Sometimes even John is utterly discouraged.
John is just tired. Everything is an effort. He is oppressed by tasks that others do not even consider extant as tasks. He has to still his throat and work his breath around the desire to cough. His body is so frighteningly thin he tries not to look at it, even himself. Fever gives him odd realisations, imperatives and visions. His hands shake and it seems almost unimaginable effort to simply walk down the street to the lunch counter. Unsteady hand on his cane, he regards the distance he must travel and it seems a vast desert with pitfalls he must brave – the loose board in front of the gun shop and the step down to cross the uneven road. Once he is there, he must eat. He must
eat, and again must swallow carefully around his cough, and then he must digest. Often he fails at this last, and then the horrible acid taste or the additional pain in his abdomen. And exhausted, he must concentrate to space his words around his cough and palate, as he had learned as a child. Nothing is easy.
He walks to lunch, then to the saloon where he is dealing Faro, always, always upright and alert should he be wanted or needed. In his breaks and after his shifts at the job he barely holds, he practices by playing solitaire. As he walks and as he works, the only eyes upon him are predatory, trying hungrily to judge an ill man’s poker ability. They are wrong, of course – he retains his faculties. Other eyes follow him, accompanied by whispers of fearful yet fascinated revulsion. No eyes offer warmth, concern or friendliness. There had been no one willing to lend him five dollars, when it would have prevented him being beaten to death. It did not end that way for, shaky hands aside, he can still shoot. After, he plays poker with them anyway, into the night, still winning, avoiding the bed and fitful haunted sleep where coughing wracks him helplessly and painfully.
He is so tired. Exhausted. An arm around his shoulders, supporting him, letting him sleep cradled without drowning in the fluid in his lungs. A hand in his fine cream greying curls. He used to like that. Even yet, he keeps his breath so sweet, himself so clean, his thin skin so soft. Just for a moment, he wants that so much. Just a moment, to remember. Just a moment – it is Christmas. It is not even a pipe dream for no part of him believes it or trusts it or avoids seeking it.
A crystal ball in brutal Leadville, where he has been twisted by the smoke he inhaled fighting their fire, and then pneumonia, and now this.
A crystal ball in brutal Leadville: How much longer?Name: John H. Holliday, DDS.
Word Count: 476
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Nulli Virtute Secundus