Third Prize Winner, Fall ’18 Contest: Carded by Randy Calderone

by Randy Calderone

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“Last stop buddy, let’s go.”

The gravely voice of an MTA conductor was accompanied by a firm tap on the shoulder.

“Is this Beacon?”

“Nope,” the conductor responded as Walter groggily got to his feet. “Passed Beacon a-way’s back. You’re in Poughkeepsie.”

Walter looked at his watch.

“Shit.”

“Should be cabs outside that’ll take you down to Beacon if you need,” the conductor offered as he shuffled down the aisle away from him.

Walter grabbed his bag and exited the train car, the crisp autumn air chilling his face as he stepped onto the platform. He reached into his pocket and fished out a business card with an address on it and began walking towards a yellow minivan waiting by the curb.

“Can you take me here?” Walter asked while thrusting the card into the driver’s face.

“You sure you wanna go there?” the driver responded, eyebrows raised.

“Yes, and quickly please, I’m already running late.”

Walter walked around the front of the van to get in the passenger side, and the driver shook his head.

“Citiot,” he chuckled to himself quietly.

Walter and the driver sat in silence as they sped down Route 9, the suburban sprawl flickering past outside the windows. A saxophone was gently blowing on the radio and the driver nudged the volume up a bit.

“I’m not going there for me, you know,” Walter stated abruptly.

“Hey buddy, I don’t judge,” the driver responded. “It takes all types of people in this world, I just drive ‘em.”

“No, seriously,” Walter continued. “I’m looking for someone. The last I heard was that he went to this address.”

“Heard that before,” the driver said, unfazed. “You’re the fourth guy this week that I’m taking there. Listen, it’s nothin’ to be ashamed of. Really. I even thought of goin’ there myself from time to time.”

Walter turned to look back out the window as the minivan wound its way through downtown Wappinger’s Falls. The leaves on the trees were speckled with oranges, marigolds and crimsons and they swayed gently in the wind.

“Sure is pretty here,” Walter said to himself out loud.

“Mmm-hmm,” the driver nodded in agreement. “My favorite time of year personally.”

The two of them continued on in silence as their surroundings became more rural. A group of cows stood grazing in a field and one of them lazily lifted its head to observe the yellow minivan passing by.

“How long does it usually take?” Walter broke the silence.

“I couldn’t rightly say,” the driver replied. “Most folks come off the train with that same card you got and I just drop ‘em off. Never picked anyone up there though.”

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“You think it’ll be busy?”

“Oh, it’s always busy.”

The minivan crossed a bridge with the interstate speeding by underneath and a sign appeared welcoming them to the City of Beacon. The driver slowed down as he turned onto Main Street, and groups of people stood clustered on the sidewalk. Walter glanced down at his watch again.

“Almost there now,” the driver said.

The minivan turned onto a side street and then turned again. The driver slowed to a stop in front of a brightly colored house.

“What’s wrong?” Walter asked.

“Nothin’ wrong,” the driver replied. “This is it.”

“Are you serious?” responded Walter, the hesitation heavy in his voice. He turned the card over in his hand and double-checked the address, then looked back up at the house.

“What were you expecting?”

“I’m not really sure, but not this.”

“Welp, this is it. Not much I can do about that. The entrance is around back.”

Walter handed some bills to the driver and opened the door to get out.

“Thanks for the ride,” Walter said. “You can keep the change.”

“Good luck in there,” the driver responded and pulled away, leaving Walter standing alone on the sidewalk.

Walter took a deep breath and unlatched the gate in front of the house. He followed the brick pathway through the side yard and arrived to a line of people waiting in the backyard. There were probably close to twenty people he’d estimate, all with their eyes eagerly fixed upon the back door, the same business card dangling from their hands. He was surprised by the variety of people there – some that looked to be about his age, but several younger than him too. Two elderly women stood in line together a few spots in front of him.

“How long have you been waiting?” Walter quietly asked the older man in front of him.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” the man replied.

“No, I meant, how long have you been in line,” Walter responded with a puzzled look.

“Not long.” the man answered. “It will be worth the wait, regardless.”

Suddenly, the back door creaked open and a collective gasp rippled through the line. The people craned their necks to get a look inside, but all Walter could see was darkness.

A young man with glasses at the head of the line stepped up into the doorway. The other people stared longingly as he disappeared into the doorway and the door shut again behind him.

The line of people inched ahead and Walter looked down at his feet as he shuffled forward. The line stopped moving, and Walter joined the others, staring eagerly at the door, the business card clutched tightly between his fingers.

Bio: Randy Calderone is an English teacher and photographer.

 

 

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