Summary: A series of vignettes. Hoss talks to Adam while taking care of him. Ben faces the unthinkable. And copes.
Word Count: 1300
Well, big brother, let me do that for ya. I have your comb here already, and—what? ‘course I’m using your comb. I know you find it in-high-jenic to use someone else’s comb. Haven’t fergotten that scolding.
Woah, your hair’s gotten mighty long. You jest be glad Pa ain’t seeing this. He always thinks it’s Joe who don’t want to go to the barber, but I know it’s you who’s always stalling. Naw, I don’ tell him. I ain’t no telltale, you know that. Always kept your secrets, right? Only this time I should have told…
Boy, your hair gets curly when it’s long! Naw, don’ worry, I ain’t laying it in no curls. Joe would, but I know you like it straight. And you want ta look good for the ladies, doncha?
Come on, Adam, you know they gonna come. Don’ tell me you ain’t seen how the ladies ogle you. They do. All the gals at Miss Kitty’s—what? Yeah, I know you don’t care for them gals, but they care for you, that’s for sure. And Miss Abigail—now that ain’t my fault, Adam, that was all Joe’s idea. I jest—well, but it was funny, you hafta admit that, Adam.
Oh, lookee here, Adam, there’s a little spider in your hair. I always said your hair is so thick, some day a bird’s gonna built its nest in it. Alright, alright, I’m gonna take it out.
You look mighty fine, Adam. That white shirt and black jacket—you look like you gonna go to your wedding today. Jest don’t bite me head off, Adam, I know you don’t need someone else to pester you about settling down and have a family. I know you never found the right gal for that. What? The right lady, yeah, I know.
I’d really like to do more for you, but I reckon there’s nothing left now. Should have done somethin’ before…I would have come with you, but of course, you wanted to go alone. Ain’t never been the one to ask for help, are you? Naw, not Adam, great pertector of the family. Only this time you needed more pertection than us.
I’m awfully angry with you, Adam. Naw, I ain’t calming down. This time you hafta listen. I’m mad at you, and I ain’t gonna forgive you, hear me? And it ain’t because of Pa or Little Joe. This time I’m mad at you for myself. Because now I’m the big brother, an’ I dunno how to be that.
Damn you, Adam, for getting yourself killed, damn you.
Dammit, Adam…I love you.
So, this was it. All that was left: a hat with a bullet hole in it.
A dead son, a wasted young life, a mourning family, an empty shell of a father, one raging brother, one shattered brother, and a hat with a bullet hole in it.
Clumsy attempts at comfort by well meaning neighbours, head-ups from strangers, reassuring slaps on shoulders from friends, handshakes and condolences from townspeople, empty words and meaningless gestures, and a hat with a bullet hole in it.
A life with only two sons, a house with an empty bedroom at the end of the landing, a chair no one would ever sit in anymore, a void within his heart, and a damned hat with a bullet hole in it.
Ben squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head as if this could rid him of his pain. But shutting out the world didn’t ease the pain, because the pain was inside and was part of his very existence, and it would be there forever.
And so Ben clutched the black hat to his chest, and wept.
One would think black was the colour Ben associated his son with, but it wasn’t. Black never made him cry. Not even the black shirts he had been wearing those past months reminded him of the son who was no more. No, black was a safe colour, black was…just black. Mourning, yes, but not Adam.
Blue was what caused the most heartaches. But not every blue. Not the deep, calming blue of the lake and certainly not the bright sky blue of Hoss’ eyes – that was solace. No, it was the murky, faded blue of the empty chair next to the fire place. The chair no one dared to sit on. The chair Ben didn’t even touch, in fear that that would send away Adam’s spirit. As if not touching his favourite seat would conserve the essence of Adam somehow. It was completely ridiculous, Ben knew that, but still…
Ben saw that faded blue everywhere: in a woman’s skirt on C-Street, in the print on a soda package in Hop Sing’s kitchen, in the enamel of a frying pan in the bunkhouse—and it always conjured the picture of his eldest, sitting in the blue chair and reading one of his beloved books. And this picture inevitably made Ben—angry. It brought tears to his eyes, and when someone saw it, Ben knew they thought he was sad, and he was, but, secretly, he was angry, too.
He stared at the chair, and the blue devil stared back, accusingly, mockingly empty—and that was when Ben snapped. He leaped forward and with sudden determination seized the chair and dragged it into the front yard.
The axe lay abandoned at the chopping block; it was in Ben’s hand before he could even think about it, and he brought it down on the taunting piece of furniture with a force born out of grief and anger and disappointment. The seat cracked in the middle. Ben crashed the axe down again. Again. Again. Again. The left armrest broke under the furious blows, the right one splintered only seconds later, then the legs, the cross members, the backrest, and Ben smashed on and on, driving wood into the ground with violent blows and sending splinters all over the yard. He pounded on the shattered debris, and he pounded in anger at his son, who had been too proud to back out of a fight he was bound to lose, at the stranger, who had finally died of his injuries, so they couldn’t hold him liable for what he had called a fair duel, but Ben would always consider cold blooded murder, and in anger at himself, who had failed to protect his son, to talk him out of this suicide in the name of family pride. He pounded at the shredded wood and fabric and stuffing until he was completely spent, and he sank to his knees and finally allowed his tears to flow.
When Hoss came home that evening and entered the great room, something had changed. His father was sitting in front of the fireplace, a glass of brandy beside him and in his hands the book which had been lying on Adam’s bedside table for months. Pa looked more at peace than he had for—well, since Adam had died. Something in the fire cracked, and Hoss looked into the flames to find that there weren’t any logs in the fireplace, but splintered wood and tatters of faded blue fabric. Instantly Hoss’ gaze went to the empty place where only that morning a chair had been standing, then he looked at his father, at the fire again and back at the contentedly reading man.
And Hoss understood.
A/N: With many thanks to Sklamb for another beautiful beta.