Summary: Three vignettes dealing with feeling guilty.
Word Count: 1880
Whatever is Available
Leaning back on two legs of his chair, Adam stared out across the yard. His focus was total and directed at the water trough. Ben walked out onto the porch and took the chair on Adam’s left.
“Warm night,” Ben observed casually.
“Mmmmm,” came Adam’s murmured acknowledgement, but his eyes did not even flicker from their focus on the water trough.
Ben took a deep breath and ventured, “If you’d like to talk about it. . .”
“I told you everything that happened.”
“Still. . .”
“It looks so innocuous, doesn’t it? Ordinary, innocuous, and certainly not dangerous.”
Ben’s eyes left his son’s face and followed Adam’s gaze to study the trough. “Danger sometimes appears in unexpected places.” Ben’s gaze returned to his son, and he watched Adam’s hands come together fingertips to fingertips. “The boy is going to be fine, Adam. You said Paul was definite about that. You saved him, son.”
Adam’s saw his memory played out before his eyes: the toddler crawling up onto the side of the water trough, slipping, and falling head first into the water. “If I hadn’t seen him. . . when I first pulled him out, Pa, I thought. . . he swallowed so much water.” Adam shook his head to shake away the images in his mind. “I hadn’t even planned to go into town today. If I hadn’t been there, hadn’t seen him. . .”
“But you did see him, and you pulled him out, and he is going to be fine. That is what you should focus on, son; you were there, and you saved him.”
“His mother . . .she wasn’t ignoring him; she just. . . she felt so guilty. You could see it in her eyes.”
Ben reached out and placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder and squeezed gently, “You saved her too, son, from a lifetime of guilt and recrimination.”
“When they’re little, you can’t watch them every moment; no one can watch every moment.”
“No, no, you can’t!” Something in his father’s tone finally brought Adam’s eyes to Ben’s face. Ben’s hand moved slowly to touch his son’s cheek in a way he had not done for a dozen years. “You try your hardest and pray that God’s eyes are on them when yours are not.”
Adam’s mouth curled up. “There were times I tried very hard to find a moment when your eyes weren’t on me!” Ben’s lips tilted upward in response. “Of course, you had me convinced that you could see behind your back and around corners.”
“Are you still convinced?”
Ben’s hand patted his son’s cheek with paternal condescension. “Good! Adam, God’s eyes were on that little boy, and he used you as His hands.” Ben watched something deep inside his child relax, and his own worry eased.
“I suppose he has to use whatever is available.” Adam’s tone was light, and Ben chuckled in response.
“I suppose he does.” Ben leaned back in his chair. Both father and son sat in the warm darkness with their eyes fixed on the
There’s Always Something More
“Hoss.” It was Adam’s big brother voice. The same one he could remember hearing when he was four and believed the only person that could fix more things than his brother was his pa.
“I’ll be in in just a bit.” Hoss did not turn to look at Adam but only shifted his weight from one foot to another. He was not surprised when his brother came to stand beside him.
Adam’s arms slid across his chest as his hands tucked neatly into his armpits. He rocked back on his heels and then settled against the porch support in a leftward lean. “There was nothing more you could have done.” It was that same voice with its comforting sense of surety.
“There’s always something more a body could of done.”
This time Adam’s voice snapped with a sudden flash of anger. “No! Sometimes there’s not. You did more for him than. . . well, obviously you did more than anyone else, even his family.”
Hoss still had not turned his face toward his brother for even a second. “He weren’t bad, Adam, not really, not the way some folks thought.” Was there a thread of accusation in Hoss’ words?
Adam drew in a slow breath and let it out even more slowly. “No, he wasn’t bad. I never. . . Hoss, he made his choices; every man does.”
“He weren’t but eighteen, Adam.’
“I know, and I’d be the last to call him full-grown, but he wasn’t a little boy, Hoss, and his choices were his own.”
“I just feel like I coulda. . .well, I should have been able to make him see. . .” Hoss let his words drift into the darkness.
It had been a decade since Adam had actually taken his brother’s chin in his hand and turned Hoss’ eyes to his, but he did it while straightening to his fullest height.
“Stop it! Stop it now, little brother. Enough is enough. What happened is not your fault, and if you refuse to see that for yourself, I’ll just have to knock some sense into you.” Adam’s tone would have sent a chill down most men’s spines; it just turned Hoss’ lips up at the corners.
“Is that so?”
“Yes.” The big-brother surety was there once again.
Hoss shook his head free from Adam’s fingers. “You and what army, brother?”
“Well, let’s see: Pa, Joe, Hop Sing, Doc, Roy, and every hand that’s been here longer than a week for a start.”
Hoss rolled his eyes and then just turned to stare once more into the night.
Adam rubbed his nose and then spoke softly, “Sometimes, Hoss, all you can do for others is open the door; then they have to walk through it themselves. Pa’s told you as much more than once.”
“And you have to admit it’s true.”
“Maybe. It just seems, well, that you ought to be able to give them one almighty shove and get ‘em through.”
“When you shove somebody, they’re likely to stumble or fall.”
Hoss’ shrug was slight. “Well, there is that.”
“What happened can’t be changed, Hoss. Let it go.”
“There’s still the young one.”
“Ty’s little brother?”
“Somebody needs to make him see Ty wasn’t bad and he don’t have to be either.”
“Then quit wallowing in guilt and open that door.”
Hoss turned to completely face Adam. “I was thinking maybe. . .he’s only fifteen, but I was thinking we could. . .”
“Well,” Hoss smiled, “that door might open a whole lot easier with more than one fellow pulling.” His grin broadened.
Adam shook his head and smiled back. “Let’s talk about it over some of Hop Sing’s cherry pie.” He threw his arm over his brother’s shoulder. They walked side by side and only separated to walk through the door.
People Done Right, But …
At the first insult, Candy tensed slightly. At the second, he began to drain his beer in preparation for what he expected to happen next. Not that he had any intention of preventing the fight. If Joe wanted to stuff the man’s words back down his throat, he had the right; Candy simply planned to make sure the fight was fair and hopefully remained a two-man battle and not an all-out brawl. When the third insult rang out louder than the first two, Candy‘s eyes were fixed on Joe Cartwright. Joe was rigid, and his color was high. Draining his beer in one final swig, Joe banged the glass on the bar and turned.
“Come on, Candy. We’re leaving.” Joe’s voice was tight and controlled. He strode out of the bar, and Candy followed. Joe swung into the saddle and headed out of town without pausing. Candy did not pull his horse beside Cochise until they had reached the edge of town.
“Mellowing in your old age, are you, Joe?” Candy observed lightly.
“He used to be my friend.” It was a flat statement delivered without Joe even turning his head toward Candy. Then Joe dug his heels into Cochise’s flanks and galloped away from both Candy and the road.
Hoss was in the yard when Candy rode up and dismounted.
“Thought Little Joe was with you,” Hoss observed with a frown gathering on his brow.
“Trouble in town?”
Hoss simply waited expectantly.
“Some barfly was tossing insults around about Cartwrights in general and pretty rich boys like Ben’s baby in particular.”
“Joe. . .”
“Didn’t fight him,” Candy said quickly, “Said he used to be a friend.”
“Tall, rangy fellow with sandy hair?” Hoss asked. Candy nodded. “That’s Randy Field. Little Joe rode off toward the lake, I expect.”
“Yeah.” Candy settled back against the barn wall and waited for an explanation.
Hoss gazed at him and then shrugged. “Not much to tell really.”
“Has to be something behind Joe walking away.”
“Yeah, well, Randy was engaged to a sweet little gal name of Martha. Well, one day Martha goes to Randy and tells him she can’t marry him ‘cause she’s got feelings for another man. Tells him she likes him too much to make him live life as second best. Tells him he deserves better than a woman who loves another man.” Hoss paused and swallowed.
“Yeah,” Hoss admitted. “Now don’t go thinking that anything had been going on. Martha told Randy right then that the man had no feelings for her, hadn’t led her on or nothing. At first Martha didn’t name no names, but, well, Randy figured things out pretty quick, and in the end she admitted to him it was Joe. Then she came straight over to Little Joe and told him what had happened. That’s how we know what she said. Maybe she thought. . . anyways, Little Joe didn’t have any feelings like that for her, and, well, in the end she went to live with a sister in St. Joe.”
“This Randy fellow didn’t believe Joe hadn’t led her on?”
Hoss shook his head. “Even if he would have doubted Joe, he believed Martha.” Hoss sighed. “I think maybe that only made it worse. I mean, well, here he was loving the gal and offering her his name and a life together, and Joe don’t do nothing not even smile her way, and she chooses pinning for him over all Randy offers.”
“Yeah,” Candy agreed softly. “And Joe?”
“He felt guilty ‘bout it all, even though he hadn’t done nothing but be him. I think if Joe had done something, it might have been better. He could have let Randy break his nose or a few ribs and then apologized, but way things were, it just festered. If Joe is around when Randy’s been drinking, and that’s a lot of the time these days, well, you saw.”
Hoss sighed again. “Ended up with a lot of bad, and nobody to blame it on.” Hoss shook his head sadly. “People done right, but everything went wrong.”
Candy straightened. “Happens that way sometimes.”
Hoss returned to his task. “Little Joe’ll be back for supper. Late maybe, but he’ll be back.”
“Expect he will,” Candy agreed and went to stable his horse.