The Box Canyon Serial – Episode 5 appears below, after The Last Song
THE LAST SONG
by Perry McDaid
“You left the toilet seat up again.” Each syllable was emphasized by an exaggerated clatter from the kitchen. Jim hid in his cereal bowl. “There’s more than one living in this house, you know,” she went on.
Such vitriol, he mused—strategically silent. He nearly choked as he munched hurriedly to make his twelve-hour shift. He kept the spasmodic coughing as quiet as possible.
“What?” The timbre of the voice sharpened. You could cut fog with it. He ditched the rest of the cereal in the bin, carefully controlling the descent of the flip-lid with his free hand. There was no point explaining he had merely coughed: he’d foolishly used that as a ruse way back at the start of… Start of what?
“I said I’m off now, dear. See you later,” he called around his last mouthful, hopeful Annie could stay her nicotine-deprived aggression long enough to bestow a goodbye kiss.
She appeared at the kitchen door, face like a storm-front. Hopefulness scampered under the settee and snivelled.
“That’s right; you bugger off and enjoy yourself. I’ll just stay here, chained to the sink.”
Inwardly he toyed with the fantasy she’d conjured. Outwardly, he rolled his eyes…beyond her view.
“Annie, I have to work. I know you’re off the cigarettes, but it’s been five months and it’s getting really old.” Oh why oh why can’t I learn to shut up? His wiser self had a habit of arriving too late.
Her mouth contorted. “You selfish bastard. What about me, my feelings? I’m putting myself through hell for you. I’m—”
“For me—?” He was incredulous.
“Yes, you,” she spat. “If—”
“Nothing to do with the baby?” His tone was deceptively mild.
“And who put it in there?” she accused with a sneer.
Jim nearly laughed as a quirky mental picture of himself sneaking up behind his wife, with a prescient and horrified infant clawing to escape his evil clutches, intruded upon the current harsh reality.
“Smile on, Romeo.” she snarled. “That’s your last.”
Oh nuts, a smirk had escaped. Fun made a bolt for it, and curled a lip on passing.
Jim snapped. ”My last what—smile? That I can believe—seems I have to suffer for your addiction, no matter how supportive I try to be.”
He was shouting now, his supersaturated patience dripping venom, the volume of his voice permitting no interruption.
Her banshee scream put paid to that theory. How the heck did all that noise come from five foot nothing of petite adorability?
Abstractly, he wondered why the fresh roses didn’t dissolve in the sonic blast. He waited until the world rebooted.
“Better?” he ventured timidly, as she walked up to him to stare balefully up his nostrils.
“Yes.” She stood on tiptoes and kissed him on the lips, ignoring his initial flinch. “Bye, dear.”
He negotiated the fog of surrealism between the kitchen and the driving seat of the soon-to-be-traded Mazda MX5 convertible. Jim wondered what sort of ‘family’ car she and her friends would decide upon, and lost himself in a loving gaze at the stylised instrumentation.
“You gone yet?” The question was strident. It was anthropomorphic.
“Yeah, happy Valentine’s,” he muttered, patting the beloved dash. “Bye gorgeous.” He turned the key and let the engine sing for the last time.
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Irish writer, Perry McDaid, lives in Derry under the brooding brows of Donegal hills which he occasionally hikes in search of druidic inspiration. His diverse creative writing appears internationally in the like of Aurora Wolf Literary Magazine; Quantum, Runtzine; Amsterdam Quarterly; Everyday Fiction; Bewildering Stories; Bunbury and others.
The Box Canyon
A Serial in Eight Parts
Going out the door he saw a horse with a drooping head by the gate. Sam went and opened the gate and it trotted in. It was wearing the Double O brand. Chester’s horse. Sam closed the gate and watched it. It walked to the spring, drank, and then started grazing.
The tracks showed that it had come down the side canyon. Sam went to the shed and retrieved a halter. Catching Chester’s roan was easy, she stood placidly when he walked up carrying the halter over his shoulder. He began checking her over carefully. The roan was a nicely put together mare probably about five or six years old. When he looked the hooves, “Whoa girl,” he saw she was missing one shoe and another was a little loose. Sam slipped the halter on and led the mare to the lean-to and after retrieving some tools from the shed, pulled the shoes and trimmed the hooves. That done, the horse seemed in good shape. He let her loose and as she trotted over toward his horse, she kicked her heels playfully in the air once and then started to calmly graze nearby.
Sam decided he needed to explore the upper reaches of the side canyon. He caught his horse and saddled up and after retrieving his Winchester from the cabin, rode up the side canyon. The were many small cuts and ravines coming in from both sides. After about a mile it petered out and there was a fairly well defined trail leading up the mountain and into the junipers. The trail followed along the side of the mountain, switching back several times. Among the junipers were scabby barked ironwoods. Soon Sam found himself riding along a ridge leading upward toward the top of the range. The ascent along the ridge was easy and before long he topped the range and could see over into the next drainage.
Beyond the foothills it was wide and flat grassland, at a lower altitude than the canyonlands where the cabin was. Sam supposed that there must be ranches and at least one town within a reasonable distance although he could see none from here. Chester had to get supplies somewhere, and it surely wasn’t down the river he had come up. Sam turned his horse around and headed back toward to the box canyon. On the way down the trail he was able to shoot a deer.
After hanging the deer in the shed, he headed for his perch overlooking the arroyo. On his way to the javelina trail which led out of the canyon, he stopped at the cabin and got the tin box of letters. He also traded his Winchester for the rolling block rifle. Although it was heavier than his Winchester, from his perch above the arroyo his Winchester 44-40 was at the far end of its range. The 50-70 Remington was capable of long range accuracy, which seemed a good trade-off for the faster loading of the Winchester.
The arroyo was quiet—quiet except for the doves calling and the bees buzzing in the mesquite trees. The only tracks visible were deer or javelina. After awhile he opened the tin box and started going through the papers.
One was a letter from Chester’s mother. The printing looked awkward and labored.
I wus glad to here yu wus doin gud. I wus sory yu kwit skool but if yu ar hapy on yur homsted thn I am to. yur dady is not doin gud an probly won mak it pas winter. I am doin gud tho. yur sis wed tom athey an have kid on the way. Mama
Another was in a florid feminine hand dated May 5th 1869.
Know that I will love you always. However the financial pressures on my family have made it imperative that I marry Arthur. I hope you can understand the impossible situation I am in. You will always be my truest love. Kathleen
“Poor Chester,” Sam muttered.
He looked deeper into the box. Under the bill of sale for the Double O horse was a homestead document. Chester had claimed 160 acres in 1870. There was also a discharge paper from the Confederate Army, the First Texas Cavalry Regiment. Due to term of service expiring it said. It was dated 1863.
Sam thought back to his part in the war. He volunteered for the artillery who were in need of men good with horses. His pride and the Davis Guard Medal he received for his part in the battle of Sabine Pass was little consolation for the disgust and dismay he felt when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. He had headed west, working at a succession of ranches, each a little farther west—each a little farther from the war.
Finally he hired on to the Star Ranch and ran afoul of Glory and her Unionist father.
He closed the tin box and just sat. Enough time had passed that Sam was starting to believe that he might have shaken his pursuers. He sat, enjoying the wild country—the call of the doves and drone of the bees.
As dark fell, Sam worked his way back to the box canyon. That evening after cleaning out the cast iron pot, he ground some of the corn into meal. It worked well and took little effort. He added water to the cornmeal, mixed in a little deer fat and salt, and cooked corn dodgers in the Dutch oven while the venison roasted.
To be continued