What Ifs

A Gunsmoke Vignette


By Amanda (MAHC)


(The usual disclaimer – these aren’t my characters. Darn.)


Just a little vignette that came to me yesterday as our family lounged by the fireplace, exhausted from the merriment of the day.  Things were so peaceful, I thought about what ifs…



The fire crackled with warm comfort, its flames throwing dancing shadows around the room, flickering over the family that drowsed in cozy satisfaction.  The father peered into the coals, allowing the heavy cloak of fulfillment to drape over him as he surveyed the scene before him.  It looked as if Wilbur Jonas’ entire store had exploded, scattering boxes and bright papers, and clothes, and toys across the usually neat parlor.  A smile touched his lips at the sight of the two small children, sprawled in various positions of slumber, having finally succumbed to the exhaustion that followed the frenzy of the morning, a doll cradled under the girl’s arm, a slingshot under the boy’s.


Although the clapboard house’s occupants had risen over an hour before, dawn was just now starting to break.  The two adults had been roused from their warm bed by the youngsters, bouncing in anticipation of what awaited them by the magical fireplace.  After a mad flurry that ripped through every pretty package beneath the now-bereft tree, the family had gathered to eat a hearty breakfast of eggs, biscuits, and ham, and had collapsed, the woman curled in the man’s lap, lovingly watching their happy children.  Her hand rested on his chest, the warmth seeping through him, straight to his heart.


The man drew in a deep breath of what he could only describe as complete contentment.  Shifting slightly to look into his wife’s beautiful blue eyes, he was still amazed that she had waited for him, that this idyllic scene with the children and the fireplace and the presents and the tree – that all of that was his.  He never would have imagined it all those nights he rode the desolate trails in solitary contemplation –




A blast of icy wind slapped at Matt Dillon’s face, jerking him from the semi-sleep he had fallen into as Buck’s steady plodding carried him across the whitened prairie.  Blinking, he grimaced against the sleet that stung his cheeks, and he pulled the collar of his coat higher, ducking slightly so the brim of his hat deflected some of the frozen pellets.  He sighed as the warmth of the dream chilled with frigid reality.  He wasn’t snuggled up to his beautiful wife, watching their children, bathed in the comfort and security of their home. 


There wasn’t a wife.  There were no children.  There was no home.


There was just the lonely, silent, forbidding prairie.  Even the wolves and coyotes had taken refuge from the weather on this night, not bothering to come out to howl at a lone horse and rider.


Without digging out his watch, he knew the hour had passed over midnight, which meant that it was now Christmas.  The rest of the world slept peacefully, waiting for the day to bring the joys of family and feast and frivolity – none of which had much of a place in the life of a lawman.  So he tried not to dwell on the dream, tried to push any hint of longing for that life from his thoughts.  They could only bring discontent – danger, even, in the wrong circumstances.


He couldn’t afford that for himself, or for Kitty.  Especially for Kitty.  She understood, or at least she said she did.  She must have at least accepted it, since she had hung around for all those years.  He told himself it was for the best, that she was better off without the uncertainties of being a marshal’s wife.  That she would be safer.  That when he met his end from an outlaw’s bullet, it would be easier on her.  He told himself that.  And he believed it.  Most of the time.


Still, there were occasions, especially when he was alone, when the cold winter reached to his bones and the old scars ached and the trail seemed longer than usual, that he allowed the rare thought of what if –


He wasn’t getting any younger.  And neither was Kitty, although she was still just as beautiful to him now as she had been almost twenty years earlier when he first spotted her at the café, wet and tired and ready to be shed of Dodge City.  He was grateful she hadn’t been shed of Dodge – not yet.  He wondered if there might come a day when she would.


As he glanced up at the snow clouds, they parted just enough to reveal the full moon, its glow reflecting on the whiteness of the ground.  The sky opened to him, opening his own thoughts as well, and the dream floated again through his mind, waving before him: the beautiful woman, the adoring children, the comfortable home.  Again and again, until it melted the snow that had chilled him, until it heated him with a disturbingly strong yearning.


It was for the best – wasn’t it?  She would be safer – wouldn’t she?  It would be easier – wouldn’t it? 


He felt his jaw harden – a jaw that Kitty had noted more than once was stubborn – and he looked up at the moon, as if it held the answers he sought.


But he saw only the dream family again. The woman regarded him with a sad smile; the children raised their curly heads and looked toward him in sweet entreaty; the man lifted a knowing brow.


The lawman sucked in a cold breath.  And there in the frozen night, as the future watched, Matt Dillon made a decision.


There was no wife.  There were no children.  There was no home.


At least not yet.


A smile touched his cracked lips as Buck topped the small rise, and in the distance the tiny dots of the few remaining lit lamps marked the town of Dodge City.


He knew one of those lamps was Kitty’s.  And he knew she would be waiting.  And he figured she might – just might – be interested in what ifs –





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