Chang paused as he searched for the right word. “Wanderlust,” he said. “I have a, how do I say? A bucket list, like they used to say in the old days. But this is a list of personas, you know. Who do I want to be next, where will I live, what will be my goal.”
“And for that to work, you must tell some easy story to the people in your life at the time. Until you’re ready to move on.”
Ray put the cards back into the box and put it away. “Something like that.”
None of them spoke for a while. Chang heard the hum of the high speed train, hushed conversation a couple of seats over, a baby gurgling. He felt his body relax. Order had been restored.
“Well I see we’ve reached an impasse.” Ray said at last.
“How so? You clearly are a cheat. I mean ten terms, come on. Even if you did come by them honestly, what if everyone did that?”
“We’d do a better job of Mars Four.” Ray grinned at his own joke.
“Your whole life is a performance. You said it yourself. My instinct about you was right.”
“Instinct?” Ray asked. “That wasn’t instinct. Okay, so turns out I’m a…”
“Sleazeball?” Ray scoffed
“Pragmatist, and that isn’t palatable for you. But how does it work for you, huh, do you have a number in your head that you work with? Let me see, four terms. Do you automatically distrust any one who’s done four terms?”
“This was never going to have any other ending was it?” Chang picked up his VR Specs and put them on. He looked at the play button and was about to blink when Ray spoke again.
“Okay, Mr High and Mighty. I’ve got one question of my own. What if I told you I could show you how to get any number of terms you want? What would you say to that?”
- Word count: 1072 words
- Mars Four is a reference to Mars One.
- I don’t have a title for this. I’m Getting too Old For This was just a line I pulled from the first part.
Here’s a round up of some posts I enjoyed reading this month.
Marystown is a vividly descriptive short story that has elements that are nicely woven together.
Why not paint some flash fiction is an artist thinking out loud about her process.
Child Welfare Is About More Than A System, It’s About People (And Maybe A Shirt). is a thoughtful and inspirational autobiographical piece.
MAGA Hats in the Make Believe Band is a Musicals 101 that uncovers an interesting parallel.
Some of my favourite responses to Diana’s prompt:
The Elephant Child a charming children’s poem. Rhyme and rhythm perfectly in place. Also, the author reads the poem.
Elephant and the Lord of All a creation story (sort of)
House proud a comedy
The ever changing beast talks mental health
Swiss talks aging
The Gobi is mine 😀