Crossing had never been more than a one-horse town, but when the railway shut down and the boys got drafted into the army it stopped even being that.
We women done our best, but with kids to raise and mouths to feed the soil become more important than the saloon bar, and the horse pretty well took over from the truck. Them few of us brave enough to drive a car pretty soon found that there warn’t any fuel to be had anyway. It was all going to the war effort – whatever in tarnation that meant.
And that’s pretty much how it looked right up until the boys come home, one dirt street with rusty trucks leaning drunkenly on their useless tyres and hosses picketed under the shade trees outside the deserted saloon.
The winter of forty-five was hard and the men what drifted home warn’t nothin’ like the boys that went off to fight the old men’s war. They come home thinner, and harder, and somehow soured by what they seen and done. And that ain’t counting the ones that never come home.
I wasn’t expecting nobody to come home for me and mine. My durn fool of a husband got hisself killed bein’ a hero in some battle a whole ocean away. I think I musta shed a tear when they sent me a wire sayin’ he was gone, and I kinda had to look properly sad when a big fat man in a general’s uniform brung along his medals and pinned them on nine-year-old Jethro Junior’s chest. But, jest between you and me, all I was really thinkin’ was what a pigheaded eejit I had married. Jest couldn’t keep his head down and his nose clean and come home to me and the little ‘uns.
During the spring and summer of forty-six I looked about me and seen what war had done to our menfolks. I was almost glad that my Jethro never come home – him having been a hard sort of a customer even before the scars of war. Seemed to me that what the war broke there wasn’t no amount of lovin’ nor understandin’ gonna be able to put back together. Seein’ as how I was a nurse and worked in the hospital in Big Town (until Pa decided I had to come home and marry Jethro) I seen with my own eyes what the men hereabouts come home capable of. I tended broken bones, bruises in every colour you can imagine, and the ragged cuts caused by bullwhips bein’ wielded in drunken hands. All in all I reckoned I was better of alone.
The winter of forty-seven seen Pa called to his maker, but before the influenza took him he signed a lawyer’s paper leaving’ the property to me. That surprised me some, him settin’ so much store by the male line, but he smiles at me and says I’m more of a son than any man could ever be. Brung a lump to my throat that did, and as I nursed him through the cruel cold I kep’ myself warm with the knowin’ that me and the kids was safe.
Summer rolled around and I was milkin’ the most awkward of our three cows when I heard a engine. Something was toilin’ up the dirt track to the farmhouse. Now we never knew nobody with no truck, so I let the cow go and sneaked around back to where I could pick up Pa’s Colt and make sure she was loaded fer bear.
By the time a rusty rattler of a Holden scraped to a stop I was settin’ on the stoop watchin’ the yard from under the brim of my greasy old Stetson. The man what stepped out might a bin Jethro’s twin. Same handsome face. Same swagger. Same hard, cold little eyes. I pushed back my hat with two fingers.
“Howdy,” I said. “Help ya?”
“I sincerely hope so. I’m looking for Dorothy, widow to my Cousin Jethro Tomkins.” He smiled at me, but his smile never reached his eyes. “Might that be you.”
“Might be.” I offered him a grin. “Set a spell and tell me what brings you to these hyar parts.”
“I come to look over my property.”
“Yes. Mine. Cousin Jethro done left it to me in his will.”
“That’d be a trick, seeing as how he never owned it in the first place.”
I settled my hat back down over my eyes and leaned back in my chair.
He was just stupid enough not to go for his gun. Instead he made a grab for me.
“Smart-mouth woman needs slapping down hard.”
He fisted his hand in the front of my shirt and I shot his fool head off.
Me and the kids buried him back aways in the scrubland before the mesquite starts.
We keeps chickens in the Holden in his memory…