The Short Story Experience: ONE WAY TICKET

“Jesus Christ,” Annette gasped as she entered the room. “How many decades has it been since you’ve been here?

Yurik laughed but also gasped when he saw the amount of stuff there.

“Brother…” Nikolai let out a low whistle.

Natasha and Andrei made similar jokes as all of them crammed into Yurik’s attic. He was glad his friends accepted to help him but also regretted spending such a beautiful afternoon stuck in there.

They didn’t spend too much time fooling around — the attic had to be empty and clean by the weekend. As much as Yurik wanted to take the time and reminisce on his memories of that old house, he couldn’t. He never thought it would end up like that, he never thought he’d leave the house he was born in so soon, he never thought he’d have to go through it alone. He never thought about how life can change in the blink of an eye. Now, all those thoughts that never occurred to him haunted his days.

His friends tried to keep it light and fun. They laughed about his mother’s ugly quilt collection, while he remembered how cozy it felt to snuggle with her under them. They sang out of tune to songs from his sister’s old vinyls, while he recalled her beautiful and rich tone harmonizing with the tracks. They never mentioned his father, since there were no memories of him in there. Yet, he was the only one still in the picture. Funny, how life is, Yurik said to everyone that commented on his situation. While he himself didn’t find it funny at all.

“Look!” Andrei shouted, picking up and old army coat from inside a chest. “What is this?”

“Oh, my!” Natasha got up and walked to him. “It looks like a military uniform!”

The whole group stopped what they were doing and gathered around Andrei. Inside the chest, they found a full Russian hussar uniform — the white breaches, the dark-green tunic, the red coat, the leather belt, even boots. The group huddled around the treasure, carefully unfolding each piece and holding in front of them, admiring them in awe.

“Dude, I didn’t know your grandpa was in the army,” Andrei said.

“Grandpa?” Nikolai huffed. “This is from the 1800s, if not earlier! It must have been from his great great great grandfather!”

Yurik just watched as his friends played around with a thing he didn’t even know existed. Or did he? As they flattened out each piece, old memories popped up in his mind. Someone riding a horse. Branding a sabre. The sound of a cannon so close to his ears they were still humming. Maybe his grandpa had told him stories about it.

The night started to fall, and his friends got bored with the unpleasant task of cleaning his attic. They decided to go, promising to be back the next day to help him, even though Yurik relieved them of the duty. He continued packing by himself, allowing himself to stop a little longer at the things that reminded him of something. There, in the dark, in the silence, he felt like his mother and sister were with him.

When he could no longer bear the pain on his back, Yurik decided to call it a day. He dragged the full boxes to one side and put the disassembled cartons in the middle of the room. Then, the old chest caught his eye again. It stood out amongst the other stuff — there was nothing else there as old as that thing. He looked around as if to make sure that was the case. He walked to the chest and opened it again, being taken by a sudden urge to wear those clothes. So, he did. Piece by piece, with the primness of someone who was proud to wear such a uniform, he put it on.

Yurik stepped away from the chest and closer to his mother’s old mirror to look at himself. A weird sensation washed over him. A sort of wind blew inside of his head, making his brain go cold. He was suddenly aware of every inch of skin underneath that heavy garment. He was aware of his surroundings outside those four walls. He was aware of things that weren’t even there.

He perked up, holding an imaginary carbine on one hand and saluting with the other. Somewhere else in time, someone ordered ‘soldat, reste’ and somehow Yurik knew it meant ‘rest’. So, he did — by spreading his legs at the right angle and holding his hands to his back. He stared into his eyes through the mirror and recognized himself. Yet, he was not really there.

The wind slowed down and Yurik relaxed inside his small body. The moldy smell of the costume brought him back to the attic and he immediately forgot he’d went away. Did he even?

He slowly stripped off the old vests and folded them back into neat squares. He inspected each piece for holes or stains or anything that could indicate it once covered a soldier at an actual battlefield. Each imperfection told a story — one that Yurik knew nothing about, yet weirdly felt so familiar with. The last thing was the coat, which passed through his thorough examination. He shoved his hand in one pocket to find it torn along the seams. He reached further and his bony fingers grasped something. He pulled it out. It was a train ticket. The yellowish tint of the paper gave away its old age. Yurik turned the small piece of paper in his hands and found a note on the back, scribbled in tiny letters at the bottom. Come home.

His heart raced for some reason he didn’t understand. He turned the paper back around to examine it closer. It was a ticket for a trip from his city to a place he didn’t know. There was no passenger name, only the price, a date and time — 5,000 rubles, January 27th, 1805 at 7 p.m. Come home.

Yurik finished organizing the clothes and instead of putting them back into the chest, he put them into his backpack. He left the attic, and the house, and headed to the train station. He could feel the cold air blast past him, past his skin, past his flesh, inside his head. His heart beat irregularly, but his mind was sharp and clean.

Once at the station, he walked to the platform with a sense of purpose. He didn’t even need to take a second look at the ticket to know which one it was — he knew. He was greeted by an elderly man, wearing small round glasses and a hat.

“Good evening, sir,” he greeted with a warm smile. “Ticket?”
Yurik reached inside his jeans pocket — where the tiny, ancient piece of paper awaited — and pulled it out.

The attendant took it on his hands. He read it. He checked it against an open notebook he had in front of him. He turned it around. Come home.

“Have a nice trip, sir.”

Yurik bowed his head, walked past the man and entered the train.

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