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Nearing Midnight

by JC HOWARD - August 30, 2021

The time read 5:27 when Joseph pulled into his circular gravel driveway after a long day of working at Richard’s just down the road. He stepped out of his bulky gray truck with its rusted bed to the familiar smell of animal manure. He smiled to himself and headed inside his one-story ranch home. Inside waited his black pug, whom he fed all too well, and his wife of nearly half a century. He sat down, kissed her on the cheek, and took off his well-worn boots. His beloved Sheila had already made his favorite for dinner: pork chops with his homegrown green beans and corn. During the happier and earlier years of their marriage, they never stopped talking to each other. Now, they ate dinner in silence. They had nothing to talk about, but at the same time, they didn’t have to say anything to say everything.

Afterwards, he put on his ragged jeans and black t-shirt, strapped his trusty boots back on, and headed outside. He loved his farm almost as much as he loved his wife. Out here it was just himself, his growing plants, and his animals: horses and cows and pigs and goats and chickens. He tended to each of his animals individually, giving them food and water and cleaning their stalls. His love for them was unwavering, except for the pigs. They were too loud for his old ears, even though he had worked in the factory for forty years and had all but lost his hearing. Before stepping out of the farm house, he always turned to the pigs and exclaimed, “When y’all die, I ain’t never gettin’ anotha one of you pink fools!”

Next, he turned to his garden which had grown in size every year because neighbors and friends always wanted some vegetables. At this point, the seventeen-year-old gymnasium of greenery had seen it all: droughts, floods, bountiful years, unusable soil, and unkept weeds from the year her caregiver fell off a ladder and punctured his lung. Nestled within the garden was every plant anybody could want, from green onions and corn, to green beans and tomatoes. Joseph was too old and scrawny to carry around the hose to set up the sprinkler. Instead, he lugged around a rusty watering can and cussed himself out for getting like this.

With the sun setting and the time reading 7:37, he retreated back into his home. He picked out his favorite red plaid pajamas his wife had washed earlier and took a shower. He shuffled into the kitchen, grabbed a couple of beers, and shuffled back into the living room to the computer. Sheila was watching whatever reality TV show was on that night that he absolutely couldn’t bear, so he scrolled through Facebook for a little bit. He couldn’t believe the way the world had become‒ so different from the one he had grown up in. After finishing his first beer, he turned his attention to playing a little bit of euchre and solitaire on the computer. Back in the day, he used to go to his best buddy’s house with three dollars and leave with hundreds from whooping them in some cards. He wasn’t as sharp as he had been back then, but he could still beat the “hard” opponents in a game of euchre and finish a solitaire game in under five minutes. After finishing his second beer at 9:04, he kissed his wife and slowly made his way to bed, the pain of the day catching up with him as he lay down to pray before going to sleep.

He awoke at 5:48 the next morning. After slurping some coffee, he waited for the living room clock to hit 6:00 before going outside. The clock was supposed to ring every hour on the hour, but he couldn’t remember the last time it did. He went outside and tended to his animals and farm before driving down the road for another day at Richard’s. Having owned the shop for a couple decades after his dad, Richard himself, had passed away, he knew and loved every face that walked in through the doors hanging from the hinges. For lunch, he walked across the street to Granny’s Market, where she had already laid out his ham and swiss sandwich. He reminisced on the first day he had met the woman who called herself “Granny.” His first impression was that she belonged in the loony bin, but over time he had come to appreciate her, even the way her pudgy fingers twitched when she was talking. Although older than him, she still had a much more fiery passion than he ever remembered himself having. He hollered “Thank ya!” to her and headed back to the shop. Time went by slowly after lunch with only a couple of the locals stopping by. He pulled out his flip phone, checked in with his wife about whether or not she needed anything, and cleaned up around the shop. He closed up his little shack and shuffled out to his truck.

The time read 5:27 when Joseph pulled into his circular gravel driveway. Unfortunately, his truck appeared to have stalled right when he got home. For whatever reason, the whole scene felt serene to him tonight. The massive cedar trees seemed larger and scarier than usual. The gray house seemed smaller and duller than usual. His walk to the front door seemed longer and more disheartening than usual. Other than this, his night would be the same as it had been for a while, and he hoped it would stay that way for a long time. He kissed his wife, ate what she had cooked up, and strapped his boots back on. He tended to his animals, hollered at his pigs, and watered his garden. He came back inside at 7:37, showered, and played computer games. Once 9:04 rolled around, he kissed his wife and dragged himself to the bed.

He prayed for the pain to go away as he always did. Only tonight felt different. True pain coursed through his body. He and his truck were alike in too many ways. They had both been strong and powerful once. They had each been the top of their respective fields. In more recent times, they were old and had seen better days. Worn down, they were stalling out. Joseph was stalling out. He hadn’t admitted it to himself, but for a long time he had known his remaining days weren’t many. He started to cry, at least he thought so. His cheeks felt wet. He was tired and disappointed in the man he had become.

He shifted from position to position as he tried to sleep. He always felt the pain in his back and arms, no matter which way he lay. In the small of his back, the pain punched him over and over again. Flaring up inside him like a firecracker, he tossed and turned more and more. The clock hit 11:11 before he finally shut his eyes. Ding… Ding… Ding… The clock rang out as midnight arrived.

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