Speed limit 25
By Kristy Gherlone
Old Speed Limit 25 had seen a few things in his thirty years of keeping guard just on the outskirts of Zephyr.
The highway man had stationed on a fickle stretch of road that didn’t have the sense to know whether it wanted to be straight or curvy.
He stood day after day next to the fields that, back in the day, used to hold flowers. They were pretty little things, delicate and bright as they sat preening in the sun, and he didn’t mind admitting, even as modest as he was, that they used to flirt with him on occasion, powdering him with perfumed kisses in the springtime. Now the fields had gone to hay, and all they did was sneeze turbulent fluff his way whenever the mood would strike them.
When the summer would wane, and the days would grow shorter, the chill air from the east would grow bored from being so idle and kick up a spat with the west. They’d throw dusty words around, stinging him as they flung their insults. Eventually, though, the rains would come and cool things off a bit, or if the time was right, winter would be the one to settle in, scolding with icy fingers, leaving feathery prints on his face and sending blankets of snow to smooth things over.
In his time on his stretch of the road, Old Speed Limit 25 had seen his share of accidents. The screeching tires and twisting metal made his post ache and his bolts go to rust. Some were worse than others, and though he tried to prevent them, all he could really do was give his advice. It was up to them whether they wanted to follow it or not.
He’d seen wild fires blow in and scar the landscape with their meanness, promising to melt him with their anger. He’d felt the wrath of thundering storms that tried to push him over or rip him from the ground, but he dug in further and held fast. He had a job to do.
Back when Zephyr buzzed with life, local kids would drive by him, music thumping so loud it would nearly shake him loose. Sometimes in their youthful aggression they’d chuck rocks at him, dinging his metal and leaving a few dents here and there. He’d even been shot once or twice, but the highway man would always come and patch him back up. He was a nice old sort with a gentle touch. He’d brush him with a new coat of paint and set him straight whenever he needed it, and sometimes he needed it a lot.
In the heat of the summer the highway man would hack away at the once innocent fronds that grew around him and playfully tickled his feet in their delightful infancy, but became poisonous devils as they grew, snaking up his post and threating to choke him. He’d even give him a shine now and again when he was feeling a little dull, and nowadays that was more often than not.
It had been quite a time since he’d seen any real traffic. Just an occasional car that whizzed by, completely ignoring him. No one really came by to visit him anymore, with him being so far off the main road and the town dying out. Even the highway man, eventually, had stopped coming by. There was a fence post that sat up a little ways and he’d talk to him every once in a while, but he didn’t know much.
He missed the family of five that used to live nearby. They always visited him whenever they walked by. The big kids would hold up the little ones so they could trace over him with their chubby fingers, reciting each number and letter in turn, before skipping off again.
The truth was he wasn’t much needed anymore, and he knew it. There wasn’t enough traffic to warrant a speed limit of 25. He supposed he’d be retired and sent off to scrap before too long.
Sure enough, one morning, just after the first dew frost of the season began to melt into tear drops, Old Speed Limit 25 heard the rolling of familiar tires coming his way. It was his time. Some things he would miss, and some things he wouldn’t, especially the loneliness.
The highway man got out of his truck. His wrench glistened in the sunlight as he walked on towards Old Speed Limit 25.
“Come on, old feller. You’ve done your time. You’re coming home with me.”