Summary: Joe struggles to make sense of what happened to him in Martinville. A WHN for the episode “Twilight Town.”
Word Count: 2200
I was robbed in the desert and left to die. Never one to do what is expected of me, I survived. I survived because . . . why? That I don’t know. I can’t wrap my arms around it.
“Son, when a man knows something deep down in his heart . . . when he really knows . . . he doesn’t have to argue about it. Doesn’t have to prove it. Just knowing . . . that’s enough.”
Well, it’s not enough. Not for me, anyway. Pa said Martinville was a ghost town, had been for a long time, and that the hot sun and my head wound accounted for the hallucinations.
Hoss said the legend—that the wife of the town’s sheriff had put a curse on the people to walk the streets for all eternity—was weird.
Funny, it’s usually me and Hoss who accept weird stuff without question and practical older brother Adam who has to reason everything out to a logical and scientific conclusion. But it was Adam who then responded, “it depends on how you look at it.”
And that’s just it. I’ve looked at it every which way ‘til Sunday and I can’t figure it out. So here I sit, at my mother’s grave by the lake at twilight seeking answers to a question I can’t bring myself to voice. Have I lost my mind?
Adam heard the footfalls in the hallway upstairs becoming progressively louder and angrier as one door after another was opened and shut in futility. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed heavily as he heard the inevitable “Joseph?!” that was both a question and an expletive. Only his father could infuse such a range of emotion into a single word. Of course, only his younger brother could be the genesis of such angst.
“Joseph?” Ben called again loudly as he came down the stairs none too quietly. Spying Adam in the blue chair by the fire, he added “Have you seen your brother?”
“Not since dinner,” Adam replied closing his book.
“I don’t know why he does this.”
“Why who does what?” asked Hoss as he came inside from tending the stock.
“Have you seen your brother?”
“No, Cochise is gone though. Probably out riding,” Hoss ventured, seeing Adam’s head shake too late to retract his statement.
“Of all the foolish . . . ,” Bens sputtered. “He knows better than to be gallivanting around the countryside with a concussion.”
“Now, Pa,” Hoss started.
“Don’t you ‘now Pa’ me!” Ben said shaking his finger at Hoss. As Adam rose from his chair, Ben turned, “Nor you either!”
“Pa,” Adam began.
“Don’t I have enough to worry about without . . . ,”
“Pa,” Adam interrupted. “You know where he is. Where he always goes when he’s upset.”
Ben closed his mouth and then shook his head wearily. “I just don’t understand why he can’t let go of this. What he saw or thinks he saw doesn’t matter.”
“It does to him,” Adam said quietly.
“Pa, you know how he gets when he’s trying to work somethin’ out,” Hoss added. “Just let him be. He’ll be all right.”
“Hmmpf,” Ben puffed. “You’d better saddle my horse.”
“No,” said Adam curtly, then softening. “You’ve had a go at him, so has Hoss. It’s my turn.”
Ben looked doubtful. Adam’s heart was in the right place, but he and Joseph approached life from very different vantage points. Ben had a hard time imagining that Adam’s New England, cool-headed Yankee practicality could be what his hot blooded, emotional Joseph needed right now.
“I have an idea,” Adam said, raising the book he was holding in the air. “Let me at least try.”
After a moment, Ben nodded reluctantly. As the front door closed, he looked at Hoss, “I hope whatever Adam has in mind works because none of us will get any sleep until this is over.”
It was nearing twilight when Adam reached the lake. The pinto was ground tied where he expected, but he couldn’t help breathing a sigh of relief anyway. He dismounted, removing his saddle bag before leaving Sport to graze next to his stable mate.
His concern returned as he approached Marie’s headstone and saw evidence of this evening’s dinner deposited amid the pine needles. Kicking dirt over the offending mess and he started reconnoitering the area, moving his eyes carefully in a 360° arc, but in the fading light there was no movement, no sound. Where is he? His heart started to race, but Adam resisted calling for him. Fathers were not the only ones to be driven to exasperation, he realized—not for the first time, if truth be told.
Only when he walked toward the lake and saw Joe sitting cross legged on the broad rock, head in hands, did his heart rate return to normal. He watched his brother for a few minutes before returning quietly to the horses and retrieving a canteen.
“Head hurt?” Adam asked, sitting down next to Joe.
“Only when I breathe,” Joe whispered.
“Mmmm. Here,” Adam held out a small flask. Joe looked sideways and groaned.
“It’s not whiskey. I made up one of those powders the doctor left. It should help.”
Joe looked doubtful, but took a big swig anyway and then handed the flask back.
“Aaacck,” he coughed, and then groaned again, wrapping his arms around his head and swaying slightly.
“Try to keep it down,” Adam said as he rubbed Joe’s back. Slowly Joe stopped rocking, but his head remained cradled in his arms.
When he felt the tension leave Joe, Adam rose and went down to the lake to fill the canteen with cool water and wring out his handkerchief.
Joe pressed the cool cloth against his eyes with his palms. After a time, the medicine kicked in and he was able to take a drink of water to remove the taste of vomit and medicine from his throat.
Adam waited. He knew from long experience that it was useless to push Joe toward a particular point if he wasn’t ready. To do so always spelled trouble for both parties. So he drew his knees up to his chest grasping his hands in front of them. It was no accident that he made sure his arm touched Joe’s, maintaining physical contact.
The soft shadows of murky twilight became sharp edges as an early full moon rose above the trees. Adam felt rather than heard Joe’s breathing ease and was aware of a subtle shift in his countenance. Here we go.
“Adam,” Joe began softly. “Am I crazy?”
“Why would you think that?”
“I saw them. I swear I did. I talked to them . . . the people of Martinville. They weren’t ghosts. They were real,” Joe’s voice broke and he turned away. “I know Louise was real.”
“You don’t need to convince me. Like Pa said; if you believe it . . . .”
“I don’t know what I believe anymore,” Joe said, rubbing his temples.
The despair and desolation were deeper than Adam had realized. He decided to take a different tack. “When you come up here, what do you do?”
“What do you mean?” Joe asked.
“When you visit your mother’s grave, what do you do? Do you talk to her?”
“Y-yes,” Joe answered hesitantly.
“Does she talk to you?”
Joe looked sharply at Adam. Even in the moonlight, Adam could see wariness in his eyes, wondering if he, too, were questioning Joe’s sanity. He knew he would have to tread carefully here.
“What I mean is, does talking to her bring you comfort? Does it ease your heart and mind when you do?”
Joe nodded slowly.
“And yet you know she’s dead.”
Joe nodded again.
“So, how could she bring you comfort unless it was her spirit that did so?”
“You’re saying Mama’s a ghost?” Joe asked incredulously.
“I’m saying there are some who believe the energy of those we love lives on and sometimes it speaks to us so only we can hear. Ghost, spirit, angel . . . it doesn’t matter what you call it.”
Joe stared at Adam for the longest time as he pondered a side of Adam he had never seen before.
“I’d like you to hear something,” Adam said reaching into his saddle bag and pulling out the book he had been reading earlier at the house. He adjusted his position to allow the moonlight to illuminate the pages. “It’s a poem by William Wordsworth.”
Joe smiled. This was the brother he knew best. He closed his eyes and listened to the deep, comforting baritone.
She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleam’d upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment’s ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.
I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature’s daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.
And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath;
A Traveler betwixt life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill;
A perfect Woman; nobly plann’d,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of an angel light.
Adam closed the book and looked over at his brother whose eyes were still closed. At first he wasn’t sure Joe was still awake for his breathing was deep and even, but then wet green eyes turned to look at him with an intensity Adam had seldom seen.
“Joe,” he ventured, “maybe, ‘Louise’ was a composite of those who have loved you—not just Mama, but everyone who’s . . . traveled on. Amy and Laura. Julia. Maybe they were all there to give you comfort and command you to fight and not give up. Maybe that’s what you heard in your heart and your head interpreted it the only way it knew how.”
Joe continued to gaze at Adam until one-by-one, the tears spilled over, but still he did not move.
“Can I have the book?” Joe said eventually.
“Sure,” Adam placed it on the rock next to Joe. Then he reached inside the saddle bag and pulled out Joe’s jacket. “Here, put this on, it’s getting chilly.”
“I’d like to be alone for awhile,” Joe said quietly.
“All right,” Adam agreed. “But don’t be too late. You know Pa won’t get any sleep until you are safely tucked in. I’ll leave you the canteen and the flask. If you need more medicine, take it. There’s no point in being a martyr to pain.”
“I had a good teacher.”
Adam swatted Joe with his hat before putting it back on. On his way back to the horses, he placed his hand on the headstone and said softly, “Thank you.”
The book opened automatically to the pages Adam had marked with a ribbon and I re-read the poem not once but twice and then read the last stanza yet again.
My favorite time of day is twilight—that hour between day and night filled with shadow changes. It is the time I most often visit my mother’s grave, to listen to the silence and feel her presence within me.
Was Louise a ghost? A traveler betwixt life and death? Or an angel sent to comfort? Perhaps Martinville was a twilight town after all.
It was full dark now. Adam was right; I could feel the chill now that the heat of the day had dissipated from the rock.
I realized just how stiff I was as I put my jacket on. Struggling to my feet I became painfully aware of the circulation returning to my limbs. Although the headache was not as severe as before, I decided Adam was also right that there was no point in suffering unnecessarily, so I took one more swig from the flask for good measure. It didn’t taste any better than before and I quickly chased the foul liquid with water from the canteen.
As I tipped my head back, a shooting star traversed the night sky, but instead of burning quickly out, it lingered above my head. Riveted, I watched it pulse in time to my beating heart, growing more brilliant with each passing second. Then it winked and vanished from my sight.
I was suddenly aware that I was holding my breath. As I filled my lungs with cool night air, an extraordinary sense of warmth enveloped my body and I felt peaceful at last. I had my answer.