"Do you want to write another letter to your friends in Colorado, Mr. Smith?" asked Miss Warren.
"No!" said Joshua sourly. "You know I can't." With remembering how to say words, it might take time and be difficult, but he could do it eventually. For words he had known before, he could usually find them buried in his memory, or if not he could learn them anew. He could make progress. With writing letters, as opposed to numbers, he had tried over and over, but he never improved at all from one try to the next. Despite reading well, he couldn't name any letters, he didn't know the sound any letter made, he couldn't spell any word, and he couldn't write any letter without a model.
"You can try, can't you? You'll never get your writing back if you don't try. Come on – here's the sheet of letters. Here's the pencil and paper. Do you remember what letter we start with to write DEAR?" Miss Warren tried to smile encouragingly, but her student could tell that it wasn't coming naturally to her.
"No!" answered Joshua. He wasn't just being difficult – he really couldn't remember any letters from one day to the next or even one minute to the next. He did try, but he simply couldn't do it.
"Here it is – a D." Miss Warren pointed to the fourth letter on the sheet.
Joshua sighed and tried to copy the letter, looking back at the model again and again. He finally achieved a very rough version of what could only charitably be interpreted as a capital D.
"And here's the next letter in the word dear – E."
Joshua struggled at it uselessly for a while and stopped. He looked up and groped for a word, but he was stymied in that, also.
"I'll bet I know what you're after," said Miss Warren with a faint smile, "a good curse! Dr. Leutze and Dr. Goldstein would never teach you curse words, but a man needs curse words now and then, doesn't he?"
"Yes!" answered Joshua with feeling.
"Then here you go, Mr. Smith, Damn! Is that a good one for you? Damn! God damn it!" She cursed with feeling and looked up to see the effect.
Joshua nodded and fought back a grin. He wrestled for a while and probed his memory, but soon he, too was able to come out with a good strong "Damn!"
"Very good! I hope that did you some good. Now you have that good, solid curse word whenever you need it. Now back to work," Miss Warren remained business-like despite this unscholarly diversion.
Joshua tried again on the E and went on to try the A, but then he just stopped and threw the pencil across the room. "No!" he yelled. "I can't do it! Never!" He got up to leave the room, but Miss Warren blocked his way.
"When you're done throwing your little temper tantrum . . ." Miss Warren began to crisply correct her student as she had before, and to shame him into trying again, but she stopped mid-sentence. "No – I can't do it either! I can't keep pretending that this is working when it isn't and we both know it!"
Joshua stared at his teacher in shock. He had never seen her like this before – she seemed to be fighting back tears. "We're supposed to stay objective and detached, but I can't do it. I can't stand it! It isn't fair to use you as some kind of laboratory animal for experiments. You're a man, damn it! You're exactly right – you will never write again."
Joshua's mouth flew opened. He was staggered. Now he was the one fighting back tears. If he could never write again, it would be the end of many of his dreams, and it would make countless aspects of life far more difficult. It would confine him to either menial work or being dependent on his friends. This would deal a mortal blow to the life he wanted for himself and any family he might ever have.
"Or you'll probably never write again. There is one chance. It doesn't work very often, but we can try. Dr. Leutze wanted me to wait, but I think you're more than ready for it now." Miss Warren gazed keenly at Joshua, gauging his attitude.
"Anything," said Joshua with determination. "I will try."
"Good! Mr. Smith," then he student interrupted her.
"Try Joshua," he suggested.
"Alright Joshua, if you call me Beth." Miss Warren seemed pleased.
"Beth," Heyes said tentatively, "please go on . . . sorry I. . ."
Beth Warren smiled sadly at Joshua. "Not a problem Joshua. You're right; we know each other too well to stay on a formal basis. But as I was saying, there is one possible way, that we know of, to get around your problem. That will be to teach you the alphabet and how to write all over again just as if you had never learned in the first place, just as you were taught when you were five or six. It doesn't usually work, but sometimes a patient who has lost the ability to write because that part of his brain is injured can actually learn again and put that learning in a new, uninjured place, or we guess that is what is happening. It takes a terrific amount of repetition – often many hours over days or weeks to learn a single letter. It is, well, humiliating, but then you've put up with a lot of humiliation in this place already. Will you give it a go, with me?"
"Yes," answered Joshua, hopefully, "If you help."
Beth nodded, "I'll be with you the whole way – no other tutor or therapist or doctor will be involved. Only two people will see you doing this – you and me. Let's get going. No time like the present! We have a lot of letters to work on."
Heyes took a deep breath. He was going to hate this, there was no denying it. But it wouldn't be as bad as enduring a life without writing. Of course, he might get both – humiliation and failure. Beth hadn't guaranteed anything.
Beth Warren took out a pad of paper and a wide-nibbed fountain pen so she could demonstrate words to Joshua. "OK, this is an A. It's the first letter in the alphabet and it sounds like A or ah. It's the last letter in your own first name – see? And the second letter in my last name – here it is. A, or its Latin version, alpha, is also the first word in the Latin alphabet. That's why it's called the alphabet – the first Latin letter is alpha and the second is B, beta. Let's work on the sounds of A and then you can write it," and on she went. Heyes smiled at her with the deepest gratitude. She was not, after all, treating him quite like a five-year-old. She was adding in adult knowledge that he would actually find interesting – he was learning some Latin along with his English alphabet. It gave him something other than humiliation to look forward to. He watched her write a capital A a few times, and then took up the fountain pen to carefully try it himself.
Of course, at first Joshua couldn’t manage the letter at all. Beth held his hand and guided him in making the letter A. And again. And again. And again, more times than Joshua could count. He had to say the letter aloud each time, to link the letter and what it stood for in his brain. One day was not enough to make, so far as he could tell, any progress at all. Smith went to bed that night in despair that he would never write again.
He was back at it the next day, still working on the letter A. Beth didn’t keep him at it for too long as a time. They would work on mathematics and other subjects, then return to writing. Two days, three days. Joshua’s brain seemed to reject the information like a magnet repelling another magnetic of the same alignment.
Would this work? It was taking a long time to find out, but Joshua Smith would not give up. Either he would learn to write again, and write for himself, or he would have to get someone else to write for him for the rest of his life. The first was hard, but the second was, for him, impossible.
The occasional note from Dr. Leutze arrived at Christy's place updating them on Heyes' continued good progress as winter turned into spring. Cat and the Kid wrote back, letters full of stories from Colorado. But there were no more notes from Heyes in that pained pencil printing. This worried and puzzled Curry, but he didn't ask about it in his letters. He didn't want to take any chances of embarrassing Heyes.
In May a letter arrived at the saloon from New York. This one was addressed in unfamiliar writing – a beautiful, flowing copper-plate hand even finer than Dr. Leutze's. The letter read:
"Dear Thaddeus and Cat:
May I please visit you the last two weeks of June? The clinic will be closed then. I can take the train west if you can put me up. I can tell you about New York, if you can wait for words. I cannot say much and what I say is real slow. Thank you for all you have done for me.
I look forward to your reply and hope to see in June.
The signature of Joshua Smith was in the same unknown, elegantly precise hand as the letter. Heyes' writing had always been pretty bad. He had never had a chance to learn really proper penmanship in school and had no patience for what he had learned. The Kid thought that Heyes must have gotten frustrated with his own slow capital letters and dictated the letter to someone at Dr. Leutze's clinic. The Kid could not help but notice that most of the letter was in words of one syllable, or at most two. Once he pointed it out, Cat saw what he meant, but she had never known the old silver-tongued Heyes. She didn't appreciate how unusual such simple, even awkward, language was for him. Heyes had always loved learning and using new words. Before being shot, his vocabulary had been large, for someone with so little academic background. The Kid wondered why Heyes hadn't even signed the letter himself. They would have valued even just that painful J. It hurt the Kid to see Heyes pleading to stay with them, and asking for patience with his slow speech.
Christy's had become the Kid's home now, more than any place since Devil's Hole. He thought of the place as Heyes' home, too. If only Heyes could, and would, come and stay in it! Of course Cat and the Kid wrote right back and told "Joshua" that he was welcome to come to Louisville any time and stay at Christy's for as long as he liked. His speech didn't have to be perfect or even good. Their home was his home and always would be, at least, as they didn't dare to say in print, until the wrong law man or bounty hunter or fellow outlaw came along.