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With and Without Words

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Their horses are saddled and waiting. Chico has already mounted up: he’s young, goodbyes are painful – for him, one in particular – and he wants to get them out of the way.

Chris and Vin are standing side by side in front of the four graves. They’ve already taken their silent leave of Lee and Harry. A quick goodbye to O’Reilly: the three boys will keep his grave tended and, it is to be hoped, his memory alive.

Chris stares at the fourth grave, unwilling to move, his hand closing around the flick-knife in his pocket. His comrades no longer exist, they can no longer help, or harm, or be close to, anyone. And there are no words. None. They didn’t go to a better place, pass on (where to?), leave (to go where?). Spanish doesn’t help either – in Spanish they say se fueron, they left, pasaron a mejor vida, they went to a better life, or (Chris makes a grimace of disgust), desaparecieron, they have disappeared. He has vague memories of the language he heard from his grandparents in Lousiana, and recalls that dead people “disappeared” in that language as well, ils ont bâsi, they have vanished.

His comrades’ voices will echo in his head for a while: No enemies – alive. Do you know what the people in the village have been eating since we got here? Time to turn Mother’s picture to the wall. Nobody throws me my own guns and says, Run. But who these men were, what they did, will soon sink into wordless oblivion. The only traces they left of themselves are right here, in these fields which can be ploughed and harvested without fear, and in the grateful, hopeful eyes of these men and women.

He, Chico and Vin will ride out, go back to the States, split up. He glances at Vin and hears his voice as he heard it after the first battle, sharp, cutting, full of self-hatred and despair as he outlined the scope of a hired gun’s life, present and future: Home, none. Wife, none. Kids, none. Prospects, zero.

Vin half-turns to look at him and says nothing - he just takes half a step sideways, tottering a little because it’s still not easy for him to put weight on his patched-up leg, and now their shoulders are brushing.

Chris feels a small warm wave run through his body. “You OK?” he asks quietly.

“Hurts some. We’ll get over it,” Vin says, misunderstanding the question - or maybe not. Then he walks over to where Chico is waiting and mounts up. We, he said, without expanding or explaining. Right now, it’s enough, no words are needed.

Adiòs, Chris says twice. Once to the old man, without disputing the faith underlying his Vayan con Dios, and once to Chico, who is about to turn his horse around and go back to his girl and to a life of hard work in the fields. Vin smiles and raises his hand a little in salute, and that’s enough too.

“Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose.” Vin keeps quiet, his silence more honest, more loyal than any responses. Another long-lost childhood word floats up in Chris’s head and remains there, unspoken, easy: Bon, allons-y, let’s go, then. They turn their horses around, away from the village, away from the four graves.

The afternoon sun is warm on their backs. It’s too soon for words such as hope and plans, but formless thoughts about the future drift in the air between them as they ride, in the same direction, looking at the road ahead and not yet at each other.