Chapter 56

Matt Dillon left Ma still scolding as he shut the door behind him. His spirit was bruised and sore. He stood on the back porch, his shoulders hunched and his hands thrust deep in his pockets. All around him, the night wind nipped and tugged at his wounded senses.

It was one of those times when he felt alone and an ache of homesickness took root. Odd, for the fact he'd never really had a home and he briefly wondered how he could grieve for something he'd never known. He started walking aimlessly down the garden path and back up Front Street, not really noticing the direction he traveled. His mind filled with so many random thoughts that a straight idea was impossible to organize.

So deep was he in the mire of his own emotions, that he didn't hear the clip-clip clop of the undertaker's wagon behind him. Nor did he hear the creak of the wheels or the doleful jingle rattle of the harness. It was Percy Crump's low monotone voice that broke through his reverie. "Marshal?"

He jumped back then, and recognizing the mission of the rig, removed his hat by rote, and gave a nod of his head.

Pulling the wagon to a halt the undertaker asked, "Are you alright Marshal?"

"I'm fine." He answered too quickly. "Who have you got?"

"Bill Smith's wife, Erma."

Erma had been doing poorly, and everyone in Dodge knew it was just a matter of time. Still, she left behind a loving husband and a houseful of children and the knowledge death was imminent would not lessen the blow of her passing.

"How's Bill?"

"About as you might expect."

Dillon nodded and Crump gave the reins a snap. "Best not to walk down the middle of the road Marshal." Crump bid as the rig resumed it's solemn trek.

Matt stood in the street and watched until it turned the corner down the alley that led to Crump's place of business.

His mind flashed to that day in Kitty's room when Crump and his apprentice had come to pick up Kitty's body. He'd been sitting holding her hand, so cold and still in his own.

"It's time to let her go." Doc had said.

The cry of protest had worked its way from his heart until it came out his mouth, "No, no, no."

Doc had squeezed his shoulder and taken his hand and forced him away so the men could ease her lifeless body from the bed and onto the stretcher. The sheet covering her had slipped and he'd seen her face slack jawed and sightless and the chilling vision seared its way to the depths of his being. Even that definitive sight was not proof enough to force belief and acceptance. Denial became his ally.



The fact he ended up at the cemetery standing in front of Kitty's grave took him by some surprise. He irrationally wondered for a moment, if she had summoned him here. He shook his head wryly, even from beyond the grave was the redhead calling the tune?

He knelt down to a knee, one hand on her stone and the other on the mound of dirt that was still rounded over the place she rested. He spoke in a gravelly whisper. The words adding to the burn of emotion in the back of his throat. "What do you want from me?"

The wind rustled the branches of the ancient white oak that watched over her burial place. Bright stars twinkled in the sky above him. Stark clarity gave rein. Kitty was dead. The dreams of a thousand some day's were as fleeting as dust in the wind. The knowledge slammed at him as if for the first time. Impotent anger and frustration welled within him. Love and hate for the dead woman battled for control. The fingers of his hand clawed at the tender new grass struggling to grow in. His face turned ugly with despair. Bringing up a clump of loose sod in his fist, he threw the dirt at her headstone with vehemence. Anger gave strength to his voice and he demanded again, "What do you want from me?"

The moonlight cast a soft glow on the soiled tombstone. From a nearby tree, a night owl hooted it's haunting cry. Matt Dillon bowed his head in submission and in the dark of that long interminable night acceptance found a home.