Mr. Charon (short story)

(The site posted a prompt asking the writers to create a story about a crossing guard. I posted this to get them thinking. )

The kids in the neighborhood never paid him much mind, even when he was around. Old Mr. Charon was a quiet sort of old man. He seemed to just appear on the corner whenever he was needed; before and after school, and then he would be gone again. He did his job dutifully, seriously, and soberly. He had to.
Everyone called him “Old Mr. Charon,” but in truth, he was older than they knew. If they knew just how old he was they probably would have called him “Old Man Facelift.” He had a tidy pile of thick, grey hair that waved across his large forehead, when it slipped from under his baseball cap. He had a plethora of fine wrinkles across his face, garnered from years of stress of sun, but they were the type that you had to get real close to actually see. No one usually got close enough to observe them carefully, but they must have been there. His pale blue eyes seemed to give away the fact that he had seen a lot, maybe more than even his advancing years should have allowed. The look in his eyes seemed to confirm the existence of wrinkles. They never seemed to blink.
Mr. Charon stood on that corner every day. Unbeknownst to the world, he stood on that corner perpetually.
* * *
Rudy Charon. Fifty-four years old. Forced into early retirement from a job he never wanted to work in the first place. Working for the government. Laboring. Thankfully, at least now he knows people in town. That’s what happens when you live in the same town your whole life. There are some upsides. His people (not friends really, he didn’t have many of those, but people nonetheless), might be able to get him a town job. Benefits. Unions. Short hours. That’s what he needed.
For the past six months Rudy had been hiding. He’d been hiding himself from the world. He’d been hiding his alcoholism, which had reared its dominating head since he’d found eight more hours in his day that he didn’t use to have to fill. He’d been hiding from himself.
When his little brother asked him if he was enjoying his retirement, he’d thought he had been trying to poke fun at him. He told him to piss off.
This got his brother thinking. That’s when he talked to some of his colleagues in the city clerk’s office and asked if they had anything Rudy like to spend some of his extra time doing. When money isn’t a primary concern, it’s much easier to get a job. So they let Rudy on, with benefits, and minimal income. He had a pension from his last job.
* * *
Rudy showed up for his first day of work. It was a start. Still disgruntled, despite the beautiful weather. The eight a.m. sun was doing wonders for his hangover. Or as he had taken to calling it, morning. Before he even had a chance to unfold his camping chair he already had a group of snot-nosed brats swarming around his knees and toeing the crosswalk line like angry bulls, cross-bred with ewoks. He lumbered to the middle of the road and lifted his octagonal talisman, assuring the safety of this group of rugrats.
Well, it wasn’t long before the morning rush had subsided, and only a few stragglers were making their way between each light cycle now. Rudy had pretty much checked out until the afternoon shift; covering his eyes with his sunglasses and the brim of his hat, in his camping chair, despite the fact that clouds had begun to obscure the sun. With the throbbing behind his eyeballs getting no better throughout the first half-hour of his shift, he decided he would try to relax and let the blood flow subside. He leaned his head back in his chair and let his eyes gently close. This provided momentary relief, a cooling feeling, like a drink of water from the hose on a hot day.
Before he was given the chance to truly appreciate the sensation, the pitter-patter of small feet on short legs moving too quickly, the jingle-jangle of key chains and zippers on an oversized and brightly colored backpack, and the tee-hee of excitement as this little girl strove to prove to mommy that she will NOT be late for school, tore him from his reverie. Rudy lifted his weakened head from the back of the chair just in time to see her make her first step into the crosswalk.
With instincts honed from 54 years of self-preservation, and walking around town drunk, Rudy’s eyes darted from traffic light, to car, to crosswalk, and his brain managed to fire off enough of the synapses it had left to assess the situation. This girl is going to get killed. The last thought to cross his mind, the last thing he remembered thinking before that late-model F-250 came through that intersection going just a little bit too fast was, “I can’t watch this girl die.”
Before anyone could tell what had happened, before the smoke settled, you could hear the unmistakable sounds of a young girl lying on the sidewalk. The sniffs-and-sighs of her mounting sobs, the m-m-m-mommy of her stuttering plea, and the there-there-there’s of the first passerby.
“There, there baby, it’s okay. You’re okay. Don’t look. Look at me. You’re gonna be fine. Don’t look at the road baby. What’s your name? Can you tell me your name? Where do you live? Don’t look at the road. He’s okay, everything is okay. He’ll be fine.”

Rudy hasn’t had a drink since. Nor has he nodded off. Nor has he left his post as ferryman of the cross-walk. His soul will never leave that intersection.




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