As I approached him, Ticky was standing with his back to me in front of a hot greasy oven. He was handling a pair of large metal tongs. I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing. I didn’t care.
He must have sensed my presence, because he put the tongs down and turned to me. He still had a twinkle in his eye. Surely, he saw the disbelief on my face. Somewhere in there was the memory.
Standing face to face, we were the same height. I had forgotten that. He was dressed in a dark blue uniform. He had gained weight. A small, pointed goatee hung two inches below his chin. His hair and a moustache that he had pulled into a wiry handlebar, were as white as the snow covering the mountains on that long ago winter day in Ramey Fork.
Heat from the oven had reddened his cheeks. The sharp features of his thin nose and small mouth, and the brilliance of that white hair made him look like a wizened creature from a fairy tale. But this was no fairy tale. There he was.
The air was thick. I shifted my weight from side to side and he just stared at me. In spite of his size, he seemed deflated and rung out. It was all I could do to keep myself from embracing him. I wanted to lift him up, burst through the girders that held the cheap dirty acoustic tiles of the ceiling in place, and fly off into a new beginning.
A phone rang.
My entire body longed to yell, “ Wait. Don’t go.”
He didn’t move. Looking away and down at the floor, I was sure he had stood there for so long, his feet had hollowed out their prints into the concrete.
I stared at the hot blue flames in the gas oven. I watched as they turned into a campfire. A campfire we built on the side of a snow-covered yard. A fire that had warmed both of us. A fire in a cave that was the home of a wizard I had come to for answers.
The questions I imagined I would ask piled up in my throat. Finally, I took a deep breath of the oily air and swallowed them. I really didn’t come here for answers, I thought.
The phone rang again.
His face remained blank, still beautiful, but blank. I tried, but I couldn’t penetrate his outer shell. I expected… truthfully, I desired a stronger emotional reaction. After all, thirty-nine years later and we’re standing a mere three feet apart. But I’d learned years back, to expect, is to most always be disappointed.