The memory tree

The memory tree

A Story by Ian Jordan

A man faces his past, so that he can have a future


“Let’s stop over there.” Lorilei pointed to a straggling Live Oak, alone in the middle of the prairie. “It looks so nice and shady.”


“I don’t know girl. Cash’s ranch is just down the road a ways now.” I motioned with the reins. “We can sit a spell there. You know Mrs Cash loves it when you visit.”


“Pish posh Ralph Bonner, anyone would think you’re afraid to be alone with me.” She had that mischievous grin on her face. It made her look like a school girl again. “And you, a fearless Indian fighter and man hunter.”


“Aw hell woman, you know I don’t do that no more.”


“I know. But it is so fun to tease you. Your moustache bristles and you go all red.” She laughed. “See, you’re doing it now.”


I pulled the buckboard to a stop. “I’ll get my quirt and make your behind all red woman.”


She laughed at my attempted threat. “C’mon let’s sit in the shade for a while. It looks nice.”


“Yeah, nice” I said, less enthusiastic.


I pulled the cart around and let the horses pull us toward the tree.


Lorilei didn’t wait for me to help her down when we came to a stop. She gathered her skirt up in her hands and leapt to the ground like a petite teamster. “Come on old man.” She called as she grabbed the blanket from the bench seat and rushed to the tree.


“Hold your horses, woman.” I climbed down and stretched my stiff back. I had long since stopped wearing a revolver, but old habits die hard. I pulled my old Winchester from under the seat and followed along behind her.


She was already sitting on the blanket, her skirts billowing around her when I passed into the shade. “Are you going to stand there gawking all day?” She smoothed her skirt. “Or are you going to join me?”


When I didn’t answer, she looked up at me. “What’s wrong dear?” She followed my gaze to the spreading branches that shaded us.


“I don’t like this place.”


“Why on earth not? I think it’s lovely.” She noticed the rifle hanging loosely in my right hand. “What have you got that old thing out for? There isn’t a bandit within a hundred miles.”


“This old thing is kind of the reason I don’t like this place.” The rifle suddenly felt heavy in my grip. “I’ve been here before. More than once. Had this rifle with me most times.”


“I don’t understand Ralph, what are you talking about?”


“Killed my first man, right here.” I pointed with my Winchester at the gnarled trunk. “Baden Fletcher was his name. I was just a dumb kid then.”

“What did he do?”


“I can’t even recall what he did. But Captain Cales had a posse after him. I stole my pa’s old Enfield, a tin of powder, some caps and a pocketful of minie balls and tagged along with them.”


“What happened? Did he draw his gun on you?”


“Naw, nothing like that. His horse ran out of steam right near here, so he forted up at the butt of this tree and started shooting as soon as we got in range. Captain Cales told me “boy, make yourself useful and get around him.”


She didn’t say anything, so I continued. “So I did, I crawled up through the grass like a damn Comanche and got around behind him. Just as I aimed that old rifle musket, he half turned my way like he knew I was there. I shut my eyes and let fly. He dropped down dead as dead.”


“I never knew,” Was all she said.


“You were just a kid then, I was fifteen. Suddenly I was the man of the moment, a man killer. Pa never whooped me for taking his rifle. I ain’t sure if it was because he was too proud or scared of me to’ do it.”


“But, if you hadn’t shot him, he would have shot you wouldn’t he?”


“Maybe. I never gave him the chance. I killed a couple of dozen men over the years, I never gave any of them a chance if I could help it.”


“But the stories I heard...”


“Don’t believe stories, fighting fair might make a man a hero in those damn dime novels, but in those days, it just got a man dead.”


“Oh.” She sounded disappointed.


“It gets worse.” I walked over the tree and pointed up at the winding boughs with my rifle. “In the Seventies we hanged the Morienna brothers from this very tree. You heard of them?”


“Everyone in this part of Texas has heard of them. They were terrible men. I’m glad you got them.” She was looking at me. I was still looking up at the branches.


“We sprung up on them on that little creek we crossed a mile or so back, and took ‘em without a shot. I looked at her. “Captain McNelly asked me, and I told him this was the only tree for miles, so we brung ‘em here and threw a rope over that branch there. It wasn’t so high up back then.


She looked up but didn’t say anything.


We did Ignatio first. He was the oldest and the worst of the bunch. When we kicked the pony out from under him, the branch just bent down under his weight.  His toes were just touching on the ground, kicking dust and bits of grass up in the air and going crazy. Sam Baylor and me grabbed his legs and pulled him down to make him strangle quicker.”


“Oh, my” her hand went up to her face.


While we were doing that, Pablito, the baby of the gang went crazy from panic and bolted. The captain and the others just shot him down, no warning. No chasing after him.” I pointed my finger like a gun. “Bang. Bang. Bang.”


“But thats not...”


“It’s how it was. Raoul gave us no trouble, he took his medicine like a man. Even suggested which branch we should use.” Walking to the edge of the shadow, I gestured out into the prairie. “We buried them just over there. You can likely still see where.”


“Why are you telling me this?” her voice doubtful.


When I didn’t answer, she stood up, skirts rustling. The gentle touch of her hand on my arm brought me back to the present. “Tell me.”


“I want you to know what I am, the things I’ve done.”I paused, “I’m not what you think I am.”


“I know what you are. You are the gentlest, most honest man, I have ever met.” She curled her arm around mine. “I’ve seen how you deal with those poor men all crippled from the war. I know you asked my father if you could marry me.”


“Huh? How do you know about that?”


Smiling, she looked up at me. “Pa can’t keep any secrets from momma.”


“I see.” Sighing, I looked back out at the prairie, where we had buried the Morienna brothers years earlier. The yellow prairie grass had long overgrown their graves, and I could no longer make out the exact location of the crude mounds.


“Well?” Her voice was firmer now.


“Well, what?” I was confused by the sudden change.

“Propose to me.”


“What? Right now?”


“Yes, right now.” She had her hands on her hips. “You were going to propose when we got to San Antonio anyway, weren’t you?”


“Yeah, I wanted it to be all romantic.” I gestured to the unseen graves. “This place doesn’t seem quite right.”


Her determined expression softened, “The place can use a happy memory to make those bad ones be quiet and leave you alone.”


I loved her more at that moment than I ever thought I could. Smiling, I said “Your folks will get riled that they didn’t get told right away.”


“They knew it was going to happen, because you let the cat out of the bag when you asked pa.” She smoothed her skirt with her hands. “Well, get to it.”

She giggled at the look on my face, and made a gesture mocking my bristling moustache. I leaned my rifle against the tree and stood in front of her. Taking off my hat, I smoothed my hair flat, hiding as much of the grey as possible. “Are you sure?” I asked.


“Get on with it Ralph, people already call me an old maid.”


Dropping my hat on the ground, I gingerly lowered myself onto one knee. Fishing in my vest pocket with my right hand, I enclosed her slender left hand with my own gnarled paw. “Lorelei Adams, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”


She didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she looked into my eyes, as though she was examining them. Eventually she said “Gee, I need to think about it.”


“Huh?” I said, confused. “I thought you wanted me to ask you.”


Enjoying my discomfort, she gave me that playful grin. “Of course I’ll marry you, you big galoot.”


I gently slid the ring onto her finger and she held it up in the light to examine it. “I’m afraid it’s not a big one, freighters don’t make as much money as I thought.”


“I don’t care about the size of the durned ring Ralph. I just care that you want me to have it. She leaned down and put her arms about my neck. When she drew me close to her, I lost my balance and toppled over into the yellow grass, pulling her down with me.


We lay there laughing, until she kissed me and said “Well my dear, we had better get a move on if we want to make town before dark.”


Glancing at the rifle leaning against the bark of the tree, I said “Yes ma’am, never know who might be prowling around.”


She laughed that schoolgirl laugh. “I ain’t worried about any bandit, I just want everyone to see our ring.” She held it up in the light once more. “Amelia Bennett will be so jealous.”


We picked ourselves up from the ground and, after I collected my hat and rifle we walked to the buckboard. Lorelei swatted dust from her dress and plucked bits of dry grass from her straw colored hair.


When she had finished that task, she stopped by the buckboard and asked, “How do I look? Presentable?”


“You look fine.” I put my arms around her waist marvelling that someone so tough could be so fine. “No, you look just perfect.” I kissed her again.


When we were done, I helped her climb up onto the sprung bench seat before sliding my Winchester onto the shelf below and climbing aboard myself.


“Go on horse” said and flicked the reins. As we pulled away and the wheels of the cart found the rutted road, I looked back briefly at the sprawling tree.


I had killed men there and the memory had cast a shadow over my soul. In one moment though, the gloom had been dispelled. Lorelei nestled close and rested her head on my shoulder. “I was right you know. It was a nice spot. It just took a while for it to realise it. Sometimes it’s that way with people too.”


I didn’t say anything as we bumped along the rough road together, but I had to agree, she was right. She was always right.


© 2011 Ian Jordan

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Thank you again for submitting this story to my "Wild Wild West" contest. I really enjoyed reading it. It flowed great and you did an excellent job developing your characters in such a short space. The story really got my imagination running wild, thinking about the rough old cowboy who could be turned soft in an instant by Lorelei. I especially liked her personality, and the last line "she was always right". Great job!

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Added on January 5, 2011
Last Updated on January 5, 2011


Ian Jordan
Ian Jordan

Shepparton, Australia

I am a security officer and I live in Shepparton, Victoria, Australia with my partner Samantha. We share our home with a monstrous kid, two cool dogs named Grizzly and Talbot and one very nasty cat wh.. more..