I wrote this short story as part of my creative writing course. After rediscovering an interest in the Western genre, I felt like this story represented some of the disparities felt by the minorities of the late 19th century. I hope you enjoy the story and, feel free to critique. Thanks for reading!
Jonah wrapped his arms around Elizabet and kept her warm by the closeness of his body. There was a quietness in the air. It was the twilight between seasons. The crickets had not yet awoken from the cold of winter. Many of the birds had not yet returned to build their nests. But the hay was soft and the barn was warm. Peering through the open window of the loft into the night sky, Jonah was imbued with a sense of awe. Jonah had seen shooting stars twice―once before the war, once after―-but he had never seen the sky so clearly and so magnificently as he did with her.
The hay wasn’t particularly comfortable but it was warmer than the ground or the wood. Moving Jonah’s arm aside, Elizabet got up to move the lantern slightly farther away.
“What’cha doin that for?” Jonah sat up.
“Just being careful. Wouldn’t wanna spark anything. This barn’s the only thing Da’s got left.” Elizabet set the lantern down near the corner, exposing the wall.
“What’s that?”, Jonah said while pointing at the roughly carved patch.
“Oh, that’s The Millers’ Daughter―-well, at least that’s what we call it. Da’ says when him and Ma’ first moved here, they paid some ol’ geezer for the house and the barn, along with some healthy land too. Weren’t much, but it was a lot for an Irishman. Anyways, Da’ said he was workin’ up in the barn one day and he noticed the marks. He never learned to read so he went and got Ma’ and she read to him, but they couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”
Jonah was curious but he didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of Elizabet, seeing as he didn’t know how to read himself.
“We had a doctor come by ‘bout two years ago when Daniel was real sick and Da’ asked him about it. He told us it was a love poem―real good one, too. He didn’t know by who… guess it doesn’t really matter though. I remember what it says, if you want me to read it to ya?” Elizabet smiled, her dimples became plump and exaggerated from the curving of her lips.
Jonah smiled back, “Sure. That’d be lovely.” Elizabet began to read to Jonah and he lowered his back on to the hay and closed his eyes. She had such a beautiful voice.
The Millers’ daughter was often sought for
her passionate stare and russet-red hair.
A beautiful girl whom could love the world,
with her heart as open as the ocean.
Oh, young Demeter, how sweet to see her:
A gilded goddess of acting prowess!
And beneath her smile true beauty beguiles,
as weary words of hope are gently spurred.
The spring-time muse whom is often confused
for the setting sun or the rising moon;
Her voice as pure as softly chirping birds,
with eyes like sunrise, she breathes butterflies.
“That’s beautiful.”, Jonah said with an emotional crackle to his voice. Elizabet laid beside Jonah and he kissed her. Gentle kisses and muffled laughter was soon extinguished by the breeze. The lantern burned out and the two lovers burned through the night.
In the morning, Elizabet had already made her way back into the house to help her Maw with breakfast before her Paw and Daniel woke up. I hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye but, I must admit, I was scared to face her father that morning. As I shook his hand at the gate, I thanked him for his kindness and Elizabet’s Ma’ even packed some fresh biscuits for my journey. I saw Elizabet standing on the porch beside Daniel. She wasn’t crying, she couldn’t, but the expression on her face was more than enough. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I had overstayed my welcome. I knew we all had. So, when we finally got the orders to return home, we marched back south. Defeated and recaptured by the north, I returned as a foreigner to my own country, and yet it was the same.
I had never owned slaves, nor had my father―he died of consumption before he could ever amount to anything more than a drunk. My mother was fine, just poor, and I tended to the fields after dad died. I didn’t have a remarkable childhood. Never had many friends growing up on the farm and the kids I did know were miles away. I figured, if I had to guess, I only talked to about a dozen different people―most of which being traders or travelers, but never made it a point to start conversation. I was always ashamed of my education. I never got one. My mom tried to teach me to read and write but she never had the time between working the fields and tending to the house. So, I learned to work outside instead. It suited me. I enjoyed the fresh air and the daily routine of knowing what to do when. It was pleasant. This went on for a while until one morning I met someone I hadn’t seen in years.
While ploughing the fields, I noticed one of the leather straps was loose causing it to go off to one side. The plough dug about five feet to the left before I could top the two horses. I was tightening the strap on the opposite side and I noticed a man walking down the street toward the farm. There was a makeshift fence between the road and the farm with plenty of holes in the fence, but the man was courtesy enough to make his way to gate. I walked to meet the man and noticed his hair was a familiar tinge of orange. As I got even closer, the feeling of deja vu became almost palpable.
“Are ya Jonah Mathews?”, said the man with a distinguishable Irish accent.
“I might be, who’s asking?”
“Me name is Daniel O’Conner―I’m Elizabet O’Conner’s brotha. Did you spend a night with this woman?”, Daniel said with a stern and serious look about his face.
Jonah was too intimidated to lie. What was once the stout younger brother of Elizabet had grown into the large man before him. “I did. Why do you ask? Is Elizabet well?”
“Aye, she’s well―she had your bastard.” Jonah froze. His mind went blank, his palms sweaty, but Daniel went on. “I waited until the baby came before I went looking for ya. I figure if Elizabet died in childbirth, I’d have a reason to kill ya.”, he laughed with a serious tone. “Luckily they’re both fine but, I didn’t come here to gossip. I came to bring you back with me up north to Elizabet. She’s a single mother now, she ain’t got main prospects and it’s best if the father takes his responsibility like a man. So, like it or not, you’re coming home to raise your daughter.”
Jonah was dumbstruck. “My… daughter?” He had so many questions his words began to fail him. “Wait a minute, how do I know you’re not just some carpetbagging flimflammer?”, Jonah said in denial. Daniel had clearly thought ahead and started to pull a crumpled photograph from his pocket and showed it to me. “You see there?” Daniel pointed, “that’s me… and that’s Ma’… and that’s Da’, Lord rest his soul; and that―that’s Mary.” Daniel was pointing to the small bump in Elizabet’s dress which she was holding gently with her hands.
“When was this photo taken?”, questioned Jonah.
“About four months after you left, and we didn’t have any visitors durin’ the winter. You can say the child isn’t yours, but I think we both know it is.”, Daniel stared at Jonah for a moment, “She has your hair… and your eyes.”
Jonah’s own mother had passed earlier that year and he owed no debts, so the journey wasn’t impossible to consider. Daniel noticed Jonah’s concentrative gaze and snapped his fingers loudly, “are you all there man? Listen, I know this is a lot to think about so I’m going to head to town for a drink, I’ll be back around noon. I suggest you pack warm if you can. See ya, boyo.” Daniel walked back down the street, toward town. Jonah stood there silent, not sure if the conversation had actually happened. He looked back at his small, empty house and then back to Daniel.
Jonah had already packed what little he had in a small knapsack and waited anxiously near the gate for Daniel to return. While he was away, Jonah decided to sell the two horses he had left and the small clutch of chickens to a neighboring farm. Considering it was still too cold to plant, people were eager to buy. It was not long before Daniel returned from town, his drunkenness apparent from a distance. His steps were heavy and deliberate but cautious, as if he might fall over if the wind caught him just right.
“You okay there, boyo?” Jonah joked.
“Oh yea! I’m jus’ fine”, he slurred, “I didn’t think you’d actually show. I guess you do have the stones.”, he laughed loudly. “Now, ya ready to go?”, I nodded toward Daniel and smiled. We then made our way to the station to board the evening train. We wouldn’t make it to Elizabet’s town this first trip. We’d have to take a second train from there, and then another small trip out of town to the farm. So, about four days in all, if you don’t make a farce of it.
Once we got to the station, Daniel bought our tickets, which was nice of him, and we both readied to board the train. As we approached the cars, Daniel took a sharp turn left and headed toward the back. There was a dirty looking car with a worn banner reading, “IRISH ONLY!”.
“Ya ready, boyo?”, he smirked. “No need to thank me for the ticket!”, he let out a sly laugh and boarded the train after showing his ticket to a young coloured boy. I stood there for a moment and stared at my ticket, then toward the front of the train, then back at my ticket. Daniel had clearly played a prank, which Jonah was willing to indulge. He handed his ticket to the young coloured boy and was given an inquisitive look before boarding.
“You on the right train, mista? Jus’ so ya know, this’s an Irish only car.” the boy said with certainty.
Jonah smirked, “Yeah, I know. I’ve got family on board.” The boy clipped the ticket and Jonah proceeded to board the train. When he locked eyes with Daniel, Jonah found him sitting near the back laughing loudly with some other Irishmen. Jonah then noticed the growing number of Irish becoming aware of his presence. Making his way to the back, Jonah found a seat across from Daniel and fell silent as the conversation around continued.
“Glad ya could make, boyo!”, Daniel said while still slightly intoxicated from earlier that afternoon. “I was starting to wonder if you’d board, or just buy another ticket!” He and the men around him started laughing uproariously and the rest of the car went about their business. Daniel leaned over to say something to me, “Once we get off at the next stop, well get a room for the evening and take the next train in the morning to town. Then it’s just a short ride from town. We’ll be home in no time!” Jonah smiled at the inclusion―-we.
Once we arrived at the next town, Daniel went ahead and booked us a room on the south side of town. There were plenty of Irish in the street and the rooms were small and uncomfortable with a distinct odor about them. Daniel and I ended up sharing a bed to save money on boarding. It wasn’t my idea but, I wasn’t about to reject a warm room and a dry bed. Of course, before we went to sleep, Daniel suggested that we have a nightcap before leaving in the morning.
I’ve never been a heavy drink but I decided it would my best opportunity to get to know my soon to be brother-in-law. When we arrived at the bar, there was the constant clatter of glasses from around the room being hoisted as men drank to victories and defeats alike. We made our way to a table near the back, but was quickly embroiled in a drunken brawl before we could discern the reason.
“Grab’em, Jonah! Grab’em!” Daniel shouted for my help. With rapid succession, Daniel was pummeled in the abdomen by a stout looking man with brown hair. Jonah grabbed the man across neck and pulled him off Daniel and Daniel proceeded to punch the man until he called for truce. There was awkward tension in the bar and Daniel kept complaining of his bruises. As we made our way back to the hotel, Daniel collapsed on the stairs. Growing increasingly worried, Jonah grabbed Daniel and helped carry him up the stairs. It was slow and painful work. Something was wrong with Daniel…
The next morning, after a long night of moaning and coughing, I awoke to find Daniel with a ring of blood around his mouth and soaked into his covers. The constable arrived shortly after the innkeeper called the physician. Of course we couldn’t afford a doctor but, the man had to know if he was dead. When the doctor arrived Jonah greeted him with a solemn hello,
“Hey, doc… how is he?”, Jonah asked with sincere concern.
“Well, based on my diagnosis, I believe he died from internal bleeding. Looks like he took some hard punches to the side recently. Would you know anything about that?”, both the doctor and the constable looked at Jonah.
“Yeah. We were out drinking last night and we got thrown into a fight with these big ol’ sons of bitches. I tried and get the man off Daneil but… it was too late. If I knew, If I knew it was this bad, I would of―”
The doctor cut Daniel off short. “There’s nothing you could do, son. Just some damn Irish fighting over their liquor.” The constable laughed. Jonah had reddened eyes, nearly crying but still holding it together. He looked directly at the doctor and said, “That man right there is my brother-in-law… I would appreciate a little damned respect.” The doctor had a retracted look on his face of near disbelief. The constable cleared his throat. It was not long until the undertaker was here to bring Daniel’s body to rest. I didn’t leave on the train which Daniel had thought to book us but, after spending what little money I had from selling my horses and chickens, I was able to pay for Daniel’s body to be delivered along with me to the family.
When I arrive at the small, vaguely memorable home I noticed the barn and how small it now looked against the pasture. I then saw two women, an older woman and a younger one peeking through the windows at the carriage. Daniel’s remains were to be delivered as soon as they could but I had arrived ahead to break the terrible news. When I saw Elizabet for the first time in nearly three years, I still marveled at how tremendously beautiful she was.
“Jonah?” Elizabet said anxiously, “is that really you?” She lunged forward and hugged me for what seemed like an eternity. When I opened my eyes and looked over her shoulder, I noticed darling Mary standing near the doorway. She was tucked behind her grandmother, clinging to her skirt.
“Who is that man…” I over heard, “That’s not important. He’s here now… where’s Daniel? Jonah, where’s my son?” Elizabet released her hold on Jonah and locked eyes with her returning lover.
“Where’s Daniel”, she wondered, “is he in the carriage?”
I felt like I was going to vomit. “Elizabet… I have some terrible news…”
Maybe if I learn to write sweet words, she’ll come back.
Maybe if I send her sweet flowers, she’ll come back.
She’s starts seeing someone, I stop seeing anyone—she doesn’t come back.
Maybe if I learn another language, she’ll come back.
Maybe if I learn to dance well, she’ll come back.
I can write y yo hablo tambien and she stops seeing him—but she doesn’t come back.
Maybe if I learn to play guitar, she’ll come back.
Maybe if I learn to be happy with myself, she’ll come back.
But, she is her own creature and I am no hunter. So she doesn’t come back.