Reflections in Stone

By Aimee Dupré

©September 27, 2005

Sitting on the porch in his rocking chair was his favorite way to end the day, although usually there was someone to talk with, to share stories with. Not that he was ready to retire to that rocking chair. Not just yet. There was still plenty of life left in him. He always gave as good as he got, then laid low and licked his wounds for a while.

This particular evening he was alone on the porch with his glass of whiskey and a smoke. He could hear gay voices and laughter mixed with the out-of-tune piano at Luci's Velvet Cushion, only a stone's throw away. He could be there having his drink, but sometimes he could feel all alone even in a crowd, so he chose not to.

Funny how the choices one made influenced one's present condition.

He looked back over his life and regretted some decisions. Oh, most had providentially turned out all right, but the decision he regretted most . . . well, he wouldn't think about that.

He took a moment to enjoy the woodsy flavor of the whiskey as it glided down his throat, spreading a welcomed warmth in his chest. Men tell things with a belly full of bourbon that they wouldn't tell otherwise. That's why he was more careful these recent years to avoid getting intoxicated. Didn't want to get himself into a dilemma.

He was faced with dilemmas every day. His stony resolution determined how he lived his life. He had kicked around after the war – got kicked out of the army – lost his captain's commission. He'd even been three years in prison for assault – hell, he'd damn near killed the man.

He'd been like a rolling stone gathering no moss, and he chuckled out loud at his unintentional pun, then quickly looked around to make sure no on saw him laughing by himself. He was still alone, for the moment, though the city was busy.

He rarely took time to reflect on things anymore. There had been plenty of time for that during the war years, and afterward, while bounty hunting and scraping around the western territories. Too many hours with nothing to do but think on the way things were, the way things might have been, the way things should have been. He'd quickly realized it was an exercise in futility to wish things that would never be. Brooding was a time waster.

Sometimes, he wished he could make better sense of things -- find some clue that would point him in the right direction. Perhaps that was the appeal of his work as a US Marshal, particularly since former Pinkerton detective Larimer Finch had come into his town and into his life. And since Katie Owens had returned to run her father's funeral home. What a coincidence they had all three ended up here together, working as a team. What a coincidence that coincidence is such a part of our everyday lives.

He'd always wanted to go somewhere where one man could make a difference. He'd always wanted to be that one man.

Instead, he had spent a lot of time watching men die, wishing he was somewhere else, and wondering if he made any difference at all.

Sometimes he just wanted to go home . . . wherever the hell that was.

Here on his porch, here in Silver City. This was the home he was building for himself.

His pipe was out. He stopped his thoughts and his rocking chair to relight it, hoping someone would come over to his porch and sit with him a while. That would still the ghosts.

That preacher's wife running off with the outlaw. Having to chase after her, at first thinking she'd been kidnapped, then finding out she was running away, that had caused him a lot of misery. Preachers having marital problems! What was the world coming to. Is nothing sacred? Are all men such sinners? Or such hypocrites?

The law had become Stone's salvation. His choice of profession had probably saved him from a life of crime. He'd had a difficult time with what Finch referred to as "anger management." His temper was mellowing with age, it seemed, but if it hadn't been for the president appointing him a Marshal, he'd probably have ended up with more prison time, maybe even for murder.

Does it take a criminal to know a criminal? Must one be able to think deviously? Maybe that's why he was so good at what he did.

What were the other benefits of crime solving? Lots of questions, and few answers. Developing motive? Solving the crime? Catching the bad guy? Bringing them to justice? Saving the oppressed? Doing right and being fair? Head or heart justice? He hoped he'd developed heart justice. He'd had a chance to exercise that with the prostitute who had killed her abusive husband.

He mulled over the questions he'd asked himself as the cool evening breeze caught the smoke from his pipe and swirled it away like a ghost from the past.

Questions are great except when there are no answers.

Out of a clear blue sky . . .sometimes the sound of artillery and screaming still woke him up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, haunted by faces long forgotten. Those nightmares had become more rare with the passage of time. Still, they took him back to a time he never wanted to remember and never would forget.

Memories washed over him, filtered through a lens of twenty years or more. The memories of her still seemed sacred, as if his very recollection of them somehow soiled them. He had tried to lay his sins at the altar stone, but he always ended up carrying them away with him.

Leaving her behind burned into his brain like a brand of betrayal.

He had done what had seemed to be the right thing at the time, all those long years ago. He had set her free so she would not wait, anxious and worried, to hear news of his death on the battlefield.

It had not been as easy to do as he had thought. He had hardened his heart to her pleas, made himself as cold as stone as he denied having ever loved her to her face. He had thought that would make it easier for her to forget him – if she hated him enough, perhaps his leaving would not be so painful for her.

He deserved every last bit of pain he had suffered over her when he had taken his leave. He deserved every sleepless night and lonely day. And he knew he would never have another chance for what he had given up. So he held back the part of himself that might get broken again.

One day he realized that everything he had fought for was changing before his very eyes.

A wife, a family, a son to carry on his name – all that had slipped through his fingers like the blue wisps of smoke from his pipe.

She gave of herself, never expecting anything in return. He had fallen like a stone for her. He had loved her in every way it was possible for a man to love a woman. Now there was a part of him forever locked away, a piece of broken heart that would never love a woman that way again.

Memories of her smiling face threatened to overwhelm him. In his mind's eye, he had memorized her portrait and no longer needed to look at her faded tintype. Maybe he was just going to fade away like the picture he still treasured after all these years.

Her memory was still so near and dear to him that he could feel the warmth of her breath in the breeze, he could hear the music of her voice in the sound of running water, he could smell the fragrance of her scent in the wild honeysuckle.

The searing pain of losing her could still tear at his heart like a knife. He had to admit to himself that it wasn't really made of stone, but he pretended. He sighed deeply, and his breath caught in his throat.

When he had returned from the war, she had died – a mystery at first – until her parents finally told him the truth. She had died in childbirth. A hidden pregnancy, so the child who had died at birth – his son who died with her -- was buried right there with her, held forever in her arms.

She must have been pregnant before he went off to war. She had carried his child while he told her he did not love her and never had. Her parents blamed him. They were ashamed that he had taken advantage of their daughter without the benefit of marriage. They didn't want him to know, so they hid his lovechild from him, never attempting to contact him or write to him.

He would have come back from the war if only he had known. He would have deserted, if he'd had to. What had made him stay away? Because he didn't even know he had a child.

He should have known. Making love makes babies.

If only he had known – he never would have lied to her. She didn't tell him she was pregnant because it was wartime and she didn't want to worry him. No. That wasn't it at all. She hadn't told him because she thought he didn't love her. No, she knew it, because he told her so.

He had visited the headstone with her name on it for the last time just before he came out west. Looking at her name, he remembered how he had caught her once writing the name "Mrs. Jared Stone" over and over on a piece of paper, as if practicing for her new signature.

What options did he have? Making a living with his gun or breaking horses? He couldn't have supported a family. He wasn't mature enough. Hell, he'd been a stupid kid, rash and reckless, headstrong and hot-tempered. Besides, he had to go fight that war. It was in his blood. It was the right decision, so he had thought.

Seemed like he kept turning down a new path every time he made a decision, right or wrong. Then he had a new set of opportunities and choices to make.

He whispered her name into the setting sun.

He would try to celebrate her memory. She would live forever in his heart.

Wishful thinking -- what if the son they had together had lived?

In the back of his mind there was always the possibility that her parents had lied to him. That somehow they had spirited his son away, punishing him for his sins by never allowing him to know about him.

He reflected on some man, eighteen years his junior, showing up one day in Silver City – a man with his eyes, with her nose, with his lips, with her jaw line, with his build, with her smile. What would Stone do if his son showed up? The child they made together as they made love to each other. What if their son had lived?

Wishful thinking. Reflections in a headstone.

Things won't stay as they are. Things can't be as they were.

Why's he so concerned with how he's doing? Making a difference in the town and in people's lives is important to him.

He had taken Chipper under his wing as he would have his own son. He tried to treat him, well, fatherly, he supposed, with authority and wisdom born of experience. The knowledge that Chipper has his whole life ahead of him – what roads will he choose? All he could do was share his knowledge. Try to help someone else be all he can be.

Jared Stone looked out at Silver City from his vantage point on his porch with a certain sense of serenity. This was his opportunity to show he had learned from his lifetime of mistakes.

Maybe this time he was making a difference after all.

He finished his whiskey and took his glass and his pipe inside with him, gently shutting the door behind him. Gently shutting out the ghosts and the reflections. Reflections in stone.