Misconceptions and Conversation

by Heather F.

Disclaimers: Don’t own them...No money made

Ezra sat next to Billy Travis on the alley side boardwalk next to the saloon. The autumn, mid morning sun had not yet reached the shadows of the small enclosed area offering the duo privacy amongst the receding shadows.

Ezra waited patiently as the young boy hiccuped his crying under control. Once the staccato of rapid breaths diminished in frequency, Standish started to speak.

“What brings you to such a sorry state young Mr. Travis?” His tone was soft, the southern tinged words floated unobtrusively on the still morning air.

“Momma’s sendin’ me away agin’,” a hiccup of despair escaped between trembling lips. Twin tears rolled down dirt smudged cheeks. The young boy kicked dismissively at the ground in dejection.

“I see....” Standish paused, “have you been practicing your letters like you were suppose too?” At the end of every summer Mrs. Travis found it necessary to send Billy back to his Grandparents. ‘It was for the best,’ she had constantly explained. Ezra had always wondered best for whom.

The young boy nodded vigorously never looking up at the man who had devised a plan to help Billy convince his mom to keep him.

“I practiced every day...just like you said, in the morning and at night.” The blue, red rimmed eyes stared imploringly up at the older gentleman pleading with him to believe the truth.

“I do not doubt it,” Ezra answered softly. He refrained from offering physical condolences to the young boy. Instead the gambler consoled himself by haphazardly flipping cards between his fingers. The practicing had never worked for him either...he honestly did not believe it would have succeeded for Mr. Travis.

Mothers were sometimes too blind to see the needs of their children or sometimes just to selfish.

“An’ I kept my room cleaned, help’d with chores without having to be asked or nuthin’,” Billy rambled on naming the list of things he had accomplished in hopes his mother would realize that he was worth something. He had done everything she had asked of him without argument...praying that she would see that he was no trouble.

“How come she don’t want me around, Mr. Standish?”

Ezra paused in the movement of his cards. He stared down at the boy that sat beside him. The blond haired youth had the same red, swollen eyes that mirrored his own so many years ago. The same questions...the same actions. They were all so much alike.

Standish paused, his mind racing....He would not lie to the child. Empty diatribes had been tossed his way when he was Billy’s age. Undisguised or poorly masked lies that even a child could see through. It had made his mother’s abandonment even more painful.

“I do not know Billy,” Ezra answered quietly. Standish felt his heart lurch. Why else would a mother send their child away? Even mothers in the animal world defended their young, only casting them out when they were old enough to fend for themselves.

The tears started running unashamedly down the young face. Standish could offer no words of encouragement. He had been there...had learned to live without his mother...learned to survive on the graces of others...but not his mother, entirely.

“You think she still blames me for my father being killed?...Do you? Is she mad because I didn’t help Father? Why Mr. Standish why does she send me away?” The pleading voice rose an octave. The lower lip quivered as the young boy fought the flood of tears that threaten to flow.

Ezra watched quietly and wondered when this small boy would stop crying for his mother. When would Billy get on that stage and shed no more tears over the loss of attention from his mother? The gambler silently wondered if Mary understood that she was losing her little boy....that one day he would leave on that stage coach and not want to return to Four Corners. The time was coming when Judge Travis and his wife would become home and his mother just an infrequent visitor. There would be a time, very soon, when Billy Travis would stop battling for his mother’s attention. The time would come when Billy would nudge his mother out of his way.

When the tears refused to flow, the dependency and expectations of love between mother and son would be loss. Its re-emergence would not occur. Instead a common ground and understanding would form. The bond between mother and child, though never truly broken, would become disregarded or shuffled aside by both parties. The sons would become too tired or uncaring to fight while the mothers never knew they lost a war.

Maude had never acknowledged the loss and Ezra had only now learned of it watching young Master Travis.

“Sometimes Billy,” Ezra paused trying to find the words that would clarify a pain that had seated itself deep in his soul, “sometimes...” he tried again directing his eyes toward his hands. The cards flew from hand to hand.

“Sometimes Mother’s do not know what is best for their children....” Ezra stared down at the small child. Billy had directed his attention to the dust at his feet. Young Travis scraped his feet back and forth in the dust making a groove. “They do things for foolish reasons...” Standish stared at the profile of the soft features. The gambler focused on the cherub cheeks, the tears that hung and slowly rolled from curled lower lashes, the clenched jaw that fought the impending tears. Ezra wanted to walk away.

How could someone not love this child. How could the printing of a newspaper or the growth of a town be more important than watching one's child grow? Himself? He could understand his own mother’s dismissiveness, but not Billy’s. Mary had an honest, well behaved boy.

“I thought that if I did good with my letters I could help with the newspaper and...” another hiccup and gasp escaped. Small shoulders shook and another stuttering of halting breaths were inhaled.

“Yes, well sometimes, Mothers are blind...and do not understand a child’s resourcefulness. They seem to equate tolerance with age,” Ezra tried to explain again. It was difficult trying to make sense of a pain and situation he had faced only as a smaller version of Mr. Travis. “Perhaps when you are older she may see the value in you.....and want you stay...” Standish ended feebly. It was better for the boy to see the truth in the matters...truth as Ezra had figured out for himself as a boy. The inadequate mockings of falsehoods told by relatives and friends would only burden the child more. Billy was an intelligent boy and would see through such ruses easily.

Maude had learned to love him when he had become older and wiser...when his ability with the cards had become profitable. She doted on him when his success at the tables turned a healthy coin or his presumed innocence saw the close of a successful con. At those times in private she would grace him with a warm hug and praise before divvying up the take.

“Did yer father die too?” Billy asked staring up at the man beside him. The gambler was so different from Chris.

Standish paused. This was unwelcomed territory. Since coming to FourCorners no one had broached that subject with him and the few times that JD had trespassed near that territory the gambler had redirected the conversation and inquiry from himself. Yet today he had confirmed truths for the boy which were painful...it was time he made some payment in return.

Billy stared wide eyed at the older man. Standish knew the boy was searching for an ally looking for someone to understand what was happening. Ezra knew because it was like looking in a mirror.

“Yes...yes he did.”

“Did you see it?”

Standish paused again. His mind’s eye flashed back to the grizzly scene. He could actually hear the voices and the pounding of rain on nearby roofs, he could smell the stench and rot of a dirty back alleyway. It was a lifetime ago and still the memory and flashes hit like they were from yesterday.

“Yes.” It was spoken softly, in a whisper, a hint of fear and despair laced the words.

“I did too,” Billy turned his attention back to the dirt at his feet.

“Is that when yer ma started sending you away too?” Billy asked again.

The boy looked up when the gambler merely nodded. The cards were silent in his hands and he stared at the ground across the alley. When he had lost his father he had also lost his mother.

“Was she mad at you too...like my ma...cuz ya didn’t do anything to help?” Billy watched as the older man merely nodded. The misconceptions created by a silent child had gone uncorrected. The same misjudgments were picked up by another and reconfirmed in the blatant honesty of the adult.

“Yeah mine too.” The young boy turned his attention back the dirt groove he had created with his shoe heel. His ma had said she weren’t mad at him...but then that was when she had started making him live somewhere else.

“Does the Judge treat you well?” Ezra finally found his voice. He directed his attention toward the child. He wanted to be sure not to miss the lie if one was told.

“Yeah,” Billy answered. In response to Standish’s raised eyebrow the boy continued, “well he’s kind of strict..makes me do my school work and then he checks it but he and Grammy are nice enough.”

“Has he ever raised a hand against you?” Standish asked. His own black memories struggled to surface.

“Heck no. The Judge just kinda stares at me....it's real mean like but he don’t ever hit me iffen that’s what ya mean,” Billy clarified. The young boy noticed the relief that flashed across the older man’s face. He knew the Judge gave the gambler the same look. Sometimes Mr. Standish could act ill behaved too.

Ezra merely nodded, “Well then master Travis perhaps it would be best not to look a gift horse in the mouth and enjoy your time with your grandparents?”

The tears started to well in the young boy’s eyes at the statement.

“Perhaps not,” Ezra muttered. With a resigned sigh he continued, “Then we are just going to have to come up with a plan to convince your mother that you have some use to her.” The confidence in which Ezra spoke did not reflect the doubt he felt.

Yet his words were effective.

Billy straightened up slightly a smile crept across his dirty face, “How we gonna do it?”

“I’m not sure Master Travis...but first things first,” Ezra said standing offering his hand to guide the young boy up. “Mother’s don’t like dirty children or tears, so off to the bath house and then onto.....”

The two walked back down the alley holding hands. The child believing in the power of the adult at his side and the gambler wondering how he was going to pull off the most important con of his life.

+ + + + + + +

In the saloon near the open window that over looked the alley boardwalk, Mary Travis cried silent heaving tears into the chest of Josiah Sanchez.

The Preacher enveloped the slim figure in a powerful embrace trying to offer reassurance. Josiah stared at the saloon wall ignoring the chipped, split, weathered, wood and wondered who his heart ached for most. The child that believed he had lost his mothers love but was willing to fight to regain it? Or did his heart clench for the grown child that believed he had lost his mothers love accepting a child’s explanations and self blame sorely because no one had taken the time to prove otherwise?

Sanchez tightened his arms protectively around Mary.....Billy still had a chance.

The end

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