Too Silent

The boy sits silently near the creek bank and watches his twelve week old puppy among the grasses, sniffing invisible trails. The boy has learned from long practice to sit motionless for long stretches of time. Being still has enabled him to see much that other humans, especially adults, will never discover–coyote puppies learning to hunt, damsel fly nymphs emerging from their chrysalis, the way a brook eddies at times against the wind.

The dog may never see these things either, the boy reflects complacently as he watches his new pet. Not until he is much older and has learned to be still.

In the warm mountain sun, the boy’s shoulders relax and his eyes begin to glaze over. He is not prepared for the sudden movement from above. The golden eagle’s outstretched wings shadow the boy and dog at the same moment, then the pup gives a high-pitched yelp and is gone, the boy too startled to cry out.

When he stumbles home with tear-streaked face, his mother folds him wordlessly into her arms. “I sat too still,” he moans into her chest. “I was too silent!”

 

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Naming Rights

“How old is Old Pete, anyhow?” Suzanna asked as she perched herself on a large granite rock and looked down at the valley with its long grass and meandering streams. She glanced at Gerald. “He doesn’t look much older than you.”

Gerald chuckled. “He’s been Old Pete as long as I’ve known him. They say Old Bill Williams started calling him that in ’26 when they were trapping with St. Vrain and his bunch north of the Gila. Pete was kinda harrassing Bill, wanting to know just how old he was. Finally, Old Bill got aggravated and started callin’ Pete ‘Old Pete.’” He grinned, plucked a piece of grass, and looked it over carefully. “And that’s what he’s been ever since.” Gerald put the grass stem in his mouth, bit down appreciatively, and chuckled again as he gazed at the green landscape below.

“Those mountain men are quite something,” Suzanna said.

“That they are,” he answered. “That they are.”

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Attitudes

“Rues? Your last name is Roo-ess?” The young white man sitting at the Elizabethtown restaurant table looked at the old black man quizzically. “You mean Ruiz? Roo-eez? You got some Spanish in you?”

The cook shook his head. “All I know’s what my mama tol’ me,” he said. “My daddy was a Frenchman visiting ’round in Alabama. He stayed at the Big House for three weeks and took a shine to my mama while he was there. When I was born, she give me his last name.”

“Your master let her do that?”

The black man studied the plate of food in his hands for a long minute. “After the war, we could choose what last name we wanted,” he said quietly. “I chose my daddy’s name.”

“That food sure looks good,” the white man said. He moved his knife and fork farther apart on the bare wooden table.

Louis Rues put the plate down and turned away. He shook his head. People are people, no matter where you go, he thought ruefully as he went back to his stove.

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Thicker’n Snot

“It’s s’posed to be August, dadburn it.” Julius Fairfield looked gloomily out the door of the long, narrow log cabin that served as the Quartz Mill & Lode Mining Company barracks outside of Elizabethtown. “This fog is thicker’n snot.”

In one of the iron beds lining the walls behind him, somebody sneezed. “And there’s the snot for ye,” Edward Kelly, the company’s lone Irishman, chortled as he added more wood to the pot belly stove halfway down the room.

A door opened at the far end and the chief engineer came out. He ignored the men in the beds as he walked down the room to peer over Fairfield’s shoulder. “That fog’ll lift shortly,” he said. He clapped Fairfield on the back. “Be thankful it’s not rain.”

“That was yesterday’s gift to us all,” Fairfield said gloomily. He shook his head. “And here I thought New Mexico Territory’d be drier than New York.” He grinned and glanced at the engineer. “When’d you say payday was?”

Behind them, Kelly began to sing a song praising Ireland and its green hills, and a chorus of voices yowled at him to be still. The engineer chuckled and turned. “That’s enough now!” he said.

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Miners Gotta Eat

“Me and Joe didn’ come alla way out here jus’ to cook for no white men,” Frank Edwards grumbled as he slammed dirty dishes into the hotel sink. “You’d think we was still slaves in Kentucky.”

“You be only eighteen,” Louis the cook said. He positioned a pan of potatoes on the wooden table and picked up the pealing knife. “And what’s Joe, twenty three? You all have plenty o’ time.”

Joe Williams came in the door with an armload of firewood. “I here tell there’s a gold claim for sale in Humbug Gulch,” he told Frank as he dumped the wood into the bin next to the stove. “They askin’ seventy-five dollars.”

Frank’s hands stopped moving in the dishwater. “You reckon we got enough?”

Louis looked up from his potatoes. “You two listen to me and you listen good,” he said sharply. “You go to minin’ and you’re gonna lose every penny you have. Miners gotta eat, even when they so broke they sellin’ their claims. Stick to feedin’ ’em and you’ll do better in th’ long run.”

Frank and Joe looked at each other and shrugged. “We don’t got enough anyway,” Joe said. He jerked his head sideways, toward Louis. “An’ the old man has a point.”

“You better watch who you callin’ an old man,” Louis said gruffly. “And that wood box ain’t full enough yet, neither. Not by a long shot.”

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Brotherly Love, 5 of 5: Resolution

Pauli had never seen his father Steven weep. He had been grief-stricken but tearless when Pauli’s mother died. It had been expected and there was relief that her pain was over.

Now, the twenty-year-old sat at the old wooden table in the tiny log cabin and felt the older man’s hands tremble in his. “My brother is dead,” his father muttered. He nodded at the piece of paper on the table between them. “Herman is dead.”

Pauli released his father’s hand and reached for the paper. It was a will, in English, signed and witnessed. He squinted in the poor light. It left the house and three Elizabethtown District mining claims to Steven, then to Pauli and his sister after Steven’s death. At the bottom of the paper were two sentences, scrawled in German. “I understand,” they said. “She was a good woman.”

Pauli’s father covered his face and wept.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Brotherly Love, Part 4 of 5 – Consequences

“Here’s the sugar and the coffee,” Pauli said as he entered the tiny log cabin.

His mother was sitting by the fire nursing the baby. “Danke,” she said, smiling at him. The English he spoke so easily was still difficult for her, even after eight years in New Mexico Territory.

“Mr. Pearson asked me how my Uncle Herman was getting along,” Pauli said. “Does he mean old Herman the miner?”

His mother gave him a puzzled frown and he repeated his question in German. The door behind him opened as he spoke.

His father came in with an armful of firewood and boy and woman looked up at him.

“He is my brother,” his father said stiffly. “He don’t talk to us.”

“Why, Papa?”

His parents exchanged glances.

“He don’t, is all,” his father said. He turned to the woman. “Is this enough firewood for the dinner?”

opyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson