Requiem for John Henry – Danielle Ranucci

Through the sweat of a day well-toiled, I saw them emerge against the fading horizon. Sleek engines from the east, ready to destroy our livelihood. I searched for you around the corner of our shed. You survived the last time they came around, but it was going to be too much, John, dear, to beat them this time. There were too many of them, and you were too old. Their time had come at last.

But when I found you in the gathering darkness, you just smiled at me, and said the time had finally come for a rematch against them steel drilling machines. And you grasped a spoon and carefully ladled the stars out of the sky and sheltered them within a glimmering glass lantern, so that the smoke from their engines couldn’t suffocate the constellations we loved so much. I felt something then, when you did that. I felt sparks in my heart.

I wanted to kiss you.

You marched out in front of the train tracks before I could. You stood there with that smile on your wrinkled face and the lantern in your fist and a breeze in your silvery hair and a crowd gathering around you to watch you perform another miracle. Facing east. Grasping a hammer. Waiting.

What was I supposed to do? Could you have told me? Because I didn’t know, and only watched. The engines that rushed over the track made the ground rumble, and the rumbling earth made me tremble, and the smoke swirled up and blotted out the blues of your eyes forever.

And the crowd screamed and the engines shuddered and your lantern shattered and the stars shot up through the solid smoke and shone bright in the heavens.

And after, when the engines had passed through and the smoke had dissipated, I saw through my burning tears that you were lying broken on the tracks, hammer in hand. Still smiling. Always smiling.

I kissed you, then. But your time was over at last.