Daniel (Danny) Lance Wright, Author

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Fireplace Usually Does it For Me

Have you ever woke in the morning and knew, just knew, that sometime in the night every secret of the universe had been revealed, but by the time the bedroom came into focus, all those secrets had been erased from your memory? I had one of those nights a couple of days ago. It wasn't the first time.

Yesterday afternoon, the family laughed, drank wine and played games in a very loud and boisterous way. I sat alone staring into the fireplace, drinking another glass of wine (I'll not share how many I already had) thinking about that night, wondering what it is in the brain that creates such a nocturnal illusion. Of course, that was the lesser thought. I really was trying to remember exactly what it was that made me believe that. Unfortunately, it was, and remains, a feeling only, disassociated from anything that might create a mental image.

This line of thinking took me places though. The gentle dancing flames in the fireplace opened my mind and I took a very personal tour of philosophical beliefs that occupied my mind until the next explosion of laughter from those around the game table. I'm not sure how long I'd remained in this self-hypnotic trance. But, as I emerged from it, I remembered a particular chapter in the novel "Defining Family" that I'd written some years ago. This is a good place and opportunity to share an excerpt from that particular chapter.

Sam tingled with satisfaction suddenly realizing that Buck knew what Snapper did, but it was fleeting, still certain his intent was to end their freedom. What could she say to avert it, anything? The end of the odyssey had arrived. She and her siblings-by-circumstance were isolated and left with nowhere to run—nowhere to hide. Shoulders slumping, she waited for Buck to get to the point.
Then he asked a strange question. “Y’all haven’t seen any dangerous lookin’ teenagers around here, have ya?”
Her head popped up like she’d been shot between the eyes. She slung her head around to look at him. Her jaw fell slack. “Uh… no. It’s just us.”
Buck looked away to the mountains, “Yep, it’s sure a beautiful sight all right. I never get tired of it. When I have free time, I like to follow the path around this lake in my old pickup truck and hit another small road about two miles over there.” He pointed, looked at her and waited.
She nodded.
“Then, I drive right up to the base of that mountain,” he said, looking at Sam, clearly trying to make sure she understood how to get there.
“A road leading up to the mountains, huh?”
“Yep. It’s part of the Enchanted Land Ranch for about six miles, until you cross over a cattle guard and then you’re on public land. Ranch hands are the only people who ever use the road, at least as far as the cattle guard, and then New Mexico forestry personnel beyond that. The road isn’t used much at all... pretty darned secluded really. That’s what I like about it.”
Amazed and emboldened, Sam made solid eye contact. Buck had detailed an escape route. Why are you doing this? She wondered but chose not to give it a voice, uncertain whether she should breech this deniability so carefully crafted. That’s it! He’s too honest and wouldn’t be able to lie if questioned. This way he doesn’t have to.
“You know, Sam, when I was twenty two years old, my parents died in a plane crash. It left my kid sister without parents. I stepped in and tried to be momma and daddy to the girl. Stocking merchandise in a small neighborhood grocery store didn’t cover everything we needed. One day, I found myself tempted around the cash register. Before you know it, I’d taken money, caught, arrested, and spent a year in jail. I won’t bore you with details, except to say my kid sister wound up in the care of the state. She went wild and accused me of abandoning her. When I got out, she didn’t trust me at all to hang around. So, although we were living together again, she lived life as if I wasn’t even there. Every time I opened my fool mouth the wrong thing came out and drove her farther away. Drugs, alcohol and bad people became her universe. Shoot, I couldn’t have corralled her on a bet.”
He looked down into the tin cup in his hands. “That life took her at eighteen, all because no one helped me when I needed to be helpin’ her. Now she’s gone.” He straightened and drew a breath. “I’ve since come to terms with it. But I vowed if I were ever given a chance, I’d make it right. I just never had a notion how to do that… till now.”
He took a final swallow of coffee and then tossed the last drops into the fire sending a steam cloud into the air. He stood, pulled his hat down to a business slant, put his gloves on and turned to walk away.
Buck made it quite clear talking was done. He walked away with the thermos and tin cup in hand.
She sprang to her feet and caught up to him handing him the other cup. “Samantha Echols,” she said.
“Pardon me?”
“My full name… it’s Samantha Echols. What’s your last name?”
With a crooked smile that lifted his handlebar moustache, “Miller.”
“Buck Miller, would you mind if I come back to visit you someday?”
“As long as I’m foreman of the Enchanted Land Ranch, you’ll always be welcome.” He folded down the collar of his jacket. “I know I told y’all it’d be okay to stay a couple of days, but now that we know there are dangerous teenagers lurkin’ about, it might be wise if y’all broke camp and left.”
Putting his finger to the brim of his hat, he tipped his head as a final gesture of courtesy.
Sam watched his departure dumbfounded.
Buck cranked the old truck, steered it around and drove slowly away.
A combative mix of emotions all pushed to the surface at the same time. She experienced a rush that he’d been so kind, yet profound sadness sought to replace the thrill. It clawed at her that she’d never see Buck again; just another glancing blow in her life, something of value that almost was.
The noise of the truck engine woke the other three. They emerged from the tent and gathered around the fire.
“What was that all about?” Amy asked, rubbing her eyes. “Was he just checking on us?”

Sam started to answer then realized her voice would have broken. She just nodded then swallowed. Suddenly taking two quick steps in the direction of the receding truck, she had a strong urge to run hard and fast, to catch Buck, throw her arms around his neck and hug him. But like all visions of the perfect life she’d watched in the flames, this vision, too, took flight like smoke in a breeze.

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