Ernest Edward Grove was born 72 years ago today. He lives in a small, undistinguished suburb of Chicago known as Groves Grove. It was founded by Ernest’s distant relative some 175 years ago, give or take 175 years. Ernest lives alone with his cat and bird, and a mouse who recently decided to apply for residence. All of them live in harmony, but don’t give one another much thought. Ernest picked up the cat 8 years ago when it arrived on his doorstep looking rather gaunt. It comes and goes as it pleases, but always returns home at night to sleep at Ernest’s feet. The bird was a gift from his niece Celia, who lives with her mother a few towns over in Ogdenville. The bird is now 18 and Celia is 25. She had no idea how long birds could live. Neither did Ernest. It has a cage but only goes in at mealtimes. The mouse comes and goes generally unnoticed, as Ernest’s only concern is accidentally stepping on it. He is grateful he never has.
Ernest never married or had any children. He supposes he never will, but can’t rule it out. His days are peaceful, but to the town’s population of 3,791, he is a celebrity. Following the deaths of his father and brother, Ernest became the last living relative of Ezekiel Elijah Grove, the founder of the town. Ezekiel decided he would give the hallow spot a name no one could forget, (while also pleasantly injecting his ego). Kids simply call it “the double G,“ while teenagers refer to it as the “double G spot.” Ernest just calls it home.
Due to this distinctly unsought heritage, Ernest is constantly being asked to partake in “Grove Days,” “Grove Fest,” “Taste of Groves Grove,” and any number of other festivals the town throws in order to celebrate itself. Ernest has graciously accepted his role, but without pride or vanity. He can take it or leave it.
His favorite time of the entire week is Friday evening. Every Friday evening for more years than he can seem to remember, Ernest gets together with the men of his old army company. While their numbers have diminished in recent years, their joy from one another has not. As a young man, Ernest willingly took part in his generation’s version of “The War to End All Wars.” He did his duty, traveled a fair amount of the globe, and returned to Groves Grove. These days the men talk of their wives, living and dead, and their grandchildren, but mostly they just play cards. Ernest is certainly not the best card player in the lot, but he is alright, and enjoys himself thoroughly.
From time to time Ernest’s sister-in-law stops by to take him out to dinner, but most nights he will be found either eating at home or at Alice’s, a local diner that he’s frequented for the last 42 years. It is as much a home as his actual home, and as such he does not consider it to be “going out.” Alice’s is simply something that always been and always will be. On nice evenings Ernest goes for a long walk, greeting everyone he comes across, normally adding a complement about their outfit or hair, or, if nothing else, their smile.
Today, on Ernest birthday, dressed in his favorite green blazer and matching tie, he has enjoyed himself in the fresh open air. The day has receded into night, but, luckily for Ernest, it is not quite over – he has one more stop to make. Illuminated solely by the nearly full moon directly overhead, Ernest makes his way to the carousel at the edge of town, or at least what is left of it. This is where he last saw her. At that final chance meeting their affair had already been years in the past, but the time between their meetings ceased to be relevant as soon as his eyes fell upon hers.
Ernest had been on the carousel with Celia that day, standing beside her as she rode upon the horse she had diligently chosen while waiting in line and furiously ran to as soon as she had the chance. With calliope music thundering in his ears the world began to rotate and it was then that he saw her standing outside of the gate of the attraction. With each revolution her eyes remained fixed on his. The ride seemed to be ever increasing in speed, even as it slowly creaked to a halt. By the time it stopped she was nowhere to be found.
Ernest used to grasp onto the memory with the same vigor he had known while clinging to his medal of St. Christopher as a child. He has since learned to let the memory dance about at will, just on the edge of a smile.
Today, on Ernest’s 72nd birthday, like the great majority of his days, nothing much of consequence will occur. No one he knows will die, no wars will begin, no planes will crash. What will happen is another 24 hours of people getting up, going to work, and spending time with those they love. Ernest will go to sleep and have pleasant dreams that he will not remember in the morning, but that will nevertheless leave him with a contented feeling upon waking. And when he does, another day will begin.