By Reece Pye
Ever since the passing of his dearly beloved Edina, the only woman his now crippled heart had ever cared for, the days seemed to linger on for much longer than desired in the eyes of Lyle Roach.
Prior to her death, they had married on a blissful summer day on their ranch, in a secluded little town in north-western Wyoming. It was a town that was absent from the minds of anyone in the world besides those who lived there, and the few who happened to cross through it, solely in passing as they ventured towards far less forsaken parts of the land.
And for the past year, since he buried her alone in the only remotely dignified area on his property that was more than red soil, he could think of nothing more appealing to do with the few years he may have left than to sit upon his porch which, albeit from a great distance, overlooked his former and far greater half’s place of rest.
Here, he would do nothing but continue his mourning each day as though she had died on the previous one. The only company he had was the glass of rye whiskey in his hand, and the old Winchester rifle that lay by his side. The thought of making the trip to where she lay decomposing in the ground and joining her increasing ever more as the dreaded days passed.
Several months back, he had built his own coffin and placed it in a deep hole that was just several feet from where he had buried Edina. Lyle had stood there looking down into it, the rifle standing upright beside him. For some time, he thought of turning around, straightening the gun so that the end of the barrel was pressed against his throat. He would let whoever stumbled across him in eventual time complete the rest of the burial for him.
At least that is how he imagined it, so that he could finally be at peace with his beautiful wife, whose untimely passing had destroyed his only purpose of living in this world; especially after all of the ruthless summers they had endured over the years that eventually rendered his sole profession impossible.
And on the occasions that Edina wasn’t plaguing his every thought, Lyle reminisced over everything that was when their life here had begun with such promise.
Today was no exception in this regard, for he sat haggard and skeletal in his creaking rocking chair, his eyes never leaving the far horizon where, for the past months, he had almost trekked towards. Such thoughts probably would have never crossed his mind had he not reminded himself of the times he had done wrong, chastising her for even looking at any man in the town bar other than himself.
Or even worse, the night he finally raised his hand to her. Not wishfully, but having no other choice but to knock her senseless the moment she told him it was the first time in years he had attempted to touch her.
No way was he letting it go then, and as Lyle thought about that horrible night now, he grasped the arms of his chair and slowly raised himself to his feet, trembling. His gaze refused to break from the horizon as he did this, even while he picked up the rifle beside him.
It was only then that he averted his stare, shifting himself across to the edge of the porch, before stepping down onto the firm soil beneath his bare and aching feet. After assessing the temperature and the length it would take him to walk, he took his first step forward.
Standing before his unmarked grave, he wondered what was to come, if there was anything to come, once he surrendered himself to it. But before allowing any more time for the thought to discourage him, the old man retrieved the only item that he had in his pocket and held it before his eyes.
The calibre of the single bullet was enough to end any man from the waist up – perhaps even sever the limb of a small child. But some thoughts are best suited to remain just that. And where this bullet was going, none of this would matter.
He turned around now, and using what little strength remained after simply getting here, he carefully loaded the round into the breech, and then locked the bolt into place.
After seventeen years of bearing witness to things that no living human should ever have to see, one may dare to argue that Sheriff George Crawley had never been as shaken that particular morning as he was sitting at his desk. And though he was yet to realise this himself, it was clear to his Deputy Andy Deshaw from the moment he entered his office, his face contorted with puzzlement.
‘You ‘kay there, Sheriff?’ he inquired.
Crawley, not noticing him enter, jolted in his chair.
‘I’m fine Andy,’ he said, as convincingly as he could.
‘You sure? ’Cause I’d say you look just about spooked from where I’m standing.’
The Sheriff simply stared at his Deputy, pondering that very statement. Then he scoffed, ‘Well, say I was to tell you that you were right about that, Andy. What then?’
Deshaw laughed, but it quickly dissolved into a chuckle, and once he saw the expression on the Sheriff’s face, nothing.
‘Okay Sheriff, what’s goin’ on?’ he asked, sitting down.
Crawley rested his chin over the palm of his hand, staring away at a distant wall. ‘You remember Lyle Roach, don’t you Andy?’
Deshaw raised an eyebrow. ‘That the guy whose wife left him for a Texan fella a while back?’
‘Yeah, that’s the one.’
‘Well, what about him?’
Crawley returned his gaze to the Deputy. ‘Accordin’ to Bill Sessman … you know Bill don’t you Andy?’
‘Well, after his wife left, Bill occasionally went to visit Lyle. You know, just to make sure he was copin’ and everythin’. And that he didn’t decide to take a trip up to the pearly gates.’
‘Well…’ Crawley began, looking away again momentarily. ‘…turns out that this mornin’ when he went over for a cup of coffee – even though he says all the guy drinks these days is bourbon and the likes–’
‘What, Sheriff?’ the Deputy cut in. ‘Did he find him dead?’
‘No. He didn’t find him at all, Andy. Now what do you make of that?’
Deshaw contemplated this for a moment. ‘Well the guy’s got some serious land to his name, doesn’t he? Maybe he just went wonderin’ and was yet to get back?’
‘Bill said he searched all around the house and the rest of the property all mornin’.’
‘Not a thing, besides a couple of empty bottles of liquor lying around the table inside the house. Besides, what would there be for him out in all that land of his when he obviously keeps his drink at home?’
The two chuckled at this, but it was short-lived.
‘It just creeps on my mind a little,’ Crawley continued. ‘Guy like Lyle livin’ in a place like that, just up and vanishes?’
‘You don’t think he may be in town or somethin’?’
The Sheriff shook his head. ‘Checked with everyone, askin’ if they seen him around. Not a sight.’
Deshaw gave a deep sigh of bewilderment. ‘Well, maybe he just decided to leave?’
‘And go where? Sheridan’s sixty miles north and there ain’t too much on any other side of us that’s closer. Puttin’ that aside, unless he was travellin’ in one a them automobiles Dan won’t shut up about, I don’t think them legs of his would be doin’ him much service nowadays, do you?’
Deshaw couldn’t find any argument against this. ‘Guess not.’
‘Anyways, what else is there for him? That woman was the only thing he ever had, as far as I know. And the way I see it, losing her to some stranger who was in town no longer than a couple a days, my guess is he’s gone and done himself in somewhere no one could find him. Only question is why it took him so long?’
‘Well how long’s it been since Bill last seen him?’
‘Comin up on a month now, he said. So, in between then and today…’
Understanding, Deshaw nodded. ‘Did he say how he was like last time he saw him?’
‘Said he seemed fine. ’Bout the same as every other time he’s seen him.’
The Deputy lowered his head. ‘Guess it was just too much for him in the end.’
‘Sure was. I’m telling ye though, I always picked it.’
‘Well, whenever I’d see ’em at the bar, Lyle’d be sittin’ and talkin’ to Annie and Bill, and I swear I’d catch that woman of his eye’n off some geezer at the other end of the place. I mean, sure she was a little younger than Lyle, but she certainly had a young girl’s spirit inside her.’
‘Explains why she ran off with some younger blood, hey Sheriff,’ laughed Deshaw.
‘Yeah, just too bad none of us had figured it out sooner. Hell, I’d have shamed ’em both in front of the whole town.’
‘Same here. But Sheriff … if no one saw ’em together, then how’d we know it was him she ran off with? Weren’t there a few of those types hangin’ around at the time?’
‘Yeah, but the mornin’ Lyle came in and told me she’d gone and left him, he’d seen her talkin’ to that particular fella for a couple nights whenever she was outside havin’ a cigarette. Said she was havin’ the time of her life. Then he just burst into tears right in front of me.’
‘Yep. Wherever that bitch is right now, I sure hope she gets hers someday, I can tell ye that.’
‘Me too, Sheriff. But until then, what about Lyle?’
‘What about him, Andy?’
‘Well, we can’t just assume that he’s dead this early, can we?’
‘Whether he is or not, it makes more sense than him headin’ out to no man’s land with no intended purpose. But you’re right. I’ll go out to his ranch later on and have a look around. You can have the rest of the day off. Go have a couple drinks, and if Lyle doesn’t show up by tonight, I’ll be there to share a few with you. Strictly in honour of Lyle, of course.’
‘Of course, Sheriff. But if it’s okay with you, I’d prefer to tag along. Somethin’ about all this just doesn’t seem right to me.’
‘Me neither. Either way, I just hope to God that he shows up. A man like him doesn’t deserve to die over a woman like that.’
Crawley couldn’t fight the urge to go and have a drink now in light of it all, especially since he was already staring at the bar from the other side of the street.
So he gave in, and upon entering, the Sheriff’s eyes widened upon spotting the lone man sitting at the far end of the bar.
‘Hey there, George,’ said the bartender. ‘Look who decided to show.’
But all Crawley could do was gaze vacantly with his jaw agape, as Lyle turned from his stool and presented him with a wan smile, fresh from a mouthful of beer.
‘How you doin’ there, Sheriff?’ he said.
‘I honestly have no idea,’ replied Crawley, to which Lyle and the bartender laughed. Seeing this, the Sheriff was compelled to join in, though not with as much enthusiasm. Before long, he found himself sitting beside the very man who, hardly a moment ago, he was mourning.
‘The hell you been, Lyle?’
‘You know me, Sheriff,’ Lyle said. ‘Just doin’ my best to keep the ranch in check. Figured I’d give myself a little break today.’
‘But ain’t all your crops dead?’
‘Most of ’em, yeah. Just gives me a better chance of savin’ the ones that aren’t.’
Crawley scoffed. ‘Well, I have to say, you gave us all a bit of a fright this mornin’. ’Specially Bill. Said he went around to see you, but reckons you weren’t there.’
‘Well I was way out far this mornin’. That’s where all the good ones are, but I suppose that’s why we didn’t see each other.’
‘Yeah, except Bill said he walked all over the place lookin’ for you.’
‘Did he now?’
Crawley nodded, and Lyle only smiled back.
‘How are you copin’, Lyle?’
‘You know what.’
He gave a long sigh. ‘Fine enough, I’d say.’
‘You ever think about what’d happen if she came back?’
‘Hasn’t crossed my mind.’
Lyle chuckled. ‘Well, the way I see it Sheriff – and I think you know this – that ain’t never gonna happen.’
‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’
‘I know I am.’ He grinned. ‘How ’bout I buy you a drink for all the worry I caused?’
The Sheriff smiled. ‘Sounds splendid.’