Topic #101: The Razor's Edge
|A Sense of Balance by: Keri||Wool of a Different Color by: Jo|
|A Tough Choice by: Misa||On the Edge of Something by: Dede|
|On the Edge by: Cindy|
“Do you think he’s okay, Emma?” Lou was on the front porch. She was leaning on the railing, watching Jimmy as he worked the horses. She had been watching for a while now, wondering what he was thinking.
Emma looked toward Lou as she spoke, and then glanced over at Teaspoon, as he watched the corral, too.
‘It seemed so long ago. But it was just yesterday… that kid had walked down the steps of the saloon and hollered Jimmy’s name. This was the work of that writer, Marcus. Trying to write those stories, trying to make money at Jimmy’s expense… He’s hurting… what to do…’ Lou was pulled from her thoughts by Emma’s voice.
“It’s gonna take some time. It’s not easy, knowin’ you took a life. Especially one so young.” Emma kept snapping her beans for supper, and watching the corral too. “He needs to know that we’re here. That we don’t judge him for what happened.”
“Wouldn’t he know that already, Emma?” Lou turned to her in surprise. “Why… why would he think… that we…it was Marcus… he’s the one…” she stammered and drew in a deep breath, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice. “Why would he think that? Why would any of this be his fault?” Lou looked at Emma. She needed answers. She couldn’t think of how to help Jimmy.
Emma stopped what she was doing and looked at Lou. She set her work on the floor next to her rocking chair, and stood, wrapping an arm around Lou’s shoulder. “Lou, Jimmy knows right from wrong. He knows that killing someone is wrong. What he did yesterday wasn’t easy, that kid showed up and hollered his name at the wrong time, and emotions were too high. Jimmy’ll have to live with that the rest of his life.” Emma trailed off and was looking toward the corral again. “It’s something that you never forget…”
Teaspoon watched Lou from his chair on the porch. He sat quietly, chewing a piece of straw. “Jimmy’s tryin’ to balance a life on a thin straight line; it’s like sittin atop the razors’ edge.” Teaspoon watched the corral, worried about his rider. “On one side, us, his family, people he loves, a life he wants to live. The other, the darker side, people like Marcus, Colter; a life he knows he’ll have to live.”
Lou listened to Teaspoon, but kept her eyes on Jimmy. Then she turned and looked at Emma, a question formed, but she stopped short when she saw a shadow across Emma’s face that was hard to read. ‘Hard to forget? Emma had said, ‘it’s hard to forget.’ Had Emma killed someone, too?’ She had many question for Emma, but now was not the time.
Lou looked back to the corral. “Well, I for one am not gonna judge the people I love on what they thought was the right thing to do.”
She turned to look at Emma and saw the shadow lift from her face. Emma looked at Lou and a small emotional smile played on her face.
Lou smiled and hugged Emma.
“Think I’ll round up the boys, see if they wanna take Jimmy for a ride.” She pulled back from Emma and turned to look back at the corral. “Get him away for awhile.”
“I think that’s a good idea. I’ll pack you a few things.” They looked at each other and smiled.
Lou walked to the corral where the other riders were perched on the fence, watching as Jimmy worked.
Teaspoon stood and walked to Emma, who had stopped to watch all her ‘boys’.
“They’re gonna be fine.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze. “They’ll always have each other to fall back on.”
Rider Comin’, the familiar cry rang out as Buck and Cody entered the station yard. Teaspoon, Ike, Jimmy and Kid all gathered around the incoming riders as Buck expertly handed the pouch off to Lou.
“Ride Safe Lou!” Buck called and the others echoed his words.
“Does Lou have to go by the old Scotsman’s place?” Cody asked no one in particular.
“Not unless Willow Springs has moved.” Jimmy answered with a wry grin.
“You boys look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Teaspoon said looking the two riders over.
“I’m not sure what we seen, Teaspoon…..Can a horse and a sheep mate, you know and have a baby?” Cody asked. Buck was shaking his head no. Jimmy burst out laughing.
“Cody that is the dumbest thing you’ve ever come up with…even for you that’s dumb! Everyone knows horses and sheep don’t mate, do they Teaspoon?” Jimmy said laughing.
“Horses only mate with other horses. I don’t know much about sheep but….What Ike?” Kid said annoyed as Ike thumped his chest three times to get Kid’s attention.
*If horses only mate with horses where do mules come from?* Ike asked pointing out an obvious flaw in Kid’s thinking.
“Ah, yeah, but still…” Kid said slightly miffed.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a sheep and a horse mating, Cody, why the sudden interest in the mating habits of animals?” Teaspoon asked raising an eyebrow.
“We just seen some wooly long necked horses in a pasture at the old Scotsman’s place. Buck says they’re a different animal but I’m tellin’ ya it was the cross between a horse and a sheep.” Cody said ignoring the incredulous looks the others were giving him.
“Buck can you add anything to this tale?” Teaspoon said turning to the Kiowa rider.
“Well, they are different and they are wooly. I rode over to the fence and had a good look at them. They have really front long teeth like a prairie dog, long necks like a horse but not as thick and the head and body look sort of like a sheep. They have big eyes and eyelashes like a horse and little small tails and hooves like sheep….” Buck described the strange animal calmly but it was easy to see he’s been shaken by the sight of the unknown critter.
“Tell them about the singing, Buck. Wait till you hear this….” Cody added nodding his approval of Buck’s description.
“Singing?” Jimmy asked trying to control his laughter. “Buck if you tell me they were singing Oh Susanna I’m gonna burst!”
“Not exactly, Jimmy. But I guess the best way to describe the noise they made would be singing or humming.” Buck said pursing his lips together. “Ike, you gotta come see these things.”
“Hold it!” Teaspoon said holding up a hand before the riders could move. “The last time you all rode off following one of Cody’s wild animal descriptions Puff came to live here.” At the mention of her name Puff came bounding out of the barn followed closely by Buck’s dog, Situpsa.
Buck bent down to scratch his puppy’s head and the wolf-dog pup rolled onto his back for a tummy rub. “Some guard dog you are…all you want is a good scratch.” Buck said giving the half grown pup a good rubbing. “That’s my good boy!”
Puff had stopped beside Ike and was licking her master’s hand. *Do you still think she’s a small lion Cody?* Ike asked kneeling beside his dog.
“Well no, now that I can see her up close and in the daylight….” Cody began making excuses.
“There’s a new family living on that farm, come to think on it.” Teaspoon said scratching his head. “Seems I overheard the man asking Tompkins if there was a place to sell raw wool or would he have to ship it somewhere.”
“See Buck I told you it was related to a sheep!” Cody erupted slapping Buck on his back and causing him to loose his balance. Buck fell forward doing his best not to land on his dog. Situpsa sized up the situation and moved quickly out of harm’s way.
“CODY!” Buck growled as he scrambled to his feet Cody just shrugged and moved out of Buck’s reach.
“Gentlemen!” Teaspoon said quickly. “I’ll ask around town and see if anyone knows anything but in the mean time I don’t want you all racing over to see the animals, whatever they are. Do I make myself clear?” A chorus of Yeses and Oh alright’s followed. “Good now these two horses need lookin’ after, Jimmy, Kid, since you are not doing anything right now you two cool down the horses, Buck, Cody, get cleaned up, I know Emma has something for you to eat at the house. Ike, you can help me with mendin’ that broken rail before the horses figure out they can get out.” Teaspoon started to walk back to the fence he’d been repairing but no one else moved. He turned, cleared his throat and said, “Sometime today would be nice boys, that is if you can fit bein’ Express Riders into your schedules.”
The next two days were agony for the boys when Lou returned they told her all about the strange new animals but she didn’t seem all that impressed until Teaspoon came back from town with Emma. “Gather ‘round boys, I have some news!” Teaspoon said after they’d put away the supplies. “I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Crenshaw. They are the people who bought the Scotsman’s farm. The animals you saw are called Alpaca’s they’re from a place called Tibet and they’re kept for their wool just like sheep.”
“Where’s Tibet?” Buck asked.
“I told you!” Cody almost shouted gleefully jumping around.
“I’ve been told Tibet is near China and Mr. Crenshaw brought his heard back with him after some time with the English army. They moved to this country from England.” Teaspoon said ignoring Cody.
*Can we go see the Alpaca’s* Ike asked.
“Well as it turns out it’s time for them to be shorn so they can grow more wool over the summer. I told Mr. Crenshaw that I’d send a couple of you boys over to see if you could help out. I guess it’s a lot of work for one person.” Teaspoon said smiling.
“What about Mrs. Crenshaw doesn’t she help?” Kid asked.
“Not this year, they’re expectin’ a little one any day now.” Teaspoon said watching the riders’ faces. “Buck, I think Mrs. Crenshaw would like to speak with you about different herbs and teas she might try to help her right now. I, um, told her you know the Indian medicines pretty good.”
“Thanks Teaspoon.” Buck replied not sounding too happy.
“Ike, I told them you’d be the best person to teach how to get the wool off the animal. Seein’ as how you seem to be turning this place into a zoo, you may NOT bring one home. They’re looking forward to meeting both of you this afternoon so I suggest you get moving. They rest of you can go along if you want but I want you all back here for dinner.” Teaspoon grinned watching the mixed reactions of the riders.
“Ike, let me show you how to harvest the wool….” Mr. Crenshaw said patting a very fluffy tan Alpaca named Binky. “You don’t take any wool from the face and you need to be really careful around their tails but the rest of the body is easy. You need to hold the razor so the edge is at an angle like this….” Twenty minutes later Binky looked very thin with only fluffy fur around his head and on his tail. Throughout the sheering Binky had stood quietly and turned his head watching the wool fall.
Bubbles, an all black Alpaca was next. Ike took hold of the animal the same way Mr. Crenshaw had and began trying to harvest the wool. Bubbles seemed to grow about four more legs as Ike tried to control the animal which would not stop singing, humming or, worse, spitting. Mr. Crenshaw tried to help several times but Ike was determined to do it by himself. Ike only wanted Mr. Crenshaw to give directions not actually help. Ike managed to avoid cutting either himself or the animal and somehow avoided Bubble’s teeth which Ike swore got bigger every time they came near his skin. Finally an hour and a half later Bubbles stood quietly wool-less in the barn and Ike was covered in soft fluffy black puffs of wool with a huge smile on his face.
“Good job, Ike!” Mr. Crenshaw said leading in a pretty gray animal with brown spots and huge brown eyes. “This is Muffin, only twenty two more after her….” Ike grinned and took Muffins’ bridle.
Not sure where this one came from but add a LONG road trip, lack of sleep and way too much truck stop coffee and this is what you get from me.
Lou sat on her front porch, watching her husband work with a high spirited black colt in the training corral. It had been ten years since she had become Jimmy Hickok's wife and twelve years since she chose one man and broke another's heart. But it all worked out of the best.
"Sissy?" A young woman's voice called her from her daze.
"On the porch Teresa. Ya need something?"
"Can we talk?" she asked in a shaky voice not sure how her older sister would take the news or choice she had to make.
"You can talk to me about anything, you should know that by now," Lou said making room on the front porch swing.
"How did you choose between two good things knowing that one would be let down no matter what you did and know ya made the right choice?"
Lou knew that the day would come when men would take notice of her bright, outgoing, and quick witted sister.
"Well tell me about these two choices ya have."
Teresa thought for a moment. Both so very different.
"Well one is full of excitement and new adventures. So many chances to learn and grow. Chances to meet new people from all over," she said with a sigh. Lou smiled, she could see her sister married to the young Lt. Mark Samson. The lieutenant was a good man and would take good care of her sister.
"What about the other choice to consider?" Lou asked.
"The other is more traditional and would mean staying around here. A steady way of life. I think I could be happy with it."
Again Lou smiled. She could see her sister in town and married to Issac Tompkins. He helped out Jimmy and the family on the ranch and was one of the best in the territory for training young horses.
"Well either one would be a good choice and if you think about what would make you the happiest then ya can't wrong," Lou said. "It can be hard when you know that someone would get let down no matter who ya choose."
Teresa pondered for a moment and knew that she wanted to leave the country. She had an opportunity to do so and smiled as she made up her mind. "Thanks sis I know what I am going to do now," she said, giving her older sister a hug.
"Well when ya gonna have the lucky young man over so Jimmy and I can get to know him?" Lou asked
"What man I was talking about college!"
"You said that you had two choices to make and someone would get hurt no matter what, " Lou said in shock.
"Yeah between two colleges, one that would train me to be a teacher and I would come back here and the other as a nurse in a city hospital. And now thanks to you I know what I am going to do. I'm gonna be a nurse." And with that the young woman bounced off to the barn to brush the paint mare that Kid and Samantha gave her for a birthday present last year.
Lou sat there in shock with the foot in the mouth feeling not sure what she had done.
Time was passing him by. Whether it was a day, a month, or longer, he didn’t know nor did he care. A quick glance around the dingy room he’d called home for so long told him that he’d been there for a while. Empty bottles stood in various places like judges awaiting his decision. Would he die in the filth of this room or would he leave and choose life. He wasn’t too sure.
The more he attempted to ignore his problems, the more they became the only things he could think of. With a firm grip on the neck of the bottle, he tilted his head back and placed the rim of the bottle against his lips. It felt cool and inviting. He took a large gulp of the whiskey, closing his eyes. It burned as the alcohol trailed down his throat and he welcomed the sensation. The warm feeling was the only thing he’d felt in months and that he felt it told him he wasn’t drunk enough by far.
He slammed the bottle down onto the table, tipping over two empty ones. They rolled over the edge, one breaking and the other rolling across the floor. He watched the bottle until it stopped by the dresser, or what was supposed to be the dresser. It was little more than a box with drawers. But he didn’t care because he had nothing to put in them. He brushed the mess off the surface of the table and curled his arm in front of him, leaning his forehead on top.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the silver disk. Alone on the table it sat there, seeming to stare at him in disgust. The star that told anyone that saw it, he was a hero, a servant of the people. The laugh that erupted was harsh and he sat up, coughing from the roughness. He reached over and picked up the badge. The star in the middle was a sign to all that he belonged to a group of men that would do the job regardless of threat to life and limb. So long ago that seemed now.
Hero. How ludicrous that label felt. He wasn’t a hero; in fact he was barely a man. With unabashed anger, he tossed the badge at the dresser, knocking papers off the top. One of them drifted, landing right at his foot. It was the letter. He stared down at it and was overcome by such a strong sense of disgrace and humiliation; he felt everything rise up in his throat on a tide of sour whiskey. Barely making the chamber pot, he regurgitated with such force that he felt his head would explode. It was an agonizing amount of time, and he thought he had nothing left to give. Finally, after a few dry heaves, he realized he was empty. Physically and emotionally bereft, he rolled over onto the floor and stared at the ceiling.
How had he come to this? On the edge of an abyss and he couldn’t see clearly where to go. He splayed his arms out and his hand touched the letter. Turning his head, he watched as his hand, seemingly separate from his body, grasp the letter and bring it towards him. He knew it by heart. A friend in the government suggested he take a job with the firm Russell, Majors, and Waddell to help them start a new mail delivery service called the Pony Express. What a ridiculous idea. They wanted to use young boys, orphans, to ride a circuit from Saint Joseph to Sacramento. It would never work; especially using the types of boys they’d end up with. More than likely they’d lose the mail, or worse, steal it. And, what a step down from his normal work this would be. He sat up slowly, staring at the missive.
But what choice did he have? He was at the proverbially fork in the road and neither destination suited him. One way was death at the bottom of a bottle and the other… the other was what was in this letter. He took a great, deep breath and realized that the one thing he didn’t want was death.
For a brief moment, he hesitated and looked at the full bottle by the bed. But as his mind cleared he felt a thread of hope pull at him. He pushed himself up and stood on shaky legs. Slowly, he wandered about the room, gathered his meager belongings, and stuffed them in his bag. He picked up the star and rubbed his thumb across it. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, it meant more to him than anything he owned. Before he could convince himself he was a fool, he dropped the star into his shirt pocket and finished collecting his things.
Shrugging into his threadbare jacket, he folded the letters and papers for the job, and shoved them in his pocket. They explained that he would be the station master at one of the home stations. At the door, he paused with his hand on the knob. What if this didn’t work? What if he couldn’t cope with the situation? What if… what if they didn’t like him? His knuckles turned white as he gripped the doorknob tightly. There wasn’t anything for him to do but go to Sweetwater and see.
He opened the door and walked outside. One more look at the misery he’d lived in and he shut the door on the past. These new circumstances could turn out to be nothing and then he’d just leave as always. Or, it could turn out to be something, and something was definitely what he needed.
Lem Freeman pulled the blanket up over his patient, put his instruments away, and turned toward the door. Before opening it, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to prepare himself for what he knew was waiting on the other side.
“How is he, doc?”
“How bad is it?”
“Will he make it?”
“Can we see him?”
“What’s the news, doc?”
Freeman looked around at the expectant faces, trying to figure out what to say. There were the riders, of course – Cody, Noah, Lou, and Kid were staring at him, waiting. Rachel and Polly were there too, just waiting for his answer. He could see several of the townspeople milling outside the window of his office, waiting for word.
He wished he had a better one.
“It’s too soon to know,” he said, holding up his hands to stave off the questions that appeared poised on the others’ lips. “I got the bullet out of his chest, and the bleeding has stopped. But the wound is in a very dangerous place, and he lost a lot of blood.”
Lou gasped, quickly putting a hand to her mouth to stifle what might have sounded a bit too feminine for her disguise. “Buck looked so pale when he saw Teaspoon,” she said softly.
“Thinking about Ike,” Kid agreed. It hadn’t been so very long since they had lost the mute rider.
“Probably good that he and Jimmy went after those bank robbers,” Noah said.
Cody frowned and shook his head. “We shoulda gone with them.”
“Teaspoon’s deputies went,” Polly reminded him, her eyes fixed on the closed door.
“And we need you here,” Rachel added. “There’s a run tomorrow…”
“And we need to be here for Teaspoon,” Lou said.
“Can we see him?” Polly asked.
Freeman nodded. “Yes, go on in. Maybe hearing your voices will do him some good.” It certainly can’t hurt he added to himself.
Pain… pain… pain…
The world seemed to be filled with nothing but pain, no matter how he tried to shut it out. And then there was something else, a vague lightening in the recesses of the darkness around him. It came closer, a glow that became a bright light, and then it surrounded him.
Teaspoon looked around, trying to see where he was in that light. Off to each side the light extended, seemingly to infinity. The only break in the nearly-blinding light was under his feet, where he could just make out a narrow strip of… something.
It reminded him of nothing so much as standing on a razor’s edge, trying to balance and not fall into nothingness.
Except now that he looked closer, there were vague shapes out in the brightness to his left. He stared harder, trying to make them out.
“You and me, we done our part down in Texas. Time to rest, Teaspoon.”
“Prairie Dog?” The figure looked and sounded like his old friend, and Teaspoon reached out a hand…
But the light swirled around him, and Prairie Dog disappeared.
We need you Teaspoon.
“Lou?” He looked to his right, trying to see who was speaking. It sure sounded like Lou, and for a moment he thought he saw her slight figure there. But then the image faded…
“We shoulda died at the Alamo, Teaspoon. You and me and the others who went. Come with us now.”
“Eberly?” It sure sounded like Eberly – the words and the voice. Teaspoon could almost make him out…
You’ve still got more to teach us, Teaspoon.”
That sounded like Cody, and Teaspoon turned to his right again. There was a blur of blond hair, and then nothing but white again.
”We did what we had to do, Teaspoon,” another voice said off to the left. ”No reason to have died at the Alamo. But maybe it’s time for you to rest now.”
“Erastus, that you?” Teaspoon raised a hand to his eyes, trying to penetrate the whiteness that obscured the man he was sure must be standing there. And maybe he was right, it was time to rest…
”I just found you again, Sugarlips. Don’t leave me now.”
“Polly?” He looked to the right, reaching out a hand to her. He’d been such a fool to lose her before, and if he could just see her now…
The light swirled around him again, highlighting the narrow perch under his feet. Teaspoon looked to his left, picking out the figures there. That was Prairie Dog, right over there! Eberly and Erastus nearby – with Colonel Travis, and Bowie! There was Beatrice, and men he had served with in the Rangers and the Army…
He looked to his right, and figures seemed to solidify there. The riders gathered around, and he could see Jimmy and buck, Cody and Noah, Lou and Kid, Ike…
For just a moment he wondered why Ike was on that side and not to his left, but he forgot that question quickly as Polly came into view, with Rachel standing beside her. All of them seemed to have their hands out, as if entreating him to come their way.
The razor’s edge under his feet gave a jerk, and he struggled to keep his balance. Around him, the figures began to fade away, voices calling out to him to follow, and he understood that he had to make a decision.
Very slowly, Teaspoon opened his eyes…