One-Way Tickets

“One-way ticket to Watts?” I asked, offering her half of a pair purchased from the machine at the Metro Blue Line station in Downtown Long Beach.

“God, that sounds like the title of a rap song,” Heidi said, gingerly taking the ticket between thumb and forefinger. “Why can’t we just drive to the Watts Towers, Charlie?”

“C’mon, babe. It’ll be an adventure, like taking le métro to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.”

“An adventure.” She eyed a woman wobbling up the ramp, who announced, “I done got myself drunk,” before slumping over the bench next to us, cushioning her fall with the dirty duffle clutched to her chest.

“See, just like Paris,” I said.

***

When the train pulled into the 103rd St. Station, we exited into the cloud of aromatic smoke surrounding two teens wearing white tees that hung nearly to their knees.

“Tickets?” asked the one not taking a drag at that moment.

“Sure,” I said, handing them over. The kid nodded us down the ramp.

Heidi was scandalized. “Those conductors were smoking a joint,” she hissed as we walked down the ramp toward 103rd.

“First of all, that wasn’t a joint. That was a Black & Mild,” I sighed. “Second of all, those weren’t conductors–”

“Why’d they want our tickets, then?”

“So they could re-sell them to someone else traveling north.” I placed the palm of my hand on the small of her back, steered her toward Graham Avenue. A woman rattled by in the opposite direction, pushing two toddlers in a shopping cart.

A man sat on the cracked concrete stoop of the third house we passed on our way to 107th, a tallboy wrapped in brown paper between his feet, a fatty wrapped in white paper between his lips.

“Now, that was a joint,” I informed Heidi.

The Watts Towers soared skyward like the frames of blimps whose skins had been burned away. According to the placards wired onto the black bars of the fence along the perimeter of the triangular lot, they were not lead zeppelins – but they went over about as well with Heidi.

“This is your idea of a romantic picnic spot?” she asked as I spread a blanket in the shade cast by a cluster of eucalyptus and removed a bottle of wine from my backpack. A breeze rustled the dagger-shaped leaves overhead.

“Clearly, the towers are all about love,” I replied. “Guy spent thirty-four years’ worth of nights, weekends, and holidays – basically, every second he wasn’t at work – building them. Didn’t have a plan, just made it up as he went. Didn’t have a scaffold, just climbed on what he had built before, always trying to reach new heights. Sounds like a great metaphor for love to me.”

Heidi looked unconvinced.

“Plus, look at all the hearts in the ironwork,” I added.

Heidi sighed. “I’m tired of you not having a plan, Charlie, of you just making it up as you go. I told you I wanted to spend Valentine’s Day in Paris, on the Eiffel Tower. Instead, you expect me to spend what’s supposed to be the most romantic day of the year in fucking Watts?”

Turning away from the feeling fixed into on her facial features – I didn’t quite have the word for it, but it certainly wasn’t love – my eyes caught on a piece of bottle green glass pressed into the mortar at the base of one of the towers. Clearly, it was a fragment of a 7-Up bottle, but the word “Up” was the only thing that remained legible, the letters in white against a field of red.

Grasping the wine bottle by the neck, I smashed it against the trunk of the nearest eucalyptus tree. Ignoring Heidi’s scream, I kneeled down to examine the emerald shards.

“God dammit, Charlie! What’re you doing now?”

“Trying to pick up the pieces,” I said.

Mon dieu!” shouted Heidi, who had been hopefully flipping through French flashcards for a few weeks.

“Where are you going?”

Du métro…,” came her halting reply, “d’acheter un billet … à sens unique … loin de làloin de vous.”

“What? I don’t understand you.”

“I know,” Heidi sighed as she walked away.

“One-Way Tickets” was originally published by the Journal of Microliterature in 2012.

 

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