When Push Comes to Shove - Scott's Viewpoint
Not mine; Sam Peeples created the boys, wished he would have written more of the shows. And shame on Fox for not putting the series on DVD’s!
This is a Scott muse. Some cussing. No sex; just the boys being boys.
When Push Comes to Shove - Scott’s viewpoint
I can hear Johnny’s even breathing as I close the door. He’s already asleep. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly my brother can drop off like that. He reminds me of a stray kitten I managed to bring into Grandfather’s house when I was a child; the way that tiny creature could find the only beam of sunlight in a darkened room and manage to curl up and immediately go to sleep in its warmth. Johnny does that. He calls it siesta; a tradition from when he was growing up on the border.
More than likely, it was an escape for him. He doesn’t have those dreams -- those gut-wrenching night terrors -- when he sleeps during the day.
I’ve still got the glass in my hand, and there is enough ice at the bottom that it is cold against my fingers. I smile. He drank the entire glass in two swallows, pulling a chunk of ice into his mouth; looking like he wished he could use it to ease the burning on his back side.
I debate between going down the backstairs or just heading down the main stair case. Murdoch is in the Great Room; has been ever since he came back from Johnny’s room. Well, no sense putting this off. Main stair case. I allow my fingers to slip along the top of the banister as I start to descend, wondering what it would be like to follow Johnny’s example, and ride it side-saddle to the bottom.
What the hell. I mount, and find it’s exhilarating; aiming toward that spot -- that certain flaw in an otherwise perfect floor at the bottom -- the same place Johnny hits with such precision. I miss, but not by much.
I turn, facing my father, and feel the sudden rush of blood to my cheeks. “Sir.” Somehow I manage to meet his gaze.
“I thought that was your brother’s particular form of in-house mischief.”
Murdoch’s smiling. It’s the kind of smile I’m seeing more often. “It seemed a good idea at the time, Father.” I return the smile. “I don’t think Johnny’s going to be doing it any time soon.”
He gestures for me to join him in the Great Room, and I follow him through the doorway. As always, he heads directly for his desk. I take a slight detour and help myself to a measure of bourbon, pouring it atop the single piece of ice still left in Johnny’s glass, and then join him; taking my place in the chair in front of his desk.
“I’d be taking my belt to you, young man, if you did that with my scotch.” Murdoch salutes me with his glass. His eyes are filled with something more than whisky warmth.
“I assure you, sir, I would never defile your Talisker’s with anything as vile as ice or water.” I take a long drink, and then return his salutation with my own glass. In addition to the melting ice and the water, there is a small bit of lemon pulp and a bit of sugar at the bottom. “It reminds my of something I drank once, when I was in Kentucky on business for Grandfather after the War. They called it ‘Derby Tea’.”
Murdoch nods, only mildly interested. “You think I was too hard on him,” he says finally.
I can see it in his eyes; a look akin to suffering edged by uncertainty. He’s new at this father thing, and in spite of all the ranting and bullying he’s done since our arrival, I know he desperately wants to get it right. “I honestly don’t know, sir.” Another sip of ‘tea’ seems in order. “There have been times when I wished Johnny was ten or twelve; on those occasions when I’ve been sorely tempted to put him over my knee and blister his back side.”
Laughter now, filled with a bit of irony. “You mean when he does something reckless?”
“Or foolish,” I reply.
“Or dangerous,” he counters.
“Or exceedingly rude.” I’m laughing now. “This list could go on ad infinitum, sir.” That was true enough. Johnny’s ability to find trouble where there wasn’t -- shouldn’t -- be any was becoming legendary among the ranch hands. There had been a recent pool among the men regarding how fast Johnny could get Murdoch to lose his temper during morning roll call. Jelly had won hands down with the number ninety seconds. All it had taken was for Johnny to come galloping into the courtyard at full bore, late; just as Murdoch began issuing orders.
“It’s the wildness in him I can’t tolerate,” Murdoch says; almost as if he knew what I was thinking. “That need to spit in God’s eye.”
I nod. “Is it also because it reminds you of his mother?” I’m not usually this careless when I ask questions, but I need to know that Johnny has been punished for his own transgressions; not the sins of some harlot long dead and no longer a part of his life. If she ever really was, in the important ways.
Silence. I can sense Murdoch is considering the question, or perhaps my right to ask it. “Sir?”
He sighs. “I can’t deny he reminds me of Maria,” he says finally. He takes a very long drink, and his voice is hoarse when he resumes speaking. “There was something ferocious in his mother; an almost feral need to be free. It was more than wildness, Scott.
“She was spoilt, over indulged by her parents, never disciplined. Never held accountable for her behavior. Even her brothers…” He let the words die, and then began again. “She was the only girl in a family of four brothers. They were younger than she was, but they displayed the same extraordinary affection for her as the rest of her family; even her aunts and uncles. She could do nothing wrong in their eyes. I don’t know how many times she ran away before I met her, but I know the first time was when she was fourteen.”
This surprises me. I had discerned from the sparse discussions we’ve had before that Maria came from a titled and wealthy family; that, in fact, she had been conceived in Andalusia and was the first of her family to be born in what was then considered Espańa Nueva; New Spain. Certainly, she would have never wanted for anything. “And you see that feral need in her son?” There is a thud as he places his glass on the top of his desk. I know from the sound the tumbler is empty.
“What I see in my son, Scott, is a need for the discipline his mother never had.”
I take another small drink from my glass. “He thinks you want to break him, Murdoch.”
He stands up and heads for the decanter of Talisker’s. Surprisingly, he pours only a half-measure and comes back to the desk. “There’s a difference between breaking and training, Scott. I don’t want your brother coming to heel every time he sees me, like some damned lap dog. But I do expect him to obey me, and to show me some respect.”
The room is suddenly quiet except for the sound of our breathing. I find I can’t fault with what he is saying. But, in spite of discovering the truth about his mother, Johnny still harbors a wary suspicion of our father, and no small amount of resentment for things said right here in this room. ‘I love this ground more than anything God ever created.’
I feel a need to repeat the words aloud. “‘I love this ground more than anything God ever created.’ You said that, Murdoch, the day we arrived. Johnny’s never forgotten it.” And neither have I.
“Scott…” He drags the word out, genuinely sounding taken aback. The certainty that was in his voice before is no longer there. It’s remorse now, perhaps even guilt. And then: “God didn’t create my sons, Scott, I did.” The conviction is back with a vengeance.
Unable to stop myself, I laugh at his audacity. “And you claim Johnny is impudent!” When I raise my eyes to meet his gaze, I see the frown. My father questioned his faith for a long time after Maria disappeared with Johnny; possibly even before that, when God chose to take my Mother. “I apologize, sir. I’m not sure I understand exactly what it is you’re saying, but perhaps it would be a good idea to tell Johnny what you feel. That he is your creation.”
His face relaxes, and I see a gradual warming in his eyes.
“I would think, considering the boasting he does about his frolics with the girls at the Silver Dollar, I wouldn’t have to explain anything regarding conception to him, Scott. Besides,” the smile is broader, “isn’t that your job? As the older, wiser, better looking brother?”
So he’s heard my speeches to Johnny. Some of them, anyway. “I have told him to be careful, sir,” I admit.
“That’s something like telling a rattlesnake not to strike when its stirred, isn’t it?” It’s a rhetorical question, and he doesn’t wait for an answer. “I hope he is. Being careful.” The thought of dozens of little Johnnies and Juanitas running around in two counties causes him to shudder.
He’s looking into his drink now; sipping the scotch instead of tossing it back in a single swallow. “Was he all right, Scott? When you went upstairs to see him, was he all right?”
I have to think about that a moment. “Surprised,” I finally manage. “He certainly didn’t see it coming.” I can hear Murdoch taking in a great breath of air.
“It wasn’t my intention to take my belt to him, Scott. I wanted to talk to him; wanted to see to those cuts on his face.” The concern is real.
“And then he pushed?” When I look at my father, I can see the worry ease somewhat.
Laughter again, more subdued than before, but filled with humor. “Shoved,” he replies. “I wasn’t even angry. I was just fed up. When he tried to leave, I decided to stop him. And then that mouth…”
I raise my hand, wiping at some unseen thing under my nose, trying to hide the smile. “We heard it all, you know. Teresa, Maria and I.
“I have to tell you, sir, my first thought was to come upstairs and try to stop it.” Try is the right word. Unlike my younger brother, I don’t underestimate my father’s strength. I’ve seen him at the anvil, shaping horse shoes; bending iron to his will as he forms links to make chains.
“What stopped you, son?”
I finish the last of my drink. “That mouth.” It’s the truth; a part of the truth, anyway. “I thought Teresa was going to faint, and Maria…” Maria, who considers Johnny her lost child returned, had started a tirade in Spanish I couldn’t keep up with, but I do remember her mentioning jabón (soap) and something about ‘un palo fuerte para una espalda del tonto’ (a strong stick for a fool's back).
“Well, he’s damned well going to apologize to them!”
Murdoch stands up and strides to the fire place. It’s been warm outside during the daytime, but the evenings have been cool enough to require a small fire. He starts arranging logs on the grate, on top of the kindling someone put in place earlier. I decide to join him. “He said you told him that you expect an apology as well, sir.” I can smell the sulphur as he strikes a wooden match.
“Yes. And it damned well won’t be his usual lame…
“…‘me disculpo’?” I finish for him, surprised that he’s on to Johnny’s game; but somehow needing reassurance that he is. “The one where he’s apologizing for being caught?”
He straightens, brushing his hands together as he dislodges pieces of bark. Our eyes meet, and -- once again -- I see that incredible warmth. He is aware of Johnny’s little ploy.
“Well, it certainly works on the women around here.” He raises his head slightly, and gives a small backwards nod towards the kitchen.
Already, I can smell chocolate cake; recently removed from the oven. Johnny’s comfort food of choice. “He’ll be joining us for dinner?”
The fire is just beginning to catch and Murdoch uses the poker to rearrange the logs; creating sparks. “That, Scott, will depend on the quality and content of his apology.” Satisfied the fire is burning properly, he replaces the poker.
It’s almost unbearable now; the smell of chocolate wafting through the house. I can almost see it drifting up the stairway. My little brother can pick up the aroma of chocolate cake miles from the house and it draws him like a magnet. I have no doubt that he’s already salivating. “Johnny missed lunch, sir. I’d be willing to gamble a major portion of next month’s wages he’s already thinking of what he’s going to say.”
Murdoch is still standing at the hearth, his hands in his pockets. “Why does he find it so difficult to obey the rules, Scott? Are there that many of them?”
Afraid he’s going to start listing them -- perhaps even think of some new ones -- I raise my hand. “Actually, sir, Johnny and I discussed that. We arrived at six.”
He snorts. “That’s less than…”
“The ones in the Old Testament. The Big Ten.” I see him nod. Strange how my father and I have become so attuned in such a remarkably short time. “I pointed that out to Johnny. He seemed to be impressed.” A bit of a stretch, but it gains yet another smile.
I’ve been standing still far too long. The feeling of confinement has suddenly taken hold again; the rising heat from the fire a reminder of the fever that plagued me at Libby. Thinking of Libby -- even the smallest, most finite thing about my incarceration -- is never a good thing.
“Are you all right, son?”
Murdoch reaches out to me, and instinctively I recoil from his touch. It has nothing to do with my father. “I’m sorry, sir.” I reach out, putting my hand on his shoulder. “Sometimes, without any warning, it comes back.” I’m grateful that he knows what I’m talking about; actually relieved that I’ve spoken to him somewhat about some of the things that had occurred during the War.
“Both of you boys have endured more than your share of pain, Scott.” There is a deep sorrow in his voice and his words. “I wish…”
Suddenly, I have a reason to smile. “I had a sergeant under my command, Murdoch; an Austrian immigrant from Pennsylvania. He had a very profound saying: ‘Wunsch in einer Hand, Scheiße im anderen; es zusammen reibt und sieht, was Sie erhalten haben.’ Wish in one hand, shit in the other; rub it together and see what you’ve got. It was his not so tactful way of saying that wishes don’t make it so! It was a good reminder that the fates control our destiny; not our wishes!!”
Sensing I’m all right, Murdoch nods. “You’re very wise for one so young, son.”
Compliments from my father are few and far between, and when the come, they are a thing to be treasured. “About Johnny?” The fire is getting warmer, and we both move away from the hearth. I try again. “He asked if I thought it could happen again.”
Murdoch’s back at his desk now, gazing out the arched window; much like he’d done that day when Johnny and I first arrived.
“That’s going to depend on your brother, Scott.” He turns slightly and smiles. “Or perhaps the fates.”
His answer surprises me. “Johnny tempts fate, sir. When he’s walking the corral fence, when he rides off to God only knows where…” I can see my father’s hands. They are clasped behind his back, his fingers working; much the way I’ve seen Johnny’s hands move when he’s restless.
“Well, he’s not riding off anymore, Scott. And if that means another session with my belt, so be it.” He pauses, considering something. “The next time -- if there is a next time -- he and I will take a very short walk to the barn and have our discussion away from the house.”
I can’t help but smile. He means away from the two women who are in the kitchen, banging pots and pans as they finish preparing dinner. “So, since they’ve made a chocolate cake, should we assume Maria and Teresa have already forgiven Johnny?”
Murdoch sighs. “They always forgive Johnny.”
In the silence, I can hear the faint click as the large hand on the ornate grandfather clock standing against the far wall as it moves to mark the quarter hour. It’s already 5:15. Murdoch hears it as well, and turns to face me full on.
“I’d like you to fetch your brother, Scott. There’s no point in delaying this any longer.”
I nod and take my leave. Taking the stairs by twos, I reach the hallway and head directly for Johnny’s room. I rap once, and hear him call to me; the usual ‘Yeah?’
Opening the door, I step across the threshold. “Nice nap, little brother?”
Johnny is on the bed, lying on his belly. His right hand instinctively disappears beneath his pillow as he reaches for a pistol that isn’t there. It’s plain from his moves he’s not happy. “I always sleep good, brother. You know that.”
It’s a little joke between us. Sometimes, Johnny and I don’t sleep well at all.
I watch as he stands up. His dark hair is a mess, and he tries to smooth it with his fingers; a useless move. It’s long again, curling above his collar and his ears. “You need a haircut.”
“Fuck off, Boston.”
The mouth again. I’m willing to overlook it. This time. Johnny’s a bear before breakfast, a cougar when he’s missed a meal; and a downright ass when he smells chocolate cake and somebody’s in his way. “Murdoch wants to see you.” It’s impossible to keep the edge out of my voice.
“T’resa make chocolate cake?”
With the door open, the aroma is even more intense. “Very funny, Johnny. The entire estancia reeks of chocolate, and you know it.”
He smiles. That little boy, impish grin that lights his eyes, somehow making them even bluer. It’s the same smile that gets him free service from some of the older girls at the Silver Dollar, extra bacon on his plate at breakfast, and free peppermint candy from Seńora Baldemero. “He still pissed, Scotty?”
I feel myself bristling at that. “Let’s just say he’s righteously indignant.”
His eyes narrow. “Yeah. That’s what you say. Still sounds like ‘pissed off’ to me.”
I fold my arms across my chest. An alternative to reaching out and shaking my brother senseless. I lower my voice, keeping the words soft. “Are you done being petulant, little brother? Because if you aren’t, your trip down stairs to see our father could very well become a disaster, and that chocolate cake could turn green with age before you get even a crumb.”
That gets his attention. He’s rubbing his hand across his belly now, a good indication he’s hungry.
“Sorry, brother. Hungry as hell. Missed lunch, you know.”
He actually has the gall to make it sound like it was my fault! “Johnny…” Unable to help myself, I shake a finger at him.
I can see his mood is improving. He turns back to the table beside his bed; to the porcelain wash basin, and picks up the wash cloth and wipes his face. I know that when he turns around, it’s going to be like he washed away the bad humor.
“Guess it’s time to let ‘er buck, huh?”
I nod. “Have you thought about what you’re going to say?”
His lips turn downward in a slight frown, and just as quickly turn upward in a smile. “Nope.” Then he lowers his head a bit, and I can see that he’s chewing on his lower lip, a good indication he’s more worried than he’s letting on; also that he has done some thinking, he just hasn’t quite figured it out. “This ain’t something I can pay ya to take care of, is it? Or maybe there’s something in that book of rules…”
I laugh. “No on both counts, Johnny. I’ll watch your back, I’ll even attempt to watch your back side, but you need to take care of this one on your own.”
He snorts. “Fine big brother you are!” And then, slyly; hopefully. “Loan me your piece?”
I’ve had enough. I know he’s just playing; delaying the inevitable. I point to the door. “Go.”
Reluctantly, he heads for the hallway.
“And Johnny.” He grabs the door jamb but doesn’t turn around. “Straight to Murdoch. Main stair case; no detour to the kitchen. Understood?”
He sighs. “Jesus, Scott, ya sound just like him.”
“Thank you, little brother.” I can tell from the way his shoulders lift he’s laughing. He disappears through the doorway before I can wish him good luck.
Somehow, I know he’s going to need it.
TBC: in 03-When Push Comes to Shove, from Murdoch’s view