FRANKLIN, Tennessee, is a long way from Denver, but Bodie was determined to get there by nightfall by plane, by bus, by train. He had no tickets, no plan other than a prearranged meeting with his father made several weeks ago over the phone. It was the first time they had spoken in months, and his father, after his usual how-you-doings and long-winded political ranting, made the latest in nearly two decades worth of half-hearted attempts to see his son again. “You know,” he cleared his throat, “I’d love to have you out here sometime.” There was a tense pause in the conversation as Bodie took the phone from his ear, stared at it, swallowed hard. He replaced the phone back between shoulder and head, absent-mindedly folding laundry as he talked. “Sure, Dad. When you thinking?” He found himself folding and refolding the same shirt, repeatedly unsatisfied with the final product. And with another minute of fiend enthusiasm on behalf of both parties, the reunion was set for one night after his father clocked out, at a bar he frequented down the street from his work. ∞ As the sun rose Bodie hailed a cab to DIA, a wad of cash in his pocket and no idea how he was going to get to Franklin by nightfall. Upon arriving at the airport he scanned the kiosks and boldly strolled up to the prettiest ticket attendant he saw. “One ticket to Knoxville, please. Cheapest and soonest available.” The Southwest attendant smiled, typed, kept smiling. Bodie quickly forgot about her good looks and became irritated by her phony vibe this early in the morning. “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t have anything open to Knoxville until tomorrow morning.” Bodie sighed at the latest woman to deliver news he didn’t want to hear. The first time he sighed that sigh was as a five-year-old, when his mother finally mustered up the courage to admit his father wasn’t on a business trip and no, he was never coming home. “But Daddy’s strong,” Bodie said. “Now who’s going to lift me into my bunk bed?” “I can help you up there, sweetie. And besides, you can always use your ladder.” Bodie sighed again and shook the memory from his mind as he shuffled to the next kiosk. By six he had learned to be self-sufficient—he climbed the ladder to his bed without any help. He walked himself to the bus stop. He played catch with the pitch-back in the front yard, which he mowed himself. ∞ Bodie managed to snag a standby seat on a United flight a few hours later and found himself sitting between a disheveled older man by the window with a cowboy hat, worn checkered shirt, Wranglers, boots and potent bourbon breath and a high-waisted, middle-aged woman in the aisle seat that might have resembled his mother without all the cake on her face. Bodie knew he was in for a long flight, and, already second-guessing his decision to take the trip, he reached for a Colorado tourism magazine in the seat pocket in front of him. The magazine was poorly written but had decent pictures highlighting various Colorado landmarks: The Royal Gorge, Dinosaur Ridge, Pikes Peak, The Brown Palace, Mile High Stadium. He had been to some of the attractions but most were foreign to him, and he found himself questioning why he was going out of his way to head to a bar in a tiny town in Tennessee when there were so many things yet to be seen here. What a shame, he thought. He put down the magazine and slept. ∞ “Hey, feller, I n-n-needa see a man about a horse.” The boozing cowboy nudged Bodie awake and the waft from his words reminded him of being tucked in by his father. “Sure thing,” he said. He didn’t know how long he’d been out, and still groggy, he stomped down hard on the sleeping lady’s foot as he flailed clumsily out into the aisle, barely keeping himself from falling by catching his weight on the arm of a seat across the row. The woman woke with a startle and looked up to the cowboy hovering over her, still trying to get through. “Ow, mister! Your damn boot nearly severed the toes from my feet!” “That wasssn’t me, m-miss,” the cowboy retorted, “that w-w-was the youngin.” “Don’t blame him for your drunk uncoordination,” she fired back. “Now go on, now, before you fall all over me.” The cowboy just stared blankly at her, made his way into the aisle without any further slurred words or complications, and schlepped his way toward the john. The lady turned back to Bodie, who stood standing there, wide awake now, not sure what to think, not sure who to blame and quite sure he had seen this scene before. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said. “He’s all lit up like a fool. Why don’t you slide on back thru.” Bodie did as she said and immediately closed his eyes to fall back asleep. He couldn’t, but he acted the part for the rest of the ride. The cowboy never came back. He must have found a better seat somewhere else, Bodie figured, where he could drink his bourbon in peace. ∞ When he arrived in Knoxville Bodie had a half-hour to kill before catching a bus that would take him down to the train, so he ducked into a gift shop bodega near the bus stop. After all these years he figured there wouldn’t be much to say, probably even less to say than when they talked on the phone, so he bought his dad a quaint little paperweight to make for some time-killing small talk when they met at the bar. It was a half-sphere with a felt bottom and a dazzling blue wave crest under the glass. It reminded Bodie of the trips he vaguely remembered taking to the beach with his parents before his dad split town. At twenty dollars it was madly overpriced, but the whole trip was mad to begin with, he reasoned, and after the cost of the gift he had just enough cash left to get him to his destination. He paid for it, wrapped it in newspaper given to him by the clerk and hurried to catch his bus. Once on the bus he became restless. He had over an hour to kill before reaching the train station and had nothing to keep him occupied. He reached in his bag, unwrapped the paperweight and turned it over and over in his hands. Crest, felt, crest, felt, again and again. He did this for twenty minutes or so before boredom set in. He balanced the paperweight on his knee and reached for the newspaper beside him to repack it when the bus hit a pothole, causing the gift to slide off his knee and shatter on the floor. A few other riders, most staring out the window, looked momentarily in Bodie’s direction before reaffixing their gaze on the passing street signs. Even Bodie didn’t feel much as he looked down at the reflecting blue remnants resembling an ocean from high, high above, the barely visible waves rising and falling as the city lights flickered through the windows. He shrugged, sighed, sat back in his seat. Everyone’s seen something break before. ∞ Bodie sat in the train station waiting on the C-Line, southbound, which he understood would take him a block or two from the bar. The station was dimly lit, and he was on schedule to arrive right about the time his dad would be polishing off his third or fourth drink. Bodie knew these sorts of reunions aren’t something to do with a sober father, and they aren’t something to do with a wasted father, either. He sparked up a cigarette and checked his watch; he had to catch his father in that ideal in-between state. He smoked, waited a few more minutes that felt like a few more years, and a train rolled into the platform as he took his last drag from the butt. ∞ He fell asleep quickly on the train and dreamed he jumped into the ether from atop Zeus’ cloud; his hands and feet were chained and he was free-falling to the ocean. He could feel a key under his tongue but he couldn’t get it to his lips to try and unlock himself. The wind was too fierce. His limbs were too stiff. The sun was too blinding. There were simply too many factors at play that were completely out of his control. Finally he managed to get the key between his teeth and pushed it forward in his mouth, but he pushed too far and the key fell out, tumbled down the sky to the water. At that very moment his chains vaporized, he smiled with his eyes still closed, a sharp ding awoke him; the lights rose in the cabin as the train ground to a halt inside a much brighter station than the one he boarded at. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and looking at the route map on the rear of the seat in front of him, he realized he’d caught the northbound train, had doubled back his tracks and was now halfway to Lexington. He sighed — he sighed a different sigh, as one sighs while leaning back in a chair, content, meal still partially uneaten and belly far too full to finish. He fell back asleep. He hit the water hard. — NOLAN SAUNDERS
Nolan Saunders is a fiction writer from San Francisco who attended UCLA. As one who believes in just one more bourbon to pair with one more cigarette, his work deals with the complicated nature of addiction and the raw emotions we don’t want to face.