Word Count – 1,161
My brother. I still can’t quite get that idea into my mind. I’ve tried just to accept that the man who looks nothing like me carries some of the same blood as I do. It’s only just beginning to seem – well, possible.
After Pardee shot him, he had three weeks on his back, two weeks out of bed for a few minutes longer each day and this week he’s up and around for an hour or two. I helped him down the stairs but he walked on his own over to the corral and he’s leaning on the fence now, watching the three new fillies prance around in there as if they’re showing off to him. He chooses one and calls her over, and now he’s fussing over her, rubbing her nose and giving her something sweet from his pocket. She’ll be following him around like a puppy before we know where we are.
The first dance should be interesting. I’ll have to look to my laurels.
I settle on the new chair in the porch, the one Murdoch brought home from town one day, saying we needed more chairs so that the family could sit together. Not that we have had much chance yet but last night, Murdoch and I had coffee and brandy out here. In my mind’s eye I watch as Johnny leans back in the well-padded seat, still a bit awkwardly as if he isn’t quite sure of being whole again. We nearly lost him. I’m not quite sure how he hung on. But he did, and I am grateful that he did.
Yesterday he drove me more than half mad with some wild scheme he had. I couldn’t make head of tail of it but he explained it so fast, with such enthusiasm that I was carried away and I think I said yes to something, but I am still not sure what. No doubt I can work it out in due course. I suppose he’s had some time to think it through while he was lying ill. But then, when he finished speaking he seemed, I don’t know, tired perhaps, or disappointed, just for a while.
I’ve heard that getting over a gunshot wound can make you feel low. He was telling me it’d happened before, he’d been shot and spent a long while getting well. Then he said this time, it had been different. He wouldn’t say what kind of difference, though. I am not sure he altogether likes having us around and there was some disagreement about the amount of “fussing” he could stand. I had to walk out of his room a couple of times, and Murdoch disappeared for a whole day once. But we weathered the storms and now there he is. One of the ranch hands has brought Barranca out for his inspection. He can’t groom him yet but it won’t be long. I can see he wants to in the way his hand is smoothing over Barranca’s shoulder. There – he bent down too far. That’ll teach you, Johnny. I wonder whether to go and rescue him but his good sense prevails. He’s letting the hand lead Barranca away. Stubborn but not stupidly so. No, nothing stupid about my brother.
It hasn’t all be bad, while he was recovering. When I went in to talk him through some of the long hours, I was wearing my new clothes, picked out for me by the charming and forward young lady who is to be my sister. Odd to acquire so much family all at once. Well, when he looked at me his eyes narrowed and I looked back at him lying there, and we laughed. First honest to goodness laugh we had shared, I think. He said something about the gunbelt I was wearing incorrectly, and I said he needed a shave, and he tried to swat at me but it was too soon, and he was pale again by the time I got him settled.
But here he is now, heading back to the house, leaving the filly nodding her head at him over the gate. I don’t know what to say this time, so I say nothing and he comes and eases himself into the oldest chair.
He stays quiet a while then says, “She’ll make a nice little horse for Teresa. That old mare she’s riding needs to be put out to pasture.”
I hadn’t even noticed what horse Teresa was riding, but I agree with him as if I had. Then we’re silent again.
“You forgiven me?” he asks quietly, unexpectedly and without looking at me.
“For what?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“For just sitting that time, when you were feeling just how hard those guys could hit,” he clarifies, turning to me and leaving me no room to ignore the sensitive subject.
“It’s not a question of forgiving. It was a tactic, that was all. It was war.”
He grunts, I suppose acknowledging the truth of the statement. But he hadn’t finished and he leaned over the arm of his chair to make his point. “And later, by the water. I’d almost forgotten the way you hit me, what with Teresa trying to beat some sense into me about Murdoch. She took a big chance, standing right by Barranca like that. You hit hard, the two of you.”
I glance over at him. He isn’t grinning exactly, and he’s somewhat flushed but his eyes are calm. After the fevers of the last few weeks, that’s good to see in anyone, but especially in a brother. “You do seem to be on the receiving end rather often, brother.”
“Yeah.” Now he’s grinning properly. “Never did know when to back down.”
I wonder if he’s going to back down this time but he doesn’t. He wants this finished with and he’ll wait until I can find the right words.
“I didn’t know you then,” I offer under his intense scrutiny.
There is a pause, then he nods and relaxes back into his chair. The grin has gone but he’s satisfied with my answer and that’s an end to that. The incidents will become no more than family stories, to laugh over and tell to the children.
We talk until Murdoch comes home, and his opinion is that Johnny is looking tired, so in deference to the man Johnny still insist on calling old, my brother stands then leans for a moment against the stone pillar, maybe getting his balance, maybe feeling a momentary twinge. And there he is, leaning again, as he’s leaned on me for a few weeks now. He’s just getting his independence back. He lifts a hand in farewell and walk off, heading back to bed with a resigned air and head held high. He is going, but only because it is his decision.
At the end of the day, I remember him at the corral fence, leaning.
The End 2005
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