PENNY’S ANSWER TO THE CHALLENGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder and lightening pulled John Cannon from the arms of his wife and a vivid recurring dream. He rolled gently from bed, careful not to disturb Victoria, and padded to the window. Wrapping on a dressing robe, he sat on a corner of the steamer trunk, moved the heavy curtains aside and stared out at his ranch. Three in the morning, worst time to be awake. Drumming rain created small rivers in the yard, soaked the horses bunched in one corner of the corral. Tiredly, he listed tomorrow’s work. Bracing on the new well. Buck’ll run the fence crew at Thunderhead. Buckboard wheel needs replaced. New saddles to unload.

 

Standing slowly, he moved to the bed and gazed at his sleeping wife. She lay on her side, arm flung across his pillow, black hair surrounding her like the petals of an exotic flower. Blue black as a raven’s wing. After seven years her face was familiar as his own, yet he marveled at the delicate beauty of her porcelain skin. A soft look stole across his face as he reached, then stopped. Let Sleeping Beauty sleep. He picked up a strand of hair and curled it through his fingers, enjoying the silken feel. Victoria stirred and he straightened, crossed to the door and slipped through quietly.

 

The house was still save for the thrumming of rain and thunder. Occasional bursts of light flashed through doors and windows as John made his way downstairs. Water cascaded onto the flagstones of the porch, the splattering sound echoing through the empty rooms. He opened the dining room door and stood, watching the rain, breathing the clean scent. The slats of the wooden hammock were dark with water. I never dream. Why do have this one every night? His mind drifted over the details.

 

The afternoon sun was hot on the ranch compound, the porch providing welcome shade from the bright glare. His son dozed in the hammock, swaying slightly with the breeze. Blue’s gloves lay tossed to one side, the right one showing an aging ink stain, the blotch fading to light purple. His boots, run down at the heel and sporting tarnished spurs, sat neatly topped by his Stetson.  The boy’s face, relaxed in sleep, looked younger than usual. With a pang, John realized his son’s face commonly was creased with worry or jaw clenched in determination. His words from years past rang in his mind. He needs to be tough.

 

A scuffling noise from behind broke Big John’s reverie, and he turned to see a figure approaching. “What’re you doing up, Pa?”

 

“Same thing as you, Boy. Couldn’t sleep.”

 

Blue shuffled to lean against the doorjamb and stared at the rain. His face was slack with sleep, hair sticking up in unruly spikes.  “Pa? You ever worry how things’ll turn out?”

 

John crossed his arms and answered, “I don’t suppose there was ever a man born who didn’t worry about the future, son.”

 

Shaking his head he replied with a voice full of concern, “I ain’t talking just worry, Pa.  I mean…what about me?  What if I ain’t good enough? Maybe I ain’t ready.”

 

John draped a hand across his son’s shoulder and laughed. “Blue, it’s a little late to be thinking that now.” He squeezed and continued, “Son, you’re going to do fine. I know what kind of man you are. I can see what kind of man you’ll be. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

 

Blue sighed deeply, bit his lip, and nodded. “Guess the cows’ll be up early.”

 

“Earlier than you if you don’t get back to bed.” He watched the young man leave, shook his head with affection, and turned back to the porch, gazing again at the hammock.

 

Big John replayed the final details of his recurring dream. A gust of wind tossed Blue’s hair in wisps across his forehead. His arms crossed to form a cradle on his stomach, one hand spread protectively across the diapered behind of a tiny, sleeping baby. Father and son slept in the breeze of an Arizona afternoon.  John Cannon watched them as his words from long ago echoed in his head. High Chaparral is for you. For your children. For all the Cannon children that come after us.

 

The rain quieted to a drizzle. He turned, closed the door against the night, and climbed the stairs to his wife.  Blue Cannon’s son was born six weeks later.

 

 

 

Author’s note: This piece is an excerpt from a larger work in progress.

 

2005 Penny McQueen

 

 

 

 

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