Published on Friday, April 29, 2011
By D. Kirts Lewis
I put my hands over my ears and tried to soften the sound as a thousand years came crashing down the mountainside taking wagons, mules, and dreams downward to the bottom of the canyon, piling souls and shards of rock among the saguaros and spring poppies while surrounding me in a cloud of dust and questions, neither of which was I able to get out of my mouth. I didn't know how much time was being taken out of my life as I watched several more boulders tumble and bounce toward an ending but I knew that I still had time left and it troubled me to think that so many of those that started this journey with me and Will had none.
"Lottie! Lottie! Are you all right!" I could see Will in front of me and I could feel him shaking me but I couldn't answer. "Lottie!"
"Mama's dishes!" That was all I could think to say when I realized our wagon and mules were tangled up in the rubble and death at the bottom of the gorge. Will was looking at me as if I was dumbstruck and I guess I must have been because I never really cared for Mama's china.
"Stop shakin' me, Will!"
"Are you all right, Lottie?"
I turned and looked ahead of me. The Howards were holding each other and crying as they spoke to their two young children who were looking out of the back of their wagon. I looked behind me and through the ever climbing cloud of dust, rock and cactus that choked the trail, the top of a wagon shuttered in a sudden rush of air. "I'm gonna climb over and see who's back there."
"No, Lottie. We'll wait and make sure the mountain has settled down."
Mr. Howard joined us and put his arm around me while Mrs. Howard comforted their children. "He's right, Lottie. You and Will can ride with us. There's plenty of room and we have more than enough food."
I pointed to the rock slide but I was referring to the people that might be stranded on the other side. "We'll need room and food for them."
"There are three more wagons in front of us, Lottie. We'll get everybody out and we'll pool together and buy more wagons and supplies when we get to the Superstitions, but for right now we're going move ahead just a little in case the mountain isn't through with us yet."
I looked at Mr. Howard, then stepped closer to the edge and peered over. Will must have been keeping an eye on me, and he could probably tell that it was starting to soak in. He caught me as I started to fall backward, and when I came to he was sitting on a rock holding me. Then everything let loose inside, and I started crying.
"We're gonna be all right, Lottie, but we gotta do like Mr. Howard says and move up a ways."
"I gotta find Megan. She and Davie were right behind us, and so were the Nichols family with those three little boys, and--."
"They're gone, Lottie." I'm pretty sure Will was whispering, but I heard him so loud that it hurt my ears."Maybe they were further back, Will." I was crying and trying to resurrect those that I knew I'd never see again, but Will held me tight, stood up and carried me up the trail a ways. That's when I realized Will's hand was bleeding. "Why are you bleedin', Will?"
"I was holdin' the lead rope, Lottie."
I started crying again when I realized how close Will had come to going over the edge with our team. "I can walk now." Will put me down, and I reached down and pulled a strip of cloth from my petticoat, wiped my face on my sleeve, then wrapped his hand. "I'll clean it up a little better when we get to the river again."
"That's good, Lottie." Will took my hand and spoke as he led me toward the Howards. "We'll wait a little while longer then Mr. Howard and I will go back and see if we can get to the other side. If there's anybody back there they might not know we're still up here."
Mrs. Howard handed us a canteen. "Drink some water. We have plenty to get us to the river again, and the other wagons are also well stocked."
The Howard's oldest, Carrie Anne, whispered from the back of the wagon. "She looks like a ghost, Mama."
I reached up and felt my chest and ran my hands down the front of me to make sure I was alive. Carrie Anne whispered to Becky. They both ducked into the wagon then back out again. Becky handed me a small hand mirror, and my hand was shaking as I slowly put it up so I could see myself. I was white with dust, and I looked past the mirror to Will. He looked just like me except I had clean lines from my tears and a mark across my cheek from my shirt sleeve.
Mrs. Howard took the mirror and handed me a rag. "I have a basin of water ready for you, Lottie. Go ahead and clean up a bit."
I worked that rag hard, and when I was sure I had most of the dirt from my face I turned to Mrs. Howard. "Can I see myself again?"
"See, Lottie. You're all right." Mrs. Howard smiled at me and nodded to Will as I looked at myself in the mirror.
"I'm all right. Will's hand is bleedin'."
"Lottie and me hadn't been off the wagon for a while. We had just started walkin' and I was leadin' the mules...."
I think that's when it hit Will. He started trembling then he grabbed me and kissed me. I hugged him. "We're all right, Will."
"The baby's all right?"
"The baby is all right, Will." I took his hand and put it on our baby who was fast asleep inside of me.
Mr. Howard brought us back to the moment. "Somebody's yelling back there."
Will put my hand in Mrs. Howard's so I wouldn't try to follow them. "You stay put, Lottie. We'll see who it is."
Billy Stokes asked, "Where's Mr. Howard and Will?"
Mrs. Howard said, "There was someone yelling from the other side. They went to see if they could get them over."
"We won't know who we lost until we know who's left on the other side but for now we've got the other three wagons pulled ahead quite a ways. We'll stay put for the night and get a fire started and some grub cookin'." Billy looked down the trail. "Where's your wagon, Lottie?"
I turned around and looked behind us. "We were walkin' ahead of it, Billy."
Billy said, "Mrs. Howard, leave your wagon here for now and take Lottie and your girls and go on up to our wagon. I'm gonna go help Mr. Howard and Will."
Mrs. Howard and I got Carrie Anne and Becky then started for Billy and Sarah's wagon. I kept listening to the mountain and wondering how I'd ever go on if something happened to Will. We'd only been married a year but Will and I had grown up together. He'd been my best friend ever since the first day we met.
I was stuck up in a tree and screaming at the top of my lungs for somebody to come help me. Our boar hog had gotten lose again and had chased me up that tree and now I was dangling halfway between the ground and my safety zone with my petticoat caught on a limb above me and my bloomers putting on a much better show then my pride. Will heard me and came running but started laughing when he saw my dilemma. Right about then is when my petticoat decided it was tired of holding me up and I came crashing down on top of Will. We both came out of the doctor's house with a cast -- him on his left arm and me on my right, and a best friend for life. I'd been holding his right hand ever since, but now it was bleeding and I was feeling vulnerable but I had to push that feeling aside and be ready for the rest of the feelings that were left to come before the sun set and I was asleep at Will's side again.
"Lottie, why don't you start a pot of coffee and I'll help with the biscuits."
I looked down the trail then back at Mrs. Howard.
"They're going to be hungry when they get back, Lottie."
"Yes, Ma'am. I suppose so. Megan and Davie were right behind us."
She put her arm around me and led me to the fire that Mr. Athey was working over. "We'll have a service for the ones we lost when we hear news from the other side, but right now we have to take care of the ones that are still with us."
"Yes, Ma'am." I took a deep breath and held it hoping it would keep me from crying and it helped a little but some of the tears were making their way through and my face was starting to feel as hot as the coffee pot was going to be in just a few more minutes.
As I stood by the cook fire waiting for supper and for Will to come back I started to feel like forever was passing me by. I didn't know what was happening but with the air clean and the mountain quiet, I tried to look forward.
Will and I were halfway to having our first child when we started west in hopes of giving that child a future. Land was cheap where we were headed and being accustomed to hard work, we planned on building a small house and a large herd with the money we had saved since the first time we talked about forever together. I had my hand on my belly smiling and thinking about Will when Billy Stokes broke into my dreams.
"Lottie, Will is helpin' the McLeans across now. He's already got their kids over. They're with Mr. Howard and so is the Conners family and Mr. Phillips."
"Will is all right?"
"He'll be along in just a couple of minutes.."
I knew by the look on Billy's face that he was giving me the good first and saving the bad for last, so I was pretty sure I knew what he was going to say. Billy looked down at his feet and gasped for air and I knew he was holding back tears so I hugged him. "I figured it out. No need sayin' it, Billy."
"Damn, Lottie. In an instant."
"Yeah, Billy. An instant."
"Sarah wants you to ride with us for a while. She knows you and Megan were close and she lost her sister just before we started out."
"I'd like that, Billy...." I looked back down the trail. "But I think I'll walk for the most part."
Billy followed my gaze. "It's a rugged land, Lottie."
At first I didn't know why, but I smiled. "It's a beautiful land, Billy."
"What?" I knew Billy heard me -- he just didn't understand me.
"A lot of people would tell you that God forgot about this place. He didn't forget, he just got it right the first time and doesn't have to keep changin' things around. These canyons are some of his best work, Billy. This canvas is millions of years old and still magnificent to behold. Look around us and tell me there's a color you can't find. Think about the creatures we've seen and all the ways they've adapted to this piece of heaven so that they might stay. Even the plants are on guard for fear that someone will pluck them out of the soil and carry them away from here. I think if you're ever lookin' for God then you should come here 'cause I'm sure he keeps comin' back 'cause I don't think even God could refrain from admirin' this much perfection." Billy was still lookin' at me like maybe I'd forgotten about the rockslide. "In an instant, Billy. I haven't forgotten. I'm just tryin' to put reason to it. I'm tryin' to answer all those questions that took over my day and the only thing I can come up with is this: God selected a few of us and has given their souls the privilege of wanderin' among his wonders. Megan and Davie love to dance. Did you know that, Billy? This is their stage now. The sweet song of the wind through the ocotillo and saguaro needles along with the melody of the rain as it meanders down the rock walls and swirls in the wash will be their music. I didn't know the Nichols family all that well but I bet those three little boys will giggle and laugh as they chase the whiptail lizards from one hidin' place to the next." I was still smiling but my lip was starting to tremble, and I think Billy finally understood me. I brushed a tear from my cheek then turned around and saw Will standing behind me.
Will smiled as he took my left hand. "They do love to dance. I was worried about you, Lottie. I should have known you'd find it for yourself."
"I'm gonna miss them so much, but I couldn't leave them in a better place. God is here."
Debora fell in love with westerns when she was little. She watched them on television with her father and while he read only one book in his lifetime, she has read many. She grew up on a dairy farm in Maryland but Arizona is her home. She has four novels in edit and at least thirty short stories completed. She is currently living in a storage shed turned guest house with two cats for company.