Summary: A short story situated in a toggled Bonanza-verse where Hoss has a helping wife, this short story is a little journey to ask why Adam left, what urged him to go and why he would have been troubled. It’s a skill to love and respect, but it’s yet another skill to say farewell, to wish a happy voyage. K for the lack of any disturbing or impolite diction; the story is much mature in its theme, though, I hope.
Rated: K (4,955 words)
The autumn was creeping in through the corners of the house, but the dimly lit lamps kept the shadows away. Thor sat on the settee with one of his legs tossed over the arm rest, and the girls had been ordered upstairs, although Hoss knew as well as Elin that they stayed up making stories, trying to eavesdrop or running out from the window, but at least the grown-ups had tried.
Carl had woken up to some exceptionally loud roar of laughter a moment earlier, and Elin was resting him on her thighs. She kept nursing the boy from time to time, even if the boy was already talking and running and she herself was far pregnant with the new one. ‘You bring food to the table, I’ll see how to feed my pack as I see fit,’ she had said, and her confidence in what she was doing tore down every objection. Now, Carl had fallen asleep after stroking his mother’s breast, drowsily, and Elin pulled his hand out from her blouse and buttoned up with one hand. Carl made a sound to wake up, but Elin pressed him firmly against her body and the boy stopped squirming.
”Adam, is there something you would like to talk about?” Elin motioned to Hoss to come and collect the boy, and he obeyed. He had a good reason to obey, too; secretly, he liked very much the feel of the boy’s body in his arms, when the quick breathing drummed against his own chest and the small fists curled under the small chin, around the round, squarish face. There was nothing angelic in the boy’s face, there was nothing extraordinary in the way he smelled or how his bulky little body lay against his side, but it was his boy, and that made the difference.
Adam shifted, he had turned to stare the vase of last flowers of the fields on the table, deep in his thoughts. He had returned from San Francisco today, and while he had smiled at Hoss and his family brightly as ever, Elin had taken one look at the corners of his eyes and turned around, starting to prepare the guest room for Adam to stay over for tonight.
Elin looked at Thor, her eldest son, and snorted. ”Tor, do you have to keep your feet where it is place for your hands?” The boy startled and kicked his legs back to floor in a larger arch than it may have been necessary. Elin cocked an eyebrow to the protesting whiskers Tor snuffed at her, but repeated her question. ”Adam, do you feel like you’d like to talk?”
Adam woke up from his pondering, let his legs unravel from their crossed position, laying his feet firmly on the ground and resting his elbows on his knees. Finally he put his eyes down and leaned, if possible, even further away from the coach he sat on. “No, I guess not.” He seemed weary, but not only because of the earlier ride on the stage coach.
Elin leaned back in the rocking chair and pushed with her toes, the movement sent her to rocking motion. “You’re bothered, Adam, and it’s hard to be a troubled man alone.”
“I’ve been thinking to go away,” Adam blurted, and raised his eyes to Elin. She looked back at him, her toes keeping her in motion, and they sat there, in silence.
– – – –
After a while, Elin spoke first. “Are you hesitant to plan to leave the Ponderosa?”
Adam’s fists closed around each other and covered his mouth, while he stared the water in the vase and thought. The eyes were placid, but an observant eye could have seen a twitch, a shift over the cheek, a little movement below the eyes. “No, I guess I am not.”
Elin looked at him from under her brow, and pushed her toes to keep her rocking smoothly. “But there’s something else that keeps you from planning it too much.”
A disagreeing furrow shaped Adam’s brow, the black shadows of stubble continued their journey up to the black brow and the creased forehead. “No, I do plan.”
“But you’re still here.” Elin was stating the obvious, all without tonality and judgment, but somehow she made Adam uneasy.
Adam lowered his head. “Yes, I am.”
Hoss looked down at Carl who slept soundly, drawling on his shirt in the open-mouthed deep sleep that was harder to achieve when all grown up.
He had never heard Adam talk so sadly or seriously about leaving. True, he had only been leaving temporarily, before. For college, for a business trip, for some other reason of livelihood or just pleasure. But this time the leaving had a permanent sound in it – a permanent sound that suffocated all words Hoss had behind his lips.
The permanent sound didn’t mean life would end; but an edge of that permanent was scary, distant, even repulsive. Hoss didn’t know how to approach it, but it felt he’d know how, if he’d let Elin just continue. She knew, not the same things others knew, but somehow she knew.
How could Elin be so calm, so… curious, her voice so steady like a lake of water on a day when winds were still? His calm Elin, who was able to pry everything out all too serene.
Thor leaned forwad and rested his arms on his knees, looking questioningly at Adam, but he, too, was too young for words. Elin leaned back on her rocking chair, more comfortably. “Do you think you would be disloyal to your father and brothers, if you decided not to stay?” she asked, her fingers drumming the arm-rest gently.
She got no answer, not yet.
“Adam, it’s not lack of loyalty. If you feel your life is somewhere else, then it is. Your father decided to stay; it was in his nature to stay. He’s been an industrious man; more than once he’s made his fortune out of nothing and built an empire to provide for him and his sons. He likes luxury.”
There, Adam tried to protest, but Elin waved her hand. “Don’t tell me you don’t live in luxury. Just take a look at your carved boots, your long fingers that strum the guitar and think of your head that enjoys reading poetry. You can’t tell me that ain’t luxury, Adam. And it’s not bad; it ain’t wrong to want abundance for you and your family.”
Adam’s eyes rushed to look at her from under his brow, one eyebrow crunched while the other rose slightly, and he pressed his chin to his crossed fists.
Elin sat in her rocking chair, waiting for Adam to be ready, and finally he had to focus his eyes back at something else.
Adam didn’t speak. His eyes were locked on a black spot on a plank of the floor. There had been a branch in the tree, before it had surrendered to be the interior part of the house. Staring back at Adam, the eye on the plank seemed eternally calm and at peace.
– – – –
Elin continued. “Your life is not here, if you feel it is not all seen and done, yet.”
Adam’s eyebrows knitted together. “Wait a moment, there.” He was not satisfied to what Elin said, and Hoss couldn’t understand it much, either. He could feel the uneasiness of his brother from a distance, and Carl started in his dream, kicking his foot like a dog and whimpering, before he turned and wiggled and found a more comfortable place. Hoss felt another part of his shirt starting to become moist, the boy kept his mouth if possible even more open.
Elin stared Adam, quiet. “You told me sometimes about Ruth, and Regina, and Rebecca. For a while, I could have been fooled that you miss the life you missed when you decided you won’t follow them. But maybe you knew, when you made the choice. Your life wasn’t there, either. Now, you want to think that you decide to live here and be happy here, but what if your life just isn’t here?”
“But I could be happy here.” Adam groped for what to say. “I am happy. I’ve got it all here.”
“But that’s not the point, Adam. It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be happy here.” Elin remained silent for a moment, thinking how to continue.
Adam looked puzzled. “I don’t really know what you’re trying to say. If I could be happy here, why would it not be for me?”
Elin cocked her head like a bird. “If you travel away, or seek to see what’s behind the hills far away, it doesn’t mean you’d be unhappy where you’re leaving from. Maybe you’re able to leave just because you know you’ve already learned to appreciate what you have.” Her eyes looked at the flowers on the coffee table, now; the black centers were so small that her gray gaze seemed to be made of ice and molten tin.
”But why should I want to leave, then?” Adam’s head rose, his puzzled look seeked direction from Elin, and the look of being lost nearly scared Hoss. Adam was rarely lost, rarely without advice, without answer, and the look made him… vulnerable. True, Hoss knew his brother had been hurt in times, pulled into agony inside his soul because of friends that turned mindless, because of events and kin who both told he was wrong when in fact he was the only one being correct; still, seeing Adam so lost made Hoss… vulnerable, too. And it scared him.
Elin’s voice chimed, the silvery edge of its melodic flow spoke from another world where fairies lived under the houses and flew into the night air when lamps were no longer lit. ”It’s not a condition that you should leave mere misery behind when you want to go and try something new. You can be content, already, but still it can be that your life just is somewhere else. Look at the birds, they fly away and build their nests far away from their parents.”
Adam ducked his head and ruffled the back of his neck. Elin waited for his gaze to return up again. “You’re not satisfied with my answer?”
Adam shifted. “No. Just that… it’s not all.” He crossed his arms over his knees, fingers digging deep at the crouches by his elbows, and the right boot started to tap the floor. “It’s just that… I wouldn’t want to leave knowing people think I abandoned it all.”
“It isn’t abandoning.” Elin swayed in the rocking chair, the brown braid laying calmly over her shoulder and falling down to her waist. “Those who think you left because of an old grudge, might be bitter themselves. Jealous. Or insecure.” Elin saw Adam focus on the flowers, too, and elaborated her thoughts. “Perhaps they are afraid to be happy and content, and when you leave, they recognize their own urge to leave, or their own fear that you might find something better that they’ve found. Maybe they had the chance in youth, maybe they didn’t, but they were afraid to take the risk and leave.”
Elin thought for a moment, how to continue, but Adam remained silent. “You know, that kind of people are never happy, and what their neighbors do is always wrong,” she said with a faint chuckle.
Adam cocked his eyebrow. The brown eyes traveled a bit sideways to pose an expression, a reaction. Thor dropped his head and seemed to chuckle, voicelessly.
“Some people won’t think like that, but they’ve found a way to be happy and for them, you’ll just remain a bit odd.” Elin drummed the arm-rest with her fingers, again, and leaned the other arm more loosely by her side. “They could, for a moment, think of you as the Adam who wasn’t satisfied, the funny Adam who went away for no reason more than wanderlust. But they don’t think evil of you, most of them won’t.”
“Is it so certain?” Adam asked, and crossed his arms, covering his knees with his palms and tapping his toes on the floor.
“They might think you went far to search for things that were near, but they won’t be bothered for long and they forget. Forgive and forget.” Elin seemed satisfied, to her it sounded like a closure.
“But how about Pa?” Adam’s clasped hands opened, waved a little in the air and returned back to their closed position under his troubled face, over his knees. “He lived his whole life dedicated to… to… ”
Elin interrupted him, determinedly. “People who know you… Tell me, do you think you’ll forget how Hoss thinks, how your Pa sounds, how you feel in the company of Joe?”
Adam lowered his head. Hoss lowered his gaze, too, although he couldn’t quite be sure when he would be able to raise his eyes again.
Elin spoke. “Your father is an intelligent man. He would be a lot less intelligent if he thought you would not be grateful, that he would not see the same urge to see further, the urge he had when he was young. In the end, he might be even proud to see it resemble in you.”
Was it under their very eyes, that Thor was growing up in years, the look of his eyes getting more mature by every second?
Elin rested her feet for a moment, slowing down from her sway and pausing her thoughts for a moment. “You see, the people who know you, still remain the same. Things happen to us, but even if you were far away, you were still in our hearts and our memories the same Adam that we know now. Just that tomorrow is different, doesn’t make things that happen today any less real; you are very much shaped by what was here and is here. That shape will not go away, and what shaped you will follow you the rest of your life, no matter where you are. It’s in your traveling bags, in your food, in the mirror, in your future and your yesterday. The past with Adam will still be the same. The adventures, sorrows, the comedy of race horses, knocking the guts out of Samuel Clemens and wooing of Abigail Jones are still the same stories, even if you went away.”
A little smile twisted the left corner of Adam’s mouth. “Yeah, those stories can’t be taken away.” A twinkle under the dark eyebrows told he was whole, underneath. Beneath the disturbed expression he held a close, endearing memory. “I’d be no less away than Annie and Kevin Himself O’Toole.”
– – – –
Elin rose from the rocking chair, and went to sit next to her brother-in-law. Her hands lay crossed in her lap, she was compassion come to life. “You’re afraid to tell your father you feel the urge to go in your veins, aren’t you?”
“I left for College, earlier, and I’ve been to New York, to New Orleans… And I’ve seen it. Maybe he thinks there’s something I don’t appreciate in this life.” Two furrows knitted the dark brow together, more lines carved on the forehead.
Elin put her hand over his shoulder. “Why should he think so, Adam? Children move further than their parents. Children don’t always do as their parents. Look at my grandparents, who crossed the ocean; my own parents who wandered from North to South, to the West. But what did I do? I stayed. I became happy once, and twice, and I became happy five times added to that.” She rubbed her pregnant body. “I’m happy staying here, and so is my Tor, but my Sigrid is preparing to go to College. And is that a bad thing? No, I’m happy to see her so confident and full of yearning, hope, curiosity towards the world. Nobody knows what Rebecka or Carl will do, or this new one. Only time will show.”
“Are you driving me away, Elin?” Adam tried to show amusement, but Hoss knew that tone, and he knew Elin heard the dark and heavy tone deep down under it all, the darkness that was so full of hard memories that even thinking for a word for it felt too much.
“No. But I’m telling you it’s not a merit just to stay, either.” As if her words had touched the sore spot in the aching muscle, Adam seemed to grunt just before the blood rushed back into the body.
They all had seen too much in their lifetimes. Nearly all of it was shared with each other, but the stories still had hidden cavities kept solely and completely private. It had not been an easy task to grow to be Adam, but it would be hard to say it was not yet enough, either. That he was not escaping, but being set free.
Adam breathed heavily; his eyes were looking inside of him again.
Elin touched his shoulder and rubbed it, and the way she combed his black hair behind his ear made it appear as if she was Adam’s mother, too. “Adam, you are so much… a man of ideas. If you would be falling into pieces so small that even our spirits would not understand, you would spread out to protect all the big ideas and the thoughts, to save as much as you could. Would it happen to my Hoss, he would fall apart into fragments and cover the earth; if it were Joe, he would probably spread out to shelter the people and the buildings that matter to him. You’re all different, in the ways you think and feel.”
Adam combed the curl that she had touched a moment ago, as unable to block it behind his ear as she had been. “What would our Pa do?” he asked, with curiosity in his voice.
Elin lowered her face, and if she hadn’t been so fair at her face, Hoss might have said she blushed under her snicker. “The pattern breaks sometimes, Adam. I don’t think any force on this earth would make your Pa fall into pieces.”
She was able to dig up an amused laughter from Adam, who, however, had more answers to his own question than Elin or even Hoss could ever have. Elin leaned back and rested her hands on her lap, and let her eyes caress the profile and the curved figure of her husband’s older brother.
Finally, Adam rose a bit, and pressed his hands against his thighs, rising up slightly. “Tell me something, Elin,” he started, and turned his face at her. “How can you be so content with everything?”
The corners of Elin’s mouth rose up, pressed deeper into her cheeks and plumped her lips in a content gesture. “Is there any more I could be asking for?” She smiled at Hoss and returned her eyes to Adam’s face.
Adam smiled, wistfully. “Well, I can’t marry Hoss, can I?”
Hoss chuckled, awakened from his hibernation. “No, brother, I think I’m already spoken for.” He lifted Carl up and rested him on the other arm, since the heavy boy was making his arm under his stocky body numb.
“Don’t joke, Adam,” Elin said and crossed her legs. ”It was my happiness. But maybe your happiness is different. And nobody will hold it against you if you go for it.”
“Nobody, you say?” The dimple deepened the shadows over the cheek, but the shade was no longer dark. Perhaps, when you looked at it, there was something relieving, even playful in it.
“Nobody, to whom it’s really important. Like us.” Elin’s hand made a wave around her and returned on her thigh. “We know you and feel you under our skins and in our veins, and we can let you go. It would be just weakness not to.”
“Still…” Adam rubbed his chin and hid his mouth in his palm.
“Maybe we’d learn to be even happy for you. But it would be harder to be happy for you if you stayed for wrong reasons, just to do what people think you ought to.” It seemed Elin’s words were hard to Adam, they caused him to draw something painful from inside. But he seemed also eager to see what she was able to pull out.
“Because, inside, you’d never feel content.” Elin didn’t hesitate. “You’d be asking, is this what I was born for? Is this, now, it? Is this where I’m ready to say I’m enough? And you might never find it. It is impossible, if the seed of doubt is deep inside of you.”
“I could learn.” There, the stubborn streak was the core of Adam Hoss had grown up to recognize as the truest Adam there ever was.
Another voice that had taught Hoss a variety of other things responded. “You could learn, to be what? Look like everything is as it should be?”
“Is it so bad?” Frustration threw Adam’s hands apart, wide and spread out around his chest and his shoulders.
“You’d live other people’s dreams and ideals, not yours. Whose acceptance would you search in that? You could also be living everything as it should be.”
Hoss lowered his head, and sent a little prayer, a thank you, a wordless message above to the heavens where somebody had felt pity and been merciful for him. He had Elin by his side and his life was full and it was all as it should be. And he had no more things he could ask for, either. He heard Adam cough, and speak.
“Elin, you make hard things so simple.”
“Everybody has their gifts, Adam. Don’t be blind to yours.”
“Thank you for your words, Elin.”
“You know where to find me, when you need them again.”
– – – –
Hoss knew he’d be sad if a time would ever come for it, but he was learning it was a situation he could deal with. It was not reluctance – it was combined with hope and curiosity, a wish for pure good luck. It was sadness not so sad when you looked at it closer. A chunk of his childhood and youth would be chopped away – but if you looked at it like Elin did, it was a chunk only from the visible and touchable, which she valued only so high.
Yeah, he’d miss his brother and his presence, but he’d not lose the bond he’d always have with him. Staying for the sake of wrong loyalty and expectations would make his brother only more distant than any journey could. He’d miss him but he would not raise a hand to force him to stay, there would be no regrets for why he left. His life was – could be – there.
Had been here, too, but what had been would not be wiped away by what was now.
In fact, the more Hoss was able to draw away from the idea of loss, the more he started to see new things. New possibilities, new doors opening for Adam; new ways his yearn for education brought new experiences, new challenges, new ways to ask more questions from life than really find answers for them. Adam was the kind of person who would be intrigued, would be impressed by new places and new people. He would stretch his character further, add new sides to it out there in the world, and he would be intelligent and flexible to do right that. To do that right.
And even if he left, his departure would not make Hoss’ decision to stay any worse. He was free to leave and find his way, too, but he had never heard the call the way Adam did. Hoss was in the center of the answer and the questions burned less and less every year. He’d slap his brother on his shoulder and hoist his traveling bags up on the stage coach, and when he’d smile and say farewell, it would be genuine.
Once, Hoss himself had lost his memory, and nearly traveled away with two Dutchmen. It would have broken the hearts of his father and his brothers, had he gone, because he would have left as a stranger, died as a stranger; Adam would leave or stay as a brother. A son. Would he return or write, it would never be as stranger.
Days of today were no more golden than any future days would be. Elin had known it so easily, yet for Hoss and Joe and Pa it might come a bit harder to differentiate. And Adam knew that, had known the second he had seen Elin take a look at him when he arrived. If it had been somebody else than his own wife, Hoss might have even been jealous at her skill to see beneath the sight.
Elin had told Adam he’d have no tension left behind if he’d try his life out there, somewhere. “You have a home in here, too,” she had said simply. And yet, she had also left Adam the option to stay. To be content to stay, it had been necessary for him to realize he would be free to leave, as well.
Adam stood up and started walking towards the door, hovering his hand over Hoss’ shoulder when he passed him on the way. Hoss felt in the nape of his neck the familiar gesture of his brother hesitating, bowing his head but determined to touch. If every part of Hoss hadn’t been so overcome by the revelation and the emotion following it, his lips would have curled into a faint smile.
Silly brother of his. Stumbling over words. Though he should have known words weren’t needed. He knew, and Adam knew.
Deep down they both understood.
Hoss was glad when Adam decided not to say anything. A mixed bundle of different feels competed inside Hoss when Adam finally put his strong hand on his shoulder, forcing him to close his eyes. But feeling his brother next to him, reliable, unfaltering like he had roots on this ground as strong as the pines themselves, his fingers holding him up with vigor of the branches of the old trees of the woods, Hoss felt the familiar. With it, he was able to keep himself in this world, too.
He couldn’t count how many times the same dialog had passed between him and Adam.
Hoss opened his eyes and nodded at his gesture, and Adam continued, out from the door and to the yard, to the barn from where the sound of hooves at some point announced a rider going away.
Would he find what he was searching for? And more important, would he like it?
Elin came to sit back in her rocking chair, and she looked out from the window, to the dark nothingness. ”He didn’t stay, after all, tonight.”
Thor rose up and stretched with a loud yawn. ”I’m off to bed, as well.”
Elin nodded at him and smiled when he took Carl on his arms and carried him upstairs with him.
– – – –
The silence of the night was sighing in the tones of night birds and in the footsteps of the shrews and mice. Elin’s arms were wrapped around her body and she seemed to be half asleep, yet worlds away.
Her life was here but she heard other lives, too, outside, and Hoss wished it had been easier for him to hear their calls and comprehend them the way she did. “Ailynn, how can it be your life is always so easy to you?”
She hadn’t even asked Adam where it was he needed to go. It didn’t seem to matter; she had all another scale for things that were important. And yet, somehow, Hoss had the feeling that what was important had already passed.
“Silly you, is it any merit to make it difficult just for the sake?”
The sound of her whisper hissed in his ear, the shadow of where she was from glimmered faintly as she hummed a song from her childhood. She smiled and rocked her body calmly, the rug underneath the rocking chair deafening the screech and thuds of the motion.
She had cried too many times so heart-wrenching it made you want to disappear from life itself; yet it was so hard to remember every time you saw her smiling.
Suddenly, she giggled, and a smile lightened her face with the glow of the past summer. “Come, touch the baby, Hoss.” The giggle traveled in her throat with a purring echo and her other hand stretched out to him, while the other touched the body under her chest, her eyes observing the bulbous shape. “She must be dancing, again.”
She pulled Hoss’ hand over her belly and laughed. “She’s happy to be home.”
– – – –
I do not own the Bonanza characters, and intend to do no business or benefit on their account wrongly. My own-created characters are no copies of real people, and the events are equally fictional.