The Sage Purple Rider


THE SAGE PURPLE RIDER

T

he rider pulled his Winchester from the saddle scabbard. He swayed in the saddle as he raised his rifle to his shoulder and aimed at the point where he expected the gang to show up. It took a bit for the bad men to appear but he was patient. They showed up right where he calculated they would. He thumbed back the hammer, held his breath and began to squeeze the trigger. In the blink of an eye, they were gone. He swore under his breath, laid his rifle across the saddle bows and reached for his canteen with his free hand. He pulled the cork with his two remaining front teeth, spit it out  and took a long swig of the canteen’s tepid contents. He dropped it, letting it hang by its strap from the saddle horn; he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and placed the rifle back in its scabbard, muttering something about catching the ornery varmints the next time they showed their filthy faces around his ranch.

“Dad loves those old westerns,” The lady leaned against Scot Randolph’s door as she spoke. “He insists on sitting on his saddle while he watches them. Some day, I expect, he’ll pass on while riding his saddle. He doesn’t seem to mind not having a horse underneath it.”

The nurse smiled and rested her hand on Emily’s  arm. “Your dad is no bother. I wish a lot of our patients would take up watching westerns instead of….” Her voice trailed off as she turned to trot down the hall after an errant wheelchair and its occupant.

“C’mon, cowboy,” Emily stepped in the room and placed her arm around her father’s shoulder. “It’s time you took your pill and had a nap.”

It took Scot Randolph some time to struggle down from his perch on the worn saddle; he needed help making the transition from range-riding, calf wrestling ranch owner to restaurateur needing bed rest.

“You’re the prettiest school m’arm we’ve had in these parts since the towns folk built that new fancy school,” the old man wheezed. Emily smiled, hugged and squeezed her dad as she helped him into bed and arranged the thin blankets under his grizzled chin.

“We need to get you shaved,” she said, and her dad made a face that always reminded her of Walter Brennan. Emily laughed softly as she pulled the green vinyl chair away from the window and placed it next to the head of her dad’s bed. She sat down and reached for a book on the rolling tray kept pushed back against the wall. It was her dad’s favorite story, one he had read to her countless times in her childhood. He loved to imagine he was the hero of Zane Grey’s novels.  Randolph gave his daughter a gummy grin and clasped his hands together with

anticipation. What I love most about these times with Dad is his endless smile, Emily thought. He kept that posture even as he drifted off to sleep to the sounds of horses hooves and the echoes of gunfire in the canyons of the Southwest. Emily continued to read out loud even though her dad dozed. She remembered sitting in his lap as a youngster and listening with rapt attention as he recounted the adventures of the Hash Knife outfit or one of the other Zane Grey heroes. He didn’t just read those stories in a flat monotone, she recalled. He read with a level of excitement that mirrored the can’t-put-this-down contents of the novel. After her dad finished a story, they would sit together talking about it with animation and wistfulness, for Scot Randolph inculcated in his daughter the desire to live the free life of the range so artfully depicted by their favorite author.

The dreamy spell was always broken by the gentle urging of her mother. “Scotty! That child needs to go to bed!” she would say. Emily closed the book and laid it in her lap and watched her father sleep. She thought back to the dismal day her mother died and fought to restrain the unexpected tears. For Heaven’s sake! she thought. Mom has been gone more than twelve years and here I am still struggling with it. She had never been as close to her mother as she had her dad. Elizabeth Randolph was the practical one. She never bothered to dream or if she did, she kept them to herself. Emily did not remember her mother ever reading her a story although her father told her often of Elizabeth’s lengthy recitals of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables when Emily was just a baby.

The floor nurse came in and saw Emily leaning back in the uncomfortable chair with her eyes closed, a box of Kleenex in her lap. The nurse was about to leave when Emily opened her eyes and said, “Was there something you needed?”

“No,” Georgia Grotenburg whispered, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I brought Scotty’s pill in but I see he’s sleeping.”

“He’s just napping. When he wakes up I’ll give it to him, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” the nurse replied, and she placed the small paper cup with the large pill in it on the stand that stood between the elderly man’s bed and the specially constructed platform which supported her dad’s saddle. Emily crossed her legs and folded her arms. She wasn’t cold but she felt chilled somehow. Maybe, she reflected, it was the sudden recollections of her mother’s passing. It had been such a shock. She had been at work when one of her children ran out to the arena yelling. She recalled the instant of agony as she ran to her son. Her husband had been working over-seas, not in an area of imminent danger, but one never knew anymore. Her eyes and hands expressed the inexpressible and her son hastened to assure her it wasn’t his dad. She wiped away the tears that sprang to her eyes and felt them flood her eyes a second time and cascade down her cheeks as her son said, “Mom, it’s Grandma! You better come quick!” She hadn’t been able to come as quickly as she would have liked because of her boarders. The horses couldn’t be left to themselves. She enlisted the aid of her children to lock the animals up in the stalls, keeping them fed and watered while she was gone. And she made them promise not to ride until she returned. She wouldn’t be able to stand another tragedy. Especially not with her husband gone. When she finally arrived in town, she raced through the front door of the Western Steak House, across the main eating lounge that was decorated with all kinds of western paraphernalia and into the kitchen. Scot Randolph stood in the center of the kitchen floor, arms hanging straight down at his sides with a look of shocked, calamitous grief distorting his face.

“She collapsed all of a sudden, Em’. She died right there,” her dad motioned to a space by the walk-in pantry. “She came in to help me take inventory and she collapsed and died right there. I didn’t even know she was sick!” She remembered throwing herself into her dad’s arms and feeling his grief as his shoulders shook and his hot tears mingled on her cheeks with her own.

How ironic, she thought as she pulled a Kleenex out of the box and dabbed at her soggy eyes, that her dad was the one so completely enamored with the western lifestyle and thanks to his dedication and hard work, she was the one who was able to enjoy it—at least to a degree. She always felt extreme gratitude to her father for encouraging her to chase her dreams. She also had married a man who agreed with her desires for an equine environment. One in which they could raise their children with an appreciation for the outdoors and horses—especially horses, she thought—as well as the other aspects included in an old fashioned western lifestyle: cutting wood, feeding the livestock and caring for them, living in an old log cabin, raising feed both for their horses and themselves.

Emily chuckled to herself as she thought of the drafty old log cabin. Her husband bought it and its associated acreage—more than one hundred fifty acres of woodland and cleared pasture bordering the National Forest— with the proceeds of his parents’ estate. She thought back to the struggles they endured as they chinked the gaping holes in the old log cabin that first winter. The children were babies then, she remembered with a degree of astonishment. How time did fly, she thought.

Scot Randolph stirred and moaned. Emily leaned forward and placed her hand on her father’s shoulder. So frail now, she thought. When a child, she had thought of her father as a tall, broad shouldered Tim Holt, or even John Wayne. And now the years of toil had worn away the flesh that layered his broad shoulders leaving only hard bone covered with an almost translucent layer of skin. Paper thin, she thought as she gazed at her dad’s cheeks. And with a purplish cast his doctor said was due to a lack of oxygen. Not an abnormal circumstance given her dad’s age and health, his doctor said.

Randolph woke up and turned his head to see his daughter smiling down at him. He smil-ed back and closed his eyes to resume his somnolent introspections. Emily leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. She thought back to the day her husband came home with the news that he had made the purchase of their dream property. He was so excited…! He wanted her to put down the baby and come with him to look it over. “I can’t, Frank!” she recalled saying, feeling exasperated with the children that day. “I need to call my folks and see if they’ll come over to watch the kids.”                                                                                                                  “I’m sure they will!” her husband had replied. “In fact, I think your dad will want to go out with us to see the property!”

“Yes, I’m sure he will, too.” Emily recalled telling her husband. Scot Randolph was as excited as a child when he heard about their new home. “Just think, Em’. You can finally live just like we always talked about; with horses and lots of acreage to ride on….”

“Yeah, and the National Forest right next to us so we can ride as much as we want,” she had replied. “Now, daddy? Will you come out and live with us here? Mom’s gone and there’s no reason you can’t. You don’t have to stay in town. The staff can handle the restaurant. You don’t need to be there all day every day anymore.”

Recalling the look on her dad’s face, Emily felt renewed sadness. In one fell swoop she had taken away his primary reason for existence. She should have known after being married to Frank for so long—men needed to be needed, it was their purpose for being—that her dad would feel the same way about his life’s work as Frank did. She also recalled the gentle scolding Frank gave her as she related her conversation with her father.

Scot Randolph woke up again and Emily gave him his pill and a glass of water.

“Did you have a good nap, Dad?”

“Yes, fine. Read to me some more, will you sweetie?” His voice was soft, a muttered whisper, sounding far away.

“Sure, Dad.” She picked up ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’      , turned to her bookmarked spot and looked up to see if her dad was ready. He was watching her but he had a far away look in his eyes that worried her. “Are you okay, Dad?” she frowned as she reached forward to place a hand against his cool cheek.

Randolph nodded his head slowly. “Yes, fine. I was just thinking how much you look like your mother; even after all these years. I dreamt of your mother.”

“Just now, you did?”

“Yeah, while I was taking a nap.” Emily bent forward slightly to hear him.

“Did you want me to read now, Dad?”

Scot Randolph bent his head down again, just a fraction of an inch, and rolled his eyes to stare out the window as Emily spoke.

When she looked up from the book fifteen minutes later she saw her father had dozed off again so she laid the book down and leaned back in her chair once more to take advantage of the break and get some rest. She had already told her family she was going to stay at the nursing home as long as they would let her this time. She just felt deep in her bones that she might not get the chance to see her father anymore if she didn’t. She thought back to the rides she and her father took after he gave in and moved in with them at their ranch. Her sons agreed to share a room—they always wanted to sleep in bunk beds, which she thought was funny since they were both in their late teens—to make room for their Grandpa. She and her dad enjoyed many hours of tramping with the horses through the National Forest. They spent hours in the saddle talking about everything in general, and nothing in particular. She thought with pleasure how they just enjoyed each other’s company,.

Thinking of those rides made her open her eyes slightly and look at the contraption that held her dad’s saddle. She and her family had given him that saddle as a retirement present when he sold the restaurant and agreed to move in with them. She recalled his huge grin as she led him with exhortations to ‘keep your eyes closed’ out to the barn. Once inside, she told him to open his eyes and watched as he saw the finely tooled sixteen inch western saddle resting on a saddle stand. Then she laughed as she remembered the struggle to get the nursing home staff to allow the saddle and specially constructed stand in her dad’s room. That was bad enough, she thought, but the battle over the Winchester forty four caliber saddle carbine was ridiculous. She tried to persuade her dad that they wouldn’t allow the gun in his room but he remained adamant. Finally, she appealed to the nursing home administrator who happened to be her dad’s cousin Benny. He finally gave in, with some very stringent requirements: the firing pin must be removed, the room door must be closed whenever her dad was watching TV and handling the rifle, and the rifle must be hidden from view of all nursing home residents, staff and visitors when not being used.

“And above all,” Benny said in a most stern voice, “you must not let anyone find out it’s here, especially not the State Inspectors. They will shut this facility down.” Emily thanked her second cousin profusely and assured him they would keep it a secret but in a short time, everyone in the home knew about it. Everyone also thought so highly of her dad, she knew, they overlooked this one idiosyncrasy.

Emily’s father woke up again and struggled to sit up in bed. Emily stood and hurried to support her dad as he slowly pushed his blankets off and tried to push up to a standing position.

“Plug in a movie for me, will you, Em’?”

“Sure Dad. Which one would you like?”

Randolph told his daughter to put the nineteen thirty four epic western—his favorite— in the video player. She pushed in the tape, turned the television on, and helped her dad to stand up.

“Do you want to ride along, Dad?”

Scot nodded and smiled as his daughter helped him over to the saddle. He was so thin, it didn’t take much effort to help him up in the saddle. She handed him his cowboy hat that hung on the bedpost and helped him place his feet in the tapadero-covered stirrups. He reached down to pull the saddle carbine from its resting place in the saddle scabbard and Emily stepped over to the video player and pushed the play button. She was about to leave the room when she turned back to look at her father. His hat was pushed back on his head and he was watching the screen intently as the stagecoach raced across it.

She stepped slowly across the carpeted floor to her father and caressed his bony cheek with her hand. “I love you, Daddy,” she said and threw her arms around her father impulsively and gave him a hug, careful not to squeeze too hard. “I need to go call Frank and the kids. I’ll be back in a little bit, okay?” Her father didn’t respond to her question but he placed one arm around her waist and squeezed back. “I love you too, Em.”

Emily hurried back down the hall. She had been gone longer than she intended. She push-ed open the door to her father’s room and stepped inside. Scot Randolph was still sitting in the saddle, one bluish purple hand resting atop the other over the saddle horn. He was slumped with his chin resting on his chest as though asleep. His saddle carbine had fallen to the floor. Emily rushed forward and reached up to cradle her father’s head in her arms. “Oh, Daddy!” she felt for a pulse at his wrist and then at the base of his neck. “Goodbye, Daddy. I love you. And thanks!” she whispered through her tears.

THE END

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