There Are Stars that Shine in the Western Sky....
It is a cowboy song. John does not know the rest. It is not important. It is only the one line he contemplates.
John dreams. He often dreams. It is a function of fever. He sees things differently and they really become for him what he sees. What is real?
If there is something you miss, someone you love, somewhere you remember, he reasons, when you are alone those things, people, places, are not there. If you are alone, no one else is there either. Imagine you are walking down the street, your hotel lying around a corner. Why should the saloonkeep, the itinerant sporting men, the concierge be more real to you than your loved ones? You cannot see them any more clearly. You cannot see them at all. Why not believe that they are waiting there for you, in your home, familiar with the clean white cloths and the scent of wisteria from the window. Why not believe that your friends are waiting there for... you, ready with a smile and shared stories, understanding, pouring... you... a glass of scotch? Before you turn the corner, does it matter if you even let yourself expect that, conjure the pleasure and anticipation within you that these would give you if they were true? Does it matter if they are more real to you than the place to which you are walking, or even the place through which you walk? Why should you not experience that memory or that dream or that desire as if it were truly about to come to pass?
If you are then able to do that, to believe, how rooted are you to time and place? How close are you to the present at all? If what you may invoke is real for you, if it affects you, lets you feel, grants you... company, place, things to value, then why does it matter if you turn the corner, return to the hotel at all? What if you were to turn into another hotel, take another man's room key, lose all your possessions but gain his, lose your own profession but take up his - become a drummer perhaps, or a speculator, a minister or teacher, a lawyer? What is to stop you from simply walking into another man's life, with your dreams and memories and living his life as you live yours, as if it were not there, as if it were not real? Tomorrow it will be another railway town, another railway hotel, another saloonkeep with the only external stable thing the horizon.
Were John to rely on the dust, the smell of cows and cowtowns, the presence of drunken cowboys looking for free money, the scorn of good men, the small things he does for dignity - he could not bear it. He turns to his mind, grateful even for the fever. There is no drug to mar his clarity. He decides what is real.
Recently John has dreamed of stars - of white lights thrown up against the limitless black. It is as if everything that matters has become so - everything he has decided is real. And everything that does not matter has become empty sky, extending forever.
It is not that he does not enjoy things. He likes good food, his silk waistcoats and ties, his finely cut grey suit, general vistas, sparkles of crystal, the oily richness of old wood, the feel and smell of soap, linen, flowers. Despite his discipline, he is sensually indulgent with small things. And he is proud of his good manners, his readiness to help, his skills with teeth and cards and guns. It is much better to be comfortable - after the deprivations of the war he values them, but with his body rather than his heart. It is not that in a gunfight, when he might be needed, he dreams another reality. At those times he is exactly and solidly present, and even in a dream, even in a fever, he waits for those times. It is those times for which he not only waits, but lives. But were he to look at his life in terms of grammar, he would be subject
and all this and those he meets would be object
moves through them, around them. They are not real, do not affect him. Empty. Black. The void of space.
But then, if he watches, there are stars that come out, that emit tiny beams of light in points and lines as a diamond does, casting not rainbows but pure white. They ease the unrelenting darkness, give him strength. There are stars that shine in the western sky.
Some stars have always been there, guiding him more surely than Polaris.
Nulli virtute secundus. He isn't always right. There was the time before he met Wyatt. There are times he fails, acting despite his best intentions. But the star is always there, if he looks. Another time he may do better, follow more surely, navigate more accurately. He has very few regrets. He turns to his star - In Virtue Second to None, and does his very best, straining to his limits to become always better, to hold on and act correctly, in the best way possible, despite whatever obstacle or loss or horror is thrown. The star always points direction, provides a gauge by which he may judge which action will be best for him, that he might be able to live with himself in the future. And he looks, as he knew to do as a child, for that star. His following of it would have made him worthy of his friends, would have made his mother proud of him, would have made him proud of himself.
Faith. That is another star. Some faith that love is worthwhile - that everything can disappear, be ruined or twisted or lost, if only he is to see those he loves again in Heaven. If he can be worthy of them. If, when they are present he has thought enough, studied enough, learned enough to understand, to be understood, to appreciate everything. That wonder - each person he has loved has been worth everything. And he follows his star, white light shining in the dark, wherever he is, whatever he does. Memory gives him faith. And someday, when he passes from the earth and its darkness, they will be in Heaven, with him again because he loves.
People are also stars: the few who shine as subjects with him rather than objects to him. Those who let him be 'me' rather than 'I,' who for some time have arrested his drift to dream, memory. Those who have touched him, changed him, aided him, let him do anything other than drag himself up to thought or idea or love or pain by his own hair. Those who have let him stand not alone but in relation to another human being. Even in their absence - their presence in his mind and imagination more real than the solid felt of card tables or at night the thin hotel blankets - they comfort him, just for the fact that they have existed. The comfort is both hope and sorrow. But these stars guide him too, for what has been might yet be again.
Stars are the things that he notices, that exist despite the all-consuming darkness of indifference and dismissal.
There are other stars that he does not watch in the sky, but takes inside his chest to send out their rays within him, too valuable, too real, too meaningful to share. These he has been given. Small wonders, worth everything. He can never give enough to earn them. You trust me. You know me, remember me. You let me trust you. And I believe.
He rests in his mind in a valley, the heights surrounding him. When you look into the abyss, when it looks back into you, what do you see? Just another monster.
He lies in the abyss, but the valley is green with lush grass. When he looks up it is as if he too were looking down, when he looks back he sees another abyss - that of empty space, but in the black he sees the stars.Name: John H. Holliday, DDS.
Word Count: 1419
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Nulli Virtute Secundus