The Long Goodbye
Buck prayed harder than he'd ever prayed before in his life. Surely, the Spirits wouldn't be so cruel as to take his brother from him. But, the shrieking call of the eagle overhead said differently. Collapsing in on himself in grief, Buck let his head fall down on his arms and sobbed. He didn't know how he'd go on without Ike. Ike was the one who'd taught him to survive in this white man's world. Now, he felt so alone.
The next day, as the entire Express family gathered around Ike's body on the bier Buck had lovingly built for him, they each remembered the silent rider in their own way. Buck remembered his brother. The one he'd taught to communicate using Indian Sign. The one who'd taught him to live and love. Lou remembered the man who'd been more of a brother to her than any of the others. The one who'd brought such a sense of peace to her often troubled life. Kid remembered the savvy horseman who'd almost seemed to speak with animals. Jimmy remembered the friend who'd always had his back, even in the worst of times. Cody remembered the young man who would happily listen to all his stories, never interrupting. Noah remembered the potential father, so gentle and good with kids, a natural. Teaspoon remembered the son who'd been the most obviously injured, yet the strongest, in many ways, of all his boys. Emily remembered the man who'd shown her what love truly was when he'd laid down his life for hers.
They all gulped back tears as Buck slowly wrapped Ike's red bandanna around his forehead, took the torch and touched it to Ike's funeral pyre, setting the red and orange flames dancing into the night sky. Each remained silent as they said their private goodbyes to the first of their family to leave them.
I know your life on earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
It seemed like just days since he'd had to say goodbye to his brother, Ike, Buck thought as he watched Noah's casket being lowered into the white man's hole in the ground. Looking around at the remaining members of his Express family, Buck could tell they were all thinking much the same thing.
It was so hard, saying goodbye to a loved one. Yet, somehow Noah's death hadn't been as surprising as Ike's. Maybe that was because he'd been predicting it since they day they'd met him. Didn't mean it hurt any less, though.
Buck flinched as Lou tossed a handful of dirt onto the casket, saying her last private words to Noah. He might have chosen to live amongst them, but sometimes he thought he'd never understand the white man. How could throwing dirt on somebody be respectful?
Long after everyone else had walked away from the grave, Buck stood there, unable to say goodbye just yet. If he didn't say this goodbye, maybe he could avoid others. How many more would there be, he wondered fruitlessly.
You weren't afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain
He'd been the only father Buck had ever known, now he was gone. It had been hard, watching Teaspoon waste away from the disease eating his lungs. It had been even harder, knowing all his knowledge of medicines and herbs was useless to help the person who'd taught him how to be a man. Buck no longer bothered to hold back his tears. He'd learned to be himself, even amongst his white family. It was not the Indian way, it was not the Kiowa way, to remain silent and stoic in grief. He let his tears flow as they all said their goodbyes, each, as they'd agreed before hand, sharing something about Teaspoon that had made him special. Even as Buck told the story of how Teaspoon had compared the Indians' fight for land to the Patriots during the Revolutionary War, he let the salty water stream down his face.
This time, he was the first to leave the gravesite. He'd learned, the hard way, that prolonging the goodbye didn't make it any easier, just….longer.
Oh, how we cried the day you left us
And gathered round your grave to grieve
This death made Buck furious. Jimmy'd avoided life for so long, afraid he'd bring death to those he loved. Now… now that he'd finally relaxed his guard and decided to try to really live life, this had to happen. What a cruel joke, Buck thought bitterly.
He turned to Agnes and wrapped an arm around her waist, letting her lay her head on his shoulder as she wept inconsolably for her husband. It had taken those two ten years to work things out. They'd ended up having less than six months happiness as husband and wife before Jack McCall's bullet had ended Jimmy's happily ever after.
The last few months, Jimmy'd been so happy, he'd been known to spontaneously burst out whistling a happy tune. Once, Buck'd even caught him singing, some little ditty about blue birds. Buck had quietly laughed to himself and let his friend be. If he was happy enough to sing, Buck wasn't going to bring him down by reminding him of how awful his voice really was.
They'd all known Jimmy was something special, almost from the moment they'd met him. Destiny, Teaspoon'd called it once. If this was Destiny, Buck wanted no part of it. It was too painful.
Wish I could see the angels' faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing
Buck tugged at the tie tight about his throat. He hadn't worn a suit like this in years. He'd only put it on so as not to upset the already grieving widow. He'd always figured Cody'd be the last of the family to pass. But, he'd gotten sick a year ago and nothing Buck, nor any of the white man's doctors Louisa'd called in could do anything for him. He'd died last week of kidney failure surrounded by his wife, children and all the remaining members of the dwindling Express family.
The number of people gathered today in the Elk's Lodge in Denver was testament to just how well loved Cody was, even though he'd died nearly as broke as he'd been for most of his youth. Buck smothered an amused snort. Even in death, Cody could make him smile, he thought sadly. Cody had definitely achieved the fame he'd sought so eagerly all those years before by bringing the American West to the rest of the world.
After the services, they all filed out to a special gravesite prepared for his friend, William F. Buffalo Bill Cody atop Lookout Mountain.
Go rest high on that mountain
'Cause, Son, your work on earth is done
Kid & Lou
Buck watched as Lou gently wiped the hair off of Kid's forehead. He'd been sick for several weeks now, getting progressively weaker. It was all Buck and Dawn Star could do to get Lou to eat anything. Whatever she did eat, she ate sitting at Kid's side. He knew she wouldn't last long after Kid breathed his last. As in life, so they would be in death, together.
Thus, it was no surprise when Buck came into the sick room the next morning to find Lou curled up next to her husband on the large bed they'd shared for so many years. Both their bodies were cool to the touch. They'd died, together, sometime in the night.
That week, Buck stood alone beside their grave, the last of the Express family standing, as their children buried the couple together. They'd lived a long and happy life, raising a family of four in the manner Teaspoon had taught them all. It was their time to move on, Buck thought. He just wondered why he was the last one left standing in this world.
Go to Heaven a shoutin'
Love for the Father and the Son
Buck slowly climbed the last few steps to the summit of Pike's Peak. It had been three years since Kid and Lou's deaths. He felt ancient as the children corralled the grand children and kept everyone moving along. The climb had become an annual family event a couple decades ago, before Cody's death. Now, he was alone. Even Dawn Star had deserted him, he thought, dying in her sleep last summer.
Buck sat down and waited for the family to put up his tent first. As the family elder it was his right.
It seemed to take everything Buck had to pull himself out of the sleeping bag the next morning before dawn. But, he refused to miss this chance to pray before the rising sun. Settling himself inside the medicine wheel, Buck began his meditations. But soon he let his mind wander and his chin drop to his chest.
That's how his family found him. They'd come looking for him when he didn't return from prayers shortly after sunrise.
Later, several of the grandchildren swore they'd heard the sound of hoofbeats galloping off toward the horizon. One even said he'd heard someone in the distance shouting, "Ride safe!"
Go rest high on that mountain
Cause, Son, your work on earth is done
Go to Heaven a shoutin'
Love for the Father and the Son