J.C. smelled more smoke in the air. He shifted in the porch swing and then flicked the cigarette butt from his left hand out into the yard, where it landed a couple of feet unceremoniously from the empty bean field at the edge of the yard. It was his first cigarette in 50 years. J.C. loved the idea that it would be his last. He remembered his first cigarette when he went to Korea.
Giving up smoking at the request of his beautiful wife Mary was no sacrifice at all. When he met her, she was finishing high school. Her hair was short, as was the fashion in the early 50s. Her nose and elegant profile called to him like the face of no other girl had. They went on four dates even though her father thought J.C. was a delinquent. J.C. indeed dropped out of school in the 9th grade to work. Every penny went to his mom. When J.C. signed up to go to Korea, Mary’s dad Thomas decided that J.C. was good enough for his daughter after all. Before he shipped out, he asked Mary to marry him, with her dad’s blessing. In part due to shrapnel in his leg, J.C. returned sooner than expected. They were married in August 1952, fifty years ago today.
Even though it was over ninety degrees today, J.C. didn’t feel the heat around him. The loose tie around his neck didn’t even feel moist with sweat. It was the second time he wore a tie this year, after swearing he would never put on another one until Hell froze over. He wasn’t sure if he’d been sitting on the swing for five minutes or an hour. Time always played tricks on the porch. He and Mary spent many afternoons there, often just sitting and listening to the insects and the ice cubes dwindle inside the Mason jars Mary loved using as glasses. All of those glasses sat in the cupboard, unused since she passed.
The smoke was getting thicker now. J.C. felt it in his lungs a bit. He continued to look out across the empty field and wonder about the years passing by. Last week, he leafed through the family photo albums with his only daughter Debbie. When she asked if she could copy all the pictures, J.C. laughed. “Lord no, Debbie. Take them and share the stories. I’ll look at them when I come to visit you and the kids.” Debbie heard a catch in his voice but failed to see the tears coalescing at the corners of his eyes. If she had, things might have ended differently. “I’ve got the wedding photo to keep me company.” He pointed across the living room at the black and white wedding picture from the day they were married. It was a beautiful photo. Mary was pointing at the Reverend out of frame and laughing. J.C. stood nearby, worshipping her with his eyes. They had a traditional photograph of them both standing and smiling at the camera. It sat in the bottom of the blanket trunk in the extra bedroom.
Behind him, the smoke was billowing out through the screen door. J.C. heard a window crack from the heat. Time was running short.
He stood up, turned, and pushed the porch swing gently. It rocked back and forth, empty. It would do for a witness.
He walked toward the screen door, opened it, and went inside.
Had you been standing in the yard, you would have seen the heavy front door close behind him. Within a minute, the flames began to consume the house. J.C. was no more. In reality, he hadn’t been since Mary died.