Dry-eyed and silent, Abby Malloy focused on the wooden
casket that held the remains of the father she’d
never known. The north wind rattled the
bare limbs of an old scrub oak tree in the corner of the small cemetery. The
preacher read the twenty-third Psalm but the words were whipped away with the
Dozens of people bunched up under the tent and sang “I’ll
Fly Away.” She looked at
the words on the back of the funeral program, but she didn’t sing along. On the last verse
of the song someone tapped her on the shoulder and she looked up into the green
eyes of a man with a daisy in his hand. He shoved it toward her and she took
it, then he moved on down the row of three folding chairs and gave one to each
of two other women. Abby wondered what
in the hell she was supposed to do with it. Didn’t
folks usually put a rose on the casket if they followed that tradition? Could
the women next to her be Ezra’s
other two daughters?
She glanced over at them, covertly studying each of them as
they stared straight ahead at the casket. The will said that the sisters all
had to live together in Ezra’s
house; that if any one of them left, they could have a third of his money but
not a bit of the ranch. The last one standing got the land, the cattle, the
house and the whole shebang. If more than one was left at the end of one year,
then they would share the ranch. Neither of those two looked like they were
interested in anything but the cash-out, especially the prissy one right next
to her. And the wild-looking hippy on the end would probably get bored real
early, no doubt about it.
totally sure if she wanted anything of Ezra’s.
Not his money or his damned land, but she’d
stick around a few days to see what happened. Hell, without the Army anymore,
she didn’t have anything else
to do and she might like ranching once she learned how to do it.
Her stomach twisted into a pretzel, more from stress than
hunger. Would it be a sin to eat one of the miniature candy bars she had tucked
away in her jacket pocket? She was reminded how she’d felt in Afghanistan—the
same emptiness surrounded by nervous energy—especially
that horrible day with the little girl. Today was not her fault, though. Today
the burden fell on Ezra even if he was dead.
The cold January wind didn’t
feel like the scorching wind that pushed the desert sand storms. The colors were different.
Everything over there was shades of tan; here they were an array of orange,
ochre and mustard. But the lonesome aura surrounding her remained the same.
Maybe it was because she had a war to fight here, too.