The Slow Coming of the Dark


Christopher Conlon

after Joe Bucciano's "Love Song"

Copyright ©2017 by Christopher Conlon

The Slow Coming of the Dark
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She sits at the open window, the old gossamer curtain floating toward her in the breeze, and wonders why nothing has changed.

Dusk: sunlight drains slowly from the sky, turning it pale and sickly before the oncoming dark. Buffalo grass rustles whisperingly with the red poppies dotted brightly throughout it. Far off she hears, or thinks that she does, a passing train—a sufficiently rare phenomenon to be almost interesting, since the tracks are miles away and she doesn't often hear anything from that distance. Yet the gentle susurration is so low, so far away, that over it she can clearly hear the whippoorwills conversing in the oak tree near the front of the house; they talk this way every evening around this time, but are so clever at camouflaging themselves that she hardly ever sees them.

What preoccupies her more than any of this is the fact that nothing has changed. She has sat at this window every evening for more years than she wishes to remember. In rain or cold she closes it, of course, but still she sits looking out this window as night slides across the grass and slowly blots out all but what the moon holds suspended in its blue glow. Crickets then, countless ones. Occasionally an owl. Switching on the bedside lamp, she might read without interest a few pages out of a magazine or book.

In this way the time passes. Each night she tries to be sure that it's fully dark before she readies herself for bed: to prepare for sleep with any daylight left in the sky at all seems pathetic, somehow. And so she waits, feeling the minutes lethargically shuffle by. One. Two. Three...

Since she stopped working at the stationery store in town a few years ago her connections to other people have dwindled to nothing. The market delivers her groceries once a week, leaving the bags on the back porch; she writes a check and pays for them by mail. She no longer does any upkeep on the property, hardly even cleans the house anymore beyond a bit of dusting. She owns no television, no radio, no telephone.

It was different once, long ago, when her husband was fresh out of the army and they bought this place together, happily working the wheat fields, raising a son, visiting the farmer's market on Saturday and church on Sunday, occasionally indulging in dinner at the local restaurant or a movie at the town's single theater. They were never rich, surely, but the wolf of hunger was kept from their door. It was a hard life in some ways, but an honest one, a good one.

And their son left them, needing things beyond what their little bit of land and the town could give him. He died of a fever a few years later, his emaciated body shipped back home on the very train she hears now murmuring in the distance. Two years later, her husband—suddenly, something in his brain—and she was left here, at the window, watching the encroaching darkness night after night, year after year. Sometimes she imagined she saw her son, a handsome young man again, making his way through the grass and poppies toward the front door, but it invariably proved to be some shadow from above, a hawk or a buzzard.

But, she wondered for the ten thousandth time, how could nothing have changed? How could night follow day just as it had all her life, unceasingly, without change? How could the slow darkness always come, how could the buffalo grass and wildflowers outside be unbroken by anything but empty shadows?

She looks at the gossamer curtain wafting in the breeze, at the brown and red speckles on it that look so strangely like the flowers in the grass. She looks down at the blanket on her lap, knowing that it will be, as it always is, overlaid with ugly spatters that seem to have been there from the beginning of time. Her eyes move then to the floor beside her, the smooth pine boards on top of which rests the pistol her husband had brought home with him from the war many decades ago. It was an old gun, but worked perfectly; she'd felt the sensation of an enormous bursting, not painful, at her temple as she squeezed the trigger, heard an instant's explosion before everything blacked out and went silent.

But she is here, still, watching the darkness seep over the grass and wondering why nothing has changed. When she reaches to the side of her head she can feel the jagged rim of a hole there, surprisingly large, a dried and hardened wound no one could possibly have survived. And yet she sits here, still, waiting for the coming dark. For a moment she thinks she sees movement there at the far edge of the field, but no, it is only the shadow of a hawk or buzzard. Breathing slowly, she wonders why nothing has changed. She sits, determined not to get ready for bed while any daylight remains in the sky. She waits for the night's slow darkness to come.

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