“Mark!” I heard Pa yell. I just got home! How could I be in trouble already? I sighed and shook my head as I hopped down from Blue Boy. For the past week, Pa’s mood had been pretty sour. “Mark, come here!” Pa hollered from the barn.
I scooted my hat way back on my bed and hurried into the barn. Pa held a chick in his hand. I smiled as I hurried up the hayloft only to find half a dozen chicks to greet me. “Oh Pa! Ain’t they beauties?”
“Yes,” Pa answered with a stiff nod of his head. “But chicks belong in the coop – not the barn!” Pa griped.
I swallowed the piece of candy in my mouth. “Oh…yeah…” I sighed.
“Where’d you get that candy?” Pa suddenly growled.
“Well…From Miss… the General Store,” I answered. I suddenly saw Pa’s face wrinkle up in a big frown. “Uh…I’ll go start my chores now.”
Pa grabbed my arm before I could start down the ladder. “Wait a minute, boy.” Pa looked me in the eye. “Who’s working there now?”
Pa had refused to go to the General Store ever since Milly left. Before leaving, Milly had arranged for the store to continue functioning until Pa was able to sell it. Pa had shown no interest in selling it as of yet though. “Uh…” I sighed. “Miss Simpson is helping out.”
Pa studied me closely. “Who hired her?”
“Mil-Milly did before she left, Pa.”
“Mil-“ Pa sighed. “Oh.” He handed me the chicks. “Get them out in the coop and make sure this doesn’t happen again. You hear me, boy?” I thought he was upset earlier, now he was just plain intolerable.
“Y-yes sir,” I answered.
Pa climbed down the ladder and started unbuttoning his shirt. “I’m gonna chop some wood. When you’re done with that,” pointing to the chicks. “You can start taking the wood to the woodshed.”
“P-Pa, the woodshed has plenty of-“ I suddenly stopped when I saw the warning look on Pa’s face. These days, I was walking on eggshells.
I suffered silently through the week, but when Saturday came around, I didn’t think I was going to survive. I didn’t remember it, but it had been exactly two years since Milly came into town. Pa had been after me all day, for anything, nothing, and everything. I didn’t get up early enough. I didn’t hang the laundry on the clothesline right. I took too long checking the cattle, and didn’t spend long enough in the garden. I did this but not to his satisfaction and I didn’t do that…so on, and so on, and so on. To tell you the truth, it was getting on my nerves.
That evening at supper, I’d pretty much had all I could take of it. I couldn’t wait to finish eating, get the dishes done, and then head to bed, just for some peace and quiet. Pa stuffed the last bite of food in his mouth and continued with his griping. “And another thing, Mark. I wish you would remember to stomp your feet at the door BEFORE walking inside. I’m getting tired of-“
I suddenly threw down my fork and stood up. Pa jumped as my chair went crashing to the floor and I yelled “You’re getting tired?! Pa! I’ve had it!” Pa was so surprised that he stopped his speech in mid-sentence. His hand was frozen in the air, pointing towards the door, as he stared at me. “Ever since Milly left, you’ve done nothing but gripe and complain! Nothing I do is good enough for you! I can’t stand it anymore, Pa!” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “I know you’re grieving over Milly leaving, but don’t you think I am too? I loved her too, Pa. We both know how special she was. But you can’t continue to mope over her like a cow who misplaced her calf! I just can’t stand it anymore, Pa! You won’t even say her name!”
I ran to the door. “Mark-“ Pa’s voice held authority and disbelief that I would dare be that disrespectful towards him.
“No!” I spun around, tears were falling down my face and I didn’t care who saw them.. “Don’t say anything until you really understand how you’ve been treating me!” Then I ran out the door, slamming it in my retreat. I closed my eyes, suddenly regretting how I had spoken to Pa, but someone had to shake Pa out of his stupor. If he came out that door, I suspect I might get my britches warmed. I went to the barn and climbed up into the hayloft and crawled over to where a stray kitten had made it’s home. I picked the kitten up and began stroking him lightly. I listened for Pa’s boot steps, but all I heard was the purring of the kitten I held.
The barn grew dark as the sun set for the night. The night was eerily silent, as if all the animals sensed my mood and didn’t want to upset me any more than I already was. There was no full moon to shine through the windows. I was almost asleep before I heard the barn door squeak below. I listened as Pa lit a match, then the barn was flooded with light as the lantern began to shine. I quickly wiped the tears from my cheek that I hadn’t even realized I had still been shedding. I listened as Pa slowly climbed up the ladder to the hayloft.
I lifted my head as Pa’s head popped above the floor. We looked at each other silently, neither one of us saying a word. I couldn’t look at him anymore, I looked back to the kitten curled up in my lap. Then Pa silently slipped up the hayloft and crawled over to me. I could hear a little of a smilein his voice as he looked down at the kitten in my lap and asked. “Where’d he come from?”
“He’s been here for a week. I guess he’s all alone…” I didn’t dare to lift my eyes to Pa’s. “…like me.”
A deep sigh escaped Pa. “Have I been that bad?”
“Yes, sir,” I answered.
The kitten purred as Pa scratched him behind his ears. Silence came between us as Pa thought on this. “Mark…” Pa rubbed his hands together as if he was suddenly cold. “Son, you are very important to me, you know that.” I nodded, but remained silent. “There’s nothing…or no one…more important to me than you.” Again, I nodded. “But son, a man…well, he needs a woman to…” Pa stopped and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, no matter how much I love you, there’s a part of my heart that you can’t…” Pa stopped again as he breathed an exasperated sigh.
I couldn’t help it, but I let out a brief laugh. Pa looked up at me and raised an eyebrow. “What’s so funny?”
“You…trying to describe man/woman relationships to me…” I shook my head. “I mean, you face four gunmen on a street and never break a sweat, but the minute you try to describe relationships, you’re worse than…well, than an outlaw with a noose around his neck.”
Pa chuckled as he put an arm around my shoulders. “I reckon it’s one of those things Pas don’t like to talk to their kids about.”
“Well, I’ll save you the discomfort, Pa.” I chucked again. Then I sobered. I knew that I had gotten through to Pa and some of the tension had been relieved, but we still had some talking to do. “I’m having a hard time with Milly being gone too, Pa. Everywhere I look, I see Milly. I still smell her and hear her laugh. I don’t like riding through town and yet I still have to go to school and you have me stop and get supplies…“
I stopped as Pa put a hand on my arm and held up a finger. “Son, I thought long and hard on what you said. After you ran out of the house, I got to remembering…after your mother died, I left a lot of her memories behind. I realize now that running from your mother’s memory wasn’t the brightest thing to do. But, eventually, we learned to…well…to go on without her.” Pa sighed. “But one thing that helped was traveling. Seeing new places and people… So I’ve come to a decision, son.” Pa put his hand to my chin and turned my head toward his. “I think we should leave here for a couple weeks. There’s a yearling sale I want to attend up yonder, and I heard tell that an old friend from Oklahoma settled down around there.” Pa smiled at me as he drew his hand to the back of my neck. “What do you say? You think a trip might help both of us heal?”
I thought on it for a moment, then I smiled a slow, easy smile. “I say that sounds like just what the doctor ordered, Pa.” I threw my arms around his neck and we shared an embrace of forgiveness and the start of our healing. When we parted, I said, “I’m sorry I yelled at ya like that, Pa.”
Pa shook his head gently. “No, no, son. Don’t apologize. I was making a fool out of myself and through my grief I was making life miserable for you. Guess I was forgetting our number one rule, to talk. You were just showing me what I was doing to you. I…” Pa lowered his eyes. “I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting.”
“When do we leave?” I asked.
Pa smiled as he patted my leg. “Tomorrow afternoon.” He smiled at my disappointment of not leaving right away. “Well, I think the Lord does deserve a little acknowledgement before he guides us on our trip – don’t you?” I nodded. “Oh, and besides that, there’s…someone I need to see.”
“Mr. Griswald.” I groaned, I’d forgotten all about my studies and was hoping Pa would forget about them, too. Pa smiled. “Sorry son, but that’s just the way it is. Oh, but don’t worry. You don’t have too many years left.”
So that’s how we ended up at Mr. Stevens’ ranch sitting around his kitchen table as they discussed the “good ole’ days.” Mr. Stevens was older than my Pa and could tell stories about Pa getting in trouble – if Pa’d let him, which he wouldn’t. He said that would encourage me and I didn’t need any more encouragement when it came to getting into trouble. Mr. Stevens laughed. “Ohhhhh, now Lucas…That’s a good boy you have here.”
Pa smiled as he looked at me pride fully. “I know. He’s grown up so fast!”
Mr. Stevens looked into his coffee cup as he sighed. “We had a lot of good times together, Lucas. A lot of good times.” He bagan swirling the coffee around in his cup. “Seems you’ve really built yourself a life out here.”
There was a tone in his voice that I didn’t understand. But I heard Pa sigh as he too looked into his cup. “I know I should’ve said goodbye. I’m sorry I didn’t. It was just…” Pa’s words died as a deep frown fell over his face.
“The last time I saw you was…” Mr. Stevens looked skyward as he thought on it. “In the fields. We were in the fields working on the crops when…”
“Yes.” Pa nodded. “When I got the news that Margaret was sick.” Pa stared into his cup. “I reckon all my crops died…too.”
“No,” Mr. Stevens shook his head. He stood up and walked to the window. As he looked out, he spoke in a reserved voice. “As a matter of fact, many of the neighbors pitched in and helped out.” I could barely hear his last words. “You had a record crop that year – and I’m not talking about what was planted in the field – I’m talking about people who cared.”
“I know.” Pa sighed as he stood up and walked to the same window Mr. Stevens stood at. “I’m sorry. I was selfish. Margaret’s death was very…difficult.”
Mr. Stevens then turned to Pa. “You weren’t the only one to lose somebody, you know. My little girl…she died, as did my wife.”
There was a silence in the room as Pa turned from Mr. Stevens and walked to the other side of the room. He lifted the coffee pot from the stove and sat it back down with a bang. I jumped at the sound. “I…” Pa stopped. “I didn’t know.”
“You probably don’t know about the other men who continued to work your fields while their loved one’s died. You didn’t even give them a thanks. All we knew, you and Mark were…gone.” Mr. Stevens walked to the table and sat down. He shook his head. “Well, that’s all water under the bridge now. We make mistakes, they stay with us forever – especially those kind of mistakes.”
“We?” Pa asked, I could hear the guilt in his voice. “You didn’t leave. You stuck it out.”
“Yes.” Mr. Stevens looked up at Pa. “But I didn’t come to see you at your house while you sat at your dying wife’s bedside. I didn’t offer any sort of friendly support.”
“I understand. Like you said, it’s water under the bridge. She’s been gone for…” Pa looked up at me. “Mark was six when she died. She’s been gone now for seven years.” Pa sat down his coffee cup with a plop. “I’ve moved on.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “Pa wore that wedding band for a long time. He only took it off about a year ago when-“ I suddenly stopped.
Pa put a hand over mine and gave me a weak, sad smile. “It’s time to move on, son. It’s okay.“ He turned to Mr. Stevens. “Well, I’m going to leave my boy here to do school work today. I want him to do some chores too.” He turned and looked at me, raising his eyebrows. I knew those eyes weren’t asking any questions, except ‘did I understand?’
I did want to argue, but with that look I wouldn’t. Mr. Stevens started to argue on my behalf. Pa held up his hand and shook his head. “No, no…I insist. And Mark would be glad to do them.” Pa turned and looked straight at me. “Wouldn’t you, son?”
“Oh…” I stood up. “Yes sir, I would.”
I watched as Pa walked from Mr. Stevens’ house and mounted his horse. For some reason, I suddenly felt uneasy about Pa’s leaving. There was a dread deep in the pit of my stomach as if he was suddenly in danger. I watched Pa mount his horse, then I suddenly sprang forward. “Pa! Pa!” I cried.
Pa turned in his saddle as he saw me running towards him. “What is it, son?” Pa asked.
I stopped, suddenly aware I was running and crying out in a panicked state. “Uh…” I tipped my head sideways as I looked up at him. “I just…Pa, it would please me greatly to go with ya today.”
“Oh.” Pa saw that look in my eye. He slowly dismounted his horse and stood in front of me. “And it would please me greatly for you to stay here and do as I said.” He gently laid a hand on my shoulder and I nodded. “Son, I’ll be fine. You just tell that feeling of yours that everything will be okay.” Then he poked me in the stomach.
“Yeah? Well, it’s that one time when things don’t turn out okay that worries me, Pa,” I declared with a heavy sigh. Pa turned to mount his horse. “Uh…what time will you be back?”
“I don’t know, son. “ Pa turned and looked at me. I saw a gleam in his eyes. “But when I do get back, I think I’m ready to go home. I’ve made peace with…er…stuff.”
I nodded. “So, you’ll be home tonight then?”
He sighed again. “I’m gonna do my best to be back tonight, son. But if it gets to be too late, I’ll stay in town and come back tomorrow. I don’t know this terrain as well as I do ours back home, and I wouldn’t want to injure Razor needlessly by riding him in the dark. Okay?”
I nodded and backed away. The dreadful feeling was still there, but I tried to push it down. I knew where my place was – Pa made that very clear!
As I lay in bed that night, I said a prayer for Pa. As it turned out, that dreadful feeling didn’t lessen – it got worse. Now it was so bad that I hurt from it. I laid awake long into the night worrying about where Pa was and if he was staying out of trouble. I said a prayer, which finally put me to sleep.
The sun was shining through the window of the ranch house and woke me up the next morning. I got up to find that the rooster had crowed long ago. As I sat up in bed and stretched myself, that dreadful feeling stuck its ugly tongue out at me and I suddenly didn’t feel too well. I wanted desperately to set to work on chores, hoping that would quell my stomach.
Seems Mr. Stevens thought a lot like I did. What Pa didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him. By the time I made my way from the house, Mr. Stevens had all the chores already done. Midmorning came and Pa still wasn’t back. I knew I had to go find him. If I didn’t do something, my insides would burst, I knew. I didn’t want to worry Mr. Stevens, so I put on my best face and told him I was going to head into town and have lunch with Pa. So I mounted my horse and rode off for town. Mr. Stevens saw me and Blue Boy out the gate.
Mr. Stevens mentioned something about Pa stopping at the gun shop to get a new spring for his rifle, so I rode directly there. But the strangest thing happened. I saw my Pa walking out of the Sheriff’s office. He held his head as if it hurt. “Pa!” I hurried up to him. “Pa, I’ve been waiting for you out of the ranch. I finally decided to ride into Red Creek and see if you-“ I suddenly stopped. Pa was looking at me as if I was a complete stranger. “Something wrong?”
“Why do you call me Pa, boy?”
What a strange question for Pa to be asking! Why would he even ask such a strange question? “Cause you are my-“ I stopped with a short laugh. “Oh, you must be foolin’ me again.”
“No, I’m not fooling. Who are you?”
I still thought it was a joke. “Oh, come on, Pa!” I suddenly noticed the bandage on his head. I reached my hand up to touch it. “Hey, you hurt, Pa?” I asked.
Pa pushed my hand away. “What’s your name, boy?”
I suddenly felt that gut feeling twist in the pit of my stomach. I felt almost sick! “Are…are you playing a game?”
“Is your name Vail?” Pa asked me then.
“You know it’s not.” Yes, I was getting very worried! Pa was acting strange…as if he wasn’t my Pa, but a stranger.
“Then what is it?” Pa asked.
I stared at him before answering, trying to figure out what was going on. “Mark McCain.” I was concerned about the injury he had to his head. He must have hurt himself pretty bad not to know who I was! “McCain, same as your name is.”
Pa insisted his name was Vale. “Pa, you mean you don’t know me?” I reached down and clung to him. My voice begged for him to remember me, but he held up a gun and showed me the name on it. What was he doing with a handgun? Why did he have a gun belt strapped on? Where was his rifle? There were so many things I didn’t understand.
I was so concerned for him! I’ve heard tell of people hitting their head so hard that they lose their memory, but I’d never witnessed it. I wanted a doctor, but was afraid to leave him. I mind began whirling. What would Pa do in this situation? I suddenly realized how Pa felt, what with my depending on him so much. I suddenly found myself the caregiver and Pa the…the one needing care for. The burden rested on me.
Part of me wanted to stay here and care for him – but how could I care for him when I didn’t even know what was wrong? Part of me – the sensible part – wanted to run for the doctor. I ordered my Pa to stay where he was then hurried to the doctor.
But that was a job easier said then done. The doctor had a patient with a broken arm or a broken leg…I don’t even remember. All I could see in front of me was my Pa…a man who couldn’t even remember me. I knew something had to be wrong, because I knew in my heart that I would be the last thing he’d ever forget!
The doctor told me to sit and wait. I did. But I waited…and waited…and waited…Meanwhile, my father was out there all alone. He was confused – didn’t know who he was or why he was here. I couldn’t just leave him alone! The gut feeling twisted a little harder as I walked outside. I heard a commotion and noticed some men roughing up my Pa.
Fear gripped every inch of my body as I ran over to the men. “Pa! Pa!” I cried. He was laying flat on the ground. Several men were standing over him. “Stop it!” I kneeled down next to him. “Pa?” I cried, afraid his injuries were serious.
Suddenly, one of the men spoke. I knew that he was one of the men that had harmed him even more. I was angry. My strong as an ox, brave as a thousand soldiers father was laying in the dirt weak, confused, and alone. “Don’t you dare touch him again!” I yelled at the man who dared to speak. “The next order of business is a hanging,” the man announced.
“Hanging?” I looked around at the crowd. My gentle, loving father never did anything to deserve a hanging! “But he’s my Pa!” Wasn’t that enough for them to understand?
Just then, the town sheriff came up to us wanting to know what was going on. I listened as he was told what these men believed to do the fact. For some reason they had it in their head that my father…Lucas McCain…was George Vale, and that he had gone to a line shack today to steal a horse and shot their brother. “But he’s not George Vale!” I screamed. I was desperate to prove to the sheriff who we were. I had to save my Pa’s life! I quickly explained that we were staying at the Steven’s ranch. The Sheriff sent someone out to fetch him back into town.
I took Pa back into the livery where it was cooler. He wasn’t looking too good. I wanted to clean up the marks. It looked like someone had whipped him, for what exactly, I was unsure of. “Why don’t you go on and let me be, boy?” Pa griped.
I led him over to the cot. He moaned as he sat down. “I won’t leave you! You’re my father!” I answered stubbornly. “You lost your head. What happened?” I touched his head again.
“Someone…took a shot at me…The bullet – it grazed my head.”
“You remember the shot?” Hope sprang in my voice.
“No,” Pa shook his head. “I remember waking up. I don’t know who shot at me, but now they want to hang me for horse stealing.”
I turned my head to look at his back. His shirt was badly torn and I could see bloody welts showing up. “They whip ya?” Pa nodded. “I’ll take care of that. Why don’t you lay down on the cot face down.”
Pa did as told. “Why you doing this for me, boy?” His voice was so serious it scared me.
“You mean…you don’t have any feeling toward me at all?” I asked in a shaky voice as I looked for something to put water in.
“I don’t even know you!” Pa stated.
My heart sank. I couldn’t believe this was happening! I had always been the most important thing to Pa, yet he didn’t remember me…What if….
I didn’t let myself think about that. I ran for some cool water. Then I came back and started wiping his back gently. The welts were terrible – they’d done a number on him. It hurt me to just see the welts. I was so confused! What had happened to Pa in the last hours since I saw him? “Feeling better Pa?” He thanked me, but wanted to convince me he wasn’t my father. It didn’t matter to me how sick in the head he was at the moment, he was my Pa – and always would be! No power on earth would EVER change those facts!!!
I stayed strong and kept the faith. I had to be brave for both of us. “As soon as Mr. Stevens gets here, we’ll know who you are.”
Next, things went from bad…to worse! Several men stood in front of us. Pa, even in his sickened state, knew exactly what was going on. He was even calm about it! I had to fight this fight alone to – and would with every ounce of fighting strength I had! “No! He’s my Pa!” I screamed as loud as I could as I rushed toward them. I would die fighting to keep my father alive!
But somebody grabbed me from behind. I kicked at them and cried, but I was still just a boy – I didn’t have the strength to fight off grown men.
I stood there helplessly as I watched them drag my father…Lucas McCain…out to hang. He put up a good fight himself, but in his weakened condition…he just couldn’t fight too hard.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized that in only moments, my precious father – the one person that meant the most to me, that cared for me…whom I needed…would be hanging from a tree…dead!
But just then, I saw a little bit of my Pa’s gumption shine through. Somehow, Pa managed to reach behind himself and grab a gun from a holster. Then he quickly turned and broke away from the men dragging him. He held the gun. A scary, desperate look was in his eye. He threatened to shoot anyone that tried to stop him from riding out.
I was in the crowd, not beside him as I should be. I stood there staring at the cold steel hand gun as it pointed at…not them…but US! That’s when I knew that something was wrong…terribly wrong with my father! Normally, he’d have me some place safe, keeping me out of danger. But today…today, I was in danger of being shot by my own father!
He fired a shot when someone tried to stop him. “I won’t waste the next one!” Pa shouted. Even after Mr. Stevens arrived and declared he was Lucas McCain, Pa didn’t want to give up the fight.
I was scared for him. And it hurt to be on the wrong side of his fight. He was terrified. I knew he was confused and upset and…very scared because he had no idea what was going on. I hurried toward him and begged him to put the gun down. I cried out to him, wishing he’d recognize me. But Pa…my own father…he shoved me back and warned that he didn’t want to hurt me.
He didn’t want to hurt me? But he was my father! He was supposed to protect me. There were times when I thought he was too protective of me and when I wished he would give me more freedom, but today I ached for him to order me into some far off building where I’d be safe. At least then I’d know that he knew me.
I looked around, desperately sending up a prayer to God for guidance. Suddenly, I saw Razor and Pa’s rifle in the boot on the saddle. Where did Pa’s horse come from? It wasn’t there just a few moments ago! I didn’t have time to waste on figuring that out though. This was my last chance! I couldn’t believe that Pa had forgotten me, but his rifle, maybe something that he’d had longer than… me. "Pa, behind ya'! There's your horse and your rifle. You remember your rifle? You were coming into town to get it fixed at the Gun Shop."
Pa looked over his shoulder and I saw the look, as if he were trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, come over his face as he thought on that. My heart leapt, hoping upon hope that my words were able to allow some of his memories to come from the dark recesses of his confused mind. But then more chaos broke out as two men suddenly began fighting my Pa. Before my confused brain could comprehend what was going on, they were dead. My mind was whirling – I was so confused! But somehow, because of that knot in the pit of my stomach, I knew that they were the reason for my Pa’s state.
One of the men who tried so desperately to hang my Pa came forward. "I guess we owe your Pa.....an apology son," he said. I’d soon find out that his name was Frank.
But I was more concerned for my Pa. Pa was laying in the dirt. I ran and knelt down next to him and this time he didn’t protest. I turned to those men and said "I told you that he was Lucas McCain.....a rancher and.....my Pa." The last two words were directed at my father.
I prayed as I waited to hear what Pa would say.
"When you say Pa, sounds good to me...son. I'm a.....rancher?" He asked, still not believing or knowing.
His calling me son like that…like he always did…put hope and joy in my heart. I nodded. "It's a small place...but we're sure happy there."
"After a while.....after being wanted for robbery and murder...small ranch sounds good to me too...Son."
There it was again! “Son…” No other word could have made me happier in that time. I was his son!
Then two men came forward. He bent down next to me. “Name’s Frank.” He looked at my Pa with a deep, sorrowful frown on his face. Then he looked up at his brother. “Joe, let’s help him over to Doc’s office."
I held Pa’s hat close to my chest as I followed them into doc’s office. I looked around me as everyone stared and whispered. I turned and saw men carrying off the bodies of the two outlaws that had just been shot. Then I hurried inside. But the Sheriff stopped me before I got more than a few steps inside. “Who were they?” I asked.
“George Vale and his sidekick,” the sheriff answered. “I reckon they shot your Pa, with him being the same height and size and all…hoping to pass him off as George Vale. Your father…” the sheriff slapped a hand on my shoulder. “…he wasn’t supposed to live through that shot. He sure fooled them!”
I thanked the sheriff with a nod of my head then hurried into my Pa. He was laying on the cot. The sheriff stood behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders. “Those sure are some nasty cuts he has there. Looks like he was flogged.” He turned toward Frank and Joe who stood there silently. “You do that, Frank?”
“I regret to admit…I did…” Frank answered in a low voice.
He turned to me then. “I’m sorry I couldn’t prevent this from happening, son. They locked me in jail because I was against their quick hanging. Son, you can prefer charges against them for what they did to your father.”
I looked toward the two men. Part of me wanted to see them punished for what they had done. I turned and looked at my Pa. “What’s wrong with him, doc?” I asked. I needed to know before making any decision.
The doc looked up from me as he worked on cleaning Pa’s wounds. “Your father has a concussion. It could of happened when the bullet struck or if he hit his head on the ground when he was shot out of the saddle. Sometimes, concussions and trauma can cause a memory loss. I’m sure his memory loss is only temporary. I told him it would come back in a day or two. But he almost…didn’t get to live long enough to find out.” The doc went back to work on Pa’s cuts. “I gave him something to make him sleep. He’ll be asleep for the next several hours.”
“But he is going to be alright? Won’t he Doc?” I asked.
“Given time and some special care that I’m sure only a son can provide, I’m positive he’ll be fine within a few days.”
I turned back to the two men. “That George Vale…He killed your brother?” Frank nodded as Joe hung his head. He couldn’t even look at me. I looked down at Pa. I knew what Pa would want me to do. I looked up at the Sheriff. “No charges, Sheriff…” I said as I put a gentle hand on Pa’s forehead. Then I hurried out of the office.
As I got outside, tears filled my eyes and began falling unbidden down my cheeks. I leaned the back of my head against the wall and closed my eyes. I heard footsteps, but didn’t open my eyes to see who had come outside. I heard someone clear his throat. I opened my eyes to see Frank and Joe standing in front of me with their hats in their hands. “I…That is we…” Frank cleared his throat. “We’re deeply sorry for the pain we’ve caused. I realize now our mistake. We’re not violent men, mind ya and well…when we heard Vale had killed our brother for his horse and…” Frank’s voice died.
I straightened up and looked from Frank to Joe, then back to Frank. “My Pa’s always telling me that as long as I remember the lessons learned from my mistakes, most anything can be forgiven. I’ve made some pretty stupid mistakes over the past few months and the most important lesson I remember, is, to forgive myself. If you men can forgive yourselves for what you done to my Pa, then I can forgive you too. I reckon if I’d had a brother who’d been killed for no good reason, I’d probably not let reason rule. I’d want to seek quick revenge too,” I answered. But I could still see the deep pain of regret in their eyes. I cleared my throat and wiped the tears from my cheeks.
Frank studied me and put a hand to my shoulder. He pointed across the street to a café and said, “We’d like to sort of make amends, and seeing as how your Pa’s going to be sleeping for a while, would you let us get you… I’m mean, would you join us for supper?” I gave Frank a smile then held out my hand.
Frank stared at my hand as if he wasn’t believing that a person could be so forgiving. He turned and looked at Joe. I watched as a small smile played at the corners of their mouths. Then Frank turned back to me and grabbed my hand.
The waitress had brought our food, but I realized I couldn’t eat. There was still something bothering me – it was a different kind of a knot, different than that ‘feeling’ I’d had earlier. Frank noticed right away and I guess he thought I was worried about Pa as he said, “Your Pa’s gonna be okay, boy. The doc said so, and the doc speaks the truth.”
I nodded. “I know, I’m not worried about that.”
“Well, what are you worried about?” I sat in silence as I pushed my food around on my plate. I bit my lip in concentration. “Mark?”
I lifted my head and tried to keep the emotion out of my voice. “You have kids, Mr. Weiden?”
“Two. My son’s three and my daughter’s seven.”
I heard the pride in his voice. “And you love them?” I asked.
“Is there anything…anything at all that could EVER make you forget them?”
Frank looked at Joe then back at me. “Why do you ask?”
“Well…” I plopped my fork down with a sigh. “My Pa…he remembered his rifle but…not me! I know I was hoping something would bring his memory back, but for it to be his rifle. I mean I know he’s had it longer than I’ve been alive, but I’ve heard him tell me time and time again how I mean the world to him.” Guess I couldn’t keep the hurt from my voice.
I saw Joe quickly stand up and leave. Frank sat his fork down and looked up at me. “Mark, the mind is a strange thing. It’s probably the most complicated thing in the human body. There’s so much we don’t know…so much we don’t understand…” He stopped, suddenly feeling inadequate to go on. “Look, why did some man come in and shoot my brother in cold blood? I don’t know the answer to that anymore than you know the answer to your question. But I can tell you that by looking at you, your father is a good man and a loving father, and his forgetting you is no fault of his own, or yours. I also know that if you allow this thing you’re thinking about to fester and grow, it will destroy you like my thoughts almost destroyed me today.”
Joe returned to the café with the doctor close behind him. He sat down beside me. “I heard tell you’re wondering about something.” The doc looked me in the eye. “There is no rhyme or reason about this, son. The truth is that nobody knows why or how…but I think I can help ease your mind a bit. You see, your Pa had already been asking about that there gun shop. He recognized it when he rode past it earlier today and wondered about it. The Sheriff said he even went there and asked about it…So, when you showed him the rifle and mentioned the gun shop, it clicked with him. It’s not that he remember the rifle, but that the rifle was the key to unlocking some of his memories. That’s what he needed, something to help him remember.” The doc looked over my shoulder toward Frank. “The mind is a big, scary place. I hope that someday more understanding will be deemed about amnesia and how it works. A man can remember a simple thing like…oh, say what the name of his horse is, but he can’t remember the important things like who he’s married to or where he lives.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. I felt better, but still wouldn’t be completely satisfied until I was able to talk to my Pa. “The truth is, son, we need more boys like you to grow up and be doctors. Maybe someday you’ll help discover the answers to your questions.”
“Oh, no sir!” I declared in a determined voice. I looked at the men who gave me a puzzled look. “Well…Pa and me…we’re partners on the ranch and I intend it to stay that way!”
That night, I sat in a chair next to my father as he slept. I wanted to be there when he woke up. I felt my head nodding as the night grew later and later. The doc came in at one point and urged me to go get some sleep but I refused. “I’m staying right here,” I declared. After the doc left, I slowly felt my head sinking. as it laid down on my Pa’s chest. I fell asleep at the sound of his beating heart and steady breathing.
It was some time later when I suddenly felt a hand smoothing my hair. “Mark…” I heard Pa’s weak whisper. “Mark…”
I lifted my head and stared into Pa’s eyes. “Pa! You’re awake!” I smiled as I laid a hand against his cheek.
Pa’s eyes scanned the room. “Where…where am I?” he asked in a weak voice. “How…”
“You mean…you don’t remember?” I asked.
Pa’s eyebrows wrinkled as he thought back. “A gunshot…I heard a gunshot then I fell…”
“You…you remember getting shot?” I asked excitedly.
I saw Pa cringe from the loudness of my voice, but Pa nodded. “I remember falling from my horse.” He looked into my eyes.
“You remember me?”
Pa’s hand was stroking my hair, but it suddenly froze. I held my breath as his expression turned to confusion. “What do you mean do I remember you?” Pa asked. “Of course! How could I ever forget my boy?” Pa put a hand to his forehead and groaned. “But my mind is fuzzy. But there seems to be some things I should know but don’t…It’s like there are huge gaps in my mind…” Pa looked at me again. “But I remember you, son.”
“What else do you remember?” I asked in a quieter voice.
Pa looked at me like I’d ate loco weed, but went on to say, “I remember that we live in North Fork. I remember your mother…and I remember…” Pa stopped. “What did happen, son?”
I smiled. “A mistake, Pa. It was all just a big mistake!”
I watched as Pa fell back to sleep, then I kissed his forehead lovingly and stood up from the bed. The doc walked into his office about that time. “Doc, he woke up and he remembers me. He said his mind is fuzzy, but he remembers our home and ME. Is it normal for him to know there are great big gaps in his mind?”
Doc nodded. “That’s normal, boy. It’ll all come back to him soon enough.”
I turned back to stare at the curtain as I heard Pa’s voice speak. “Milly…”
“Doc, Pa doesn’t remember anything after the gunshot. Is that normal?”
“Son, nothing’s normal when you have a head injury!” Doc answered.
“You reckon he’ll ever remember it?”
“Some don’t. Some forget the gap between that time and when they start remembering. Some remember it in time…some never remember it.”
“Doc? That conversation we had yesterday, could it be just between the two of us?” I begged. I turned again toward the curtain that separated me from my father. “I don’t think he could handle knowing that he’d…he’d forgotten me. I think it’s best that it stays hidden in the dark corners of his mind.”
Doc nodded as he said, “Doctor, patient confidentiality,” and said he’d spread the word about keeping it quiet.
Pa was well enough to travel the next day. Doc didn’t want him riding horseback, so I rented a wagon and team from the livery to make his traveling much easier. As I was tying up the horses to the back, Frank Weiden walked up to me. “Going home?” he asked.
I nodded. “If you’re ever in North Fork, I’d be obliged to see you again.”
“I’d be obliged to visit,” Frank said. “My whole family would be beholden to ya.” A silence suddenly sat between us as I finished my task. Frank cleared his throat and held out some money to me. “Here’s the money you paid the livery for this team and wagon. There’s no charge.”
I stared at the money in his hand. “I can’t let you do that,” I stated.
He grabbed my hand and planted the money in it. “You have to, Mark.” He sighed as I lifted my eyes to his. “Just like you had to find healing by forgiving me, I have to find healing by doing for you. I HAVE to do this. You’re Pa would understand. Just tell him…well, tell him it’s our thanks.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
“We…took care of the doctor bill and the meals this morning. So you came into this town owing us nothing – and you leave owing us nothing. You’ve given my brother and I more than you’ll ever know.” He shook his head. “You and your father…you are amazing folks. I talked to him last night – told him about George Vale shooting him and such-“ I gasped, but he held up his hand. “-I didn’t tell him about the amnesia, and I don’t think he remembers. You keep it that way.”
We walked in silence as we crossed the street. “I thought on your decision long and hard last night, son. I thought on what I would feel if I knew I’d forgotten one of my children, and I didn’t like how that felt. I think you made the right decision. If he does remember, you can deal with it then, but there’s no reason to bring it up.”
I thanked him. Frank helped my Pa into the wagon. Pa declared that he needed no help, but Frank insisted that Pa needed to take it easy. We said goodbyes as I pulled out that morning.
Pa was quiet for a long time. “Still remembering things?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “It’s like a fog, but I’m slowly remembering things, son. I remember the marigolds we plant around the porch every spring and how good they smell in the morning. I remember your mother and how beautiful she was. I remember so many things…but I don’t remember so many things…like…how did you get so big?”
I laughed at that. “Ma’s worth remembering, Pa.”
Pa grew quiet as he thought. When he spoke, his voice held reservation. “Son, you remember when you were sick with typhoid and had visions of your mother?” I nodded. “Well…I had visions too. Someone was there taking care of me.” Pa cleared his throat. “Milly was there caring for me.”
I turned and looked at Pa as a deep smile came over our faces. “I suspect a part of her will always be with us, Pa. And I’m glad.” I smiled.
“She’s a wonderful woman, son. “ Pa stretched his legs out. “In fact, I may just write her a letter when I get home and tell her just how special.” Pa looked at me intently then. “I’ll never forget your mother, though. And…” Pa slapped his hand on my back. “I may have forgotten a lot of things when I was shot, but I know I’d never…ever…forget you!”
At the sound of his promising words, I suddenly knew I’d made the right decision. “I know you wouldn’t, Pa!” I said with a big smile as I slapped the reins a little harder and hurried for home.
Years later, I still wonder if Pa ever did remember that time in his life when his mind was completely blackened. Somehow, I feel that God and I were on the same page with that – and we both agreed to protect my Pa from something that we knew in our hearts would cause him much pain and sorrow.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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