The reverential reverie of Harlan as he reflects on a life well lived.
Word Count: 796
The Life of Harlan
Harlan sat back on the old porch swing looking out over the vast stretch of open field going all the way back to the row of pine trees that marked the edge of his property. He had spent his life as a tobacco farmer as had his father and grandfather before him on back through time immemorial. They'd come to this place centuries ago fleeing the devastation of war and crop failure that left their Irish homestead in ruin. He remembered cutting and drying the tobacco in the old barn when he was 'knee high to a grasshopper' as his grandmother always said. That barn now sat dilapidated and neglected, its roof slowly caving in, its sides drooping on the verge of collapse. Not unlike himself, he thought. He was the tallest, fastest, best looking boy in that part of the country. Everyone said so. He could drive a tractor, help his grandma kill chickens for supper, and assemble the roughhewn boards to make a wall frame better than even his Daddy could.
Harlan lifted the dying embers of a cigarette to his lips and took a puff. The dozens who had gone before it sat on a ceramic ashtray, a disorganized little cemetery completely unlike the tidy one behind the little church down the road where his Daddy and Grandma and dozens of others he'd loved and lost lay in wait of the resurrection, including his beloved. It felt like yesterday he'd met Delilah, a girl from a neighboring farm. She was pretty in a plain sort of way. He found her plainness attractive compared to her sister. Dora was flashy and model-beautiful which Harlan found off putting. Delilah and Harlan had lived together in his house where he was born for 62 years raising children, grandchildren and even a few great grands. He'd pull out his old banjo and play "Down by the Waterside" and "The Frantic Fanny Fray" and others he'd learned from his grandfather. His daughter was a professor and called it 'cultural anthropology' and 'a portrait in ethnomusicology.' He didn't like that fluffy language, he was just doing what he'd always done, singing to the kids to keep them out of trouble and from breaking stuff.
Harlan took another deep drag. Those days were long gone. He could barely speak above a whisper without being wracked with a deep, rolling, wet cough that grossed out everyone who heard it. He stubbed out the cigarette and put his oxygen back on. He turned the knob and heard the familiar hiss of the portable unit he kept with him. There was a metal rack in the garage with the refills when he ran out of this one. His daughter got him a machine that would refill them, but he hated it. It sounded like an aquarium pump on its last legs. Besides, the government was paying for these and those scheming politicians and bureaucrats had it coming. This was one of the last vestiges of power and autonomy he had left - picking out the kind of oxygen tanks he wanted to use.
He shook his head remembering who he used to be. He barely recognized himself in the mirror anymore. Not dementia, he was as sharp as ever, but whoever said getting old was hell wasn't just whistling Dixie. One thing they forgot to tell you about being old was all the damned funerals you go to. Not only losing someone you'd known 80 plus years, but knowing that you might be next. Each one you go to, each year that passes, every Christmas, ever Easter, every time the 4th of July fireworks go up, the odds go up you'll be next. It was seeming less and less like a bad thing the more the world took from him. He reached into his shirt pocket and fished out the timeworn photograph of him and Delilah when they were courting. They were standing on a snowy hillside dappled with sapling pines. He was standing behind her with his arms wrapped around her waist and his head resting on his shoulder. Now he had grandchildren older than he was there. He thought he knew everything back then. Turns out he didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground back then. Harlan laughed, then tried to stifle it to stave off another coughing fit. He took off the oxygen and turned the valve back off. No sense blowing yourself to kingdom come, Harlan figured. He lit another cigarette. He took a couple of drags then took it from his lips and regarded it, perched in his yellowed, leathery fingers.
"You'll never leave Harlan alive, will you?" he said, flicking it onto the brick steps of the porch.