A solid-bodied woman, well past youth, struggles along a late night street of Cheyenne, Wyoming, U.S.A with two boys in tow, who might be three and six years old. She lugs a large, well-worn suitcase; manifestly heavy, tied and cross-tied with cotton clothesline rope. She walks half a block, sets down the case, rests, and then struggles another forty yards.
Into the honky-tonk district now, following the vague directions of a stranger toward the Greyhound bus station, Highway 30—the Old Lincoln Highway—and the turn-off to Denver. She casts disapproving glares over the swinging half-doors into the bars where cowboys toss back shots of quivering amber liquid and drink beer with fast women, while a very few somber Indians stand along the walls.
A drunk—no not quite, though he has the straight back and measured steps of a man very close to the line—pushes out past a leather-padded door, fanning juke-box Hank William’s “Cold, Cold Heart” into the street. He sees the woman. Western frontier chivalry stirs through his amber-tinted brain.
“Pardon me, Ma’am, can I give ya a hand?” She lowers the suitcase to the sidewalk, eyes the midnight knight with suspicion. He touches his brow in lieu of a hat and grabs the handle of the suitcase before she can reply. “Whoa!” he grunts. He bends knees for a better purchase, lifts the case, and waves her forward.
Past the glaring neon, the spoiled beer and ammonia smells, the midnight racket they troop. He stops after one block, sets down his cargo.
“How far ya goin’, Ma’am?”
“The Greyhound terminal,” she says, hands gripping the two boy’s arms.
His face falls. “Okay,” he says. “We got a ways. This is one heavy suitcase.”
“It sure is,” she says. “I got my whole world in there.”
He lifts the case and continues.
Inside the small harshly lit depot, she leads the man past drowsing travelers to an empty bench seat. The man gladly sets down the suitcase.
“Sorry,” she says. “I can’t spare my cash, but—” she hands him a pack of unopened chewing gum sticks.
“Gosh, Ma’am, that’s okay.” He opens the pack and extracts one stick. “You save that for the boys.”
“Thank you, Mister.”
“You’re welcome Ma’am.”
“Stay out of the bars,” she says. “Find a nice girl in church. You seem like a decent sort.”
He smiles uncertainly and exits into the night.
She needs to lay these boys down to sleep, but the youngest tugs her arm. His eyes are urgent.
Dear Lord, I don’t need twosick kids.
On the facing bench another hard-life woman, younger, also in a homemade dress says, “You go ahead, dear. I’ll watch things.”
She rushes the boy into the ladies room, gets his small overalls down, but the diarrhea begins before he can sit. She half-sighs, half-groans with exhaustion.
The mess is nearly cleaned up, underwear in the sink, the youngest standing naked, shivering on the cold tile floor, when small desperate knocking pounds the door. She admits the older boy who seats himself.
“I had anothser assident,” he lisps through the toothless gap between his top front teeth.
She is beyond sighing, beyond groaning. “I’ll be right back,” she says.
Out in the depot the younger woman asks, “Can I help you, hon?”
“Thanks. The worst is over for now.” She takes the suitcase handle and smiles bravely. “Little ones don’t travel well.”
“Like calves with shipping fever,” the younger woman says. “Poor things.”
“If we can just get to Denver,” the mother says, and struggles back to the ladies room.
No bench, so she unties the rope, opens the suitcase on the bathroom floor, unzips the rubber shaving bag, and takes out washcloth and soap. When the boys are clean, she takes one of the towels that pad the three canvas bags nested among clothing. Metal clinks dully.
Inside the canvas bags is sixty pounds of old ten and twenty dollar gold pieces. American citizens have not been permitted to hold gold or use it as legal tender for nearly two decades. Hidden in the cloth lining of the suitcase is a letter:
Dick told me where you moved, but don’t be mad at him. I was sorry to hear about Frankie. He was the best of our bunch. It is hard to understand the Lord’s ways.
They are finally going to let me out. Do you think you might be willing to meet me in Denver? I know it has been a long time and a lot of water has run under the bridge. I am a changed man.
I sure would love to see your boys.
Your old pal,
Randall Morris writes fictional short stories, novels, and screenplays in several genres preferring western American historical settings, and science fiction.