By Florence Bush
Season: Beginning of the twentieth century
Summary: Daisy is looking back on her life. Some bits and pieces of what happened at the Sherman ranch after Season 4.
Author’s Note: The story was originally written as a grammar exercise and described the passing of my grand aunt. Over the years it somehow turned into a Laramie story. I dug it out and went over it again after reading the revised version of “Best medicine for Daisy”.
Every afternoon she sits on the porch, a blanket across her knees and a shawl around her shoulders to ward off the autumnal chill. She’s a delicate little lady with a sweet face, her white hair arranged in a neat bun. Despite her age she likes to dress elegantly and, on the rare occasions she still goes out, will wear a fancy lady’s hat. But she doesn’t really go out any more. Nor can she contribute to the household chores; even knitting socks for the kids has become too much.
The family is trying to keep her company most of the time so she is seldom alone. She appreciates their concern and is happy to be so loved and cared for. However, she also enjoys her quiet moments when she can look back upon her long life. Not many people have been gifted with riches like she has been. Losing her son, her husband, and everything she owned is a common story in her generation. Being endowed with a complete new live and family at almost seventy is not.
A few years ago she has undertaken, with the help of her namesake grandchild, to write down her story and thus, of course, the story of the Sherman Ranch Family. The younger Daisy is a grandchild of choice which is about the essence of the family. There are ties of kindred, to be sure, but just as many are elective. She is glad that she has insisted on having the story written down, so it will still be there when she is gone. Storytelling has always been important with them, being the easiest way to integrate all the newcomers over the years. With the children forever claiming to hear them the stories are frequently told, but oral tradition has a tendency to change that the written word has not. And once she had started to get the story written down the others have followed her lead and added their parts.
The family had the story printed as a gift for her hundredth birthday. It covers about twenty years of family history. She has savored the tales many times while she still could read. If she wants to look into a particular one now someone will read it to her. Of course, what she loves most is to hear the same story told by Slim and Jess. Sometimes it is hard to believe they talk about the same events. And yet, one without the other leaves the story oddly incomplete.
In such ways she spends her days musing. She loves to behold the family. They have added cabins and houses in all four directions over the years. Nevertheless, all seem drawn to the old ranch house. Sometimes there are so many people in for supper that they have to put up tables in the yard. So, apart from some of the adolescents who have gone off to school she sees the family members every little while.
Andy and his wife Eleanor come out from town at least twice a week. Their two boys used to stay every weekend and still spend every vacation as soon as they are back from school. Andy had been on the move quite a bit after his graduation in St. Louis, working and travelling extensively all over the country and in Europe before getting married in Laramie. In a short time he became a highly esteemed lawyer and Slim is inordinately proud of his younger brother.
He can be without rancor as Mike and Imogen have turned into passionate ranchers and, in the meantime, run the place. The family has been buying adjacent land whenever available and now owns a waste estate. It was Jess’ idea to set apart land for buffalo and mustangs, because it grieves him deeply to see them disappear; thus they continue to buy any land, “worthless” or not. To buy more land! Remembering her first years on the ranch with emotions running high in an atmosphere tense with worry of how to pay the bank she sometimes has to pinch herself to be sure she isn’t dreaming.
Mike and Imogen live in what used to be the bunk house. The two of them have done a great job transforming it into a family house. Their girl is still living with them while the three boys have built houses for their families and already started the next generation. Daisy enjoys playing the great grandmother although there are days when she wishes they had inherited more of Imogen’s even temper.
It had been different with Jess’ and Cora’s children; then she was still fit to look after them. Once Jess had brought Cora home to the ranch, they had their eight children one after the other, so Cora always appreciated her help. The place was spilling with little ones then. Smiling fondly the old lady indulges in sweet memories. Cora and her daughter Imogen have blended into the then still small family as if they had been created just for the purpose. She loves both of them dearly. So does Slim. He never married; in a way he is a father to all, young and old, and the heart and the backbone of the family. Daisy is sure that at least two of Cora’s children are Slim’s. She is equally sure that Jess heartily approves. The two men are so special in their unique relationship; what would result in quarrel and hatred with most people just makes them grow closer to each other. Forget about morals; Daisy is happy with the idea.
Mort Cory agrees with her. She doesn’t remember how they came to discuss the subject but they did and were unanimous in their approval. After putting down his badge the old sheriff has come to live with them in a cabin he built just over the hill. He is in good shape and, for his eighty years, does a lot of ranch work. Wise enough to quit before wearing himself out he regularly joins a crew. Like Daisy he loves playing grandfather. The kids adore him and forever pester him to hear Sheriff Stories or play sheriff and outlaw. Some afternoons or evenings Mort will sit with her and they will talk of the old days, and enjoy each other’s company. They may share a bottle of wine, one of the luxuries they can afford now at the ranch and raise a glass to long gone friends.
To Jonesy for example, who came back to the ranch after Andy had graduated. As he wouldn’t travel with his bad back she hadn’t met him before. Sadly, he was given only two years with them. He had had enough time, though, to fill her in on the early years before her arrival telling many a tale that the boys had conveniently left out or simply forgotten. Mose also contributed. He certainly had been full of anecdotes. The old stage driver spent his last years in the small cabin they had built for Jonesy. He never retired; the stage line went out of business. So he took on any driving between the ranch and town until his death.
Both men are buried in the family graveyard. In their memory the family has named their new organization the Mose Jonesy Foundation. Andy had come up with the proposal to transform the private ranch into a foundation several years ago. Seeing that both the ranch and the family continued to expand and that keeping buffalo and mustangs was unheard of and repudiated by many he concluded that the estate would be easier to manage and a lot less vulnerable in a foundation. The statute is exceedingly adaptable to changing situations and suits them well. Every family member has their shares and their obligations. Mentally, Daisy shakes her head. She has seen many a change in her days.
She dozes off for a while. Footsteps coming around the house wake her again. She recognizes Slim’s long stride. Charming as ever he bows and kisses her hand before he embraces her tenderly. He’s still a slender man even if he has filled out some over the years. Getting older has transformed the rigidness of his youth into a certain elegance of demeanor. His endearing smile hasn’t changed. He pulls another chair over to her side and straddles it. Putting a hand on her knee he remarks casually. “Don’t worry, Daisy, he’ll be back,”
As always he senses her distress. Yes, she is waiting. Over the last few days a growing sense of foreboding has told her that her time has come. She is more than ready to go, but not without saying good bye to Jess. No one has any idea what keeps him. Rumors about a small herd of buffalo over at the Yellowstone had set him off to have a look himself and see if they could get some. Slim had been teasing him before he left: “Got the itch of the big open again, pard?” Rising to the bait Jess had gotten mad and stormed off without a word. Now he’s a week overdue. She looks up at Slim and wrings her hands in despair. “Oh, Slim, where can he be?”
“I don’t rightly know, Daisy. My guess would be he’s got some buffalo and is trying to herd them over here all by his ornery self. Most likely they are giving him a hard time and he’s just too stubborn to quit or look for help.” Seeing that this doesn’t reassure her at all he adds. “If he isn’t back tonight I will ride out in the morning with Cliff and Francis to look for him.” With a hint of reproof in his tone he adds, “He always comes back, no matter what happens. You ought to know after all those years.”
“That’s just what I fear, Slim. That he has stretched his luck once too often.” Eyes watering she exclaims, “And I haven’t said good bye to him.”
Slim takes her small hands into his and looks at her inquiringly. “So your time has come?” Unable to speak she nods yes.
“Don’t fret so, Daisy, he’ll come. If something had happened to him, I’d have felt it.” Giving her arm a little squeeze he adds. “And you have to admit, he hasn’t been into any kind of trouble for ages. He’s probably worn out the troubles allotted to him.”
Now he is rewarded with a tentative smile. “Maybe you’re right, Slim. You’ve been right about him so many times. That must be it.”
“Of course it is.” Smoothly he changes the subject. “Why don’t you come in, Daisy, it is getting chilly. Supper will be ready soon and who knows if a certain cowboy won’t show up in time.”
He gets up and folds her blanket then helps her out of the chair and offers his arm to walk her inside. She continues to her room to tidy up for supper. In front of the mirror she arranges a few strands of hair that have escaped her bun then smoothes her skirts. Satisfied with her appearance she sits on the bed and looks around the room, her place for more than thirty years now. She hasn’t really changed anything just added a few gifts lovingly made for her. A beautiful quilt from Cora and Irene, an almost elegant wardrobe from the boys, a footstool from Mike, little presents from various kids. The whole house seems to resist change; if visitors from the old days were to enter they wouldn’t miss a thing. Only Slim and Jess with Cora are now living here with her as all the kids have moved out. In a way the house is enchanted. She can’t for the life of her think of any other house with such an atmosphere.
Horses ride in; the front door opens and closes several times. She hears voices; chairs are being pulled out from under the table. Most likely Mike and Imogen have come over and the riders are probably Arpad and Irene. Mort has been around all afternoon, busying himself in the barn, so he’s bound to be there. But not Jess, he’d have caused a ruckus coming in. With a little sigh she rises and enters the living room. Yes, she’s been right, everybody is there getting settled for the meal. So she walks over to the table and takes her seat, warmly greeted by the others. Cora brings the soup and they begin their meal, chatting and exchanging the day’s news. Only Daisy can’t bring herself to eat. She is listening, waiting for another horse to come in. He must come, she thinks, I can’t wait much longer. Soon the others notice she isn’t eating but Slim gestures them to leave her alone. The atmosphere changes subtly, though, as they feel her anxiety and continue their meal in a somewhat subdued mood.
Suddenly - Cora is just bringing the coffee - she hears the sound she has been listening for. A horse is galloping in, comes to a halt at the corral near the barn. Slim rises to go to the door, less wary than in the old days but still on his guard. Pushing the curtain aside he peeks out and, with a big grin, returns to the table. She lets out a sigh of relief. It must be Jess if Slim is grinning like this. She closes her eyes for a silent prayer. When she hears footsteps she opens them again just in time so see the door burst open.
Slapping his hat on the hook by the door Jess yells “Howdy, folks,” and then stops dead in his tracks when he is greeted with silence. “Hey, aren’t you glad to see me?” He glares at them reproachfully, a crooked smile on his face. Suddenly Daisy has to suppress a giggle; he looks so very much like a boy caught in the act at this moment. The others are not much better. Slim’s having a hard time to keep a straight face; Mort is staring pointedly into his coffee, Mike plain smirking. Bewildered Jess’ gaze is wandering from one to the other. Finally Cora breaks the silence. “To answer your question, love: I’m not so sure about it.” Eyes bright with suppressed laughter she goes on. “You look like you have been thrown; you are a lot dirtier and much the worse for wear compared to the last time I saw you.” Abruptly, everyone bursts out laughing. Their earlier subdued mood turns to hilarious. Jess’ looks confused and a little hurt as he stands there in the door. Daisy’s heart goes out to him. She walks over to pull him into a hug. “Welcome home, Jess, I for one am glad you are here.” And when she looks up to him her eyes are welling tears so she buries her face at his shoulder and hugs him tighter. He puts his arms around her murmuring comforting words then puts a finger under her chin and gently turns her face up. “Daisy? What makes you cry?”
With a thin voice she manages an answer. “I was so afraid I wouldn’t see you again before…”
“Before?” he inquires softly. “Before what?” Comprehension dawning he reassures her. “I did get back in time, Daisy, and I won’t leave you anymore. I promise.”
Now she’s smiling again, becomes her own caring self. She pushes herself away from him to get a better view. He looks drawn and pale. “Oh my goodness, dear, you must be hungry and thirsty and all we do is laugh at you. Come on over and have some coffee while Cora warms your supper.”
He unbuckles his belt then shrugs out of his coat. Something in his movement alerts her. “Jess, what is it?”
“Aw, nothing, Daisy, guess I caved in a rib or two when I was throwed.”
She eyes him critically now. “Jess Harper! Don’t you tell me broken ribs will cause bleeding like this! Whatever happened to you?”
She hustles him to a chair and tells him in the no-nonsense nurse tone he knows so well to sit down and take off his shirt. Becoming aware that something is wrong. Slim ambles over, Cora on his heels.
“Spit it out, pard, there is more to it than just a broken rib!”
Avoiding Slim’s eyes Jess mumbles. “Got shot at; that’s how I got throwed.”
“Shot at? Where? Slug still in?”
“Let me have a look, Jess.”
He makes Jess bend forward and pushes up his shirt.
“Ok, I’ll heat the water while I warm your supper.” Sighing with good-natured exasperation Cora disappears into the kitchen.
Mort takes pity, pours some coffee and hands it to Jess.
“Here you go, boy, might lift your spirits some.” Jess takes the cup gratefully. He looks embarrassed and Mort can clearly see that he’d rather be anywhere else. So he gives his shoulder a little encouraging squeeze.
Mike and Irene rummage in the drawer for bandages while Imogen hurries to the barn to get her kit. She is the vet on the ranch and also takes care of human injuries and ailments most of the time. Only Arpad is still sitting at the table, green eyes squinting with amusement. To no one in particular he remarks “You folks must have had a lot of experience doctoring in your days.”
This earns him a “Seem to remember a certain gypsy needed some doctoring in his time, too” from Jess who is visibly recovering with his all purpose remedy, coffee. Before he can start an argument, though, he becomes aware of Daisy at his side. She’s wringing her hands not knowing what to do or say. So he captures one hand and gently draws her towards him. Looking up at her he says in a low voice, “You know, Daisy, I’ve always wanted for you to hold my hand, when I was hurt. Never had the chance what with you always being the one to dig the bullets out. So if you don’t mind, just sit down next to me”. She breathes a sigh of relief and seats herself, his hand in hers.
Slim has finished his examination and stretches. “Guess you are lucky, pard, bullet’s stuck between the rips. And no infection. Won’t need a doctor for that.” Jess relaxes some more.
“Now, why don’t you tell us what happened while we wait for Imogen?”
“Can’t say as I know. Must have been one of those buffalo haters. Shot from long distance, just as I crossed Ash Creek with the herd. Darn those guys, it’s none of their business what we do with our land.” Jess face wears the expression Daisy has come to know so well over the years: ready to charge after them and the heck with the consequences. Abruptly, though his mood changes. Suppressing a yelp of pain he bolts from his chair and blurts out:
“I got sixteen, eight cows with calves. I was out cold for the afternoon after my horse threw me. When I finally came to and managed to catch the stupid animal it was too dark to go after the herd. Took me two days to round them up again, Agitated as they were they were giving me a hard time. I was lucky; met Francis and Matt when I came down Pine Butte so they took over and I came straight here.”
“Glad you didn’t set out to get the guy who shot at you, pard.”
“I thought about it,” Jess admits angrily, “but then I might have lost the buffalo.”
“Ohh? You mean age has finally brought some wisdom to you?”
Jess is just opening his mouth for a matching answer when Imogen comes from the kitchen where she has sterilized her instruments. She does a quick check of the wound and deftly removes the slug. Dressing the wound she flatly orders Jess to get some food into him.
He complies and digs into his supper without another word. When he’s finished he leans back with a contented sigh and claims more coffee for a poor wounded man. Around him the conversation is getting livelier, turning around the question why so many are opposed to their raising buffalo. Even Daisy participates now. She utterly disapproves of anyone shooting at her family no matter what reason. Fatigue catches up with her after a while so she says good night and adjourns to her room.
Jess’ gaze follows her then turns on Slim. “Her time has come, Slim?” he asks and seeks his friend’s eyes.
“Yes, I think so. We had a little talk before supper because I could see something was worrying her. Turned out it was the fear of having to go without saying good bye to you” Slim replies. “I think you should stay with her tomorrow. She loves you most and needs your company now.”
“No argument there, Slim, I’m no good for anything else right now anyhow. But do take the time and be with us. She may love me most, true, but then I always needed her most.” Searching for the right words he continues hesitantly. “To keep going during those early years, to accomplish the impossible she’s been drawing her strength from you. She needed you most so you are the one who loves her most. Aw, I don’t know, I’m getting it all mixed up. Guess I’m not making much sense but … just stay with us, will you?”
“He’s is right, Slim, you know, “comes unexpectedly from Irene who usually keeps herself to herself. “Daisy will want you both at her side; and probably Mike and Andy, too. Let’s have the others drop by in an organized way tomorrow to say their farewell. But you stay with her until she goes. I don’t think she will be long, she’s only been holding on to wait for Jess.”
This is a long speech for Irene. Slim looks slightly embarrassed but the others nod quiet approval. Mort remarks that he likes the idea and hopes it will be the same for him when his time comes. After this exchange the conversation gradually tapers off. Offering to organize folks tomorrow, Irene and Arpad rise to leave. The men follow them out on the porch while Imogen and Cora clear the table.
“I think Irene is right. Aunt Daisy is looking very tired,” Mike says sadly. “I will miss her.”
“All of us will.” Mort replies. “She has been with us a long time. Well, I’m on my way. Good night.” Setting a brisk pace the old Sheriff takes the well-worn path to his cabin.
Mike takes his leave when Imogen emerges from the house. Slim and Jess move to the fireplace where Cora joins them. They sit together in silence for a while. Suppressing a yawn Jess finally says he is exhausted and has to turn in and get some shuteye.
“Back hurting?” Slim inquires.
“Some. I’ve had worse, though I’ll probably be all sore tomorrow.” With this Jess gets up and staggers towards his bed. The thud of boots hitting the floor is the only sound that comes from the room.
Smiling Cora turns to Slim. “Didn’t think I would live to hear him admit fatigue.”
“Daisy’s parting is getting at him. He loves her as much as she loves him.” Slim quietly replies. “I’m glad he came back in time.”
“So am I. And I am deeply grateful. Daisy will pass away in dignity, surrounded by her loved ones. That is as much as anyone can ask for.” Cora stares off for a while in deep thought. “Looking back I’d almost say we are blessed. No violent deaths, and this with the kind of life you boys have had, No losses to illness, to childbirth, to accidents. Do you realize how extraordinary this is?”
“I haven’t looked at it this way, “Slim reaches over to squeeze her hand. “But I have to agree. And I think we owe much to Daisy and you womenfolk for it.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” Laughing Cora gets to her feet. “What about turning in now, too?”
“You go ahead; I’m not tired so I’ll sit on the porch for while.”
“Don’t take too long, dear; tomorrow may be a long day.”
Slim doesn’t take her advice; come morning he is still out on the porch. Dawn holds the promise of a beautiful autumn day, crisp as it is at this hour. How adequate a day for Daisy to part, he thinks. She has brought sunshine to their lives. Where would they be today if she hadn’t agreed to stay with them? Feeling the morning chill now he stretches and gets out of the chair. Once inside he starts a fire and puts the coffee on. When Cora appears he has already laid the table and is sitting on the porch again with a cup of coffee. He stares at her with wonder for she’s wearing a Sunday dress.
“I had a feeling that I should honor the day,” she says by way of explanation. “You been outside all night?”
“I wasn’t tired,” he replies, “What you said last night sent me reminiscing about the past. About being blessed, I mean. I never looked at it that way before. You are absolutely right, we sure are.”
Leaving Cora to fix breakfast he walks across the yard to the shower. Just like her to think about how to make the day special. He understands her feeling about honoring the day and decides to follow her example.
When Slim comes back from the shower Jess starts turning around and grumbles something about being disturbed in the middle of the night. His amazement matches Slim’s a while ago when he opens one eye and sees his pard dressing in Sunday clothes.
“Ready for some civilized talk?” Slim asks. “You feeling ok?”
“I don’t know yet. Sore all over. Must be getting old. Just leave me alone, will you.” Jess sounds gruff but actually gets out of bed groaning and moaning in the process. He isn’t one to talk to before he has had his coffee at the best of times so Slim leaves the room without another word. Disgruntled noises indicate that Jess is on his way to the shower.
Entering through the kitchen door a while later he heads straight for the coffee pot and pours himself a cup. He’s wearing his good jeans, too, but no shirt.
“Need a new dressing. No use to spoil the shirt,” he answers Cora’s questioning look and saunters over to the table to enjoy his first cup while Cora is taking care of the dressing. Having downed a second cup of coffee, he disappears into the bedroom and reemerges with his shirt on.
They are waiting for Daisy now. She is up; they hear her walk around, her closet door squeaks. Suddenly, Jess bursts out laughing.
“Hey, what’s so funny, pard?” Slim sounds a trifle irritated.
“Just look at us! Here we are, sitting all solemn and silent and dressed up. This isn’t the funeral yet! Daisy will fret if she sees us like this.”
His laughter is contagious so when Daisy finally enters the room, she walks into a relaxed atmosphere. Very much relieved, she takes her seat at the breakfast table. She has been worrying about how to face a mourning family ever since she woke up this morning. A thought floats into her mind and she chuckles to herself. Noticing the curious glances she explains; “I just remembered the Sioux warriors’ song ‘This is a good day to die’.”
Abruptly, three faces turn towards her. Smiling she continues “Now, I’m not claiming to be a warrior but I know that my time has come. So do you, in fact, or why would you be wearing your Sunday clothes on a plain weekday? It is a good day to go, being still fully aware and having my family around me.”
“Oh, I subscribe to that warrior,” Jess puts much emphasis in his words. “You have been one in your time, Daisy. Took one to run this outfit and make us grow up the way you did.”
“Yeah, just remember what Mort said when we were painting the barn roof and couldn’t get down because of the mountain men,” Slim throws in.
“And you know, Daisy, I’m forever glad that Mike didn’t let me chase you away when you applied for the job!” Jess adds.
Merrily recalling the past they take their breakfast. Mike and Imogen come over with their daughter Deirdre to share a cup of coffee. As it is still chilly outside, they all move to the fireplace to continue their retrospection.
Irene arrives with her three daughters and their families. Obviously she has organized the family as promised for shortly the first callers start drifting in. Surprised, and relieved, to be greeted by talk and laughter they quickly join the group. Daisy thrives on the atmosphere and has a word for every one of them. All morning people keep coming and going in an orderly fashion, each time leaving a little break between calls. Even the toddlers behave as Irene has thought of bringing sweets for them. Almost like a birthday, Daisy thinks flippantly, only that the flowers will come later. Around noon all of the younger generation has been in which is all the better as she is beginning to tire. She dozes off in her armchair with a smile on her face.
The women start making lunch, tiptoeing around so as not to wake Daisy. Promising to do the dishes later the men seize the opportunity to leave and have a look at the horses. Slim and Jess obstinately stick to their profound aversion to eat their own cooking. The pair of them never cook anything but coffee. So they hang on the corral rails with Mike and have a little chat about horses and life and death and anything and everything, buying time, delaying the inevitable.
Andy and Eleanor arrive from town. Mort is with them, they picked him up a little ways down the road. Eleanor makes straight for the house while the men busy themselves with Andy’s horses and catch up on the news from town. Arpad rides in and stays for the gossip, as reluctant to enter the house as the rest.
The smell of lunch lures Daisy out of her nap. She feels tired and inordinately good at the same time. Looking around her she appreciates her home, so full of memories. Her eyes linger on the fireplace; briefly she wonders if Jess’ gun is still there, hidden between the stones. She twinkles at the picture of Slim’s mother on the mantelpiece: ‘Our boys have come a long way.’ This makes her chuckle at herself, a very old woman talking to people long gone. The woman in the picture will understand. She has known the same anxieties and worries in her day.
Just then the door opens and Eleanor peers inside. Daisy beckons her to come closer and help her out of the chair. Standing up makes her dizzy and she has to steady herself against the back of the chair. She is feeling very weary now. Soon, she thinks, very soon, and then catches herself. No, not yet, she isn’t about to spoil lunch.
Seeing Daisy walk slowly to the table Cora calls in the men. They appear without tarrying and take their seats, Jess and Mike taking the chairs next to Daisy. She doesn’t eat much for she is not hungry any more but she enjoys the shared lunch. She takes a cup of coffee, though, and sips it thoughtfully, contemplating the core of her family. Mort, their adamant supporter and friend through many a trouble over the years. Quiet reserved Irene and her mercurial husband whom Mike brought in one afternoon. Cora with her practical mind and her generous tender heart. Then Mike, her little boy, and his childhood love Imogen. The ever adventurous Andy with his much younger wife. And her boys: friends, partners, brothers – there are no words to describe those two. Her heart is overflowing with love.
Aware that they are watching her in turn she smiles: “It is time to say goodbye.”
Slowly she rises from her chair. Jess is instantly beside her to assist. One after the other comes up to her for a hug and some loving words, the atmosphere more solemn now than in the morning.
Taking Slim’s arm Daisy moves towards the door.
“I would like to sit outside with my boys”.
Slim settles her in the armchair and pulls a chair beside her, Andy taking her other side and Mike sitting on the floor in front of her. A blanket is spread over her lap; then Jess drapes the shawl around her shoulders. It is getting chilly again with the sun already in a low western position. The hills are aflame with autumn colors. Daisy is happy: such beauty lightens the heart.
She feels hands on her shoulders and Mikes head at her knees. Jess is sitting on the rail watching her intently. She gives him a brief happy smile which he answers with the special smile he reserves for the family. He, like the others has tears in his eyes.
“I’m happy to be so close to you even after I’m gone”, Daisy nods towards the family graveyard. “I can keep an eye on you and you can visit any time.”
They sit in companionable silence until Daisy starts breathing audibly. Immediately all attention focuses on her.
“Please, help me stand.” Her tone is tinged with urgency. Without a word they comply. She casts one last glance around her and looks at each of the four men in turn.
“Take care of each other, boys,”
She takes one deep breath and, with an almost imperceptible shudder, she is gone.
Jess who has been steadying her now gathers the small form into his arms and turns towards the house. He carries her past the guard of honor the others have quietly formed in the living room. Gently he places her on her bed then bows and kisses her a last time. She looks peaceful and yes, happy. Briskly he turns around and leaves the house.
After a long moment of quiet commemoration and silent prayers the women begin to arrange Daisy on her bed. There will be many visitors who want to say their farewell to Daisy. Aware that the men are feeling a bit at loss Cora suggests they do the dishes and put some order to the living room. Slim seems undecided so she gestures him to go look after Jess. Obviously deep in thought Mort rests in Daisy’s armchair. Now he is the oldest in the family; his turn will come.
On his way out Slim pours two cups of coffee to take them to Jess. He finds him at the far end of the corral. Slim rests his hand on Jess’ shoulders. The smaller man responds by putting his arm around his friend’s waist. Comforting each other without words they remain until the first stars come out.