The young man pulled the reins at the sight of the lonely gravestone. It stood in the clearing, pink granite against the greenish brown of the ground. He dismounted and let the bridle hang to the ground. His horse wouldn’t move.
The young man walked slowly toward the grave and crouched beside it. It was surrounded by a white wooden fence, bushes of white and pale pink and yellow wild roses climbing up on it. He watched the white writing carved on the stone.
1820 – 1870
1820 – 1870
A name, two dates. The day someone was born, the day someone was dead.
The young man sighed and pulled out something from his shirt pocket. It was a folded piece of paper. He unfolded it.
“Stockton people honor their most notable citizen, Tom Barkley. ‘A statue will be unveiled this Sunday’, Mayor, Dave Wallace declares”.
With another sigh, the young man folded the paper again and put it back in his pocket.
“She was my wife,” a voice said.
The young man looked up. A man in was standing next to him. He was apparently in his sixties, white beard and hair and light blue eyes.
Soft, sensitive blue eyes, like his own.
“It's not a likely place for a grave,” the young man said as the older man kneeled and took his hat off.
“She died here. I was the one who was supposed to die, but she shielded me and…” The man’s voice trailed off. “Tom Barkley,” he introduced himself, offering his hand.
After a while, the young man took the man’s hand and shook it. “Heath,” he simply said.
“What brings you here, Heath?” Tom Barkley asked.
“I got fouled up in the woods there and ran across this grave,” was Heath’s answer.
“I come here every day. This grave is all that I have left. I used to have a family, but now I’m alone in the world,” Tom sadly said. He reached out and touched the letters with his fingertips. “When my Victoria died, my life fell apart. I lost everything. Piece by piece.” Tom pulled back his hand and turned his tortured eyes on Heath.
“What happened?” Heath asked.
“My eldest son, Jarrod, was a successful lawyer. He had been nominated for Attorney General. A man, Cass Hyatt, murdered his wife. Jarrod hunted him down and killed him. He’s in San Quentin, now,” Tom recounted with a flat voice. His eyes were now fixed in front of him, like he was watching something he alone could see.
“I am sorry,” Heath murmured.
“Then, there was Nick, my second born,” Tom continued like he hadn’t heard. “He was a rancher and I always thought he would fulfill my legacy. He joined a group of Gypsies when he fell in love with that woman, Pilon. Now he's travelling the country on a painted wagon, working in someone else’s vineyard for pennies on the dollar.”
“I am sorry,” Heath said again.
“My youngest son, Eugene. One day he said he was going back to Berkley, to his Medicine studies. We never heard from him again. We nearly forgot he ever existed.”
“I am sorry,” Heath repeated sheepishly.
“Lastly, my only daughter, Audra. She ran away with that ruthless speculator, Scott Breckenridge. They left for what they called ‘a wonderful, exciting, romantic interlude’. My beautiful, sweet little girl.”
“I am sorry,” Heath said for the last time.
For what seemed a long time, no one talked.
“Well, it’s time for me to go, Mr. Barkley. It was a pleasure to get to know you,” Heath said standing up.
“Please, forgive me if I saddened you, my young friend. Say, have I met you before? You look familiar,” Tom said, standing up in turn and putting his hat back on his head.
“Oh, no, I don’t think we ever met,” Heath said walking toward his horse.
“Where are you going?” Tom asked.
“Mexico,” Heath said.
“Something waiting for you there?” Tom asked as Heath mounted with a smooth, athletic movement.
“A girl, her name is Lupe,” Heath said as a crooked, peculiar smile appeared on his handsome face.