Fiction: Into the Gloaming

“So now you give up and hide behind your little Bible studies and weird friends? You heap embarrassment upon the whole family. What will our friends at West Point say?”

“You’re no embarrassment, Buck,” Graham said. “It’s only that you’re lost in there somewhere behind those bandages. And you’re right to say I was never with you as a child. Please, after the wedding, come home to stay.”

Margaret interjected, “But leave this fanaticism behind, Buck. What would they say at First Presbyterian—and your father on the board! It’s nice to read the Bible now and again, and I’m proud of your memory work, but still, Buck, this is too much—it’s creepy even.”

“Buck was always creepy,” said Meg, but came over and kissed his hand. As obnoxious as he was, he was still family.

“I want to become a missionary,” Buck began.

Thankful interrupted. “Save that talk for another day.”

The family turned to her, staring in silence. Thankful embraced her sister and then Fred. She came to her father and looked up at him. “Forgive me, Father.”

“My pet, what have you let happen?” Graham said. “I so wanted you to do things before starting a family, but I love you as always.”

Thankful burst into relieved tears and turned to her mother.

“You stupid girl,” Margaret said repulsing Thankful’s attempt at embrace. “You don’t understand how much you’ve sacrificed, and your father’s health has suffered greatly. Don’t you realize how weak his heart is? I knew you’d disappoint me!”

“Margaret,” Graham said. “Stop.”

“No! I’ve raised a zealot and an adventuress—why can’t my children be normal?” Margaret cried. “Well, I guess we won’t be seeing much of you—being in the army.”

“Mother, we won’t be in the army,” Thankful said. “I was hoping to come live with you for a while.”

Margaret stepped back. “Oh, our house is so crowded.”

“There’s plenty of room, dear,” Graham assured her.

Thankful wiped a tear away.

“It’ll be all right,” Graham said. “We’ll help you with the baby. Where’s your sweetheart?” He was unable to hide his dislike for the unknown soldier. “We heard he was shot like Buck.”

“Oh, Father!” Thankful cried. “The army can’t keep him!”

“Keep him? What did he do?” Fred asked.

Thankful turned to Buck, who answered for her. “Fahy’s a—well, he’s a decent fellow, but he’ll never walk. He’s injured badly.”

“Thankful, shall we call off the wedding till you’ve had time to reflect?” Margaret suggested.

“Take us to him,” Graham ordered.

The doctor recommended that Buck stay at the infirmary, but he wanted to be with Thankful, so the family tramped off to Captain Markham’s home. Lieutenant Fahy, though officially discharged from the army, was staying with the Markhams until he decided where to take his bride. Mrs. Markham led the way and stopped in the barren front garden. “Thankful, why don’t you go in and see if Mr. Fahy is ready for visitors.”

They all stood, complaining in the heat. Mrs. Markham offered Buck the only cool spot in the yard. He politely refused.

Thankful entered the neat, little home afraid of Fahy’s mood. She tip-toed into the parlor decorated floor to ceiling with Captain Markham’s citations and framed photographs taken on his many military travels. Fahy sat where he’d been put, staring at the soldier’s life he no longer could enjoy. Thankful tapped on the door before entering with a hopeful smile.

“What the hell took you so long?” Fahy yelled.

“My poor thing, I’m sorry,” Thankful said with a kiss. “It’s just Buck was hurt again.”

“Is he dying?”

“No, his face …”

“Damn it, Thankful! I needed you!”

“Please, dear, tell me what’s the matter?”

“Are your parents here?”

“Yes, outside. Don’t be nervous.”

“Shit—the tube—it’s been leaking all the while you were away. There was nothing I could do. Oh, blast it! I can’t go through with this!”

Thankful lifted the blanket covering his urine saturated legs.

“I wish I were dead,” Fahy said.

“Don’t say it!”

“I can say anything I damn well want! That I can still do!”

Thankful wiped his forehead. “I’ll just clean you up.”

The front door opened in the hallway. Mrs. Markham called in, “Everything all set in there? We have eager visitors, so stop your sparking!” Her voice was high and nervous.

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