The night is crisp and still and just a little cooler than your skin. The land is farther west than whites have yet to settle and uncharted (as far as they know). A family camps next to their wagon, a small fire crackling.
The father is normally handsome, you can tell, but he is covered in dirt and uncombed hair and beard. He looks at the glimmer of the stream just down the hill, tugging at his beard.
“You think you can worry that gold out the ground, Barnaby?” says his wife, Susan, from where he thought she was asleep. She props her head up with an elbow. She’s mousy and intelligent looking.
“What the hell you think we came out here for, woman? To hang out?”
“No, we came out here for a better life for our children. I just don’t want you to worry yourself to death before we even get going.”
“That’s it!” He stands, grabs a shovel, and begins walking down the hill. He mutters as he goes.
“Hey!” she says, pulling the covers off of her and following him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m gonna dig for some damn gold. Maybe you’ll stop worrying me when I find it.”
“You ain’t gonna find gold by just digging in any old spot! How the hell do you think that will work?”
He sticks his shovel in the dirt near the stream. “I’m using my instincts!”
“Just like when your ‘instincts’ told you to eat those berries that nearly killed you? Good thing I didn’t let you feed them to our son, too!”
He jumps on the back of the shovel with all his weight to push it deep into the ground. “When I find the damn gold, I’ll make it into a medal for you. It’ll say, ‘World’s best wife. Makes the husband look like shit.’ How’s that?” He tries to dig, but the shovel is too deep, so he yanks on it angrily.
“You got the thing too deep in the dirt! Why can’t you be patient and sensible?”
He pulls the shovel out, takes a few readying steps, and hurls it as far as he can. It disappears into the night and thumps somewhere in the dark. “If I can’t do any damn thing right, might as well not have a shovel!”
“There’s that genius sensibility!” she shouts.
“What are y’all talking about?” says a tiny voice. They both freeze.
“What are you doing out of bed, Timmy?” Susan says, rushing to her child.
“Y’all were hollering, so I thought a bear was in our camp or something,” he says, obviously terrified.
“Your mother and I were just having an adult discussion,” Barnaby says.
“We were being dumb,” Susan says, glancing at her husband over her shoulder with a look of surrender. “We were fighting with one another when we should be getting along.” She wipes the tears from Timmy’s face. “I should know that your father loves us and would do anything to keep us safe, comfortable, and fed. Sometimes that makes him impatient, and that just means he needs my help.”
Barnaby comes closer, thinking in the quiet for a moment. “Sometimes I think I have to do everything on my own, right now, or I won’t be a good father or husband. I just want to keep you both safe and happy.”
Susan turns and embraces Barnaby. “Sorry, Sue,” he grunts. “Don’t you ever be sorry,” she whispers.
Timmy wanders toward the hole in the ground his father made, entranced by something. He reaches his hand in, and pulls something out. “I found gold,” he says, skipping up to his parents.
They look in his little hand and cannot believe they are seeing a nugget nearly the size of his palm.
“You found gold!” Susan says. They shout and dance, Timmy unsure what he had done, but happy that he had made his parents happy.
“My instincts!” Barnaby says. They go quiet.
Susan bites her lip. “Go to bed, Timmy.”
“But-” he begins.
“You can keep that nugget if you go to bed right now.”
He smiles and runs up the hill toward the camp where the fire still glows.
Originally published at https://www.tumblr.com on January 11, 2020.