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Forever Mine

Bradford Gyori


Each night, after making camp, I sit and play a flute that was once my pap’s left shinbone. The far-off sound it conjures soothes my aching back and kisses the stars goodnight, one by one, laying them to rest neath a blanket of soft clouds.

            At sun-up I rise and set to digging once again. The soil is silty hereabouts, so I make quick work of it. Tuck the kickplate of the spade’s iron blade into the crook of my oxhide boot. Buttress it against the heel and drive down at an incline. Shovel out great heaps of shale and loam. As it is wont to do these days, my mind is set to wandering, counterpointing my labors with recollected memories glimpsed like glimmers of pyrite mid the excavated earth. These flashes hold no worldly value. All the same I number them amongst my most cherished possessions.

            When people call me anything they call me “Scrapper.” This is on account of a tendency more pronounced in my youth when I took to drink and hewing to low company. My Injun name is “Lvkna Hvshi” which means “Yellow Moon” in the Choctaw tongue. My ma was a squaw born of that tribe. She died fording a river with me papoosed to her back after which I turned up downstream discovered by some sheep herders still strapped to her dead body, half-drowned but also half-alive. Always been hard to kill. You could not say the same for my pap who was a surveyor bent on mapping the frontier till one day a black bear saw fit to orphan me entire. What was left of him got buried in them woods save the one shinbone which then come into my possession. It was me turned it into a flute and engraved images of clouds and stars on it, making the best of a raw deal, which has always been my way.

            Anyhow, I am happy to report this ain’t no tale of woe. This here is a love story of the finest order, the saga of my sweet Octavia. Who is Octavia you are like to be wondering? Why only the prettiest maid in all the territories. Hair like spun gold. Cheeks flushed rosy-red from the springtime chinook pushing out across the plains.

            As I sit and rest, dangling my feet into the depths of this new hole, I place my hand on its outermost lip and sweet Octavia’s shoulder comes to mind, for it was near as yielding to the touch, turning away each time I reached for her. Brush my fingers across the soft soil and feel it become her supple skin. In my memory’s eye I see her, such a handsome thing, gazing back through flaxen forelocks managing a look just shy of true affection. Most times I picture us drifting apart. Me heading for the western lands driven off by her father’s spiteful threats and her standing there stiff-backed and sorrowful watching me grow smaller in her sight and lower in her good opinion, the rootless drover in want of education, the sawed off, splay foot runt of a half-savage, no fit match for the likes of her, a fine Presbyterian gal born into one of the first families of Johnson City, though in time I would redeem myself. This I vowed in earnest as I rode away. It is a promise I been aiming to keep ever since.

            When I recommence to digging, I hit the first real resistance, a fat boulder reminding me of the first hard truth that brought us together and tore us apart. I learnt of Octavia’s condition from a ranch hand named Cleeve on the occasion of him sneaking off one night, quitting the bunkhouse. I asked where he was headed, and he confessed the whole sad tale. Said how he had lain with Octavia and put her in a family way. He was leaving before her pa caught wind of what he done and give him a Missouri necktie for his troubles. I tried to convince Cleeve to do the honorable thing and stand by Octavia through the trials to come, but he showed not one whit of remorse nor the slightest measure of concern, preferring to focus exclusively on thoughts of self-protection. Appalled by the man’s callow disregard for Octavia’s predicament this here Scrapper was of a mind to tussle but after a time I come to think it was best to let ol’ Cleeve sneak off like a thief in the night. Figured Octavia was well shed of him. Also, the more I ruminated on things, the more I come to realize this could be a chance to prove myself a worthy recipient of her mutual regard.

            Tunneling deeper into my claim I find the walls are slick and flecked with mica. These glints are like the teardrops on Octavia’s cheeks as she heard me outline the plan for our escape. She was distraught that Cleeve had taken heel and horrified to hear I knew of her condition but likewise she was relieved to discover I had thought up a plan to keep her safe and protect her reputation. If we lit out before daybreak, stuck to the backtrails, and kept riding hard and fast, we could reach the western lands afore snowfall. If we covered our tracks good, her pa might never find us. And once safe in our new home we could get hitched and start a family. Any acquaintance we made after that would assume the first child was mine.

The plan was bold but sensible. As Octavia chewed on it, she felt compelled to make a painful confession: whilst she appreciated the many risks I was willing to take of her behalf she had to admit she had no deeper feelings for me. I valued her honesty but hearing this hard truth stated so plainly was like slamming against the granite wall I am now facing. This was the nature of Octavia’s heart in them days, unbreachable barrier, yet breach it I would. I must!

            I pull the chisel and hammer from my satchel and set to work. This labor evokes the efforts I expended to convince Octavia that, given time, she might see me in a different light and perhaps even glean some small semblance of the ardor that gripped my heart each instant she was near, making the river of my affections surge and swell and overspill its banks. She thought on this and, after a time, allowed that stranger things had been known to happen in this weird ol’ world. Also, she agreed that staying behind in her condition would be disastrous. Thus, despite some lingering trepidations, she resolved to steal away with me that very night.

The chisel nicks the granite like the smack of the belt buckles hitting my face when the other hands jumped me on my way out of the bunkhouse. Their belts was wrapped round their fists with the buckles turned out to inflict the utmost damage. Octavia’s father had discovered our plan and offered a reward to any hand who would beat me to a pulp. There were many takers but the harm they done was nothing compared to the injury Doc Billy inflicted on poor Octavia.

            Doc Billy’s specialty was spaying heifers, making flank incisions with his trusty metal sheers and cutting out their ovaries. When performed on helpless Octavia the procedure proved harrowing. She near bled to death as her unborn child was getting tore out and tossed away along with any future prospect of maternity.

The chisel strikes the rock, making it shatter to reveal a bright red fissure. Such was the horror inflicted upon poor Octavia’s frail person, a pain worsened by the savage roar of her father’s voice calling her a “fallen woman.” Other torments he reserved for me. At first, he planned to lynch me but then the other hands explained how Cleeve was the actual father. This confused the old man to no end. Why would I risk my hide protecting the unborn bastard of some drifter? When he pressed me on the subject, I could only think to speak the truth. “I love her,” I said which made the ranch hands hoot until they saw the bafflement leave the face of Octavia’s pa replaced by sheer contempt. Then he took to whipping me with the beaded scourge he used for wrangling the most onery steers. As he done so, he laid out his first and final warning: should I ever so much as look on Octavia again I would be shot dead on the spot. Did I understand, he wanted to know? I nodded my head and almost meant it at the time.

            A few nights later, while we was both still on the mend, I snuck through Octavia’s bedroom window. Right off, I seen how hurt she was but I promised to come back and collect her when she was more recovered. Then we would manage a clean getaway. This I swore on my very life, for the alternative was too dire to contemplate.

Octavia heard me out, but she was in a sorrowful state. No longer could she envision a future away from the ranch and free from the iron grip of her father. As she had been made barren, she could not see how any man would ever want to look on her again. I said I could and always would, which was how come I still wanted her to run away with me, but she would not even consider it. Nonetheless, she did agree with one part of my new plan. She said I needed to leave the ranch, to ride away and not come back, freeing myself of any memory of the shameful gal I’d once contrived to save.

            Naturally, I refused.

            This was when Octavia revealed just how hollowed out her insides had become for along with her unborn child and her lady-parts it seemed Doc Billy had extracted her poor heart as well.

The granite wall shatters revealing a vast cave, dank, dark, redolent of dripping limestone. As I creep into it my footsteps echo. Light my lantern and look around. Slip and nearly fall on the slick ground, marveling at the magnificence of this void lit up by the lantern’s glow, admiring the oxide-stained draperies of rust-red and sulfur-yellow, the deep green malachite pools, the knotty stalagmites and stalactites powdered with white gypsum dust.

            “You need to leave,” Octavia said, “and don’t come back. Understand?”

            I did not and told her so. What’s more, I said I still wished to marry her.

            Tindering a mirthless laugh she called me foolish, pointed out I had no cash, no family pedigree, nothing to recommend me save a foul stubborn streak.

            I owned that every word of it was true yet hove to this one aim: I would yet make her my wife.

            Hearing me insist on this Octavia turned away and issued a cruel laugh. I moved closer then, as even now I am approaching the far wall of this chamber watching shadows dance across it in the lamp light. Like Octavia’s brittle comportment, it has grown flinty and jagged, so out comes my pickax which I set to swinging, making dents appear and chips fly as I recall uttering the cruel words that I would give my wretched life to take back now, if only I could. This was when I told Octavia she had no cause to disrespect me for the whole world could finally see exactly what she was, a “faithless whore.”

            Soon as I said this, I regrated it. Octavia’s shoulders set to trembling much like the wall before me. Outside her bedroom the sleet began to fall exactly as the gravel is now raining from the ceiling of the cave. Octavia was through with me. Still, I persisted blabbering. I knew I’d gone too far. So straight away I said how sorry I was for saying such cruel things. My inveigling mattered not for some injuries can never heal. The more I spoke on it, the more Octavia crumbled, but then amid the catastrophe I’d orchestrated, I glimpsed something extraordinary, a rare promise of redemption. Even now I see it: a golden glimmer of hope.

            Dropping my pickax, I take to clawing at the walls with my bare hands as likewise I seized hold of Octavia’s shoulders and shook her and swore I would redeem myself and prove a worthy suitor. I had only to venture northwest to the Yukon and stake a claim in that vast wilderness and dig and dig until I struck it rich, tunneling my way right back to her, returning finally to tinder a respectable marriage proposal as a self-made man of means. As I was saying all this and asking could she maybe somehow see fit to believe me and consider it might possibly come true, I felt Octavia relax a mite. Then I seen her glance back over her shoulder, and there it was (is), that bright shiny glint, that flicker of hope, making me reach out and take hold more firmly than ever, not quite believing what I’m seeing, but there she is big as life. Bigger. My treasure. My salvation.

            Here is where our story finally gets unstuck from the past and vaults into the future as I pry the gleaming nugget free and hold it in my hand, seeing it transformed into a golden band which I imagine slipping onto Octavia’s elegant ring-finger as she smiles at me all spruced up in lacy finery, then the two of us are kissing and this is all the inspiration I require to finish the job. I stick the nugget into the bib of my coveralls and seize the pickax again, knowing there’s bound to be lots more where that come from, a whole vein I can tap into, striking it rich and finally becoming the type of suitor fit to win the love of my intended. So, cackling like a loon, I set to swinging the pickax again, making the stone walls that encompass me shake even more as the gravel and the shale and the dust clouds tumble round and swirl about, changing my cackling to coughing then a fit of hacking as the walls contrive to remind me of sweet Octavia yet again as I feel her finally, fitfully, folding me deep into her all-enveloping bosom.


As the years come and went the old maid never married. Throughout the flatlands she was notorious for an early dalliance with a drifter that had culminated in an unwanted pregnancy terminated by elicit means. Only she knew how the child had been taken against her will. Such were the dark secrets Doc Billy and her father took with them to the lowest depths of hell where they would burn eternally for what they done to her, her unborn child, and that little ranch hand, Scrapper, the one with the kind eyes.

In recent years Octavia’s mind had begun to slip. Some folks thought she was touched, but it was just old age clouding her reason. Sometimes she was sharp as a tack, knowing full well what was what and how she was meant to comport herself. Other times—specially when the sun was low in the sky—she could have furious arguments with her long dead pa.

            For years Octavia had indulged a secret fantasy that one day little Scrapper would return as he had promised. In time, however, this pipedream shriveled like her empty insides, incapable of bearing fruit. But Octavia was not completely hollow for deep within her breast still resided an odd ill-conceived but nonetheless abiding affection for the one person who had ever shown her true benevolence. Imagine her delight, therefore, when forty years after the day Scrapper rode west, she received a package from him. The return address said something about the Yukon territory. There was a note inside writ by a miner who—from the look of things—possessed just enough learning to scrawl a few words on behalf of his late acquaintance, to wit:


Deer Miss Octavia,

My name is Jones. I was a friend of Scrapper. It was me dug him from the rubble of his claim. I am riting this on acount of how he so often spoke your name and said how much you ment to him, and how he longed to one day git back to Misoury and make you his wife. This had been his fondest desire. Near as I can figure this was how come he was always working his claim so hard, wanting to buck the odds and finally strike it rich. Too bad he never done so. Anyhow, since you was the one person he held most deer in this hole world, I think it fitting his last affects should be trusted to your care. Please do accept my regrets for there sorry state as soap is hard to come by in these parts.


With deepest sympathy,

F.T. Jones


It saddened Octavia to look through the meager scraps tucked into the box, a pair of battered oxhide boots, some filthy coveralls, a tattered neckerchief, and a cigar box containing a pipe, a tobacco pouch, and a strange white flute engraved with images of stars and clouds. What possible use could she have for this old junk? And if the folks in town learnt of the strange package, what would they make of it? Well she knew what it meant to be the source of idle gossip, and she had no interest in becoming a target of further recriminations. This was how come she found herself snatching up a shovel, venturing into the field behind her cabin, and digging a hole big and wide enough to fit the contents of the box. She dug and dug and as she done so, she recollected her bygone youth and that fateful moment she had considered leaving the ranch and taking up with the little drover in the west country. Funny how in them days such things seemed near conceivable.

            After the hole was dug and the contents of the box had been dumped inside, Octavia shoveled dirt on top, then patted it down with the iron blade of the spade. She was snatching up the box and fixing to leave when she seen it was not exactly empty, for in a bottom corner something was glittering in the low light of the setting sun. She reached in and plucked it out, inspecting it in her hand.

            Then another hand was touching hers and taking the little nugget, drawing it away, making a fist around it and transforming it into something else within the fiery forge of twilight. Then she was a bride standing on the altar dressed in lacy finery and stood facing her was the little drover with the kind eyes. There was a parson too and the tree line had become a congregation of onlookers with low sunbeams smiling through their faces. As Scrapper slipped the gold ring onto her finger, he leaned close, drew her into his strong arms and caressed her tenderly.

            In the weeks that followed, Octavia lost what little sense she had. She took to roaming these fields, holding hands with her favorite phantom. Even as she wandered barefoot into the freezes of late December, she done so with the biggest, sweetest smile upon her well-kissed lips.

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