The Ferryman

The Ferryman
By Kay Poiro

 

Winklepinkers were what my mother called them. Rotten little low-necked shoe boots that pinched my toes and conjured blisters. My usual funeral shoes were stylish, but impractical for the day’s weather. Hence, the winklepickers. Reluctantly plucked from the back of my closet for the literal rainy day. Except rain wasn’t quite the right word. It was more like The Great Whomever had taken a stitch ripper to the muslin of the sky and jerked up upward, emptying gallons at a time. But I welcomed it. For what I’d done, I deserved more than pinching boots or biblical downpours.

Five years ago, when I sat on a hospital bed wearing a whisper of a gown, one hand clutching at its inadequate ties, was the first time I’d heard the word metastasized. Usually my combination dictionary/thesaurus was a faithful friend (having escaped high school English by a blink), but thanks to the set of my GP’s mouth and his “sadness for a stranger” tone, no dictionary was needed. Context clues. Gotta love them.

I stepped out of his surgery and out under a hanging, grey sky. A vanilla sky, my mind pointed out. I wondered if Sir Paul looked into a sky like this as he strummed those first notes? And how many vanilla skies did I have left? I would do anything to live. Anything. I wandered the parking lot, savoring a few more breaths of vanilla air. I rounded the corner of the building and that’s when I saw him. Occupying the space in a grassy smoking area. Impossibly thin and towering. Hands clasped behind his back. Head tilted toward the amassing clouds. Stacked boot heels floated mere centimeters above the lawn. Being near him was like being in an oven, peering through the Plexiglass window as otherwise solid objects swam lazy circles in the suffocating hot air. “It’s just not fair, is it? I mean, it’s a real bitch, right? This whole…” He made a sweeping motion with a white hand that ended in jagged yellow fingernails. Working nails. The world swam with sudden heat. “It’s a bitch, but I can help.”

And help he did.

Remember that 80’s earworm about not paying the ferryman until he got you to the other side? As the preacher finished, my mind drifted. Everyone eventually paid. Be it the ferryman, the piper, the poor kid who disinfects the slab after your corpse expels its last treasure. My ferryman had made good on his end and soon I’d find him standing on that soft bank, hand outstretched awaiting payment for services rendered.

My cramped toes wailed from the toe box of the boots. A tri-cornered flag appeared in my lap. Mourners milled under the tent, engaged in hushed awkward conversation while waiting out the storm. When the heat washed over me, I didn’t dare look up. Instead, I focused on the red, white and blue in my lap. Between the flag and me, a milky hand appeared ending in gnarled working nails. The palm slightly cupped, expecting. “For services rendered,” he said.

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Kay Poiro is a playwright and screenwriter currently based in Los Angeles. He was inspired to write this story after seeing a man standing alone in a park and smoking.
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