A Great Tale
Summary: A great adventure does not always have an epic ending. Mattie's life, from adulthood to passing.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything in relation to True Grit and also the song lyrics, Awake My Soul by Mumfords & Son.
AN: I found True Grit to be really powerful. For me, it was because I had truthfully never seen the appeal of westerns. I was so sick of seeing men without a speck of dust on them, of women who were simply damsels in distress and of plots that even a five year old could poke a hole in. I think True Grit really interested me because it was what I had always wished for in a western. Uncouth and raw characters, a strong female lead and a twisting story line. I found that there was a huge gap and silence at the end which I really felt that I had to fill, at least for my own sense of self satisfaction. The fic I wrote is kind of based off a scene in Shangai Noon (don't judge). I found the idea of a main character creating a series based of their adventures really interesting and I really could see Mattie trying her hand at it, at least secretly for a start. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this :D
Lend me your eyes,
I can change what you see.
She's thirty by the time she gathers up her strength to write the first paragraph. It's under a false pseudonym but in every line and sentence on the page, she has engraved her life and her thoughts. She is lonely, although her family would be hard pressed to get her to admit it and her phantom arm nags at her, especially in the winter. She's learned how to balance her body while writing and how to brew an acceptable pot of tea. She's learned to fix her corset by herself and to ride a horse with her old strength. Yet, when she trails her long finger over the title, she feels a quivering within her.
A man asks her to be his wife when she is thirty. He isn't a handsome man and he has little to his name. He wants her to be there for him, to have a meal fixed for him when he returns home and to wash his clothes for the next day. He knows that with an amputated arm, she isn't likely to get a better offer and that any other single woman would rush to his side. He didn't count on her having pride.
She finishes the book by the time she is thirty-two and it is kept in a locked drawer, for not even the sunlight to reach it.
"Can you write?"
"Make sure... if Chaney gets a lucky shot..."
"Write to my son. Tell him that I was a good person. No son needs to grow up knowing that his dad was a dead beat."
"When we get Chaney, you can tell him that yourself."
There is something strange and almost perverse about publishing the book. She is a spinster and she runs a profitable boarding house with a reputation for good manners and a clean room. She treats every dirty, soaked and bloodied traveler with decorum and always has a washbasin of clean, warm water waiting for a weary face. Her grandmother, perhaps sensing her potential, left the house for her and a clean sum for repairs. She stores most of the coin under the floorboard, not quite trusting the bank with it. She can only think of Rooster and his past. If anyone was going to steal from her, they'd meet the cold, blunt end of her pistol at their temple. It doesn't stop the drunks and criminals from trying to snag a free night's stay, especially since they assume that she's weak and fragile. When she shoots a hole through a thieving customers leg, people seem to learn their lessons.
Mattie has never spoken of what she witnessed. Perhaps she is still shocked, awed and slightly terrified of the adventure. A nagging part of her mind suggests that it's because she can't even begin to explain her adventure without a planned speech. So, she writes a book. A book that seems fictional and is filled with characters who are strange and mysterious and persistently challenging. However, they are anything but fictional and in her mind, she wonders what Rooster would say upon reading it. The embarrassment she feels at having him and LaBouf read it, forces the manuscript into the top drawer of her desk where it is firmly locked. She pulls it out sometimes, when she is lonely and has dreams of snakes and blood and arms carrying her desperately across a plain.
Her brother once asked her of what happened. He's a strong man now with a wife to care for. Her mother married again, a few years after her father's death and moved to a state where the weather was kinder. Her sister lives in the big city, always full of tales of tall buildings and a busy life. She never answers any of their questions. She can not express what it is that she went through without tangling her emotions into it. So she remains silent and begins a new life, where her patrons rarely stay for more then a week and her arm is a common sight for the townspeople. It's somewhat comforting to have a general understanding where staring is permitted, but questions are not.
When he dies, she doesn't publish the book straight away.
It takes her another year before she sends the manuscript off, a false pseudonym sprawled across the title page, just below the title. The tale is of her own life, with a slightly variation of names and of locations.
When the book is approved and circulated in general bookstores, she feels a certain thrill. Not even her publishers knows that she is a woman and even her family are fooled by the false author. She doesn't speak of it but when she is riding the train to visit her family and sees a young man pouring over her book, she smiles despite herself. He gives her an odd look and she wonders, when he reads the end and the amputation, whether he will connect the dots between the young girl and the strange woman. She starts writing the next installment within a month.
Roosters voice is always in her head so it isn't difficult to write of a new adventure. She imagines that they ride under the stars and that he's drunk, yet again. LaBouef can't help but jump onto the page, with a winning smile and a save the day attitude. She's fond of both of them, despite one being dead and the other, estranged. In real life, the townsfolk notice that she smiles a little more and that her tone isn't quite so sharp. They wonder what changed the stiff lipped women and most theorize about a man. She has never been particularly driven towards marriage.
Her experience with men had been violent and a sore reminder of her own individuality.
By the time she is an older woman, she has an entire series of her own.
Her family now knows that she is a writer. They look at her differently, knowing that the harsh sibling and Aunt that they love, is actually a dreamer. Her nieces pretend that they are the little girl in the stories, and her nephews try to imitate Rooster. When they aren't looking, she sometimes feels her eyes watering. Writing was therapeutic to her but the reality of how much people worship his character, makes her want to share it with him. But by the grace of God, she has had to wait for that moment.
LaBouef has passed as well, managing to outlive even her own mother. She traveled for a week to attend his funeral, surrounded by weeping women and men with handlebar mustaches. She wonders how well they truly knew him and whether they had seen him with blood and sweat and dirt covering him. The mourning party is shocked when she is considered in the will. They ask her whether she once had an affair with him, whether she was one of his great loves. She simply answers their questions with an unfaltering gaze and a steely remark. "We once traveled the same road together." It is not a lie, nor is it the exact truth but somewhere between the beginning and the end of her words, she feels a certain acceptance of his passing. He doesn't leave her anything of material worth, only a copy of her first book and a small, scribbled inscription, "You may have figured myself out, but I never figured you out, Miss Ross."
She smiles sadly at the words and for once, doesn't care that there are prim and proper women around her. She has only cried a few times in her life and LeBouef's passing is one of those. With his death, all links to Rooster are frayed, torn and ended. Once she lets go of the reigns, she realizes just how hard she was holding onto him, even just his memory.
The world continues to change around her and before long, the life she once knew is a legend. Her brothers grandchildren are in love with the notion of cowboys and outlaws and riding across the great plains without a drop of water or a piece of food to live on. She tries to explain that it isn't as romantic as they believe, that cowboys were just working men, that outlaws were murderers and that riding across plains without food and water was difficult and painful. But her nieces are grown women and the children she now visits are clothed in dresses that reveal legs and arms and cleavage. She's a strict woman but she's never been concerned with fashion trends. After all, she wore pants in a strictly dresses only time. But the change in fashion emphasizes the difference in times. She feels old and when she finally gets electricity installed in the boarding rooms, she simply stares at it for a while.
She turns from the window and looks towards her niece. She's a beautiful woman, despite being in her late forties. She is a slightly introverted so they get along quite well.
The woman hesitates, "How are you today?" She always wonders about her health.
She turns back to the window, mesmerized by the snow. Both the worst and best moments in her life had been in the snow. She wonders secretly whether, if Rooster had lived, he would have desired her as a woman. Whether they would have worked well as wife and husband. She regrets, more then anything in her life, the way she had allowed him to walk out of her life.
"Auntie..." the woman pauses. finding her words. Their tea sits untouched on the table and she has a quilt lying on her lap for warmth. "Are you happy here? Mother would adore having you room with us."
She isn't surprised by the anxious question, "I'm quite alright here."
"But surely you wont be for long. I apologize if I'm being forward but you will soon require assistance."
She sighs, her pride slightly injured by her nieces admission, "I'm aware of that but I do not wish to leave this town."
"But why, Auntie? This town is nothing special. There's thousands just like it across the country."
"Rose, have you ever read my books?" She asks and judging by the expression on Rose's face, she didn't expect the question.
"Of course, I love them. Everyone does."
"My first book is not a piece of fiction."
She says it quite bluntly so she can see that her niece is deciding whether it is a correction or an admission.
"I don't quite understand."
"This town... It is the setting for my book."
"... And all that happened in it? The... revenge plot?"
"All quite real, I'm afraid."
"Oh... Oh, dear."
"So Miss Ross, what d'you plan on doing when you grow up?"
"I had not much thought about my future, Mr. Cogburn."
"Don't even tell me that you haven't entertained the thought of a life."
"The grace of God is all that is allowing me a future."
"And my gun. I just hope that God of ours can refrain from shining his pleasant rays in my eye while I'm aiming. "
"I had thought... oh Auntie. Your arm."
"It's been nigh half a century since I last used it. I would not even know if I missed it."
Rose is dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief, "Such a difficult life. And to have lost the one you so loved."
She's taken aback by the statement, which she had never expected to hear, "Pardon my ears, Rose?"
"Oh, well," says Rose who is now fumbling, "I had thought, since you wrote about him so well, that he was your sweetheart. Sure he was dirty and uncivilized but he carried you to safety. Why, I would have fallen in love my husband straight away if he had carried me home from the stores."
For the second time in her life, she's speechless. She had never really considered love. Even when she considered a life with the Marshal, it had not been because of romance or love. It had been because they had just... worked. He had talked, she had listened. He had fired, she had smothered the fireplace. He had fallen asleep drunk and she had kept the snakes away. She had fallen into a pit of snakes, he had kept them away. They had simply worked. Now that she was older, she could see that he was a divorcee, he had no money to his name and he had died without a person except her to notice. And yet... somewhere along the way, throughout the years of writing his character, of visiting his grave, she supposed that she had fallen in love with him.
"That LaBouef is trouble, stay away from him."
"I can handle myself well."
"Yeah, I don't doubt that. But he's a man and there ain't no town patrol to stop him."
"But you imply that I should trust you?"
"I have honor and you're too stiff lipped of a lady for me. Though God knows you'd probably kick me straight."
"I have my daddy's pistol to protect myself."
"If a man wants a lady, there is nothing going to stop him."
"You seem to not paint an endearing picture of men."
"Better you find out now then later."
When she is dying, it surprises her how many people seem to care.
Her family is large now and her sister has bought her family from the city to stay in her boarding house. She hasn't decided who to pass the business on to but Rose, an empty nester, seems keen for the thrill of working. Her brother is quite old as well, although he's still fit and healthy and able to carry a proper conversation. It isn't that she's particularly surprised how many people show sympathy for her eventual passing but she had never imagined them to care as much as they do.
"How was your sleep, big sis?"
Her brother is pulling open the curtains, his hands lingering near a tray which is filled with eggs, sausages and toast. He brings her breakfast each morning, since all she can manage is a quick trip to the restroom. Her strength has left her, quite suddenly but even the cold is proving a great enemy to her joints.
"It was fine."
A copy of the daily newspaper is on the tray and she itches to read it. The great war is worse then anything she could have imagined, although it is so far from the sweeping plains of her town. One of her brother's grandchildren is off in Europe, trekking across the countryside with an assault rifle perched on his shoulder.
"I..." She falters because what she is asking is difficult to phrase and speak of. Her brother seems to understand her hesitation and he is sitting on an old wooden chair, simply waiting for her. She feels a certain bond with him that she doesn't share with her sister, perhaps because she has always found men easier to communicate with then women.
"I have something I need for you to do." He is looking at her curiously, "When I pass," he flinches, "There will no doubt be a push towards my body being buried next to daddies and mamma's."
"Of course, were else would you be buried?"
"I want to make it clear that to bury me there is against my wishes."
"Against? I don't understand?"
"Surely, by now, you know that I visit a grave site quite often. I wish to be buried there, next to a certain plot."
"... Rooster Cogburn."
"Yes. You may know him from my books. He's the Marshal."
"Rooster is the Marshal?" His eyes are wide and intense. She feels slightly anxious. "Then... Sis, you must be the girl? Is that book... is it based off that time when you disappeared?"
"In a way."
He is silent for a moment, as if digesting what he had heard, "... I wish you had told us this earlier... We were so worried and even though no-one said it, I know that Mamma thought you had been... defiled..."
Her mouth feels stiff as she had never had to think of the way her journey had affected those around her. She had always imagined that only she would feel its pain and carry the burden of its knowledge. Yet, the simple act of not knowing had caused rumors and speculation of something too terrible to even consider. "I'm sorry, Johnny."
He sits on her bed cautiously and wraps his own gnarled hand around hers. She can see that he's not long for this world as well. His eyes seem weary with its own grievances and regrets. "No need to apologize, Mattie."
They sit in silence and she feels a tear fall from her eye. Perhaps she is getting old, perhaps she is just getting sentimental but she can suddenly see, with a startling clarity, how Rooster came to be as he did. Hurt, pain, the great hidden remorse for taking human lives. She knows why he was driven to drink, why he escaped into a world of violence and hatred. She can see why he lifted her then bruised and abused body and journey miles for help. She can see why he was as he died.
"Do you believe in God, Marshal?"
"'Course I do."
"Then why do you kill?"
"No-one else is going to do the job properly."
"But doesn't that go against your morals? To kill when so many bear no grievance against you."
"I kill, little missy, so that people like your father aren't murdered. I kill so that you can trust a murderer with your money. I kill so that when you die, it will not be in most unfortunate circumstances."
"Do you believe that you will go to heaven?"
"I don't rightly know. But if I do, you can find me under a nice green tree, having a nap."
"I'll be sure to look you up."
"I don't doubt that you will."
Lend me your hand,
and we'll conquer them all.
AN: I hope you enjoyed this, please tell me what you thought, what I could improve my writing with and whether this is in character. Thank you for reading and please, review!