The sign was stark white, bleached and faded by the long summer, the grass beneath it dry and brown. Sitting there in front of the porch it reminded him of a flag, the sort someone who wished to surrender might wave frantically at the approaching enemy.
He would've liked to surrender, if such a thing was possible. He would've liked to say, thank-you, yes, I give up. Perhaps then someone would pull the knife from his chest.
But it wasn't the house he would miss most. Eventually he would forget the pattern of the kitchen tiles and the loose board in the pantry. He would not wonder why they had never changed the wallpaper in the dining room. The comforting creaks of the place would become a distant memory. All these things would cease to mean much given time.
It was the barn he would miss.
He had loved the barn.
He had loved the way it smelled, of hay and oats and cow and manure. Sometimes he liked to step inside for no other reason than to smell the barn, breathe in the deep, rich smell of it. Sometimes he caught just a whiff of it walking by. It was a comforting smell, a familiar smell that said home.
He loved the way it looked, both inside and out. The oldness of it, the way it had been made by the hands of his ancestors, the ripple in one particular row of shingles. Inside the creaking boards spoke of experience. The dust that lay over things forgotten - a gun chest, a set of hubcaps, a rusty scythe hanging - reminded him of how many had simply left a part of themselves behind, in the barn.
The stalls were empty now, the line of cows a ghostly image in his mind's eye. Like the vision of himself hunched over a milk pail, just the two of them in the dark of the morning.
If he could just grasp back one of those days, see one of those sleepy smiles again, feel the soft touch of a hand half the size of his own, just once more...
He shook his head.
It was done, he thought, pulling the sign up from the ground, turning away, closing his mind to the sight of the barn sitting there with the doors wide open and welcoming.
He could not look at it without feeling his heart break.