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Last Train to Genoa: A Short Story by Author Jennifer Arnett
This short story is part of the Hubpages challenge called Take Me Somewhere. Several talented writers have already contributed to the challenge and would appreciate their stories being read and shared. Follow the hyper link to read about the challenge and gain access to the other stories.
Last Train to Genoa
Ben leaned his pack against the side of the bench in the Nice train station. He dug through his pant pockets and nervously pulled out a small felt box. Sitting down, he opened the box and admired the 1.12 carat princess cut diamond.
"That's quite a ring you go there lad," the man across from him said. The man had splotchy skin and was slightly stooped over and leaning against his guitar case.
Ben flipped the box shut and shoved it back into his pant pocket. He threw the bangs out of his eyes and looked up at the old man. "You a musician?" He asked.
"Was," the old man said, his voice raspy from years of belting high notes.
"Oh, you don't play anymore?" Ben asked.
"My fingers are too arthritic to play. I toured backup for The Grateful Dead, The Bryds, Bee Gees." The old man patted the guitar case. "I'm giving this to my grandson. He's studying music in Berlin this semester."
"You toured with The Bryds?"
"Well, I played for them before they were famous. I did the roadie thing for a few years. Started out in night clubs, then got studio time with the Grateful Dead. Next thing I knew, I dropped out of Law school and I was doing 200 shows a year."
"Why did you stop? Ben asked.
"I got married." The old man looked down at his empty ring finger. He looked up at Ben, "The name's Henry."
"Ben," he said, reaching across to shake the man's hand. "Did your wife come on tour?"
"Patricia came along for the first two months, but then she got pregnant and the bus made her too motion sick. I was driving to Woodstock when I got the phone call that she was having contractions."
"You missed Woodstock?" Ben blurted out, almost leaping out of his seat.
"Yes, I missed Woodstock, but I cut the umbilical chord of my daughter, Penelope."
"And you don't regret not playing Woodstock?"
"Not one bit. I mean—that would have been amazing, but I would have given up the whole world to be there in that hospital room. You'll understand someday," Henry said, with a glimmer in his eye. "You have a ring for a special someone?"
"My girlfriend is visiting her Aunt in Paris. So, then what?"
"Penelope was born with a heart defect. She was rushed off to surgery. She had three surgeries before her first birthday. Her tiny little body had scars all over it." Henry stopped talking for a moment and watched the train departure board flip numbers. "I was a freelance musician and didn't have any health insurance, so I picked up a job as an accountant for a grocery chain."
"You were touring with all of the greats and you took a job at a grocery store to get health insurance?"
"I had to, the medical bills put us $67,000 in the hole, which was a lot of money in 1969. I had a family and couldn't run off and play music like a teenager. It was cool—the parties, the free passes, the camaraderie—but I had to be a responsible grown up—cut my hair, wear a suit, and sock away a little for retirement."
"You could have made twenty times that, right?" Ben asked.
"No, the doctors said that Penelope's heart would probably never function correctly and would need a lot of medical care. The health insurance saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars over her ten short years." Henry's eyes darkened and a small droplet formed in both corners. He dabbed his face with a red handkerchief. "After her death, I took back up the guitar—it was my way of dealing with the grief. I played a few coffee shops and jazz clubs. I had a mortgage, a son, and a car payment, so I couldn't run back off to the road."
"So you missed it?"
"Oh ya. It was a fun life—a new city every night—making music that was changing the world. After Penelope passed away I tried to go back out on the road, but the 80's had arrived and I didn't like the new electronic sound. It wouldn't have worked anyway. What would I have done—home schooled my son, just for a few bucks as a back-up guitarist? My priorities changed. So, you're headed to Paris?" Henry asked.
"I start grad school in Genoa on Monday—studying archaeology and working with an Italian Professor who discovered a Roman temple. It's the chance of a lifetime—a virgin dig. I'll be uncovering two thousand year old pieces of history and publishing articles, giving international speeches, heck, I might even make it into a high school textbook. It will open doors and my career will be set."
"What about Paris? I can only suspect that the ring you've been fumbling around with in your pocket is for your girlfriend in Paris."
"She leaves in two days," Ben said, looking up at the departure board.
"Oh, I see." Henry pulled out his wallet and picked out a faded photo of him, Patricia, and their two kids. "No record deal compares to the happiness they brought me. I paid off the house and finally, at about fifty I thought I'd try the road again. Patricia and I bought an RV and I did a solo gig. A small record company in Miami picked me up and booked me some C-class shows. A steak house in Milwaukee was the highlight of that part of my career. Patricia and I had a great couple of years—driving around the country, playing music, taking time to see the sights. Bono heard an EP I had handed out at a show and had made it's way into his Walkman. He loved my sound and wanted me to open for his summer 1994 tour. Patricia was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks later and I had to back out."
"You gave up opening for Bono? He's more famous than the Pope. That would have given you the career of a lifetime. London, Shanghai—you would have played every big venue, worldwide."
"Patricia had brain cancer and she passed away before the summer was over."
"I'm sorry," Ben said.
"Ya, me too. I was young and wide-eyed like you, once. I had choices, but then life happens and you just have to do what you got to do, even if it's not what you want. Holding Patricia's hand as she closed her eyes for the last time gave me something that Bono never could have." Henry bent down and unzipped the guitar case. "I played it to Patricia every night in the hospital."
Ben looked into the guitar case and saw the Gibson Hummingbird special edition with a handwritten note from Bono. "That's got to be worth 20 grand," he said.
"Probably would have been worth more if I hadn't played it. Patricia liked it's crisp earthy sound, plus I think she had a little crush on Bono."
Ben laughed, then looked nervously at the departure board and down at his watch. He pulled the ring box back out of his pocket, flipped open the box, and pulled out the ring. "Do you ever regret the choices you made?" He asked.
"I never got to be the rock star I had hoped for as a kid. Sure I've played with some very talented musicians, but it was always their dream I was chasing, not mine. Now I'm old and I don't have very much time left. I spent my youth chasing after cars, houses, and stuff I didn't need. We had this gorgeous house in West Hollywood, a modest bungalow with a garden for Patricia. We had to sell it to pay for chemo. I moved into a studio apartment near my son in Austin. A few old records and some family photo albums are all I have left. It's all I have to show for my life, I guess." Henry watched as the departure board flipped to 11:47 Genoa, he glanced down at his watch. "You've got two minutes until your Paris train. Looks like the last train to Genoa is right behind it."
Ben shoved the ring back into his pocket and zipped the top of his bag. "Thanks," he said, throwing the bag onto his shoulder.
"Kid. Rock and Roll was always there, and it always will be. I don't have any regrets because I was married to the love of my life for 35 years. I'm dying and this trip is the last one I'll make. I want to say goodbye to my grandson and pass this on to him in person, instead of when I'm dead. You've got one shot in this life, and believe me, it passes in a flash."
"I never thought my whole life would come down to which train I get on," Ben said, pacing back and forth. "You don't regret giving up anything for your family?"
"No, a lot of the guys I used to play with lived a fast life and died young—drugs, divorces, jail—fame is a cruel mistress. I wanted a family and fame, but I'm convinced you can't have them both. I made my choice and I will die in peace," Henry said.
"How do I know if I'm making the right choice?"
"There are no right choices. You've got two great things ahead of you and only you can decide which one you want."
Over the loud speacher Ben and Henry heard the announcer say,"All Paris bound travelers please proceed to platform 7. Last train to Genoa is pulling up to Platform 4."
"Henry, I wish we had more time," Ben said.
"Me too, kid." Henry got up and gave Ben a hug. "I guess this is where we say goodbye," he said, his voice cracking.
"Goodbye, Henry," Ben said, before walking towards the train platforms.
The hospital room was sterile and white, with not even a picture on the wall. A small blue suitcase was the only color in the room, and the only worldly possessions Henry had left.
"Sir," a nurse said, as she walked into the room, holding a bouquet of flowers. Henry opened his eyes. "You have a delivery. There's a note along with it, would you like me to open it?"
"Yes," Henry said, his lungs hardly able to push out a sound.
The nurse opened the envelope and showed Henry an engagement photo of the young man he had met in the train station in Nice. He was kissing a woman on the top of the Eiffel Tower, and she had a princess cut diamond on her finger. "Dear Henry, I hope this finds you. Thanks for the advice. I made my choice. With love, Ben Camden."
Other Short Stories by Author Jennifer Arnett
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© 2014 Jennifer Arnett