How the Light Gets In
He was dying, and didn't really mind.
Sixty-five years old, but looking ten years older, Louie Pheeters' body was worn out from over twenty years of hard drinking.
Lying in a comfortable bed in one of Kitty's spare rooms at the Long Branch, he wasn't in any discomfort, but refused to eat more than a few spoonfuls of soup even when Kitty encouraged him. Always a thin, slight man, now Louie's body was positively gaunt, and barely discernible underneath the thick quilt.
Dear Kitty would check on him every few hours, and would sit by Louie's bed and talk or read to him before he went to sleep. She had discovered that her old friend loved the pulp fiction shoot-em-up Westerns, and she would buy one whenever the General Store got in a new issue.
Doc Adams stopped by every other day at first, and now every day, but he and Louie knew there was nothing more to be done other than comfort measures.
"Kitty, if Louie asks for a drink, and I mean whiskey, GIVE it to him! At this point, it won't harm him, in moderation, and he would needlessly suffer without it." Doc harrumphed, pulled on his right ear, and looked at Kitty with his world-weary, grey-blue eyes. "You giving him a safe, warm home for his last days is the best medicine in the world. He thinks the world of you, you know."
Kitty had put her right hand on Doc's right forearm, and nodded, tears pooled in her kind blue eyes. "Sure, Doc." was all she could say.
She started bringing a shot of whiskey in for Louie every evening to go with their settling-in-for-the-night routine. She was happily surprised that he seemed perfectly content with just the one shot, but oddly enough, it also made her sad, realizing how frail he had become. Matt, Kitty, and Doc would sit together downstairs in the saloon and tell "Louie stories", never making fun of him, but reminding themselves of the gentle goodness hidden by his inebriated exterior.
One night, after Louie had been upstairs at the Long Branch for a week, he had reached up with his bony right hand and weakly grabbed Kitty's right hand, holding the latest Wild West magazine she was reading to him.
"Miss Kitty," he rasped, "If you wouldn't mind, I'd really like to hear some poetry before it's too late."
"What did you say, Honey?" Kitty was sure she had misheard the soft voice, and leaned closer.
"Poetry! I want to hear…poetry." Louie's hand fell free from Kitty's and his eyes closed in exhaustion.
"Oh! All right, Louie. I don't have any, but I'll ask Doc tonight." Thinking the poor man must be confused, she asked skeptically, "Any particular poet?"
Louie didn't open his eyes, but softly said, "Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats, William Cullen Bryant, Robert Burns, Thomas Grey, and my favorite, Edgar Allan Poe."
Louie opened his faded blue eyes and for just a moment, Kitty saw an excited glow, before he closed them, exhausted by his efforts.
"You rest now, Louie." Kitty kissed his dry, sallow cheek, turned down the light, and walked out, leaving the door slightly ajar. Going back down to the noisy saloon, she took a moment to go to her office and write down the names of Louie's poets. When she came back out to the bar, she got three mugs of beer on a tray from Sam and joined Matt and Doc at a table near the stairs.
"Hello, Kitty," Matt said with smiling eyes meant only for her.
"Matt," Kitty smiled back and their fingers lightly touched as she put a foamy mug of beer on the table for him, before sitting down close by.
"Kitty," Doc nodded his head at her, his eagle-sharp eyes not missing the subtle touch between the man and woman he loved as if they were his own grown children.
"Doc," she smiled warmly at the old man as she handed over his mug of beer. "Louie is about the same tonight," she said, knowing he was about to ask her. "But you two will never believe what he asked for tonight," pausing as both men looked at her expectantly, "poetry!"
Matt and Doc looked at Kitty as if she had two heads.
"POETRY!" they both said in unison.
'Yes! I wrote down the names of the poets he asked for, and his favorite is," Kitty referred to her paper, "Edgar Allan Poe. Doc, do you have any poetry books I could borrow?" She handed the piece of paper to Doc.
Doc put the list in his vest pocket, then sat thoughtfully looking at his hands around his beer mug as he listened. Before answering, he took a drink from his mug, and then wiped his right hand across his grey mustache and lower face, and closed his eyes in concentration.
"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." Doc opened his eyes, smiled, and looked at Kitty's wondering face.
"Charles Dickens was a very wise man, Kitty, and he may very well have been referring to our friend upstairs."
Matt and Kitty glanced at each other, each knowing that their shared hearts were no mystery to each other.
Doc pulled out his old silver watch from his right vest pocket, studied the time, pushed back his chair and stood up.
"Well, I need to get to bed. Kitty, I'll bring over some poetry books tomorrow. I hope you'll enjoy them, as well." With a sly look at the big Marshal sitting quietly beside Kitty, Doc added, "And maybe you can read some poems to Matt, too!"
"Now, hold on, there, Doc!" Matt laughed, "Let's try them out on Louie, first!"
Kitty gave a loud laugh, and hugged Doc.
Doc smiled to himself at the thought of his massive friend quietly listening to poetry, but despite Matt's tough, bullet-scarred exterior, he had seen him be gentle and tender with Kitty. Once again, the older man remembered the Dickens' quote, and smiled to himself as he tiredly shuffled towards the swinging door.