This is the forty-first part of a fiction serial, in 762 words.
Phin made up for his poor eyesight by using a powerful hand-held magnifying glass, When he looked at things through it, his eye appeared enormous. I had brought a few photos to show him. My mother holding me as a child, my father standing next to a new car, and one of the house we had lived in that had belonged to my grandfather. There were also some of my favourite press photos that had appeared in the newspaper.
He studied them in detail, taking his time. When he looked at the one of my mother holding me, I watched one single tear roll down his face and drop onto the photo with a splash. Leaning forward, he handed them back with a nod. “You have talent with a camera, Julian”.
To compensate for his hearing loss, I had to speak very loudly. At times that raised to a shout, and he would lift a hand. “No need to shout, Julian. I’m not deaf you know!”
The very best thing was just to run the tape, and listen to him. I didn’t ask a lot of questions, not wanting to interrupt the flow of his recollections. I tended to start with a prompt, and then just watch and listen as he spoke without pause. “So what happened after Henry went to see the doctor, Phin?”
“He wanted to go see a good lawyer, so I took him to one. He had the man write up papers transferring the deeds of ownership for the land to me, cancelling the old bequest that would have only happened if he had died. Lawyer McDowell had to come out to the homestead the next day after working up the papers, and he took the original deeds away to have everything notorised and made right by the City Councilmen. Henry turned to me and said, It’s all yours now, no telling how long I will last after that fall. But he did last, and I made sure he was looked after. Angela moved into the cabin, and cared for him at times he found it hard to cope. She still did her field work with Susan, but used to help Henry as soon as she was done”.
He seemed to be dwelling on that for a while, and had been distracted from the conversation, thinking about Henry. So I asked a question, to bring him back to what we were doing. “How did you cope without Henry, Phin? Did you take on any extra help?” Phin shook his head for a long time, as if he was judging how to answer that.
“We had already scaled back the building jobs. Once the twins left, I had said we should do small jobs. There was plenty of money, and still some of daddy’s gold in the bank. That was increasing in value all the time, and years before he had told me to only use it as a last resort. So I did the maintenance and small jobs for a couple more years, Susan and Angela tended the animals and grew the crops. It was enough for all of us to live comfortable. Henry died a few years after that fall, just didn’t wake up one morning. Susan and Angela helped me dig the hole out back to bury him next to the others. Seemed only right they should all be together.
Not long after, Angela took up with a man. He worked in the hardware store, and seems he had taken a shine to her. He wanted to try his luck further west, and Angela came and asked if it was okay with us if she married him and left the homestead. Of course we said it was perfectly fine. She didn’t have to feel obliged to stay with us. I gave her some extra money after the wedding, and wished her well. There was talk of California, but I never did hear how she fared after. Life was pretty quiet after that, got to be said”.
He stared past me, and I guessed he was going off on one of his daydreams about the past again. Placing his hands over his thighs, he suddenly slapped them down, and looked up at me with a grin, as if he had suddenly remembered something.
“Then the men came with an offer. Different men, not cattlemen”. I was keen to know about that offer. “What offer was that, Phin?”
I had to wait to find out though. Mrs Mallory appeared and said he had to have his nap.