Before the Sun Sets

It won’t be long now, Jenny thought as she pulled up to the end of the dirt road. She rammed the pickup into park, wrestling with the old rusty gearshift.

Dusk was fast approaching, and she had a lot of work to do before the sun set. She tugged and pulled at the heavy tools in the truck bed, the screech of metal on metal echoing in the still of the woods. Her small frame struggled with the bundle lying next to the tools. Sweat beaded on her forehead despite the chill in the air.

She had gotten half the bundle out of the bed when it tipped under its own weight. It landed in the leaves with a dull thud. The blanket, once rolled neatly around her treasure, now fluttered open, leaving Jenny to stare down at the thing resting by her feet.

Jenny had loved it, once. She’d cared for it, fed it, nurtured it. She had put all that she had into it. Now it lay staring blankly up at her, mocking her efforts. Just like always.

With a sigh that was bigger than she was, Jenny set back to her task. She only had until sunset.

Hefting the largest shovel she could find in the tool shed, she got to work. It was hard work for Jenny, who was used to being small and timid and weak. She had no help from the lump in the blanket. Par for the course, she told herself with a wan smile as she heaved small heaps of dirt to the side, making a shallow hole. Poor Jenny. Couldn’t even do this part right.

Despite her struggles, she managed to finish the hole while the sun was still bright in the sky, though the shadows were now stretching out to her, trying to grab her and pull her back into the trees with them.

Stabbing the shovel into the pile of dirt she had amassed, Jenny turned to the bundle by the truck. She jumped and shrieked when she heard a thud behind her. Whipping around, Jenny held her tiny fists high … only to find that the shovel had merely fallen over. The pile of dirt, while large enough to cover the bundle, was apparently not large enough to hold up the five-pound shovel. Jenny didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

It took more tugging and some dragging to get the bundled blanket over to the hole. More time closer to sunset. Jenny looked at the sky, gauging how much time she had left. Still not quite there. If she hurried, she could make it home in time.

Once the bundle was covered with the dirt, she smacked the lump in the ground with the shovel to tamp the dirt down. A hysterical giggle bubbled from her lips.  She smacked the lump again and again, laughing as tears finally escaped from her eyes. The catharsis of the action allowed her her first real free breaths in years.

With her task finally done and her hands blistered and sore, Jenny dropped the shovel on the dirt pile and turned to the truck. Her legs, tired from the digging and dragging, stumbled in a haphazard line. She was tired, she was aching, she was almost devoid of energy … but she was going to make it home in time. The old truck sputtered to life when she turned the key, and she winced with each bump and jolt as she spun the truck and aimed it back down the dirt road.

The sun chased her the whole way home, the shadow of the truck stretching before her, warning her of her deadline. I can make it, she thought. I can make it. Jimmy won’t need to get mad.

The brakes squealed their protest as she slammed her foot down on the pedal. Finally. She made it home, just before sunset. Jimmy won’t need to get mad, she thought again. Racing into the farmhouse, Jenny nearly tumbled forward on her way up the porch stairs. She had forgotten her limp muscles.

The farmhouse door slammed shut just as the last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the trees.

Jenny walked to the kitchen, took a dusty glass from the cabinet, and filled it with brown water from the sink. She settled in at the table and took a long swig of the liquid without really tasting it.

“I made it home, Jimmy,” she called out to no one in particular. “Before sunset, just like you like.”

Back in his shallow grave, Jimmy said nothing.

 

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