Somewhere beneath those injuries was the woman she had always been. Nelson & Cora.

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A VG Serial: Nelson & Cora

Chapter 17

McGinnis Plantation, Kentucky, 1866

Nelson straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath, and relaxed his face before he walked into Gertrude’s room.

The lamplight made a circle around her face and then gave way to the darkness.

Gertrude was sunk into the mattress with a white quilt covering her. Her hair was fanned out around her face. She didn’t look hurt from where Nelson stood in the doorway. Gertrude looked like a perfect little doll. Nelson didn’t want to walk any closer.

She turned her eyes to look at him when he walked into the room. Nelson put up his hand.

“Gert, don’t try to say anything. Don’t try to move. I’m going to sit with you a while, just for a little visit. Just me and you. You be still now,” Nelson said.

She smiled a little, at the corners of her mouth. That small movement brought tears to her eyes.

Nelson promised himself that he would not cry in front of her. He pulled the chair next to the bed. He reached out and smoothed her hair back from her face. He went slowly.

Pieces of her hair stuck to the cuts above her eyes.

“Oh, Gert. I am so sorry. I should have been here. I should have been,” tears were forming at the corners of Nelson’s eyes.

Gertrude moved her hand slowly and put it on top of Nelson’s. She tapped his hand with her finger and moved it from side to side.

Nelson smiled at her. “None of that? You’re right,” he said.

“Mattie is going to make a fire in the kitchen. You’ll smell the coffee in a bit,” Nelson said. Gert always talked about how she liked to smell the coffee and the wood burning in the stove when she woke up.

Nelson continued to talk to her about the courthouse and town, what it looked like now that it was spring time.

He talked to her and tried to carry on like he always had. He wouldn’t let himself think about anything other than talking to her right now.

He couldn’t let himself think about the gashes and bruises. He couldn’t think about the cuts or her swollen jaw and her eyes.

Nelson focused on breathing and talking to Gert.

When he was sure she had gone to sleep, he leaned back in the chair, but continued to hold her hand. He cried.

It was still Gertrude. Somewhere under those injuries, it was still her.

He let go of her hand, wiped the tears from his face and pushed the chair back from the bed. He left the door cracked a bit.

Nelson looked for Apollo. He should have been lying right there, right in the doorway of Gert’s room.

He walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. Mattie was busy at the stove. The water in the kettle was almost boiling for the coffee. The fire was crackling. Nelson sat down at the table.

“Where’s Apollo, Mattie?” Nelson asked.

Mattie stopped stirring the food, but she didn’t turn around.

“Mr. Randall has him tied up outside,” she said.

“Why? Father’s never tied him up,” Nelson said.

Mattie turned to face Nelson. “He tried to get after Mrs. Analisa,” she said. “Mr.

Nelson, that dog was going to kill her. He was set on killing Mrs. Analisa.”

Nelson sat at the table while Mattie went back to cooking. It seemed like years had passed since he had been in town with George. And Cora? It seemed like a different lifetime when he sat in the courthouse and laughed with her.

He went outside to look for Apollo. The dog was tied up under the big tree next to the hay barn. The way the dog was slumped over, Nelson thought maybe he was dead.

It wouldn’t have surprised him. But, when Apollo heard Nelson’s footsteps, he raised his big head and looked at him.

Nelson talked to him. “You did your job, fella. You did.”

Apollo shuddered when Nelson held up his hand to pet him.

As soon as Mattie had told him what happened, Nelson figured his father beat the dog.

Nelson held up his hand and let Apollo smell him. Apollo licked Nelson’s palm. Nelson scratched behind the dog’s ears. Nelson sat down on the ground next to Apollo. The dog put his head in Nelson’s lap. When Nelson would stop petting him, Apollo would lift his large paw, motioning for Nelson to get back to it.

Nelson smiled. “I am sorry to you too fella. But, you did good. You did your job,” he said. “And, you’ll be coming with me when I leave,” Nelson said.

 

Chapters of the serial are published on Sunday.

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