Here is the first of three parts of my short story The Great McMurty. This isn't the first McMurty story, and won't be the last, as he's a fellow as seems to pop up at different times in different places, a soul sent back from heaven and spit out of hell, good for nothing but to be reborn and step back into the world.
I know of a man, named McMurty, who was seven foot two, and giant in a way that many never could be. His heart could love with no bounds, and his spirit was all but indomitable. He had brought his family out to the west, to Saskatchewan from Nova Scotia, where their families had lived for many generations. There was money to be made out west right then, as expansion of the national railway seemed to be moving at a lightning pace. McMurty found work laying track, and began to build a life for his family.
I knew McMurty when I was a boy growing up in southeast Saskatchewan. Back then I was always amazed at how very tall he was, especially to my ten year old self. In town he was well known and everyone liked him. Now and then he’d have a bit too much to drink, but he was a happy drunk, and never did he get mad or touch a soul when tipsy. Most harm anyone could have suffered by him in that state, is if they were to pass by just as he tipped and fell to the ground in a snoring heap. McMurty will forever stay in my mind for the kind of man he was. A great man, unlike any other, I can honestly say. He taught me a few things about people and about love.
The man loved liked no one I'd ever known. He loved his daughter, and he loved his wife, sure, and his devotion to them was unquestionable. But it went beyond that. When he stood by them walking down the road, you felt a permanence, hard like a granite slab, and you could only envy those women, the surety and steadfastness they had through him.
My mother and her women friends always said about the same thing. McMurty was kind to anyone who might pass his way, and never had an unkind word to say. He also had this way of taking the worst things in life, things so bad most men'd just crawl up into a ball and give up, and just going on like nothing had ever happened. Even when things got so bad that you just couldn’t, you knew no one couldn’t, go on any more.
* * *
The wagon shuddered as the wheels slipped back into the ruts in the middle of the road. In the back of the wagon, two shapes stirred and gave a murmur of protest, but quickly fell silent again, lulled by the rhythmic squeak of the axle springs. In the front seat of the wagon, singing softly to himself, sat a man who, were he to stand, would tower over most men living and dead. At seven foot two, Joseph McMurty was a large man. That this was true in a literal sense almost goes without saying. But some would say, were you to ask, that it wasn’t for his size that McMurty was known as a large man.
To the left and right, some twenty feet from the road on either side, were stands of hardwood trees. McMurty looked at them with a small grin. “You won’t be standin’ so tall for much longer, I think,” he said. “Things change when people come.”
He gave the reins a quick, agitated tug. McMurty glanced to his right as his daughter sat down beside him.
"Up already, eh Gladys?"
"Morning," she said, then looked calmly away, out at the countryside as it passed.
They had started out about a good two hours outside of Goodwater. Though it would have been an easy trip there to find the train, McMurty told the girls that he couldn't afford to go that way. Too many people would have known them, recognized them. So it was that they moved east, towards Kingsford, where there wasn't nobody as would know them at all.
In the back of the wagon, a second girl sat up, shaking the thick blankets aside. She rifled through a large trunk, and eventually pulled out a drinking flask. From under the blankets, where she had just been, a small squalling could be heard. The girl pulled aside the blankets, revealing a small baby boy. Then, uncorking another flask, she put it to the baby’s lips and slowly began feeding him the warm cream inside. The girl looked up at McMurty.
“How much longer?” she asked. “I think we’ll need to get some more food for Jacob soon. There really isn’t much left.”
It’ll be a few hours yet Alice,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at her. “When we get there, you and Gracy can get whatever we need. Try to figure on quite a bit.”
McMurty went quiet again, and Alice looked to the baby. Gracy, meanwhile, was still staring at the landscape. The silence was lulling, and soon Alice was asleep again with the baby in her arms. Gladys, turned so that she was facing the rear, watched Alice sleep peacefully for a while. She stared, mesmerized, by the slow rise and fall of Alice’s chest, and the strange sounds coming from the baby.
Why’d this happen to us?” she said, her words nearly lost in the clack and clatter of the horses hooves.
“I can’t rightly say, McMurty replied, "I can’t rightly say.” McMurty kept his eyes on the road as he spoke. “There are so many things in heaven and earth, I figure, that it’s to no point to try and understand them all. We’ll just…” McMurty stopped, shorts of words.
We’ll just what?” Gladys asked.
“We’ll just...go on is all. We’ll just go on.” McMurty then looked at Gladys. “Now you just go on and lay down again, and sleep for a while. Sleep has a way about it. It makes things go by a little quicker.”
She nodded and quietly moved to the back of the wagon and slipped back under the thick blankets. She didn’t fall immediately asleep, but the steady sounds of the wagon and horses, and the breeze as it swept by slowly coaxed her back into restfulness. Her hand restfully caressed Alice’s long black hair, and then Gracy's smooth cheek. Alice opened her eyes for a moment and smiled. She reached out and took her sister's hand. Holding each other this way, they soon fell into sleep, and into dreams.