- Will you please stand behind the yellow line! Thank you.
The place is not how Ulysses remembers it. He can’t see Charon’s barge anywhere. Instead, there is a checkpoint with a counter and a sign: Styx Travel Security Administration. Ulysses limps to the front desk, where a man in a green cloak drums his fingers on a clipboard. Ulysses wipes his face with the sleeve of his gown.
The man opens a file and ticks off boxes with brisk strokes. The crease between his eyes deepens.
- Last occupation?
- King of Ithaca.
- Sign here. And I’ll need your payment.
The man behind the counter sighs and makes a note on the sheet.
- It’s your lucky day. We have a number of free seats to compensate for the delays. Too foggy today.
He pushes the sheet of paper over to Ulysses, who brings it up close to his eyes to read the small print.
The man behind the counter clears his throat.
- Here’s your ticket. Pass through the metal detector and then through the turnstiles. Enjoy the ride.
Ulysses walks through the metal detector and it sounds off. The alarm calls over a guard.
- Lift your arms, he says and with latex-gloved hands, pats down the old man.
He pulls a copper coin from Ulysses’ gown pocket.
- What do we have here? Can’t take that through.
Ulysses nods. Squeaking through the turnstiles, he follows a walkway to the pier. There is the barge carrying a small group of slumped figures.
- We meet again.
Ulysses gives a stiff bow. Charon guffaws, shoves his hand forward.
Their fingers touch.
- Charon, what has happened here?
- This is all because of you!
And the boatman puts his hands on his hips.
- You crossed over before and sneaked back out again. Now they’ve put the TSA in charge. Too many tourists just wanting a look. The TSA is very thorough. But they also cut my pay. Let’s go.
- I’m sorry.
- Modern life was going to catch up with us one day.
He offers Ulysses his arm, leads him gently onto the barge, sits him down and wraps a blanket around the old man’s shoulders. Ulysses feels in his gown pocket for Penelope’s lock of hair.
- My wife, he sobs, how will she manage without me?
- Will you manage without her?
Charon pushes the barge off. The waves swirl and smack against the wood. Soon they are swallowed by the black waters of the river Styx.
published 18 December 2013