“It's no accident that the church and the graveyard stand side by side. The city of the dead sleeps encircled by the city of the living.” - Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
The distant sun sinks into the horizon and bursts, coloring the sky in shades of molten lava. From my place, I watch as the lights in distant windows flicker off. The town slowly becomes engulfed by a dull darkness, only the moon’s radiance shimmers down on the scattered homes. Across the shadowed field, an owl sits perched on the weather vane, ready to spend his waking hours. A shrill hoot resounds through the night as the grey bird takes flight. An owl is to the night what the rooster is to day; announcer of the change in time.
I stay seated in my place, patiently waiting for the chapel bell to toll the eleventh hour. At eleven minutes past night’s final hour, the world looks a little less foreign and grey to me. Rising from my seat, I stretch my limbs out of a habit formed years ago by a very different man. With one foot solidly placed on the ground in front of the other, my legs trek across the field and begin the descent of the hill. Tonight, as per most nights of a similar nature, I’m only leaving my resting place because I have a definite destination. The library will be closed at this hour; of this I have no doubts, but it is the only time when I can retrieve my next book for reading. In my six hours and forty four minutes of nightly existence, I will peruse through multiple volumes in search of a text to hold my affections for at least a week. It would be unfortunate if I had to return to the library before this time next week; I have other places that I tend to frequent on other days of the week.
My feet barely touch the cement roadway and my mind travels back to a time of cobble roads and slower days. This town has changed so drastically over the passing decades that it becomes more difficult to visualize how it once looked. Wooden cabins were long ago replaced by small homes that gave way to elaborate houses too big for the families inside. The transportation system of today is gravely different from the ones that I remember and found reason in. Large contraptions of metals like steel and copper mixed with paint and gasoline carry people from a starting place to a destination emitting fumes that are sometimes so potent that it can be seen with the human eye. Like solid boxes, the vehicles close the people inside of them off from the rest of the world; one cannot ride by and ask their neighbor how their sick mother has been. Moving from place to place on rubber supports, a car is a portable prison that people chose to place themselves in. My thoughts are listening to the rhythmic click of horseshoes against a stone cobble road when the church bell denotes the first morning hour. Shaken from my dream, I refocus my attention on reaching the library.
The night following my library escapade begins much in the same manner. As I patiently wait for the chapel to ring the eleventh hour, the owl begins its ascent into the night sky in search of a small field mouse to prey upon. At eleven minutes past the hour, a change occurs and I begin my nightly trek through the town of Nuitville. Just as I do every Friday night, I am making my way through the winter bitten forest to place I used to call home. Although my home could never have withstood the weather and modernization, I still visit the land where it used to stand. Today, the land has been reduced and portioned off into several homesteads.
Where my family’s small cabin used to rest, a home stands providing shelter and memories to a new inhabitant. The newest family unit, as far as I have collected, to obtain the land is calm and subdued. A simple, two story farmhouse holds three generations including a grandmother, her daughter, and her granddaughter. I have yet to collect much detailed information about the family and will probably avoid doing so. The house actually stands partially in the same location that my cabin would be located. The farmhouse is shifted slightly forward from where my old home used to sit. If the two homes were juxtaposed, the back of my cabin would extend beyond the current farmhouse. The back of the small cabin consisted of my bed chambers and a small corner porch.
Even when I lived here, my love was for the lands surrounding my home. Venturing into the forest, I remember the days when I was just a young boy creating stories in my head about the people who lived amongst the tree trunks. An original Huck Finn, I would climb the trees and sail down the river in a makeshift raft. Telling time was a little more difficult in my day and often I’d return home, late for dinner, and find myself on the frightening side of a switch. After punishment, I would go tramping back outside to the haven of the woods. Leaving through the back door, I can still picture Momma fretting, “That boy is surely going to get himself in a tangle one of these nights.”
Many nights I’d find myself climbing the grassy hill up to the chapel, waiting for the sun to declare the start of a new day. Papa would often find me, half asleep and barely hanging on to the roof of the church. Wanting to see the sun rise from the highest point in town, I would scale the wooden siding of the chapel and hold on as tight as my small hands allowed. For the most part, my tired child’s body would demand sleep before the sun would begin to peak its head over the far horizon. Now, years later, I have seen the sun rising over the town from that very spot many mornings.
In time, I have developed a weekly routine which dictates when I visit certain locations within Nuitville. Many years have passed since the last time I deviated from the plan I established long ago. Saturday night has, for the majority of the passage of time, been the night when I acquire a town newspaper. My intentions tonight are not to return to the library or my lands but to travel further into town to the small general store where I’ll be able to pick up the paper for tomorrow.
The Sunday paper is promptly delivered to Hank’s store on Saturdays at eleven-thirty at night which coincides with my travel hours perfectly. The small convenience store is open around the clock on any day other than the town’s Founding Day, Fourth of July, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Several shifts with multiple employees ensure that someone is working during the day’s twenty four hours; however, each Saturday night, at exactly midnight, Hank goes out back of his shop and smokes the last cigarette in his weekly pack. As I creep into the store, I see the smoke wafting up over the window display; Hank’s actions are right on schedule. From the display stand, I remove a single copy of the Sunday paper and walk over to the counter. Placing all of the coins I’ve collected this week on the cold wooden surface, I scratch a note onto the corner of the paper. Tearing the single right corner from the paper, I lay the words beside the coins which explain that, with my regards, I hope I’ve left enough currency to cover the expenses the shop incurred in obtaining the newspaper I’ve taken. Venturing back into the open air of the night, I can hear Hank gagging and coughing as the ash and cigarette tar settle in his lungs. The studies scientists have done on smoking were initially incredulous to my unacquainted mind; now I question why more of the men I knew didn’t die younger.
The remaining days of the week pass slowly like an hourglass with wet sand stuck to its glass sides. I have no prearranged adventures for the days that come. Already I have been home again, I have obtained a book for the forthcoming week, and I a paper recounting any of the prior week’s events that I may have overlooked; there is nothing more I need to do to make my simple solitude content.
Night's Final Hour by Crystal and Pamela MacLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.