2010 LAURA Newsletter by shuifanglj

VIEWS: 2 PAGES: 39

									                                                                                               Table of Contents
In 2007, President Elect Kathleen Ernst        mittee decided to give the contest a recog-
presented a seed of an idea to the WWW         nized name, as well. In honor of Laura In-
Board of Directors. Her proposal, a short      galls Wilder, the contest was christened the    Short Stories
                                                                                               2    Fear Of Horses, Carol Buchanan
story contest, offered a threefold founda-     LAURA Award.
tion: showcase WWW members’ writing               Once again, WWW members enthusias-
talents, celebrate the short story form, and   tically embraced the contest, and in 2009,      7    A Night At The Theater, Cynthia Becker
add another benefit to membership. Unlike      another three Winners and two Honorable         11   In The Flesh, Suzanne Lyon
                                                                                               16 Guadalupe Canyon, Cinny Green
the WILLA Literary Awards, only WWW            Mentions were awarded at the Los Angeles

                                                                                               20 The Second Time Through The Door,
members would be eligible to enter their       conference.
previously unpublished story featuring a          Spurred by members’ recent requests to
female protagonist, and set in the American    have an opportunity to read the winning              Carol Devlin
West, past, present or future.                 stories, and eager to showcase the extraor-     23 The Ranch, Linda Sandifer
                                                                                               28 Sweet Java, Maxine Neely Davenport
   During the contest’s first year in 2008,    dinary talent of our members, the WWW
President Elect Sheila Wood Foard guided       LAURA Committee decided to present a
the new project. Twenty-five members sub-      collection of the winning stories in an on-     32 Popcorn, Martha Egan
mitted entries, and the quality was such       line journal, available at the WWW web-         37 The Caretaker, Leslee Breene
that Final Judge Susan Stoltz, of Women        site: www.WomenWritingtheWest.org.
Out West Magazine, elected to include two         So, sit down, pull up to your computer,
Honorable Mentions in addition to the top      and take a trip with us through the Ameri-
                                                                                               The WWW LAURA Committee
three winning stories. Winners were recog-     can West. We have a hunch Ms. Wilder her-
nized at the 2008 WWW conference in San        self would be mightily entertained!
Antonio, Texas.                                                                                Alice Trego
   Approaching its second year, the WWW           (Editor’s note: although there are ten         WWW 2010 President
                                               winning stories, only nine appear in this       Sheila Wood Foard
                                               publication. Cynthia Becker, 2009 First
Short Story Contest gained a new name:
                                                                                                 WWW Past President
                                               Place winner, and 2008 Third Place win-
the LAURA Awards. Mirroring a part of the
                                                                                                 and 2010 WILLA Chair
                                               ner, elected not to publish her 2008 story
traditions of our WILLA Literary Award,
named after one of America’s foremost au-
                                               in this journal as she has since revised it.)   Suzanne Lyon
thors, Willa Cather, the Short Story Com-                                                        WWW 2010 President Elect
2008 1st Place




Fear Of Horses
     By Carol Buchanan                  All Claire had to do was deliver two bottles        always, from the time Tina, after a summer
                                        of champagne to a guest cabin for a cele-           jaunt to this very dude ranch, brought the
                                        bration, but that meant walking past the            owner’s son home to Minneapolis and in-
                                        new round pen where the brown horse cir-            troduced him as her fiancé. Their parents
                                        cled, neck stiff, head over the green steel         had smiled bravely at their prospective
                                        rails.                                              cowboy son-in-law, and friends bet the
                                           Claire could not pass for the fear that          marriage wouldn’t last six months. Claire
                                        coiled and rattled in her way, and struck:          grew up amid city opportunities, a brilliant
                                        Teeth bared, hooves shod in iron and                blue dragonfly sort of life, but her marriage
                                        driven by all his weight, the horse charged,        crumbled into rancor and left her in the
                                        splintered the rails into swords that pinned        ruins of her life.
                                        her to the ground in her own blood.                    “But he’s ten times my weight.” How
                                           Someone played the piccolo obbligato to          could an animal so large be afraid of any-
                                        “Stars and Stripes Forever.”                        thing?
                                           A piccolo? No, rather, someone was                  “He doesn’t know that.”
                                        whistling.                                             “He doesn’t know how big he is?” Dur-
                                           Sweat rolled down Claire’s ribs. She             ing the last month, in all the dinner conver-
                                        clutched the ice bucket to her chest, and felt      sations about horses, Claire had not heard
                                        its welcome chill. Breathe deep, her psy-           this.
                                        chologist would say. Exhale. Inhale.                   “Horses don’t have any sense of relative
                                           The horse stood as far from Claire as he         size. I’ve seen an Arabian dominate a
                                        could, one ear toward her, white at the cor-        Percheron.” Mac leaned on the railing.
                                        ner of his eye, the other ear and eye turned        “He’s too scared of people to be useful. I’m
                                        to the whistling.                                   sending him to the sales in three weeks.”
                                           Mac, her brother-in-law, walked over                “I hope he isn’t as scared of his new
                                        from the barn. “They’re waiting for that.”          owner.” A sunbeam like a searchlight trans-
                                        Meaning the champagne. He stopped on                formed floating dust into sparkles and
                                        the horse’s side of the round pen.                  melted the horse’s brown coat to bronze.
                                           The horse shifted a few steps away from          “He’s so beautiful.”
                                        Mac, which brought him closer to Claire.               “Yeah, he’s a looker.” Mac’s voice was
                                        His ears pointed at one, then the other, as if      thick with regret. “I gotta sell him, though.”
                                        choosing between dangers. He swung his                 “Why?”
                                        hindquarters toward Mac, kept one ear, and             Mac sighed. “When I bought him, I
                                        one eye, toward Claire.                             thought he was just hard to handle because
                                           Claire tried to speak, but the attempt           we were new to each other. That can hap-
                                        ended in a croak.                                   pen until the horse and you get a feel for
                                           “You don’t need to be scared of him. He’s        each other. But it’s been six months, and I
                                        as scared of you as you are of him.”                still can’t trust him. He’s just too spooky.”
                                           “He’s afraid of me?” It made no sense.              “Couldn’t Scotty work with him?”
                                        Why should the horse fear her? He was so               “Scotty? No, I don’t pay Scotty head
                                        big.                                                wrangler wages to waste his time with no-
                                           “He’s scared of everybody.” Backlit by the       hopers.”
                                        sun going down behind the western hills,               “But, who’ll buy him?”
                                        Mac was a silhouette of a Montana cowboy,              “The cannery.”
                                        rolled hat brim, wide shoulders, long legs             “What?” Claire wasn’t sure she’d heard
                                        in jeans, but essentially invisible to her. As      right. “That’s awful!”


                         2 • Women Writing the West • 2008 1st Place •   Fear Of Horses, Carol Buchanan
   “Damn it, I can’t afford to keep him           tallest of the Swan Range, with its sharp             Over the machine’s grumbling Tina said,
around. Every animal on the place has to          peak like an ocean wave blown back, reared        “You’ve got to get over this fear thing.”
earn its keep, and if he kicks one of the         against the star-filled sky. Stars and moun-          How many times had people told her
guests, I’ll be sued.” He made a gesture of       tains, she thought. Reminders of the ever-        that, as if it could be shed like a winter
hopelessness, and the horse shied toward          lasting. Not like the countless lightbulbs        coat? Tina was colorblind to fear, like
Claire.                                           shining in the windows of skyscrapers.            someone who couldn’t see green, and
   “I thought we didn’t slaughter horses for      When next she awoke, pale dawn outlined           could not – refused to? – understand that
food in this country.”                            Eneas in gold, and the ranch was already          the fear would not slink out of her life
   “Not any more, but they can be shipped         busy.                                             when Claire ordered it, Go! Claire’s ear-
to Canada or Mexico. If he’s lucky it’ll be          Her heart surged in her ribs, as she felt      lobes tingled, and she wondered why until
Canada. If not, Mexico, where they’ll stab        the horse’s terror at the end, the horror of      she recognized her old reaction to being
him a few times – ” Claire screamed Stop!         the knives. She had to do something. Im-          annoyed. Annoyed? After fear’s rattling had
Stop! But the words could not escape the          possible to go on living with his bitter end      driven away every other feeling? She was
grip of her larynx, and his relentless voice      always on her conscience. She could keep          annoyed! Did she dare show it? Talk back
continued, “ – then cut his throat, and hoist     him safe if she owned him. She would buy          to Tina? Did she dare?
him up by the legs on chains to bleed out.        him.                                                  Claire said, “I can’t promise to be cured

                                                  She had to do something. Impossible
Then, they’ll carve up the carcass.”                                                                by 10:30 a.m. tomorrow. Healing doesn’t

                                                     to go on living with his bitter end
   The fear struck from the edge of her                                                             happen on a schedule.”

                                                  always on her conscience. She could
mind; the ice bucket slid out of her hands,                                                             Tina’s head came up, and her hard look

                                                    keep him safe if she owned him.
and darkness like smoke settled over her.                                                           jabbed at Claire. “Whatever. That’s not the

                                                           She would buy him.
                     * * *                                                                          point. Being here isn’t doing you much
   “You idiot! You know how she is! How                                                             good. You’ve replaced other phobias with a
could you – you heartless fool!”                                                                    fear of horses. Maybe you should live in
   Lying on her bed, Claire listened to her                           * * *                         town.”
sister holler at Mac, whose deep rumble              Only small sounds came from the                    “Are you kicking me out?” Where would
came through the closed door as easily as         kitchen; the coffee pot burbled, Tina’s slip-     she go? What would she do? Claire put
Tina’s shrill tones. “Hell, you never know        pered feet slid across the vinyl floor, the re-   bread into the toaster and picked up two
what’ll set her off. My God, being around         frigerator door thumped. At the doorway,          glasses of juice.
her is like working in an egg factory. She        Claire stood watching her older sister slice          “Oh, of course not. When you came, I
oughta wear bubble wrap!”                         oranges in half with quick, deft, impatient       said stay as long as you want, and I meant
   Booted feet stomped across the board           motions. What would she say about the             it. But you’re not improving much.”
floor. A door slammed.                            champagne?                                            What was the point of repeating that
   “Drat that man! MacInnis!” Lighter steps          Inhale. Exhale. Claire went in with the        healing couldn’t be planned? Claire put the
receded, and the front door cut off Tina’s        fear stretched along the edge of her mind.        juice glasses on the eating table. Over her
voice.                                               “Good morning.”                                shoulder she told Tina, “I want to buy that
   Claire’s room, her sanctuary, had light           “Good morning.” Tina did not look up           horse.”
blue walls hung with cheerful prints of           from her task. “Feeling better?”                      “You what?” Tina dropped an orange
lupine and columbine, and dark blue cur-             “Yes. Thank you.” Claire did not know          half on the floor and bent to pick it up.
tains imprinted with yellow daisies. Lying        where to put her feet. “What can I do?”               “I want to buy him. Turn him out with a
on her bed, she studied the lupine, smelled          “You did enough last night. Both bottles       herd. Or find someone to straighten him
the pine-scented air. Smells had colors for       broke. Fifty dollars a bottle.” She did not       out.”
Claire, and the scent of pine was a yellow-       look at Claire, but placed an orange half in          “Oh, a horse therapist?” Tina mashed the
green just slightly darker than lime. The         the juicer and closed the top. The machine        orange onto the juicer’s point.
sun had set, and she left the curtains open       growled, and juice spurted into a glass.              Claire’s ears burned. “You mean we’re
so she could watch the Swan Range, the               “Oh, no! I’m so sorry, I’ll pay for it.”       alike, that horse and I? I won’t be cured,
mountains that loomed up behind the                  Tina tossed the empty orange peel into         and he can’t be trusted.” She poured coffee
house, fade into night. Slow tears trickled       the garbage. “That’s not the point. Our           into a metal travel mug; the pot clanked
across her temples.                               guests weren’t happy, and unhappy guests          against the rim.
   She slept. And dreamed a horse wore            don’t return or recommend the ranch.”                 “Talk to Mac about the horse. He’s in the
bubble wrap. The first knife slicing through         “What can I do to make up for it?”             shop, fixing the chain saw.” Tina pulled
the plastic startled her awake.                      “Nothing. You’d only make it worse.”           down the handle and the juicer snarled.
   “It’s not happening to him,” she whis-            What could she say to that, that wouldn’t                            * * *
pered, the therapist’s litany of reassurance.     lead into a childish argument? I won’t. You           Below the house lay the ranch yard with
“It is not happening here, it is not happen-      will. Her hands dangled at her sides; Claire      the shop, and across from it the barn.
ing now.” The shape of Mount Eneas,               put them in her jeans pockets.                    Scotty, a lean, compact man of about fifty,


                                   3 • Women Writing the West • 2008 1st Place • Fear Of Horses, Carol Buchanan
trimmed a pinto’s hind hoof. Downhill             of her mind into a coil. The brown horse           the knives, and it would be all her fault. Ex-
from barn and shop, the round pen over-           whinnied to the pinto, and Claire had a            hale. Inhale. The fear’s rattling ceased. Go,
looked a short natural drop-off, below            sudden thought: Just who did Mac think             she told herself, into the barn, through the
which the guest cabins stood along the            was the no-hoper – the horse? Or her?              doorway to the feed room, turn on the
shore of the private lake. The overhead                                * * *                         light. Despite the coiled fear, her feet
shop door opened into a hammered dark-               The barn door opened into a great dark          obeyed until she stood in the feed room.
ness, and Claire, waiting for Mac to notice       maw. Must she go in? Sweat trickled down           The barn cat, an orange tabby, crouched
her, locked her knees to stop from fleeing        her temples, and she reminded herself to           between two plastic garbage cans, tail
the machine-gun noise.                            breathe. She tasted the smell of hay on her        twitching, and peered upward at one of
   “Feeling better?” Mac came out and             soft palate, another green smell but with          them. On the lid she read “Hay C – ” but
threaded the bows of his sunglasses over          more blue in it.                                   the rest of the word had been chewed away.
his ears.                                            What did it matter if the horse went to         A rat. In that can. The fear rattled, and a
   “Yes, thank you.” Wishing she could see        Mexico? He was only one horse. Yet she un-         voice screamed at her to run run run, but
his eyes, Claire smiled at her reflection.        derstood his terror of the knives.                 she clenched her jaw and pulled up her left
“I’m sorry I caused trouble.”                        “Anything I can do?” Scotty, who was not        foot, set it forward, teetered on the rim of
   “Oh, you’re no trouble.” But his guarded       paid to waste his time on no-hopers. Eyes          her balance and picked up the right foot,
voice and tight smile spoke of bubble wrap.       on a level with her own, at five feet, nine        moved it ahead of the left, and the rattling
   “I’d like to buy that brown horse.”            inches. An uncommon horseman, Tina had             grew louder, but she did not pivot, did not
   “No, sorry. I can’t sell him. Not to you.      said, whatever that meant, but he had              run, but walked forward. Save the horse,
He can’t be trusted.”                             about him a kind of calm authority. His            she told herself, and lifted the chewed lid. A
   “What if I just turned him out?”               status earned him a cabin of his own               mouse bolted, up and over the edge, and
   “To eat his head off with no return?           among the trees and meals with the boss’s          Claire, unable to utter a sound, heard be-
Look, this ranch feeds seventeen people           family. But he was not her sort, not at all, in    hind her a scramble of paws, a squeak. The
and puts our boys through college. It             his faded jeans and scuffed boots.                 rattling stopped. Grasping two hay cubes,
wouldn’t pay.”                                        “Can you give me courage?”                     she was surprised at how large they were,
   And did they think she also needed more           He smiled. “I think you have plenty of          two inches cubed. Pouring her cold coffee
time than would pay? “I understand that,          that.” He led the pinto into the barn, slid        onto the concrete floor, she put the cubes
but would you rather he went to Mexico?”          open the back door, and went on out with-          into the mug and took two more, juggled
   “Hell, no. No horse deserves that, but I       out closing it. Sunlight shone in.                 cubes and mug while she replaced the lid,
can’t sacrifice us to a horse.”                      The fear coiled more tightly and its            and walked – she did not run – to the open
   “What, then?”                                  tongue flicked out. Stepping into the barn,        door, pressed the light switch, and still
   He considered her without speaking             Claire waited for her eyes to adjust. Bales of     walking, not running, left the barn. The
while Claire dangled from his silence.            hay, this summer’s early first cutting, were       fear glided to a far corner.
“Here’s the deal. You prove to me this horse      stacked high along one side, yet there was
                                                                                                       I did it, I did it, she sang to herself.
could be reclaimed. Before the sales. That’s      room for twice as much more; on the other
                                                                                                      One small step, such a simple thing,
three weeks. And I’ll give him to you.”           side, empty box stalls opened into turnouts
                                                                                                       to get a couple of hay cubes for a
   “How? I’m no wrangler. I’ve never              whose doors were closed. Two small doors
                                                                                                          horse. But large, exhausting.
worked with a horse before.”                      set into the back wall led into the tack
   Mac gazed over her head, toward the            room and the feed room. She would have
brown horse eating hay. “OK. I guess that’s       to walk the length of the barn through to
fair. In the barn, in the feed room, there’s a    the feed room.                                         I did it, I did it, she sang to herself. One
garbage can filled with hay cubes. If he’ll          The fear hissed and its tail shook the rat-     small step, such a simple thing, to get a
eat one of those from your hand, he’s             tles. In the feed room rats and mice scrab-        couple of hay cubes for a horse. But large,
yours.”                                           bled for food in dark corners and the barn         exhausting. She ought to eat something
   The teeth. Long and yellow. One end            cats crouched, waiting. She would have to          and rest, but she knew she would not come
bites and the other end kicks.                    put her hand into a dark can. What if a rat        back. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.
   “From my hand? I can’t!”                       bit her? The fear struck.                              She walked around to where Scotty was
   “Didn’t think so.” He turned uphill, to-          Not knowing quite how she got there,            filing the front hoof of a pregnant mare.
ward the house. “You coming to breakfast?”        she stood outside the barn in the sunlight,            “I got hay cubes to feed the brown
When Claire shook her head, he walked on,         gasping, gripping the coffee mug. She              horse,” she told him. “I’ve never hand-fed a
paused after a few steps. “Remember what I        pulled in air as if she were hollow to her         horse before.”
said about Scotty working with a no-              toes, and let it out as if this one exhalation         Scotty finished filing the hoof, stretched
hoper.”                                           must last her all day. And again, inhale. Ex-      the foreleg out, and set it down. “Horses
   Claire sipped coffee, tried to think what      hale. Inhale.                                      use their upper lips like hands, but they
to do, while the fear slithered from the edge        If she ran now, the horse would suffer          can’t see right there, so they can’t tell the

                                    4• Women Writing the West • 2008 1st Place • Fear Of Horses, Carol Buchanan
difference between fingers and treats.” Tak-      his ears at her, then went back to his search.    fear’s rattling, she raised her voice: “I am
ing one of the cubes, he cupped his hand             The water trough, in the shade when            going back,” and descended the steps.
around it. “This way you could you get            Claire arrived, held an edge of sunlight. She        The horse lifted his dripping muzzle
pinched.” He opened his fingers so the cube       shifted her weight from foot to foot, and         from the trough; he watched her, but did
lay on the flat of his palm. “Hold it this way    withdrew her hand, circled her arms, bent         not move away as she circled the pen to her
and you’ll be all right.”                         and touched her toes, stretched backwards         place. Someone had brought a stool, bot-
                     * * *                        until she nearly toppled over.                    tled water, and an old book on gentling
   When Claire neared the round pen, the             The horse retreated to the far railing,        horses. Putting her hand and the hay cube
horse moved to the far side. His high head,       where he watched, ears aimed at her, picked       through the rails, she wondered who it
swiveling ears, white-rimmed eyes, and            up his hooves and set them down as if re-         could have been, and the fear slithered to
fluttering nostrils, told her of a fast-moving    hearsing flight.                                  the edge of her mind. The horse cocked
brain sorting through the sounds of guests           At the barn, the wranglers – Tina’s and        one hip and let his head droop; he stood
getting ready for the day’s pleasures, the        Mac’s sons – helped the guests prepare to         inside the rim of shade. Closer to Claire.
smells of bacon and coffee, and her ap-           set out on their day-long trail ride into the                           * * *
proach, all translated into: Flee. Run. But       Flathead National Forest. Scotty saw them            When Mac came, the horse ambled away,
the rails held him.                               off with final instructions to the boys, and      into the sunshine. “He’s not as scared. He’s
   Claire set the mug on the ground, took a       Claire wondered that he did not go with           getting used to this.”
cube, and felt it hard and scratchy on her        them. As they rode away, they waved to               Claire spoke to her reflection. “I’m tired.”
palm. Her hand twitched, threw off the hay        Claire, but she could not release the rail to        “I don’t doubt it. This is tiring work.”
cube. She made herself scoop it up, lay it on     wave back.                                           “It is?”
her palm. Commanded her arm to ignore                                   * * *                          “Yup. Just ask Scotty. I see he brought
the coiling fear, ordered it to push the hand        Tina, walking down to the guest cabins         you the Tom Dorrance book. It’s a classic.”
through resisting air into the pen. “Please       with cleaning supplies in a bucket, paused.       He added, “You’re doing fine. Keep it up.”
don’t let him bite me,” she prayed. “Please       “I don’t believe this. I just don’t believe it.                         * * *
don’t let him bite me.” Eyes tight shut, she      You must really want to save this horse.”            The sun nudged the shade toward Claire,
leaned her forehead against the cool top             His retreat from Tina brought him closer       and the horse shifted with it. When Tina
rail. “Please don’t let him bite me.” Submit-     to Claire; ignoring her, he watched Tina          came to ask if Claire wanted lunch, the
ted herself to the horse’s large yellowish        and whuffed through his nostrils.                 horse lifted his head and moved into the
teeth. Listened to the blood pound in her            “It’s a horrible death.”                       sunshine. “No, thanks. I’ll stick it out a
ears. Heard flies buzz around her hat,               “Maybe. But for you to – I didn’t think        while longer.”
hooves shuffle in the dirt. Hooves? Her eyes      you’d do it. Maybe you weren’t as scared as          “Suit yourself.” Tina patted Claire’s
snapped open, and her inner voice                 all that?”                                        shoulder. “I’ll bring it to you.”
screamed: Run.                                       The hand holding her to the rail showed           Claire wanted to thank her, but the
   The horse moved to the flake of hay, a         the knuckles white. Claire said, “I want to       words could not squeeze through her tight
rectangular chunk perhaps four inches             run.” She confessed her doubt as if it were a     throat.
deep torn from a bale, and ripped a hunk          theft.                                               The afternoon sun shone, and there was
off. His farther ear rotated to follow               After a pause, Tina said, “Prove it to         no shade. Claire perched on the stool and
sounds, while the near eye and ear focused        yourself. Toss him the treats and go eat          watched her shadow lengthen across the
on Claire as he chewed. His tail swiped at        breakfast, then come back.”                       pen. She had seldom been so weary, except
flies. White no longer showed in his eyes.           “No.” Claire shook her head. “I might          in the aftermath of the fear’s bite.
   He did not charge.                             not come back.”                                      Scotty walked up, carrying a saddle on
   The fear uncoiled, and her inner voice            “All right, then. I’ll bring you some-         his shoulder, moving with no hurry in him,
quieted, but Claire gripped the rail to hold      thing.” Tina walked back up to the house,         and the horse stayed where he was.
herself there. “We’re alike, you and I,” she      and Claire rested her head against the top           “You could rest awhile,” Scotty said. “The
murmured to the horse. “We’d both run if          rail. Why should her sister’s kindness bring      dudes should be back any time now.”
we could.”                                        her to tears?                                        “I’m not finished yet.” Claire’s arm
   Having eaten the hay, he nosed about in                              * * *                       ached, and her neck ached. She wished she
the dry sunlit dirt, nibbling up stray stems,        Claire fought her need as long as she          could rest, but the fear waited, and what if
leaf fragments. Claire had never watched a        could. All the way to the house she mut-          it struck so that she couldn’t come back?
horse use his upper lip. Like we use our          tered, “You will go back,” while the fear            “You’re doing well, working that horse.”
hands, as Scotty had said. “You have a deli-      gathered itself into coils and its tongue            “Not really. I’ve just been keeping him
cate touch, don’t you?” Claire relaxed her        flicked out, scenting victory. Afterwards,        company.”
grip on the rail, stretched her fingers to        she closed the front door behind her and             “With a horse like that, getting him to
ease them.                                        stood on the porch, breathing slowly and          come as close as he is now, that’s working
   The horse raised his head and pointed          muttering, “I am going back.” To drown the        him. It’s not a matter of bucking broncs.”

                                   5 • Women Writing the West • 2008 1st Place • Fear Of Horses, Carol Buchanan
   “What is it then?”                             and have fun.”                                    that the rails divided the horse into frames:
   “It’s giving him back his confidence. Let-         “I have so much to learn about horses.”       topline of high withers and back, tangled
ting him trust you.”                              She picked up the horse cube she had              mane, a scar on his shoulder, straight
   “I’ve been here almost all day and noth-       dropped and held it out to the horse.             forelegs like pillars surely too slender for
ing’s happened.”                                      “You always will. It never ends.”             his body, black hooves chipped around the
   “That’s not true.” The man lowered the             The horse walked over to the trough,          edges. Rising as slowly as she had knelt, she
saddle and let it rest on the ground, leaning     touched his upper lip to the water’s surface,     offered him the treat.
against his leg. “Look how close he is.”          and sucked as if he’d crossed a desert.              The horse’s weight went to his hindquar-
   Out the corner of her eye Claire saw the           “There,” said Scotty, “that’s progress,       ters, and his hocks bent, as if to spin and
horse’s nose was only about five feet away.       too.” He took off his hat and combed his          run. He reached out for the second half,
“You’re right. When I started this morning,       fingers through his blond hair, replaced the      but he was not close enough to take it. Into
he was pressed against the opposite rails.”       hat. “You were saying – ?”                        his eyes came a question so plain Claire
   “You’ve done good work. You’ll have him            Claire thought back to remember what          seemed to hear him: Dare I trust you?
eating out of your hand pretty soon.”             had been so important. And scary. “Heal-             Yes, Claire told him, speaking thought to
   “How soon?”                                    ing happens on the patient’s schedule, not        thought, you’re safe with me.
   “That’s up to him. When you work with          the shrink’s.” Scotty’s sunglasses rode in his       He leaned toward her and gathered the
horses, you change over to horse time.”           shirt pocket, and she could see his eyes,         half cube off her palm, and his touch was a
   “Like psychiatry,” Claire said, and wished     with the crow’s feet at the corners from          light kiss of his whiskers. Claire turned her
she could recall the words. What would he         much smiling, she thought, or looking into        hand over and let it dangle. Now, if he
think, knowing she’d seen a shrink, spent         long distances.                                   wished, he could bite it, but she knew he
months in counseling? But he merely stood             He said, “Yup. Just like with horses.         would not.
there, in a silence oddly still, as if not ex-    Faster or slower depends on the horse. And           The fear slid away.
pecting her to say anything, but it would be      how trustworthy the trainer is.”                     “I’ll be damned.” Mac stood a little dis-
all right if she did. The horse’s reddish             Footsteps sounded behind them, and            tance behind her. His voice sounded shaky.
brown hide shone like an old penny, and           Claire wondered who, but she didn’t want          “Never thought I’d see that.”
she smelled dust and horse and man. No            to look away from Scotty to find out. “Who           “You did it.” Tina stood beside Claire,
after shave or men’s perfume, just him. She       decides that?”                                    and the horse withdrew a few steps. Her
thought about the color of honesty’s smell,           “The horse.” He made stay back motions        sister squeezed Claire’s arm. Her eyes were
and decided it was blue.                          to whoever was coming.                            wet.
   The horse lifted up his tail, defecated,           In a quiet like time holding its breath,         Claire grasped Tina’s hand lying on her
and the sharp, sweet smell of manure              Claire felt a vibration through her feet and      arm. Maybe someday she’d tell Tina that if
stained the air.                                  along her veins that made her turn her            they hadn’t doubted her, challenged her to
   Claire blurted, “You know what? Horse          head and meet the horse’s deep brown gaze         save the horse, she might not have defeated
poop smells better than people – ” and            just a couple of feet beyond the reach of         the fear, and known this soaring feeling.
stopped, too embarrassed to go on. How            her hand. Everything at the periphery of          Was it joy?
crude.                                            her vision ebbed away, and she seemed to             “What’s his name?” she asked.
   The corners of Scotty’s mouth folded           stand alone with the horse.                          “Fraidy Cat,” said Scotty. “He needs a
upward in a smile. “You’re right, it does.”           He stretched his neck, and his upper lip,     new one.”
His voice choked. The horse stretched his         and his ears came forward. “You’re safe              “Up to you,” Mac said, “he’s your horse.”
neck and lifted his upper lip, baring his         with me, I’d never hurt you, you’re fine             The horse watched Claire.
long teeth to reveal the pink upper gum           with me, I’ll take care of you, you’re safe          “Darius,” said Claire. “His name is Dar-
and the underside of his lip. The fear            with me.” The horse took a step, and Claire       ius.”
coiled, but Scotty said, “Horse laugh,” and       did not know that her voice murmured
that made Claire giggle, and then laughter        over him in a cool stream of words. Her           Descended from Montana pioneers and
                                                                                                    homesteaders, Carol Buchanan is a non-
                                                                                                    fiction writer and student of Montana his-
came with tears spilling from the corners of      hand quivered so that she both feared

                                                                                                    tory who turned to historical fiction in
her eyes, until she and Scotty were laughing      dropping the cube and feared not dropping
                                                                                                    God’s Thunderbolt, The Vigilantes of Mon-
together. The fear slid away.                     it in time to avoid the big teeth. The horse
                                                                                                    tana, which won the 2009 Spur Award for
   Wiping her eyes, Claire said, “Imagine,        took another step, his mouth now within
                                                                                                    Best First Novel.
sharing a laugh with a horse.”                    reach, and the fear hissed, as with a delicacy
   “He has a sense of humor.” Scotty pulled       she never expected in so large a creature, he
a handkerchief out of his back pocket and         lipped the hay cube from her hand and put
blew his nose.                                    it between his front teeth. Biting it in two,
   “He does? Horses can have a sense of           he let one part drop to the ground, where it
humor?”                                           tumbled to Claire’s side of the railing.
   “Some do, some don’t. They like to play        While he chewed, Claire knelt, so slowly

                                   6 • Women Writing the West • 2008 1st Place • Fear Of Horses, Carol Buchanan
A Night At The Theater
                                                                                                     Gilly and swung her around in circles.
            2009 1st Place                                                                               Mama laid aside the brush and turned to
                                                                                                     open the oven. The sweet aroma of corn-
                                                                                                     bread spilled into the room.
                                                                                                         “Will General Grant come to dinner?”
                                                                                                     Gilly asked.
By Cynthia Becker                                                                                        “I expect the folks who arranged this
                                                                                                     visit have made all sorts of fancy plans to
                                                                                                     entertain the General.” Papa rolled up his
                                                                                                     sleeves and poured water from the pitcher
                                                                                                     into the metal basin.
                                                                                                         “Will you and Mama be invited?”
                                                                                                         “No. We aren’t in the socializing class
                                                                                                     with the mine owners and rich folks,” Papa
                                                                                                     said.
                                                                                                         “When will you get to see him?”
                                                                                                         “We can all go to meet his train.” Papa
                                                                                                     gave Gilly a wide grin then plunged his face
                                                                                                     into the water and began to scrub away grit
                                                                                                     from the mine.
                                                                                                         The next fourteen days passed like wait-
                                                                                                     ing for Christmas. Gilly pestered Papa with
                                                                                                     questions about General Grant which
“Did you hear the news?” Gilly Jiles burst       narrow beds to reach the corner shelf that          prompted retelling of all the stories Lizzie
through the cabin door with her copper           held their few toiletries and returned with         hated.
hair bristled like a scrub oak and her bon-      the bristle brush.                                      On the evening the General was due to
net bobbing in the air. “The train is coming        “Is it anyone we’ve ever heard of?” Lizzie       arrive, Papa came home early. Gilly
to Leadville—the first one on the new rail-      held the heavy iron with one hand and               watched from the doorway of her parent’s
road.”                                           shifted white fabric on the ironing board.          tiny bedroom as he pulled his old wooden
   Mama did not turn from stirring a pot of         Gilly said the name slowly, relishing the        trunk from under the bed. He lifted the lid,
stew. She shook her head and released a          sound of the words. “Mr. President General          felt along one side and retrieved a brass belt
deep sigh before speaking. “I am sure that       Ulysses S. Grant.”                                  buckle, the one remaining bit of his Union
must be quite the talk of this unruly town          “Oh, no!” Lizzie clunked the iron into its       Army uniform.
but how many times must I tell you, ‘A           cradle. “Now we’ll have to listen to Papa tell          Gilly could hardly sit still through supper
young lady does not enter a room like a          all his dreadful war stories again.”                and argued when Mama insisted the girls
stampeding horse’.” Mama bent to open the           “Just be thankful your father came home          wash the dishes before leaving to meet the
firebox and shoved a few pieces of wood          from the war in one piece.” Mama pulled a           train. It was dark when the family set out to
into the low flames.                             chair from the table and waited for Gilly to        walk nine blocks to the end of Third Street
   “Yes, ma’am.” Gilly yanked the binding        sit.                                                where the train would stop in an open
strings from her neck and dropped her               “Papa will be so excited about General           meadow half a mile from the yet-to-be
bonnet on the nearest wooden chair. “The         Grant coming,” Gilly said. “It’s my news; I         completed depot. The late July night was
train comes two weeks from today.”               get to tell him.”                                   mild but a blanket of clouds hovered over
   “At least we will be spared another spine-       “No need to worry. I will be off to work         the high mountain community.
cracking stagecoach ride when we go home         before he comes home.” Lizzie’s black skirt             “I believe the whole town has turned out
to Joplin.” Mama turned from the stove           rustled as she slipped into the freshly             tonight,” Papa said as they neared the gath-
and gasped. “Just look at your hair! Get the     pressed shirtwaist and held out her arms            ering place.
comb and brush so I can untangle that            for Gilly to work twelve tiny buttons into              Gilly could not believe her eyes. Bonfires
mess.”                                           their slots along the tight-fitting sleeves.        lit the entire length of the street. Their
   Gilly bounded across the plank-floored           “Just think, Papa knows a man who was            golden glow tinted the clouds and the sea
room in five steps, tossing a comment to         President of the United States,” Gilly mused        of people. Uniformed Colorado Cavalry-
her older sister on the way. “Lizzie, bet you    as Mama picked and tugged at her hair.              men on horseback sat tall above the crowd.
don’t know who will be guest of honor on            When Papa tromped through the door a             Their silver buttons and buckles and bayo-
the train.” Gilly slipped behind the dark        short time later, Gilly squirmed from               nets sparkled in the firelight. The men of
green curtain that hid the sleeping area she     Mama’s grasp to repeat her announcement.            the town’s three fire companies stood
and Lizzie shared. She scooted between the          “Now that is big news!” Papa grabbed             proudly beside their polished water wagons

                               7 • Women Writing the West • 2009 1st Place • A Night At The Theater, Cynthia Becker
and hose carts. The air was alive with            nounced. Mama held out her hand for                 fied response rang in her ears: “No daugh-
voices. To her right, Gilly heard an off-key      Gilly to join them.                                 ter of mine will stand about on the street
rendition of “Just Before the Battle                 “I’ll watch out for her.” Papa’s voice was       after dark where drunken cowboys and
Mother.” To her left, a cluster of men sang       firm. Mama opened her mouth but walked              painted women are gambling and carous-
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home                  away without argument.                              ing.”
Again,” accompanied by three fifers. Frag-           Gilly clutched her shawl close and clung            Papa read aloud long articles in The Car-
ments of other tunes rose and fell over the       to Papa’s hand as the crowd pulled them             bonate Chronicle describing General
din of the crowd, competing with street           along the street toward the center of town.         Grant’s activities. Gilly absorbed every de-
vendors hawking pretzels and beer.                                                                    tail of his tours through the mining district,
   Gilly waved to school friends but stayed        A great wooden archway wrapped in                  the banquets he attended and speeches he
beside Papa as he led the family through             fresh boughs of pine and spruce                  made. She sulked all Sunday afternoon be-
the crowd, greeting neighbors and shop-            spanned Harrison Avenue. A painted                 cause she had not seen any sign of the
keepers, miners and cowboys. Whiffs of             WELCOME PRESIDENT sign dangled                     town’s famous guest while walking to and
manure, cigar smoke, and whiskey drifted                      from its center.                        from church. At supper that night, Lizzie
on the air. Gilly’s mouth watered as they                                                             mentioned that General Grant would be
passed a great iron kettle sizzling with          A great wooden archway wrapped in fresh             Mr. Tabor’s guest at the Opera House on
grease and popping corn.                          boughs of pine and spruce spanned Harri-            Monday night.
   At twenty minutes past nine o’clock, a         son Avenue. A painted WELCOME PRESI-                   Gilly leaned toward her sister with a
train whistle sounded in the distance and a       DENT sign dangled from its center. Every            pleading look. “Can I sit in the ticket booth
single spot of light appeared at the far end      building for three blocks was decorated top         with you Lizzie, just to see General Grant?”
of the valley. Like the lamp of a miner           to bottom with red, white and blue bunting             It was Mama who responded, glaring
emerging from a pit, the light slowly grew        and streamers. A light breeze fluttered the         across the table at Papa as she spoke. “You
larger as it approached the town. The             multitude of flags. Gilly had never seen a          know I objected to allowing Lizzie to work
crowd pressed close to the line of black car-     flag so large as the one atop the Tabor             at that theater. But you approved. Gilly is
riages waiting beside the railroad tracks.        Opera House where Lizzie worked. From               only eleven, far too young to be exposed to
The great engine lumbered to a stop in a          surrounding mountainsides fireworks ex-             such disreputable people.”
wheeze of mist, clank of metal, and screech       ploded in echoing booms and showers of                 “Now, Lucy.” Papa’s voice was slow and
of brakes. The crowd cheered and waved. A         colored lights.                                     soothing. “Gilly is not asking to watch the
brass band struck up “The Battle Cry of              This is more exciting than the Independ-         performers on stage. She simply wants to
Freedom.” Other bands joined in while             ence Day celebration, Gilly thought.                see the General arrive. After hearing me
gunfire salutes cracked from a nearby hill-          They moved into Chestnut Street where            talk about him all her life, she is naturally
side.                                             carpenters had built a raised platform in           curious. One day she will tell her children
   “Can you see him yet?” Gilly clasped           front of the Clarendon Hotel. The dark-             about the night she saw a President of the
Papa’s shirtsleeve as she stretched on tiptoe.    suited men were climbing steps onto the             United States in person.”
   “Yes. There he is!” Papa wrapped a             platform. Gilly was so far away she could              “Of course, Edwin.” Mama pursed her
strong arm around her waist and hoisted           not tell which one was General Grant. Sev-          lips and crossed her arms over her bosom.
her up.                                           eral men made speeches that she could not           “You always know best.”
   From their place deep in the crowd, Gilly      hear. Only the uproar from the crowd iden-             Papa ignored her sarcasm and turned to
saw several men in dark coats and top hats        tified General Grant when he stepped for-           Lizzie. “Will Mr. Tabor mind Gilly coming
step onto the platform of the last rail car       ward to say a few words and wave                    along?”
and wave to the crowd. She could not tell         goodnight.                                             “I suppose not, as long as she promises
which was General Grant. Followed by two             “I never got to see what General Grant           to stay out of the way.”
women and a small boy, the visitors               looks like,” Gilly grumbled as she walked              The next evening Gilly perched beside
stepped to the ground and disappeared             home beside Papa.                                   Lizzie in the small booth in the theater
into the carriages. The crowd shifted to             “You will have other opportunities,” Papa        lobby. She watched Lizzie pull printed
clear a path as the drivers urged their           said. “He is spending four days in town.”           paper slips from slots in the wall and col-
horses forward.                                      The next morning Gilly volunteered to            lect silver dollars in payment, listening for
   Papa lowered Gilly to the ground. Like         do errands for Mama and a neighbor who              the solid ring on the countertop that con-
most men in the crowd, he straightened his        had a new baby. Once free of home, she              firmed the coins were not counterfeit.
back and snapped right hand to forehead           slipped downtown to look for General                When the lobby filled with people and
in salute as the carriages rolled past.           Grant. She never saw him.                           Lizzie was too busy to notice, Gilly slipped
   “We’ll follow them downtown,” Papa                When she heard the General and his wife          out. She took a position at the top of the
said. “I’ve heard General Grant will make a       would attend a Saturday night dinner party,         stairs and watched top-hatted men and
speech.”                                          Gilly begged Mama to let her stand outside          jeweled ladies climb the steep steps from
   “Mama and I are going home,” Lizzie an-        the hotel to watch him leave. Mama’s horri-         the street. The lobby was soon deafening

                                8 • Women Writing the West • 2009 1st Place • A Night At The Theater, Cynthia Becker
with their chatter.                              starched white shirt. He lifted his left arm;       fell out of the stagecoach the day she ar-
   It was almost show time when Lizzie’s         the sleeve dangled loose.                           rived in town.
employer, Mr. Tabor, climbed the stairs              “So, you were on the floor to retrieve this        Mr. Tabor led the General and Gilly
deep in conversation with a man wearing a        for me.” The General plucked the cufflink           down an aisle that sloped toward the front
knee-length coat and carrying a top hat.         from Gilly’s hand and fixed it into his left        of the grand room. A painted forest scene
Gilly was sure this must be the General. His     sleeve. “Thank you. I would hate to lose            decorated the stiff curtain hiding the stage.
dark beard was streaked with grey and his        this gift from my wife.” The General smiled.        Two elegantly dressed ladies waited in a
vest strained the buttons across his middle.     “And what is your name young lady?’                 cluster of seats surrounded by a low parti-
He looked much older than Papa.                      “Gilly, sir. Gilly Jiles. My Papa served        tion draped in red, white and blue bunting.
   Still talking with Mr. Tabor, General         with your Army in Tennessee. Corporal               The General introduced Gilly to his wife
Grant stopped in the midst of the crowded        Edwin James Jiles. He talks about you a lot         and Mrs. Tabor, then told the saga of his
lobby and reached into his pocket. Gilly         and that battle with the funny name, Cat-a-         cufflink.
saw something small and shiny fall beside        ga-ga.”                                                Mrs. Grant laid a gloved hand on Gilly’s
him and wobble on the floor. She left her            “Chattanooga?”                                  arm. “Thank you, dear. The cufflinks be-
post to squeeze between people until she             “Yes, that’s it.”                               longed to my late father. I would have been
stood just behind the General. Squatting             “Well, I am always pleased to meet the          so upset if my husband lost one.”
down among a forest of legs, she spotted         daughter of one of my men. Is your father              While the Grants took their seats, Gilly
the object lying beside a lady’s high heeled     here tonight?”                                      perched on the edge of her chair. She
                                                     “No sir.”                                       traced the ornate cast-iron arms with one
 Gilly balanced one hand on the floor,               “Are you attending the theater pro-             finger and ran her hand over the thick red
  leaned forward, and stretched her              gram?”                                              velvet cushion. Scooting into sitting posi-
 other hand to grab the object. Before               “Oh, no sir. I just came to get a look          tion, she leaned her head back and looked
 she could attempt to stand, General             at…to see you up closer than I could the            up. Delicate flowers and smiling cherubs
       Grant stumbled against her.               night you arrived.”                                 floated on a pale blue ceiling.
                                                     “Well, Miss Gilly Jiles, you have per-             There must be magic in this place, she
white shoe. Gilly balanced one hand on the       formed a great service. Would you do me             thought.
floor, leaned forward, and stretched her         the honor of accompanying me to the the-               The gaslights dimmed while the stage
other hand to grab the object. Before she        ater?”                                              grew brighter. A man stepped from behind
could attempt to stand, General Grant                “Oh, yes.” Gilly’s face broke into a wide       the curtain to center stage.
stumbled against her. Gilly lost her balance     smile. Just as quickly the smile disappeared.          “Ladies and gentlemen,” his voice
and rolled onto her side at the General’s        “Mama says theatrical performances are              boomed, “welcome to this evening’s pro-
feet.                                            not proper for young ladies.”                       gram of the Tabor Opera House. We are
   Startled, General Grant looked down.              “Perhaps your Mama would not mind,              honored to have with us a special guest, the
“What are you doing on the floor, child?”        just this once, if you accepted my invita-          former President of the United States and
He held out a hand and pulled Gilly up.          tion. It will be my way of thanking you for         hero of the late war, General Ulysses S.
“Are you hurt?”                                  returning my valuable property.” He of-             Grant.”
   “No,” Gilly said. “I…”                        fered his arm.                                         Everyone in the theater stood to applaud.
   Mr. Tabor interrupted. “Aren’t you the            Without a second thought, Gilly laid her        The General rose and bowed to the crowd.
ticket girl’s sister? You have no business       hand on the General’s sleeve and climbed            Gilly peered into the elaborately dressed
bothering our guest.” He turned to the           the wide steps that led to the forbidden            audience. She recognized no one and saw
General. “I do apologize, sir. We are not in     theater. She looked over her shoulder to see        no children.
the habit of letting children roam among         Lizzie staring wide-eyed and open-                     The General returned to his seat and the
our theater patrons.” Mr. Tabor took the         mouthed from the ticket booth.                      crowd quieted. The announcer continued.
General’s arm and guided him toward the              Gilly’s heart raced as she entered a dark       “Tonight we are proud to present the mili-
red-carpeted stairs leading up to the the-       corridor at the top of the stairs. The Gen-         tary drama Ours.” The curtain rose to re-
ater.                                            eral led her around a corner and her eyes           veal three soldiers seated around a
   “But, sir.” Gilly followed and tugged at      popped wide in amazement. The walls were            campfire.
the General’s sleeve.                            red. The window and door frames, the                   Gilly turned to watch the General. The
   “What do you want?” The General               molding around the ceiling, and orna-               glow from the stage shaped his face in
sounded irritated when he looked down at         ments on the walls were gold. The entire            bronze highlights and dark shadows. He
her.                                             room shimmered in a soft haze created by            leaned forward, so focused on the actors
   Gilly held out her open hand; a gold cuf-     polished-brass gas lights. Every seat was           and their words that Gilly thought he
flink lay in her palm.                           filled and all heads turned to see General          might spring onto the stage and lead the
   General Grant raised his right arm. A         Grant enter the theater. Gilly had not              action at any moment. She wondered if this
matching cufflink glittered against his          looked into so many staring faces since she         was how Papa had seen the General during

                               9 • Women Writing the West • 2009 1st Place • A Night At The Theater, Cynthia Becker
the war.                                          lap robe and tucked it around Gilly. They          watched in silence until General Grant’s
   Before long, Gilly’s eyes grew heavy. The      rode in silence. When the General reined           carriage rolled out of sight.
General’s face blurred and she no longer          the horses to a stop in front of the Jiles            “I’m sorry, Papa. I only wanted to see
heard the actors’ voices.                         cabin, Papa opened the front door and              what your General Grant looks like,” Gilly
   Applause and piano music jolted Gilly          stepped out. The moon shed just enough             said.
from her nap. She opened her eyes to see          light on the dark street for Gilly to see the         Papa wrapped one arm around her
the curtain coming down. She yawned.              stern set of his mouth.                            shoulder. “When I stepped through this
   “I believe I have kept you out too late,”         Her heart raced as General Grant es-            door tonight I was fit to be tied. Coming
General Grant said as he leaned close to her      corted her toward the cabin. She took a            face to face with General Grant was the last
ear.                                              deep breath and swallowed hard.                    thing I expected. I don’t quite understand
   “Is the play finished?” Gilly struggled to        The General stopped directly in front of        how you brought him to our house but this
sit up straight.                                  Papa. “Corporal Jiles, but for your daugh-         is a night I won’t forget. Did you hear him
   “No. This is just the first intermission       ter’s quick thinking, I would have lost a          call me by name?”
but I think it is time I escorted you home.”      valuable possession tonight. It was a very            “Yes, Papa.” Gilly saw a glint of tears
The General stood, took Gilly’s hand, and         special gift from my wife. As a reward, I in-      brimming in his eyes.
led her out of the theater. The ticket booth      vited Miss Gilly to accompany my wife and             Papa sighed. “Right now, we have to face
was closed and there was no sign of Lizzie.       me to the theater. She most graciously ac-         your Mama and she has worked up a head
   Outside, people in working clothes over-       cepted. I hope you will forgive me for not         of steam to let loose on you.”
flowed the wooden sidewalks and spilled           asking your permission first.”                        “She probably won’t let me out of her
into the streets where horses and donkeys            General Grant held out his open hand.           sight until Christmas,” Gilly said.
were tied to railings. Tinkling piano music       Papa seemed dazed and hesitated a mo-                 “Whatever punishment she has in mind,
and loud voices poured out of a nearby sa-        ment before accepting the offered hand-            you will have to live with. For now, you
loon. Mr. Tabor’s fine black carriage stood       shake.                                             walk through that door like you have been
waiting. The General waved away the                  “It’s good to see you again, Jiles. Battle of   thoroughly scolded. Look at the floor and
driver, boosted Gilly onto the seat and took      Chattanooga wasn’t it? I always enjoy the          go straight to bed. I’ll be right behind you.”
the reins. She gave directions to her home        opportunity to thank one of my men for                Gilly’s hand trembled as she reached for
as the two high-stepping horses trotted           his service. It is soldiers like you, Jiles, who   the door handle.
along the dirt street.                            won the war for our great nation.” General            Papa’s voice was low behind her head.
   “Did you enjoy the theater?” General           Grant pulled back his shoulders and                “No matter what Mama says, you gave me
Grant asked.                                      snapped his right hand to his forehead in a        a gift tonight beyond anything I ever
   “Oh, yes sir. I have never seen anything       precise military salute.                           dreamed.”
so beautiful.”                                       Papa stood straight and returned the ges-
   “Next time you might enjoy a variety           ture.                                              “A Night At The Theater” is a chapter from
                                                                                                     Cynthia Becker’s middle grade novel-in-
                                                                                                     progress. Her biography Chipeta: Ute
show rather than a stuffy play.”                     “Good night, soldier.” The General

                                                                                                     Peacemaker (Filter Press, 2008) received
   “Not if my Mama knows about it.” Gilly         winked at Gilly as he turned to march
                                                                                                     a 2009 WILLA Finalist Award.
shivered.                                         away.
   The General felt under the seat, found a          Gilly moved to stand beside Papa. They




                               10 • Women Writing the West • 2009 1st Place • A Night At The Theater, Cynthia Becker
In The Flesh
                                                                                                    swers and had found meaning and purpose
            2008 2nd Place                                                                          in her partnership with Ned. But she
                                                                                                    doubted he would have understood that.
                                                                                                    Or maybe he understood it all too well, and
                                                                                                    that’s why he had never asked the Ques-
                                                                                                    tions.
By Suzanne Lyon
                                                                                                                          * * *
                                                                                                       Some time ago, long before Ned’s death,
                                                 have used them up worrying that Pam                Pam had agreed to attend the opening of a
                                                 would forget to turn off the sprinkler sys-        gallery that was going to show some of her
                                                 tem before the first frost.                        paintings. The gallery owner was an old
                                                    She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, dis-      friend from college and when she heard
                                                 tressed that she would have such uncharita-        about Ned she called to tell Pam it was
                                                 ble thoughts about her dead husband,               okay if she didn’t feel up to coming. But
                                                 particularly on the day of his funeral. As         Pam saw no reason not to go. Her son was
                                                 she dressed in the requisite black widow’s         back at college, and God knows she craved
                                                 weeds, she stared at a picture of Ned on the       a little time away. For six weeks she had
                                                 dresser. She’d snapped the picture just a          been busy dealing with lawyers, account-
                                                 month ago. They had gone on a hike into            ants, insurance administrators, well-mean-
                                                 the foothills and climbed a rock formation.        ing friends and relatives. She needed a
                                                 To the east lay the plains, the white peaks of     break. A road trip by herself to Elk Valley,
                                                 Denver International Airport barely visible        the beautiful little ski resort town that was
                                                 through the brownish haze. To the west the         home to her friend’s gallery, would be per-
                                                 snow-capped Rocky Mountains leapt to the           fect.
                                                 sky like the jagged lines on a heart monitor.         Pam backed the car out of the driveway,
                                                 Ned had taken her picture, then placed the         navigating the familiar roads of the hous-
                                                 camera on a rock and bent down to look             ing development and the shoppette-lined
                                                 through the viewfinder.                            suburban streets with unconscious skill. As
                                                    “I’ll set the timer and get one of both of      she merged onto the interstate she reflected
                                                 us.”                                               on how she was handling this crisis in her
Pam Gordon didn’t know much about
                                                    “Oh, don’t bother,” Pam had said. “I’ll         life. The grief counselors would probably
death. She, and most everybody around
                                                 just take one of you by yourself.”                 tell her she was right on schedule—done
her, was too young, too healthy, or too
                                                    “No, that’s okay. This’ll work.”                with the shock and denial stage, moving on
lucky to die.
                                                    But Pam had grabbed the camera and              to the anger stage. What a funny way to
   Up until last week, that is. Last week her
                                                 leaned back. “Smile!” She took his picture.        grieve someone, Pam thought, by getting
husband, Ned, only forty-nine years old,
                                                    “Why don’t you want one of both of us?”         angry at him. But she couldn’t deny that’s
keeled over in his office parking lot, dead
                                                 he’d asked.                                        how she felt at times. It wasn’t over any-
from a heart attack. Didn’t feel a thing, the
                                                    She’d shrugged. “No reason. Go ahead, if        thing hugely important; Ned had left their
doctors assured her. One second he was
                                                 you want.”                                         affairs in order and the family in good fi-
standing there alive, and the next second he
                                                    “No, it’s too late.” Turning his back, he’d     nancial shape. It was over little things. Why,
was standing there dead. Never even had
                                                 taken a long drink from his water bottle.          for instance, had he never told her where to
time to put out his arms to arrest his fall,
                                                    She had wanted to ask him what he               find the key to their safety deposit box?
judging from his smashed sunglasses and
                                                 meant by that, but had let it pass. Things         Why had he never shown her how to
broken teeth.
                                                 had been strange between them recently.            change the temperature setting on the
   Pam wondered how this information was
                                                 Sometimes, to her chagrin, Pam found that          fancy new digital thermostat? And where,
supposed to make her feel better. Was it a
                                                 being alone with her husband made her              in his otherwise complete and well-orga-
good thing that Ned had had no inkling of
                                                 uncomfortable.                                     nized files, were the maintenance records
his own death—no time to regret leaving
                                                    Staring at his picture, she suddenly real-      for their cars?
behind a wife and child to cope for them-
                                                 ized why. She had been afraid he would ask            In her more logical moments, she real-
selves? If it had been her, she would have
                                                 her the Big Questions. Are you happy? Do           ized this anger wasn’t really directed at him,
wanted a few seconds to say a little prayer
                                                 you love me? They were questions she had           but at herself for never bothering to ask
asking God to watch out for her loved ones.
                                                 asked and answered for herself a million           him these questions. Why had she been
But if Ned had been granted those few sec-
                                                 times. Was she happy? Happy enough. Did            willing to be so dependent?
onds of awareness, she doubted he would
                                                 she love him? She loved him enough.                   She exited the interstate and headed
have used them to pray. He probably would
                                                    She had come to terms with those an-            west, slowing down as the road twisted and

                                    11 • Women Writing the West • 2008 2nd Place • In The Flesh, Suzanne Lyon
turned up toward the first pass. Her                She tried again with the same result. No        the hood, lifting a hose here and there.
thoughts turned to the reason for this           chugging, no grinding, nothing but silence.        “Everything looks okay. Let’s try to jump
trip—the gallery opening. An art major in           “Dammit!” Dropping her head back on             it.”
college, Pam had only recently returned to       the headrest, she considered how perfectly             “You’ve got jumper cables?” Pam asked,
her painting. She was serious about it, in-      consistent this turn of events was with the        belatedly realizing how foolish that
tending it to be more than a hobby. Her          current course of her life. Never before,          sounded.
still lifes were gaining a small following in    with the exception of a couple of flat tires,          He smiled, rolling up his shirt sleeves as
local art circles, but she had never before      had she been stranded by a car breakdown,          he reached into the back of his truck. His
placed her work in a commercial gallery.         and when it finally happened, it would, of         right forearm sported a tattoo of an eagle.
Tracy, her friend, was doing her a big favor     course, be miles from civilization, with no        “Yes, ma’m. Never know when they’ll come
by showing her work. While Elk Valley was        husband available to call for help.                in handy.”
not exactly Denver or Santa Fe, it neverthe-        In disgust, she popped the hood and                 He hooked up the cables, revved his en-
less catered to an upscale crowd, so it was      stared at the engine knowing full well that        gine for a minute, and then gave her a
very likely her paintings would be noticed       she couldn’t tell a carburetor from an alter-      thumbs up. She turned the key. Nothing.
at this opening, maybe even purchased.           nator. She got back in the driver’s seat and       They let his truck run a little longer and
   Cresting the pass, the park spread out        gave the key one more twist for good meas-         tried again, but it was clear the car’s battery
below her, a flat-bottomed bowl dotted           ure. No good.                                      was as dead as highway roadkill.
with grazing cattle and surrounded by               Unfolding her map, she considered her               “You’re going to need a tow,” he said, un-
mountains colored with dark pines and            options. The tiny town of Lincoln looked           hooking the cables. “I’ll give you a ride into
light, summer-green aspen. She descended         to be about fifteen miles away. She could          town.”
gradually, keeping her eye out for the turn-     call for a tow and, with any luck, get this            Pam’s heart leaped at the same time a
off to a place she had spotted on the map, a     thing fixed and be in Elk Valley later             protest came automatically to her lips. “If
National Wildlife Refuge where she               tonight. She punched in 911 on her cell            it’s not too much trouble. Don’t go out of
planned to get out of the car and stretch        phone and waited. After a full minute, the         your way for me.”
her legs.                                        phone beeped and the digital read-out in-              He tossed the cables back in his truck
   Following the brown Park Service sign,        formed her “No Signal.” She tossed the of-         and gave her an amused look. “You’re from
she turned onto a county dirt road. About        fending instrument onto the seat. She’d            the city, ain’t ya?”
a mile in, a weathered old barn sat leaning      have to walk for help. Stomping to the rear            “Why do you ask?”
into the wind. Her artist’s eye noted the        of the car, she lowered the tailgate, looking          He let down the hood and wiped his
picturesque setting, complete with split rail    for her hiking boots.                              hands on his jeans. “No reason. You want
fence and fifties-era tractor. One mile fur-        She raised her head at the sound of a car       to take anything with you?”
ther in, a small turn-out appeared. She          coming. Down the dusty road rumbled a                  Pam grabbed her overnight bag, locked
parked in front of several interpretive signs,   pickup truck, headed toward the highway.           the car, and climbed into the pickup’s cab.
stepped out and stretched, turning 360 de-       Pam briefly considered the danger of run-          She turned up her nose at the smell of stale
grees to take in the view. This was what she     ning into a stranger out in the middle of          smoke emanating from an overflowing
loved about the West—vision that ended           nowhere, but under the circumstances she           ashtray.
only at the horizon. In this vast space the      had no choice. She raised her hand and                 “Listen,” Pam said as he pulled back onto
world was reduced to its elements—air,           hailed the truck.                                  the road. “I was headed for Elk Valley. Do
water, sunshine, earth. Life seemed almost          It slowed and pulled into the turn-out.         you think I could get a tow there?”
simple.                                          Out of the cab stepped a tall man, at least            “Probably, but it’d cost you a pretty
   A gravel-covered, looped trail began and      6'2", wearing jeans, scuffed boots, a tan          penny. You’re better off taking it to Tuck’s
ended at the turn-out, and Pam briefly           work shirt, and matching tan cowboy hat            Garage in Lincoln. He’s the best mechanic
 This was what she loved about the
                                                 with sweat stains. He had strong features,         this side of the hill, and he won’t over-
 West—vision that ended only at the
                                                 thick eyebrows and a full mustache. For a          charge you either. Actually, he’s my nephew,
 horizon. In this vast space the world
                                                 second, Pam thought she had been rescued           but I ain’t trying to drum up business for
  was reduced to its elements—air,
                                                 by Tom Selleck, in the flesh.                      him. He’s just a darn good mechanic.”
 water, sunshine, earth. Life seemed
                                                    “Having trouble, ma’m?” He came                     The cowboy extracted a cigarette and
            almost simple.
                                                 nearer, close enough for her to pick out           lighter from his breast pocket and lit up.
                                                 eyes as blue as the Colorado sky.                  Pam cracked her window even though the
considered taking it just for the exercise.         She swallowed, suddenly conscious of            air conditioner was running full blast. He
But she had promised to meet Tracy at five,      the rings of sweat under her arms and her          glanced over at her and then stubbed out
an hour from now, and Elk Valley was at          wind-snarled hair. “Yes. I stopped to look at      the cigarette in the dirty ashtray.
least an hour away. She climbed back be-         the signs and then my car wouldn’t start.              “Guess you ain’t a smoker. There’s not
hind the wheel and turned the key.               It’s completely dead.”                             many of us left these days.”
   Dead silence.                                    “Well, let’s take a look.” He peered under          “I don’t mind,” Pam lied.

                                    12 • Women Writing the West • 2008 2nd Place • In The Flesh, Suzanne Lyon
   He let it pass with a small smile. “My        Were there still men in the world like this?          “Who you rootin’ for?”
name’s Dyce Tucker.”                             Tom Selleck looks, Boy Scout manners,                 An excessively hairy individual slid onto
   “Pam Gordon.” She shot him a curious          John Wayne fortitude—thank God he                  the stool next to her—full beard, eyebrows
glance. “Dyce—that’s an interesting name.        smoked, otherwise he’d be distressingly            that grew together, even the backs of his
Like the dice you throw?”                        perfect.                                           hands were covered with thick black fuzz.

                                                   Were there still men in the world like
   “Short for Fordyce, my mother’s maiden                                                           He wore a stained “Kroger’s Feedlot” cap

                                                   this? Tom Selleck looks, Boy Scout
name.”                                                                                              and his shirt and jeans hadn’t seen soap in

                                                    manners, John Wayne fortitude—
   “Why don’t you go by Ford instead of                                                             a decade or two.

                                                    thank God he smoked, otherwise
Dyce?”                                                                                                 Pam fought down another flash of anger

                                                       he'd be distressingly perfect.
   He chuckled. “You’re the first one’s ever                                                        at Ned. If he hadn’t died, he’d be sitting
asked me that. So why were you off the                                                              next to her now and she wouldn’t have to
highway, if you don’t mind my asking? This                                                          deal with this pond scum. Guilt immedi-
little county road ain’t on the way to Elk          They pulled into town and made                  ately replaced the anger, and a sudden stab
Valley.”                                         arrangements to pick up her car and bring          of longing.
   She told him how she’d wanted to try a        it to Tuck’s. Pam hoped Tuck would be able            Her hamburger arrived. She set about
new route, see some new scenery. That she        to fix it quickly so she could still get to Elk    spreading mustard and ketchup, studiously
was on her way to a gallery opening.             Valley that night.                                 ignoring the next-door neighbor. Someone
   “An artist, eh?” He looked impressed.            “Well, Dyce,” Pam turned to him, her            fed the jukebox and the Stones’ “Start Me
“What do you paint?”                             stomach tingling strangely. “I can’t thank         Up” came on.
   “Mostly still lifes. You know, I’d love to    you enough. You really saved me.”                     “All right, good tune,” Mr. Hairball
paint that barn over there.” They were pass-        “My pleasure.” They shook hands and             drawled. “Can’t beat the Stones, man. Ain’t
ing the scenic old barn she’d noticed ear-       for just a second after letting go, he stood       that right?”
lier. “Look how it’s framed by the fence and     there. But then he touched the brim of his            “Mmm,” she mumbled, taking a bite of
the mountains in the background. It’s per-       hat, climbed in his pick-up, and drove off.        her burger.
fect.”                                                                 * * *                           “You can tell a lot about someone by the
   “You don’t say? That’s my barn.” He              The only thing wrong with her car, as           music they like. I mean, there’s Beatles peo-
looked at her almost shyly.                      Dyce had predicted, was a dead battery. But        ple and then there’s Stones people. Most
   “Really! This is your land?”                  Tuck didn’t have the right replacement on          women are Beatles people, but I think you
   “Yes, ma’m. Everything you see right up       hand and, as it was now after five o’clock,        just might be a Stones lady. Am I right?”
to the Wildlife Refuge. That old barn’s on       the auto parts store was closed. At her look          Pam kept eating, hoping he’d take the
the site of the original homestead. My Dad       of disappointment, Tuck offered to call the        hint.
built a new house and barn a few miles on        store’s owner and ask him to open up, but             Mr. Hairball high-signed the bartender.
down the road. I was thinking about tear-        Pam didn’t want to seem like an impatient,         “Buddy, give the lady another beer.”
ing down that old barn, but guess I can’t        demanding bitch from the city, so she de-             “No, no.” Pam set down her half eaten
now. Not until you’ve painted it, anyway.”       clined. First thing in the morning would be        sandwich. “I’m finished. I was just leaving.”
   Their eyes caught. Pam laughed and            good enough.                                          “Don’t leave on my account,” a familiar
nervously ran her hand through her hair             Lincoln’s one motel was a block away            voice loomed behind her. Dyce Tucker took
“So…,” she tried to regroup. “Your family        from the garage. She checked in, took a            the stool on Pam’s other side and nodded
must have lived around here quite a while.”      shower, made phone calls to Tracy and the          amiably to Mr. Hairball. “George, how’s it
   “My great granddaddy homesteaded              B&B in Elk Valley where she had planned            going? I see you’ve met my friend, Pam
here almost a hundred years ago,” he said        to stay that night, and fell asleep on the sur-    Gordon.”
proudly.                                         prisingly comfortable bed.                            George looked from Dyce to Pam and
   “And here you are carrying on the family         When she woke, it was dark outside and          shook his head. “Just my luck,” he groaned
tradition. Did you ever want to do some-         she was hungry. She started to look for a          and slid his beer down to the other end of
thing else?” What on earth possessed her to      phone book and then laughed at herself.            the bar.
ask that? Like it was any of her business.       Lincoln’s main drag was only one block                “Was it something you said?” joked Pam,
   He was quiet for a moment and she             long—it shouldn’t be hard to find a place          noticing with some consternation a defi-
thought he’d taken offense. But when he          to eat.                                            nite increase in her heart rate.
answered he sounded thoughtful, not                 Amid several boarded up store fronts,              Dyce smiled and ordered a shot of Jack
angry.                                           the Teapot Bar and Café seemed to be the           Daniels with a beer chaser and another
   “Ranching ain’t an easy business to be in.    only option. Pam took a seat at the bar and        beer for Pam. He lowered his voice and
Never has been and never will be. But it’s in    ordered a beer and hamburger, glancing             leaned toward her. “You might not believe
my blood. It’s who I am, not just what I         every now and then at the TV suspended in          this, but my friend, George there, actually
do.”                                             a corner, currently tuned to a college foot-       has a Ph.D in music history, or musicology,
   Pam was stunned. Was this guy for real?       ball game.                                         or something like that.”

                                    13 • Women Writing the West • 2008 2nd Place • In The Flesh, Suzanne Lyon
   “Get out of here!” Pam stole a glance at          “It would be,” Pam agreed. “And he was          arm came around her, steadying her. He set
George who was staring stupidly at the TV.        planning to be there. But, you see, Dyce,          her right and stepped away.
“What happened?”                                  my husband died a few weeks ago.”                     “Okay?” he asked.
   Dyce shrugged. “Too many drugs, not               He stared at her and she could see him             She nodded, grateful that the darkness
enough ambition, who knows? He hit bot-           running through all the possible responses,        hid her burning cheeks.
tom, came back to Lincoln and hasn’t ever         all the things she had heard ad nauseum for           Once again, he touched his hat brim,
left. He ain’t a bad guy. Tell the truth, he’s    the last six weeks. But he settled for a sim-      said “goodnight,” and walked off.
almost typical. Lincoln’s best kids go away       ple, “I’m sorry.” He didn’t look away, didn’t         Pam closed the motel room door and
and don’t come back. It’s only the losers         fidget, didn’t seem to expect her to say           leaned against it, pleased despite all good
who stick around.”                                more. Which is why she did.                        reason that he had said “goodnight” and
   “But you’ve stuck around, and you’re not          “Heart attack. Very sudden. We were             not “goodbye.”
a loser!”                                         married for twenty-two years. We have a                                 * * *
   Dyce laughed. “Thank you for that,             son.” For a minute she thought she might              Elk Valley hosted a summer-long music
ma’m. Don’t get me wrong. There are               start to cry, but it passed and she was able       and art festival that was just winding up so
plenty of good folks in Lincoln, plenty of        to smile at him, and he smiled back.               there was a good-sized crowd in town. All
smart ones, too. But kids have a lot more            He asked her if she wanted another beer,        the artists showing at Tracy’s gallery open-
choices now than they used to. I can’t really     but she said no, so he asked if he could           ing sold well, including Pam who sold two
blame them for moving on.”                        walk her to her motel.                             pieces off the floor and made contact with
   Pam sipped her beer, not sure what to             “Now that you know all my secrets,” she         several prospective buyers.
say.                                              said, pulling on a sweater against the chilly         It was close to nine and Tracy was
   “How’s the burger?” he asked, taking           high country air, “how about you? Wife?            preparing to close up when Dyce Tucker
them back to safer ground.                        Kids?”                                             walked in the door. His work clothes from
   “Great! But I’m full, can’t eat the rest. Do      “No wife. One kid. A daughter. She goes         the previous day had been exchanged for
you want it?” She pushed the plate toward         to the state university. She’s studying to be      pressed black jeans, a blue cotton shirt, and
him.                                              a vet.”                                            Western-cut sports jacket. He was hatless,
   “Maybe just a fry or two. Guess Tuck              “Terrific! Will she come back to Lincoln        revealing a full head of dark hair, just going
couldn’t get your car fixed right away.”          when she’s finished with school? Seems like        gray at the temples.
   “First thing in the morning, he said.”         there’d be lots of business for a vet around          He spotted Pam who had her back to
   “You staying over at Jessen’s Motel?”          here.”                                             him, going over some paperwork with
   “Only place in town!”                             “There is, and old Doc Rivers is fixing to      Tracy. Hands in pockets, he began ambling
   “That it is.”                                  retire soon. But she’s married already, and        through the nearly empty gallery.
   Dyce tore at the label on his beer bottle,     her husband’s a city fella. Kinda doubt               Tracy looked up and called, “Let me
letting his gaze stray to the TV. He sud-         they’ll ever want to live in a small town like     know if I can help you.”
denly seemed uneasy. Maybe he regretted           Lincoln.”                                             “Thank you, ma’m.”
having run down his home town in front               “Well, all we can do as parents is launch          Pam whirled around. “Dyce!” Once
of a stranger. A Beatles tune, Yesterday, cy-     them. It’s up to them to decide where              again, she felt the blood rush to her cheeks.
cled on the jukebox. George scowled and           they’ll land.” Did that sound too preachy?         “How nice of you to come. I didn’t expect
stomped out the door.                             And what did “no wife” mean? Shivering,            that.”
   Pam grinned. “According to George,             she pulled her sweater closer.                        “Well, there ain’t much happening in
there are Stones people and then there are           They reached the door to her motel              Lincoln, even on a Saturday night, so I
Beatles people. George is a Stones guy, all       room. Pam had her key out and was mildly           thought I’d see what a gallery opening is
the way.”                                         surprised when he held out his hand for it.        like.”
   “Mind if I ask you a question?”                She gave it to him. He opened the door,               Pam wondered if it would be possible to
   “Beatles, I’ve got to admit.”                  handed the key back to her, and stepped            duplicate the blue of his eyes with her
   Dyce smiled, picked up a fry, and then         aside.                                             palette. She felt herself grinning giddily as
dropped it back on the plate. “Are you               “Good night, Pam. Good luck with your           she introduced him to Tracy.
meeting your husband in Elk Valley?”              show tomorrow.”                                       “Where are your paintings?” he asked.
   Pam was taken aback. “No, no, I’m not.            “Thank you. And thanks for getting me           “They all sell?”
Why do you ask?”                                  out of that jam at the bar. I guess you’ve            Pam laughed. “No, not quite. They’re
   He nodded at her left hand which still         rescued me twice today.”                           over here.” She led him around a corner to
sported her gold wedding band. “It’s none            “Hell, I’m feeling downright noble. Take        where her still lifes hung. Her heart
of my business, but looks like you’re Mrs.        care.”                                             pounded as she tried to gauge his reaction
Gordon, not Miss. I just thought for some-           He extended his hand and as she reached         to her work. Head cocked, brow furrowed,
thing special, like this gallery show, it’d be    to take it, her foot slipped off the heel of       he studied the paintings. Pam had never
natural for your husband to be there.”            her sandal. She pitched forward. Dyce’s            been so nervous. Finally, he proclaimed

                                     14 • Women Writing the West • 2008 2nd Place • In The Flesh, Suzanne Lyon
them “real nice.” Feeling acute disappoint-         She closed her eyes. Her heart answered         had a tattoo, he said “ain’t”, for God’s sake.
ment, she started babbling, telling him how      No! but her head answered Yes.                       But…he had gorgeous blue eyes that
she had sold two pieces and gotten a prom-          “I really like you, Dyce, but…I’m con-          looked at her like she was a mystery he
ise from an art dealer in Denver. He contin-     fused.”                                            needed to solve. He was a gentleman. And
ued to stare at her work, a puzzled                 “I understand.” He stood and picked up          he had something in his life that gave him
expression on his face.                          the sack of beer. “Come on, it’s cold. I’ll        purpose—the ranch. He wasn’t some
   Tracy came to her rescue. “Listen, a          walk you back to your room.”                       dumb cowboy. He was a man of substance.
bunch of us are going to go get a drink at          Reluctantly, Pam followed him up the              Everyone told her she needed time to
The Prospector just down the street. You         bank. The street in front of her B&B was           heal. That in a year or so she could start to
two are welcome to join us.”                     deserted. As they neared the picket fence          make decisions about her life. But maybe
   Pam shot Dyce a questioning look.             surrounding the little gingerbread cottage,        Dyce Tucker wasn’t something she should
   “Sure, why not?”                              he took her elbow and turned her toward            only allow in her life after she had healed.
   Tracy locked up and the group started         him.                                               Maybe Dyce had been sent to help her heal.
walking together. Pam and Dyce brought              “My wife left me five years ago,” he said,        She reached for the phone, but before
up the rear, lagging behind until the others     without preamble. “She couldn’t take the           she could pick it up, it rang.
were a block ahead. She stopped and put          solitude of the ranch any longer, so she             “Hello?”
her hand on his arm.                             moved to L.A. and married a film pro-                “Pam?”
   “You probably don’t want to listen to a       ducer. At first, I didn’t want her to leave,         It was him! “Yes?”
bunch of artsy talk, do you?”                    but then I realized I didn’t want her to stay        “It’s Dyce.”
   He smiled apologetically. “Not really. But    because she was so unhappy. I didn’t want            “Yes, I know.”
that’s fine if you want to.”                     to live with someone who was completely              “I was wondering, would you like to
   “Actually, I’d rather just talk with you.     miserable. I love the ranch—it’s my life.          come paint my barn?”
Maybe there’s somewhere else we could            But there’s room in my life for something,           Pam’s eyes flew to the blank canvas. Sud-
go.”                                             or someone, else. I wanted you to know             denly, she could envision exactly how she
   “I’ve got an idea.” He ducked into a          that.”                                             would fill it up.
liquor store and came out with a six pack           She nodded, not trusting herself to               “Yes, Dyce, I’d love to paint your barn.”
of beer.                                         speak. He turned to go.
   “Will you be warm enough outside?” he            “Dyce, your jacket!”                            Suzanne Lyon is the author of four Five
                                                                                                    Star Western historical novels, including A
                                                                                                    Heart For Any Fate and Lady Buckaroo.
asked, eyeing her sleeveless arms. She nod-         Slipping the coat from her shoulders, she

                                                                                                    She is the 2010 WWW President Elect.
ded, but he took his jacket off and settled      hugged it to her. “Dyce, you didn’t like my
in on her shoulders anyway.                      paintings, did you?”
   He turned down a side street and led             “I liked them fine. But they were, I don’t
them to the river that ran through town.         know, too…still. Don’t take this wrong—
Perching on boulders, they each took a beer      somehow they didn’t seem to have much
and sat silently, listening to the water tum-    life to them. They just didn’t seem like
ble and fall over slippery, moonlit rocks.       you.”
Pam looked up and drew in her breath at             Slowly, gently, he stroked her cheek,
the magnificent night sky.                       brushing his thumb over her lips, then took
   “Everything is so clear up here,” she mur-    his jacket and walked off into the starry
mured. “During the day you can see to the        night.
horizon, and at night you can see all the                              * * *
way to Heaven.”                                     A week later, Pam sat in her studio star-
   Dyce reached over and took her hand.          ing at a blank canvas. One of the dealers
Their fingers intertwined and they sat com-      she had met at the opening had asked her
panionably, not needing to speak. But after      to prepare some more pieces for him to
a moment, uncomfortable feelings of guilt        consider, but she couldn’t seem to get
wormed their way into Pam’s heart. This          started. She couldn’t seem to do anything
was not right, holding hands with a man,         but think about Dyce. She had looked up
feeling attracted to a man, mere weeks after     his phone number, but every time she
burying your husband. There must be              started to dial, she hung up.
something wrong with her that she could             How could she pursue him? It was un-
want Dyce so soon after losing Ned.              seemly. What would her family, her friends,
   She pulled her hand away and gripped          her son think if she took up with some
Dyce’s jacket closer around her.                 Marlboro Man so soon after losing Ned?
   “It’s too soon, isn’t it?” he said.           Besides, he wasn’t her type. He smoked, he

                                    15 • Women Writing the West • 2008 2nd Place • In The Flesh, Suzanne Lyon
Guadalupe Canyon
             2009 2nd Place




By Cinny Green




Inert afternoon air settled over Guadalupe          “Call her in,” the soldier ordered.           ning, Georgia, complaining of weakness
Canyon, but Carmen ran along the trails             “She’ll be back soon enough. Look             and a persistent cough. She took the requi-
overlooking the rift, pacing herself to the      around you, Sergeant. Where’s she gonna          site tests and the doctor informed her there
rhythmic crunch of talus under her shoes.        go?”                                             was a spot on her left lung.
The only other signs of life were a slow            “But I have to talk to …”                        “We should biopsy it,” said the doctor,
soaring falcon and a skittering yellow              Carmen sprinted around a bend in the          his face like a wilted plant. “Then we’ll op-
lizard.                                          path. She felt the desert air part in front of   erate, do chemo, hope for remission.”
   It was her job to check the trailheads and    her and close behind her, shutting out what         Carmen had whispered, “But I’m only
campsites in the Guadalupe Canyon                she didn’t want to hear.                         twenty-six.”
Wilderness of southern New Mexico. She              Guadalupe Canyon was a small, pro-               The doctor looked at her record and
did it swiftly and efficiently at the end of     tected wilderness, only 10,000 acres in the      shrugged. “You were stationed near the
each searing day and then reported to the        mountains above the Chihuahua desert.            Balad Burn Pit north of Baghdad, correct?”
visitor center. She ran down the West Rim        Carmen knew she wouldn’t encounter a                “Yeah, with a transportation unit.”
Trailhead, jogged up to the cinder block         soul. The mountains were too challenging            “Dirty business, that,” the doctor said,
building, but stopped to catch her breath        to climb in the heat, and birdwatchers           snapped the report closed, and scheduled
before she went inside. Carmen put her           came only in the spring and fall.                her for the biopsy.
palm on her chest and felt a steady heart-          Carmen ran back down the West Rim                Carmen never showed up for the proce-
beat. She gave her torso a little slap and       Trail, sweat breaking off her forehead, dry-     dure, and she now did the same thing she
knew this tough, dry place gave her              ing before it dripped down her temples.          had done then: She flew into desperate for-
strength.                                        Around a bend she swung left off the trail,      ward motion, trying to outrun her death
   But certainty can evaporate faster than a     into an arroyo outside the park boundary.        sentence. She had vanished in downtown
drop of water in the desert, and when she        She stumbled forward a few steps in the          Fort Benning, moved steadily west through
walked to the glass entry doors, Carmen          sand, regained her balance, and kept mov-        Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas,
felt instantly transformed from substance        ing like a flash flood. To stop was to stag-     finding temporary jobs, any document she
to vapor. A uniformed man with three             nate and evaporate.                              needed, any identity available for the right
stripes on his sleeve sat in the lobby. The         The bed of the arroyo held tufts of blue      price. She was stunned at the simplicity of
man looked at her and frowned.                   grama grass and yellow desert daisies. Car-      living under the radar. Here in New Mex-
   Carmen spun and ran back to the trail,        men sidestepped them knowing a single            ico, she finally thrived in the desert’s un-
the summer heat slapping her face. Behind        footstep could undo the plants’ tenuous          cluttered integrity, an extreme contrast to
her, the doors slid open.                        hold. The sergeant in the visitor center was     Iraq’s sands covered with incinerating
   “Where’s she going?”                          like a foot trying to rout her out, and Car-     garbage, flaming oilfields, and refuse from
   “Not sure, staff housing is the other way.”   men was not going to let that happen.            the depleted uranium “smart” bombs. She
Carmen recognized the smoker’s growl of             Carmen ran faster, reveling in her fitness    felt purposeful as a ranger in the wilder-
the park director, Jack, who had come close      in spite of her fear. After combat duty in       ness, protecting her solitude in work, ready
to being a friend.                               Iraq, she had gone to a doctor at Fort Ben-      to run as soon as she saw someone like the


                                  16 • Women Writing the West • 2009 2nd Place • Guadalupe Canyon, Cinny Green
sergeant.                                        cigarette. “Puerta Blanca is about ten miles     and sail of the windmill and headed gener-
   Dodging agave spikes like a slalom skier,     southwest. Usually the coyotes drop the il-      ally south, winding along the canyon edge.
Carmen chanted, “Go, go, go,” in sync with       legals in Arizona. Then they head west              A full moon slowly rose over the moun-
her feet. The gulch suddenly fanned out          along Guadalupe Canyon Road.”                    tains. Carmen briefly stopped to stare at
and she emerged on an overlook above                “We tracked them this way.”                   the egg-yolk yellow sphere but was lured
Guadalupe Canyon, which wound south                 “Sergeant, I’m just saying this is not the    on by creaking gears and followed the
into Mexico. She started down the shale on       way they usually go. Why would they? No          sound down into a draw. She salivated
the west facing bajada, but the sun burned       jobs in the mountains, are there? Just some      when she saw an old stock tank and rushed
just above the horizon and made it difficult     lizards and pretty birds.”                       up to it, almost flipping over the edge into
to look straight ahead. Carmen sat down             The soldier wasn’t military police. Car-      a foot of scummy water. The organic
below an outcrop of volcanic boulders to         men let out a long silent breath. He was         stench made her gag.
think before continuing into the canyon.         border patrol, following the illegals who           Carmen righted herself and went around
She shaded her eyes and looked down at           had chosen the hardest, driest route with        the tank to a faucet on the pump’s outlet
her feet. Between her dusty trail shoes, a       no ranches, no streams, only a few hidden        pipe. She yanked on the valve but it was
bajada lupine was covered with purple            springs or water tanks.                          rusted shut. She grabbed a rock, grit her
blossoms. She spread her feet farther apart,        “Where is your ranger? We saw her foot-       teeth, and pounded and pounded on the
closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.         prints.”                                         valve handle. The metal rang out as loud as
   Carmen never coughed any more and                “I have no idea. She runs all the time.       a bell, echoing up the canyon until it
had boundless energy. She had felt half sick     Loves it.” Carmen almost grinned. Her boss       shocked her out of her frenzy. Carmen
most of her life; first in grimy Southside       knew her pretty well. He added, “She’ll be       slumped against the tank and muttered,
Chicago as a kid, next at boot camp in the       back for some water.”                            “Dumb shit. It would have been so easy to
dank heat of Georgia; and then driving a            Carmen’s thirst suddenly bit the back of      get a bottle of water before I ran like a stu-
truck in and out of the burning war zone,        her throat. She scanned the horizon again        pid rabbit. Stupid. Stupid.”
where billowing gritty smoke seeped into         and spotted the top of an old windmill              Something snapped behind her in the
the cab and caused the small cloud in the        looking like a pinwheel on the southwest         draw. She spun around and saw a man in a
x-ray of Carmen’s chest.                         side of the canyon. She listened for the men     western hat about twenty feet away, then
   After three years in the wilderness, she      above her but their voices were muffled          another man to his right, and a woman
imagined the bowl between her ribs as clear      back in the arroyo. She stood and peered         next to him. The Mexicans had followed
as glass, because the Chihuahua Desert was       around the boulder. No one was on the top        her, probably looking for water, too.
free of the oily metal stink of the city, free   of the bajada. She lightly punched the              They stared at each other in the moon-
of suffocating southern humidity, free of        stone. She couldn’t let La Migra question        light. The Mexicans looked her over care-
airborne assassins. This place had cleaned       her about why she fled. He might suspect         fully. The man in the hat let out a long
her up, and every cell felt alive.               her of smuggling Mexicans, do a back-            breath, clearly relieved that Carmen, wear-
   Carmen leaned back against the rock           ground check, and eventually figure out          ing blue cargo shorts and a t-shirt, wasn’t
until the sun dropped down into Arizona,         that she was an army deserter. She hated to      border patrol. He tapped his chest and said,
ten miles to the west. She had run nearly        run out on Jack like this, but now she had       “Carlos.” He pointed at the others and said,
twelve miles now and badly needed a drink        to keep going.                                   “Oscar y Nacha.”
of water. Scanning the landscape for one of         Carmen couldn’t see the boot heel under          Carmen nodded and paused. She hadn’t
the old windmills that marked a cattle tank      the chamisa so she assumed the Mexicans          used her real name in a long time, but what
and a well, she caught some movement in          had moved on. She didn’t want to cross           would these people care. She tapped her
the scrub northwest of the bajada. She           paths with them, but her thirst was a more       own chest. “Carmen.”
cupped her hands around her eyes to see          powerful motivator than caution. And, she           They looked at her with curiosity. Oscar
more clearly. Something scuttled from a          rationalized, in wilderness you could pass       asked, “Latina?”
saltbush to an ocotillo. There, another          someone twenty yards away and never                 Carmen shrugged and shook her head.
movement to the right from a giant yucca         know they were there. Only vultures, coy-        “Gringa.” It was a familiar question because
to a mesquite. Two people. Then a third in       otes, and bobcats always knew.                   Carmen was a Spanish name, her skin was
a cowboy hat lunged flat onto his belly             She sidestepped downward, cursing the         olive, and her curly hair was black, but her
under a chamisa bush, leaving just the heel      pebbles that rattled down the slope. After a     mother was born in Chicago and the family
of a boot sticking out. Three people who         few steps, she let gravity take over and         only spoke a little Spanish urban slang. The
did not want to be seen. People heading          scrambled the 100-foot descent into the          most Carmen knew about Mexico was a
north. Mexicans.                                 canyon. A rattler shook nearby but Carmen        torn, sepia photograph of a grandfather
   Jack’s voice suddenly echoed down the         just kept moving fast. She crossed the           standing in the Sonora Desert. He wore a
slope. “You can see the canyon from here.”       Guadalupe Canyon riverbed and traversed          western hat like the man now in front of
Carmen pinned her back to the boulder,           the opposite side back up to a plateau.          her. And the only real Spanish Carmen
heard the flick of a lighter, and smelled his    From a highpoint, she spotted the blades         heard was from her grandmother who lived

                                  17 • Women Writing the West • 2009 2nd Place • Guadalupe Canyon, Cinny Green
with them briefly when she was small.            today. Now she was caught between her             utary and stopped, but its little ravine was
   The moon became smaller as it rose be-        own poisons from the US Army and theirs           so small that she fell to her knees in resig-
hind the Mexicans, and its light was cooler,     from Mexico. It didn’t matter that the Mex-       nation, no longer believing that she would
whiter. The two men slowly moved closer.                                                           find water, that she would evade the long
Carmen backed away from the tank.                 Carmen trembled—from dehydration,                reach of the army, or that she would out-
   Carlos put up his hands. “No tiene miedo.      exhaustion, and three years of antici-           run the spot on her lung. She could not
¿No hay agua?”                                    pating the military police she thought           bear this loneliness another minute. Car-
   Carmen shook her head. “No water.              she saw today. Now she was caught                men crumbled onto a bed of fine sand,
Mala agua.” She pointed at the tank.               between her own poisons from the                falling unconscious before a sob escaped
   Carlos swung his arm in a wide circle            US Army and theirs from Mexico.                her throat.
and asked, “¿Donde hay agua?”                                                                         The mold of her body in the silt felt lux-
   Where. Carmen imagined the wall maps          icans were chased by border patrol and she        urious when she awoke. She licked the grit
hanging in the visitor center and the wavy       by MPs. Carmen and this Mexican girl              on her lips and smelled something so soft
cut of the canyon up to Guadalupe Spring         were both pawns in a game neither could           and exotic she thought hopefully, “I must
and south to the Arroyo Spring. She              win and each could only run from.                 have died.” Then the vision of her flight,
pointed left, away from the moon, and held          She stared at the terrified girl, wanting to   her fear, the girl, and thirst flooded her
up one hand with three fingers. “Agua.           say something. But what could she say that        mind. Carmen moved her aching knees
Three miles. Tres.” Then she pointed right,      wasn’t too painful, too insurmountable,           and realized she was quite alive. She hoisted
south, wavering two fingers uncertainly.         too terrifying, too achingly true? Nacha hid      herself up on her elbows with a groan. The
“Dos.”                                           her face in her hands, misreading Carmen’s        moon bathed everything in exquisite con-
   “¿Y La Migra donde está?” asked Oscar.        look. Compassion rose up like hot syrup in        trast of shadow and light. Carmen rolled
   Everyone on the border knew La Migra:         Carmen’s throat. She had felt this helpless       over and stared up at a dry twiggy cactus
Border Patrol, like the officer at the visitor   fury a hundred times in Iraq, and again it        that appeared dead except for several large,
center who had just turned her life upside       burned beyond her endurance. She turned           pure white, trumpet-shaped flowers with
down again. Carmen pointed back across           and stumbled away from the stock tank.            glowing petals. She knew what it was: the
the bajada towards the wilderness area. The      Carmen couldn’t face this. As fugitives, as       night blooming cereus. She felt a rush of
woman gave a little sob and held her hand        Mexicans, as victims, they mirrored the           intoxicated joy at the sight of these blos-
to her face. Carmen looked at her for the        sense of loss she fought every hour of every      soms, rarely seen in the wild because the
first time. She was young, maybe a               day.                                              plants were scattered loners and no one
teenager. She dropped her hand and Car-             Carlos called out after her, “¿Donde va,       knew exactly when the thorny branches
men saw a large round sore on her cheek          amiga?”                                           would bloom.
the size and color of a small red carnation.        Without looking back, Carmen followed             Carmen rested back in the sand and her
Even—or especially—in the moonlight it           the draw back into Guadalupe Canyon. She          thoughts ambled with the same easy mo-
looked wicked and painful.                       couldn’t feel her legs; she just hoped they       tion as her running on the wilderness trails,
   “¿Que pasa?” she asked and gestured at        would hold her up until she found the Ar-         as the moon slipping through the night,
the girl’s face.                                 royo Spring. Must be a couple of miles, she       and as the life cycle of the blossoms. The
   The Mexicans stood in cold silence.           told herself, again trying to visualize the       mountains loomed above the ravine, born
Anger seeped from them like blood.               wall map she’d looked at so often. The            eons ago and still vital, whereas the flowers
“Químico venenoso,” Carlos said and then         moon was over her head, and her shadow            and scent would be gone before dawn. Her
spat in the dirt.                                bounced along the boulders and plants, like       own life span was a breath compared to the
   Carmen wasn’t sure about the second           her own ghost was tailing her. Occasionally       ancient stone yet bountiful next to the
word but the first was something like            she smelled the rank odor of a bobcat or          transitory cereus. She lay there filled with
chemical. She frowned in confusion.              saw eyes glowing from crevasses along the         calm, no longer suspended between poi-
   “Ella es maquiladora. Partes de computa-      riverbed. Spooks, she scolded herself,            sons but between one wonder and another.
dores.” Carlos held his finger and thumb a       knowing they could be real.                          As morning light filtered into the sky be-
quarter inch apart.                                 Carmen walked on, trying to find the dry       hind the Guadalupe range, Carmen saw or-
    A factory worker. Little computer chips.     creek bed on the east side of the canyon          ange and gray thunderheads roll above the
And Carmen suddenly flashed on the drain         that would lead her to the Arroyo Spring.         cliffs, draping the summits in vapor. She
cleaner in her mother’s bathroom. Skull          She lost a sense of time and distance. Twice      smelled cool moist air and a rumble an-
and crossbones. Danger Poison. Peligro Ve-       she turned up two small washes but they           nounced the summer monsoon.
neno. Carlos had said, “Químicos ve-             immediately ended in sloughs of giant                It began to rain softly. Carmen stuck out
nenosos.” Poisonous chemicals.                   boulders. She retraced her unsteady steps         her tongue and let the raindrops patter
    Carmen trembled—from dehydration,            and continued plodding and lurching               over her mouth, eyelids, arms, and bare
exhaustion, and three years of anticipating      through the night, clutching a muscle             legs. The rain came harder with thunder
the military police she thought she saw          spasm in her side. She came to a third trib-      and lightning. She luxuriated in the shower

                                  18 • Women Writing the West • 2009 2nd Place • Guadalupe Canyon, Cinny Green
until she heard a sloshing sound. Thinking       to get medical help for the sick girl? Car-
an animal might be cavorting nearby she          men did.
sat up. But there was no animal, just the           She grasped a handful of small quartzite
now unmistakable roiling sounds of a flash       pebbles from underwater and shook them
flood in Guadalupe Canyon. She struggled         together in her palm while she thought.
to her feet but her stiff limbs moved a sec-     Carmen tossed the pebbles back into the
ond too late. A wave tumbled around a            stream, one at a time. The water was so still
bend, dunked Carmen under, and then              she could see their ripples overlap. Run-
popped her to the surface. Remembering           ning. Poisons. Water. Loneliness. The
her survival training, instead of fighting the   desert. Suddenly she wanted to talk to the
dirty brown torrent, she let her limbs float,    Mexicans again.
used her feet to thrust her body around             She stood, turned north, and headed
boulders that peeked above the froth, and        back up Guadalupe Canyon.
twirled in the small whirlpools as she
bumped downstream spitting out mouth-            Cinny Green is a writer, editor, and avid
                                                 backpacker in Santa Fe, NM. Her new
                                                 book Trail Writer's Guide (Western Edge
fuls of gritty water. As soon as she was sure

                                                 Press 2010) has just been released and
she wouldn’t drown, she whooped like a
                                                 she offers writing/hiking workshops to
kid in a water park.
                                                 groups all over the Southwest. Contact her
   A half-mile down the canyon, the
                                                 for more informaton at edit@thema.us.
quickly dissipating flood took a turn west
and washed Carmen up on an embank-
ment. It stopped raining. A little bruised
but no longer thirsty, she got to her knees


 ...she got to her knees and grinned,
 thinking the desert kissed you one
 minute, then smacked you the next.



and grinned, thinking the desert kissed you
one minute then smacked you the next. She
shook the water off her clothes, stretched
her back, and straightened her shoulders. It
was time to make choices before something
else like a flash flood, MPs, or Border Patrol
made them for her.
   First, drink enough to get to another
source. She was hungry, too, but that would
have to wait. Carmen brushed some leaves
and dead bugs off the surface of the stream
and, cupping her hands, scooped up a few
handfuls of water. The thirsty Mexicans,
she imagined, were doing the same at
Guadalupe Spring, and now were also re-
freshed, now also making hard decisions
dedicated to saving the young woman
named Nacha. She leaned down and drank
more. Carmen looked downstream and
thought about going to Sonora. But she
didn’t know much about getting around in
Mexico. She wondered if Carlos, the man
who looked like her grandfather, knew how
to get documents and jobs in the US? How


                                  19 • Women Writing the West • 2009 2nd Place • Guadalupe Canyon, Cinny Green
              2009 3rd Place



The Second Time
Through The Door
By Carol Devlin

I climbed the lopsided wooden stairs and            “coffee”, I hadn’t realized the wooden side-
stepped onto a creaky sidewalk made of              walk had an overhang to protect it, and
ancient, hand-hewn logs. The sign I saw             now, couldn’t see the hotel sign above. I
before crossing the street said “Hotel”, and        craned to look in each window and open
arched across one of a series of huge five-         doorway as I walked along looking for an
foot square windows that made up the                interior that suggested a hotel.
front of the building, were painted the                “Ah, this must be it.” I spied a table sur-
words “Coffee Shop.” I’d been walking               rounded by coffee drinkers engrossed in
around town a couple of hours and looked            conversation. They appeared to be the only
forward to a break. Though it felt good to          inhabitants as I passed several more win-
walk after so many hours in the car, I was          dows through which I could see the rest of
tired from the long trip from western               a large room filled with easy chairs and ta-
Kansas to Evergreen for a conference next           bles. “Here it is, ‘Coffee Shop’.”
week on why pioneers interrupted their                 An ad at the service station for a small
wagon trips across country to make their            room in the home of Mr. Becket had
homes here. What pulled them away from              caught my eye when I first arrived in town
continuing to California? School was out            today, and the idea of staying in a private
for the summer, so I had arrived early to do        residence near Main Street appealed to me.
a little sight seeing.                                 Mr. Becket had rattled on this morning
   The door of the grand old hotel stood            after I’d rented the room. “Our little town
open, and tables inside next to the win-            is growing by leaps and bounds. I think
dows, where I could relax and watch the lo-         you said you’re a school teacher? We’re in
cals, beckoned—if any of them came down             need of a schoolmarm. Look around and if
this far. Today must be a light shopping day        you’re at all interested, I can put you in
because the only pedestrians are a couple of        touch with the right people. Seems like
blocks away and no vehicles are parked in           once people come to visit, they never want
front of the hotel. The paved street ended at       to leave. If you get a chance, visit our hotel
the beginning of this block with a notice-          on Main Street and take a step back in
able drop off to bumpy ruts and no curbs.           time, it’s got real character—especially to
And to tell the truth, the hotel looked old         someone like you. It’ll grab ya.”
and out of place—not at all in keeping with            This has to be the place Mr. Becket men-
the shopping area. A hitching rail stood in         tioned this morning. I opened the screen
front of the wooden walk.                           door, stepped inside to the mouth-watering
   Evergreen’s a nice little town, and I like the   aroma of cinnamon rolls, freshly roasted
fact that this glimpse of the old west has been     beans and brewed coffee. Large glass jars of
saved. I wonder what it was like to live here       coffee beans lined the wall behind a long,
in its western heyday. I can picture myself         ornately carved wooden bar, but the
gracefully lifting my long skirt to glide up the    counter of the heavy bar was bare as were
stairs to the wooden walk. Shoot, I wouldn’t        the shelves where cups, plates and coffee
mind living here now.                               makings might have been stored at one
   However, with my attention on the word           time. An antique coffee roaster sat between

                           20 • Women Writing the West • 2009 3rd Place • The Second Time Through The Door, Carol Devlin
the bar and the door just entered. No beans      though, I’m the only visitor and there’s no        cupped palm, and glanced at my pale re-
roasting now though. This didn’t appear to       coffee or food service, only silence.              flection in the mirror. I fell across the bed,
be the area for the coffee service.                 Along the front of the room large win-          and in spite of being shaken by my experi-
   I turned to look at the other patrons to      dows overlooked the street, which now              ence, fell asleep almost immediately.
ask where they’d bought their coffee and to      teemed with pedestrians, and several cars             Hunger roused me early the next morn-
my surprise, the entire room was unoccu-         lined the space out front. An eerie chill          ing and after showering, I felt refreshed and
pied. It occurred to me I’d not heard voices     swept over me as I stood blinking, gaping          ready for a mountain breakfast. Mr. Becket
when I entered. The animated group by the        through the windows at the sudden                  suggested a café in Kittredge with “the best
window didn’t pass me on their way out, but      change.                                            breakfast around.” Another beautiful day
maybe they took the stairs at the far end of        I returned to the screen door and stood         with that blue sky, puffy white clouds and
the room to an upper floor. This might still     watching the people, each bent on a mis-           cool, pure mountain air. I shut my eyes,
be a working hotel with rooms above. I           sion, greeting each other and scurrying            tipped my face to the warm sun and in-
stared at their empty table a moment then        cheerfully along. The day was beautiful            haled one long, deep breath, savoring the
looked around at the large room with its         with a sky the color of deep blue to which         fragrance of the earth, until I thought my
high ceiling.                                    mountains are privy. A refreshing, gentle          lungs would burst. What a way to start the
   An unstocked liquor bar, separated from       breeze, laden with the fragrances of pine,         day! Yesterday’s adventure felt more like a
restrooms by a small alcove, lined the wall      snow melt in the stream that ran behind            dream than reality, and I vowed to prove to
opposite the windows. The doorway of the         the buildings across the street, and a mix of      myself it had been just that.
alcove provided a glimpse of soda-foun-          cooking odors from the cafes a couple                 But first, breakfast and a cup of good
tain-style tables covered with red and white     blocks away, greeted me.                           strong coffee. Coffee. That’s what started
checked tablecloths. Chairs with wrought            I turned my head, scanned the room              the whole thing. Today would be different.
iron heart-shaped backs and padded seats         once more and debated whether or not to            I drove my 2009 Mercedes along the wind-
surrounded the tables. I stepped through         rest in one of the inviting chairs. A thin         ing road that followed a picturesque bub-
the doorway and was surprised to see that        folded newspaper on one of the tables drew         bling stream through the beautiful pines to
the back wall appeared to be mountain            my attention and I took a step toward it,          Kittredge.
rocks. I moved closer and realized water         but I really wanted a cup of coffee and a lit-        Breakfast hit the spot like no gourmet
seeped out of the rocks and disappeared          tle something to eat to steady my nerves. I        meal I could remember. My mother cooked
under the wooden floor. A brilliant idea!        looked down at the threshold for sure foot-        like that. It bolstered me, and my imagin-
They used the mountain as a wall. Great at-      ing, pushed the screen door open and               ings from yesterday caused me to smile.
mosphere. A cozy place to sit and visit with a   stepped onto the log sidewalk as it emitted        Today should be interesting.
friend.                                          a groan.                                              Evergreen, bustling with people dressed
   I turned to face the large room. The inte-       I looked up and felt my head swim mo-           in shorts and other summer attire, had
rior, authentic 1800s, boasted wood and          mentarily. The street and sidewalk were            scarce parking, but my timing was perfect
brick walls and floor and gave the old place     empty. What the heck is going on? I glanced        and a spot opened, as if reserved for me,
a homey, earthy smell. It surely must have       back at the empty coffee shop then headed          right in front of the hotel. A quick glance at
been a favorite meeting place for the locals     for my car. I stopped short in front of the        the windows told me the big room was
in the past. The rough wooden floor had a        big window beside the coffee drinkers still        empty—no coffee drinkers by the window
few wet places rapidly drying around the         engaged in animated conversation. I stood          this morning, and they probably weren’t
edges as if it had just been mopped.             less than a foot from the glass watching           there yesterday either. The old steps
   Faded, worn, once-magnificent Oriental        them, but they didn’t notice me.                   groaned as I bounced briskly up them and
area rugs were strategically placed and sur-        What in the world? I’m getting out of here.     the sidewalk creaked under my weight as I
rounded by outdated furniture. Comfort-          The trip had been long and the high alti-          made my way to the door of the coffee
able overstuffed wing-back chairs faced          tude had to be causing hallucinations. I           shop. My hand swept forward, pulled to-
oversized wooden benches with padded             drove back to Mr. Becket’s.                        ward the handle of the screen door as if it
seats of well-worn leather, corduroy, suede         “Howdy Ms. Anna. I hope you’re enjoy-

                                                                                                          I touched the handle and a
and velvet in faded colors of tan, dark          ing our little town. How’s that new car per-

                                                                                                          feeling of shifting into slow
brown and burgundy. Low, hand hewn cof-          forming at this altitude? Surely is a fine

                                                                                                             motion swept over me.
fee tables in the center of each grouping,       machine.” It centered me a bit to hear a fa-
invited coffee cups and small plates filled      miliar voice, but I needed to lie down.
with homemade pastries, cake or pie dur-            My room was small but clean and pleas-
ing a time long gone when the locals gath-       ant, and the sound of water rushing over
ered to visit and catch up on the news. The      the rocks of the little falls in the creek just    were a magnet. I touched the handle and a
groupings, designed to provide imagined          outside soothed and relaxed me. I splashed         feeling of shifting into slow motion swept
privacy, created an atmosphere for intimate      water on my face from the small sink in the        over me. I watched through a dream, the
conversation in small groups. Today,             bathroom, sipped a little water from my            door open with no effort on my part.

                          21 • Women Writing the West • 2009 3rd Place • The Second Time Through The Door, Carol Devlin
   My head cleared, I felt strong, relaxed,         Jake surveyed his chair and gave the seat     comes through the door the second time.
and surprised to be standing in front of the     a little bounce. “I like these new chairs—       Like you did, Anna.” He winked and
coffee bar. The feathers of my new hat           very comfy, and this burgundy brightens          smiled. “I’ve got a cabin ready for him if he
matched my new skirt precisely and I felt        the room a little. Ed and Elsie are turning      joins us.”
elegant. I couldn’t wait for Elsie to see it.    this into a show place.” He took a huge bite        He picked up the thin newspaper from
   “Anna! Good to see you this morning,”         of his cinnamon roll, careful not to let but-    the coffee table, scanned the front page,
my friend, Ed, greeted from behind the bar.      ter drip on his silk vest, savored the warm      and pulled on the front of his shirt collar to
“You look like you could use a cup of cof-       treat and swallowed. All business now, he        loosen his string tie.
fee.”                                            looked at me. “I hear there’ve been a few           “Hey! Look at this!” He had unfolded the
   I tipped my head and smiled. “Yes, thank      more strikes reported around Dry Creek.”         paper and now turned the single sheet this
you, and would you please bring one of              “I heard that too. That’ll sure boost the     way and that. “Amazing! Fully printed on
those fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls         economy. People will be pouring in here to       both sides. Now, that’s a newspaper. We’ll
that Elsie just brought out of the kitchen to    mine gold. We’re going to need every cabin       have one like Denver if this continues. Let’s
Jake?”                                           you can build. Thank goodness our new            see what’s so newsworthy today, April 22,
   Ed poured two cups of bubbling, black         schoolhouse was built to accommodate             1888.”
coffee, and placed a fork and cinnamon           growth.”
roll, on a small plate. The coffee roaster          They turned their heads in unison to-         Carol Devlin is the author of the humor-
                                                                                                  ous, heartwarming memoirs, What Do You
                                                                                                  Do With The Yolks? and the award-win-
tumbled happily, emitting a little smoke         ward the window as a man in shades of

                                                                                                  ning beading book, The Little Coin Purse.
along with an aroma, so thick I wished I         gray walked past glancing at the coffee
                                                                                                  She lives and writes in the mountains of
could eat it, from roasting beans. The bar       drinkers seated at a table beside it. A look
                                                                                                  Colorado.
and shelves were fully stocked with an array     of anticipation crossed his face as he con-
of pastries and dishes. Steaming tin pots of     tinued along the creaking sidewalk, opened
fresh coffee perked on the burners of the        the screen door and stepped inside.
wood-burning kitchen stove in the center            He stopped short and his smile changed
of the wall behind the bar. I scanned the        to a blank look as he surveyed the bar and
room and Jake motioned for me to join            room. He surveyed the room again. His
him. Several of the regulars, scattered          gaze fell on a copy of the newspaper on one
throughout the room enjoying conversa-           of the tables, then he turned and walked
tion or the newspaper, raised a hand in          out the door. His mouth gaped a little as he
greeting which I acknowledged with a             surveyed the street then he rapidly retraced
smile and nod as I swept past. Elsie arrived     his steps down the sidewalk, stopping short
with the tray and set the breakfast items on     when he passed the window by the coffee
our table. She looked at my new hat and          drinkers. He stared at them a moment,
dress, raised her brows, made a silent oooh      then trotted down the stairs to his car.
with her lips and nodded. I knew she                My gaze followed the man out the door
would like them.                                 onto the new, hand-hewn, covered side-
   “Elsie, you outdid yourself again this        walk, completed just last week. It’s quite an
morning.” Jake laughed eyeing the giant          improvement and will be greatly appreciated
warm cinnamon roll laden with vanilla            when the snow flies this winter. The ladies
icing and a scoop of real butter puddling        will be happy to have the hems of their
around it on the small warm plate. “Just         dresses protected from the dirt and mud. Yes,
when I think you can’t top your last batch,      our little town is becoming quite modern and
you do.”                                         growing by the minute. My class this fall will
   Elsie beamed and chuckled. “I’m never         be the largest yet. I nodded at the thought
satisfied, even though these are the best in     and returned to my coffee.
town, and just keep trying new ideas.” She          Jake watched the car drive away. “Mr.
placed a courtesy copy of the small, local       Becket says that guy’s an architect. Exactly
newspaper on the table and moved to other        what we need now with the news of more
customers.                                       strikes,” Jake shifted his weight and picked
   Jake settled himself in his big, cushy,       up his cup. “What we really need is another
wingback chair covered in rich burgundy          doctor. I’ll mention that to Mr. Becket.”
velvet. He took that first life-giving sip          “We’ve got to get more people living here
from the steaming cup and smiled at me. I        first so there’s someone to doctor. But, yes,
settled into a chair opposite him and sa-        we can certainly use an architect.”
vored my coffee.                                    “Maybe he’ll join us tomorrow if he

                         22 • Women Writing the West • 2009 3rd Place • The Second Time Through The Door, Carol Devlin
                                                            2008 Honorable Mention




                                               The Ranch
                                               By Linda Sandifer




The old Chevy pickup truck bounced
along the gravel road, spewing a column of
dust that stretched all the way back to the
pavement a quarter of a mile away. Tess
Hardin knew she was driving too fast for
the conditions. If Josh, her husband, hadn’t
up and died a year ago, he’d probably tell
her to ease her foot up off the gas pedal.
“You’re rattling my teeth so hard in my
head, woman, they’re all going to fall out.
And I need every one I have left.”
   She smiled, feeling she could almost hear
him scold in that teasing way of his. She
glanced at the empty passenger side of the
                                               catch the wind in his face. Tess didn’t fault
truck’s bench seat. Josh had had her drive
                                               him for that. She understood his love for
him around a lot those last few years be-
                                               the wind. It was something always present,
cause his eyesight had gotten poor and his
                                               always keeping a person company, pushing
reflexes hadn’t been what they once were.
                                               a body along, never encouraging one to
The eyesight had been fixed with glasses,
                                               idleness.
but Josh’s cowboy pride hadn’t allowed
                                                  When she had first moved to the ranch
him to wear them in front of anybody but
                                               as Josh’s young bride, she had hated the
her.
                                               lonely sound of the wind keening across
   With the expertise of a person whose
                                               the sagebrush hills and valleys of this Idaho
seven decades of life have mostly been
                                               backcountry. Winter had been the biggest
spent on gravel roads, Tess dodged another
                                               adjustment. During those months, the
pothole and navigated a series of wash-
                                               wind seldom stopped blowing, even on
boards, keeping the old truck from going
                                               good days. During storms, it would sweep
into a sideways skid and off into the bor-
                                               across the open land at hurricane force,
row pit. Actually, Tess had lived more than
                                               stripping the snow from hillsides and car-
seven decades, but she deduced that once
                                               rying it for great distances until it piled up
your hair turned gray and the lines on your
                                               into monstrous drifts in the roads, corrals,
face settled into each other, there wasn’t
                                               and around the calving sheds. All the places
much point in squabbling over two measly
                                               it wasn’t needed or wanted. Tess hadn’t
years.
                                               seen much vertical snow since she’d been
   She dodged one pothole but hit another.
                                               here—fifty years to be exact.
The jounce threw her up off the seat a good
                                                  Years ago, Tess would never have missed
four inches. Her blue heeler dog, riding in
                                               the wind, but she supposed she had grown
the back with his front paws up on the edge
                                               accustomed to its company and to its vari-
of the pickup bed, nearly toppled over the
                                               ous voices; its wail, its laughter, its sigh. She
side. Old Blue always risked his life in the
                                               thought she might even miss it now when
back of the pickup because he liked to
                                               she was gone from here. Gone from the

                              23 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • The Ranch, Linda Sandifer
ranch.                                              Gwen had heard the dogs, seen the dust,        to be lonely just knowing you aren’t over
   There was one thing she could say,           and was out on the porch, ready to greet           there anymore.”
though. Things were a lot easier now than       Tess. “I thought you’d be in such a hurry to          Tess wouldn’t let Gwen make her feel
they had been fifty years ago. She’d seen a     head out of this hard, old country that            guilty for leaving. She felt guilty enough all
lot of changes. Witnessed a lot of history.     you’d just skip one last visit. I guess you’re     on her own.
Now that most of civilization’s conven-         all packed and ready to go?”                          Gwen said, “Have you got time for a cup
iences had arrived, more people were mov-           Unfortunately, yes.                            of tea? I’ve got your favorite—Earl Grey.”
ing out of town to live here. The people            That’s what Tess wanted to say. Instead,          Relieved that the subject of her departure
buying the ranch had big plans for the          she nodded and leaned across the seat to           was temporarily on hold, Tess followed
place. They wanted to renovate her yard—        lift the plum starts from off the floor-           Gwen into the house and deposited the vet
landscape it—they’d said. They were a real      boards. Their roots were wrapped in a wet          supplies by the door. Then she settled onto
nice couple, but the woman didn’t see a         towel so she had to be careful not to lose         a kitchen chair and let Gwen play hostess,
need for the big plum bush in the back          the dirt protecting them.                          all the while thinking there were a lot of
yard. It was going to be yanked out first           “You’ve always liked my blue plums,            things over the past fifty years that she and
thing and replaced with something more          Gwen, so I thought you might like to see if        Gwen could recollect for old times’ sake,
exotic.                                         you can get a few of them to grow over             but dwelling on the past only filled a per-
   Tess had to remind herself that it wasn’t    here. The new owners of the ranch think            son with rue. No matter how much talking
her yard anymore. If the new lady didn’t        they’re an eyesore and plan to rip them out        you did, you weren’t going to bring any of
want to make plum syrup and jelly, it           and put in some fancy trees. I didn’t bother       it back. She preferred to turn the memories
wasn’t for Tess to contest the matter. She’d    to tell them only certain things are strong        into lively stories for her great-grandchil-
handed it all over the day she’d signed her     enough to survive up here, and when you            dren. The children liked hearing about the
name to those papers. She did hate to see       discover what those things are, you don’t          old times almost as much as they liked
those plum bushes go, though. She’d             destroy them. But they’ll learn quick              their computer games. They liked the sto-
planted them a few years after she’d moved      enough, same as I did. I brought you some          ries even better if they could crawl up on
here. Her two oldest daughters had been         vet supplies, too, for the cattle. Somebody        her lap and listen to them before bedtime.
toddlers, and they’d helped her. Because        ought to make use of them.”                        But they wouldn’t be coming to the ranch
the bushes were going to be gone soon, too,         “Aren’t your buyers going to raise cattle?     anymore on those long summer visits, and
Tess had decided to take a couple of cut-       That’s a lot of land to sit idle.”                 she wondered if the stories would mean as
tings to her neighbor, Gwen Kirk, along             “A few to train their horses with, but they    much to them when told from her new lit-
with some veterinary supplies she wouldn’t      mostly raise horses. The expensive kind            tle house in the valley.
be needing anymore.                             that bring ten thousand dollars a piece—or            As if Gwen had read her mind, she said,
   The Kirk place came into view around a       more—depending on how big the fool is              “What in creation are you going to do to
willow-lined bend that skirted Deer Creek.      who’s buying them. Can you imagine                 keep busy down in that valley, Tess? You’ll
Tess lifted her foot off the gas pedal and      spending that kind of money on one horse           be lost if you can’t get in your truck and
reached for the gear shift on the floor. Eas-   that might step in a badger hole and break         drive around the ranch every day.”
ing it down into second, she roared into the    its leg?”                                             Tess smiled in a flippant way and lifted
yard and into the midst of a mob of yap-            “They won’t put those kinds of horses          her shoulders in the semblance of a shrug.
ping dogs. There were only three, but they      out on the range, Tess. They probably won’t        “Oh, I’ll find plenty to do. There’s a great
carried on like a pack of transplanted          let them out of the corral.”                       back yard, all fenced in. I can raise flowers
Canadian wolves on the scent of a newborn           “Whatever they do with them is fine by         and a few vegetables. I think I’ll even plant
calf. They came rushing out like they were      me. I’d rather see nothing on the land than        that herb garden I’ve always wanted but
going to eat the pickup and Old Blue, too.      a dozen subdivisions and Burger Kings.” A          never had time to mess with. And I’m
Then they recognized their visitors and         wistful look entered Tess’s eyes. “I remem-        going to plant a few of the plum cuttings,
took to wagging their tails. The alpha male     ber Josh used to catch wild mustangs and           too. I imagine I’ll have time to read all
lifted his leg and marked the front tire.       break them. He always was a hand with a            those books I’ve collected over the years.
   Tess threw the truck door open. Old Blue     horse. If it had a brain at all, he could turn     I’ll do some sewing. You know, things like
simultaneously bailed out of the truck to       it into a first-rate cow pony. Don’t get me        that.”
go romp around with the other dogs. He          wrong about the new people. They’re real              Gwen chuckled. “You hate to sew, Tess.”
didn’t get company of his own kind very         friendly and you’ll like them.”                       Tess acknowledged that truth with a
often so he always made the most of it              Gwen snorted. “What’ll young people            grim set to her lips and a nod of her head.
when they went visiting at Gwen’s. “Now,        want with an old man and woman pushing             “There was always something less tedious
don’t go running off after rabbits or porcu-    eighty? They won’t go five miles out of            to do, for sure. But I’m looking forward to
pines,” Tess warned. “I ain’t gonna be here     their way to visit, I can tell you that. If they   being closer to my kids and grandkids.”
all day. And if you aren’t here when I’m        come, it’ll be to see Sam and Nell, who are           Feeling the conversation shifting to her
ready to go, I’ll leave you behind.”            probably closer to their age. No, it’s going       departure again, Tess drained her tea cup

                               24 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • The Ranch, Linda Sandifer
and set it back on the dainty china saucer.     you.”                                            were trying to get home from town in that
“Well, I’d better be going. The Blakes said        “Yes, but it’s been rough on his wife         blizzard and were stuck up on Monte Pass
they’d be arriving around three, and I still    being from a big city and all. Things are        in zero visibility?”
have some packing to do.”                       easier than they were when we came here,            “Oh, yes, I remember. The wind nearly
   In truth, she had everything packed. Her     but these young people—they don’t know           blew us all into Wyoming that night. You
daughters and sons-in-law had helped her        how to rough it.”                                started to cry and you cursed John for
move the furniture and boxes a few days            Tess thought about her own children all       bringing you to this godforsaken place. You
ago into the new place. She thought about       taking off in different directions. None had     threatened to divorce him if he didn’t move
the house she’d bought. It was so much          wanted to stay on the ranch. Her oldest          you back to town.”
smaller than the ranch house, and the back      daughter, Meg, had settled in the country,          “We were all ready to move out that win-
yard was no bigger than a postage stamp.        or, leastwise, what people in the valley con-    ter,” Gwen admitted.
Not even big enough for Blue to have any        sidered the country to be. The house Tess           “I can’t imagine what sort of people we’d
space to roam. She had felt like a stranger     had bought was just two miles from Meg’s,        be now, though, if our lives had taken a dif-
in that new place, a visitor. There was         and her nearest neighbor was within shout-       ferent road.”
something empty about that house. Maybe         ing distance. Too close. Much too close.            Gwen studied Tess’s face harder than
it was because none of its memories were           “I remember you hated this place in the       Tess had ever seen her do. “I’m going to
hers.                                           beginning,” Gwen said, startling Tess with       miss you, Tess Hardin. I never had to put
   “Are you going to be happy down there?”      the statement and forcing her to remember        on airs around you, and you always came
Gwen asked, her dark eyes too wise, too         that it had been the truth, once upon a          up with some off-the-wall remark that
knowing. She reached across the table and       time.                                            would make me laugh.”
covered Tess’s hand with her own. “Hon-            Indeed, she would have given her eye             Tess knew it was time to go now or
estly?”                                         teeth to leave this country as a newlywed. It    they’d both be crying in their tea. She stood
   Wasn’t it just like Gwen to cut to the       had been such a shock from what she’d            up, slowly. “I won’t be but thirty miles
chase?                                          been used to in the valley where she’d been      away, Gwen. We don’t have to become
                                                born and raised in a little house just out-      strangers.”
   Tess looked down at their hands,
                                                side of town—not much different from the            “No, we surely don’t. We’ll call, and visit.
   both old and gnarled from all the
                                                one she was moving to. Funny. Life had           I’ll stop in to see you when I’m in town, al-
   years of hard work. They weren't
                                                come full circle.                                though I don’t drive anymore since I rear-
          the hands of ladies.
                                                   But that old shack she and Josh had lived     ended that car a few years back and had to
                                                in for ten years would have tested anyone’s      go to the emergency room. Nell carts me
                                                strength to the limit. It was cold and so        around now. Is Meg going to come and
    Tess looked down at their hands, both       drafty that the snow blew in through the         pick you up this afternoon?”
old and gnarled from all the years of hard      cracks and collected in little drifts on the        “No, I’m driving. Meg and Eric wanted
work. They weren’t the hands of ladies. “I      floor. She had packed so damned much             me to sell my pickup with the ranch, but I
would have stayed here ’til I died, just like   wood to the stove trying to keep the babies      can still drive, for Pete’s sake. Just because
Josh, but my daughters were worried about       warm. Josh had gone off to do work in            Josh is dead, people are beginning to look
me up here all by myself. Afraid I’d get sick   town during those years to make ends             at me as if I have one foot in the grave with
or injured and there wouldn’t be anyone         meet, and she’d been left alone with the         him. I might be leaving the ranch, but I’m
around except Old Blue. He’s a smart dog,       children and the livestock. The loneliness       not dying.”
I’ll grant him that, but he hasn’t mastered     during those frightening blizzards when             They gave each other a hug, not admit-
dialing 9-1-1 yet.” She paused to present a     Josh couldn’t get home to her for days had       ting that it wasn’t likely they’d actually see
wry smile, then continued on a more seri-       nearly driven her crazy on more than one         each other again, except maybe at weddings
ous note. “But, I’m healthy as a horse. It’s    occasion, but she had forced herself not to      or funerals. But there were no tears, for
not that. I was more concerned about the        succumb to the wind’s incessant howl. She        tears suggested a conclusion, a finality to a
ranch falling into disrepair. Josh worked so    had learned to block it out. And then, one       long friendship that neither of them
hard over the years to make a nice place of     day, she had learned to lean into it, to find    wanted to consider.
it. It wouldn’t have been fair to him to let    comfort in its constancy. She’d learned to          Gwen walked Tess to her pickup. Tess
that work be for naught. The Blakes are the     determine the coming weather by its pitch        lowered the tailgate and hollered for Old
sort to take pride in what they have, and I     and ferocity, and by its rare moments of         Blue to, “Get up.” He bounded into the
know they’ll keep the ranch up. They have       utter silence.                                   truck bed, not knowing things were chang-
three sons to help them with the horses.           “You hated it, too, Gwen,” she countered,     ing. For him, too.
They might be able to pass the place down       not giving away her own solemn thoughts.            The women gave each other one last hug
to one of them, the way you and John have       “Don’t deny it.”                                 then Tess headed back down the bumpy
done your ranch. You’re fortunate that Sam         “Yes, it took some getting used to. Do        road, going considerably slower on the re-
wanted to take over and stay here with          you remember that time a bunch of us             turn. There was one thing left to do. And it

                               25 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • The Ranch, Linda Sandifer
was going to be the hardest thing of all.       ture, Tess called for the three horses.          light to skinny dip. Afterwards, we put a
                      * * *                     Thinking she might have a carrot or some         blanket over there near those bushes.”
   Tess had a tuna sandwich for lunch,          oats for them, they left their grazing to trot       Old Blue followed the direction of her
made from the last can she’d left in the        over to her and Old Blue. She rubbed their       pointing finger with his keen eyes, but con-
cupboard. She gave half of it to Old Blue.      faces and even draped her arm over the           fusion surfaced. He couldn’t see any cows,
She sat out in the porch swing and hand-        neck of each one while she crooned about         or anything else that needed to be chased
fed it to him. He looked at her suspiciously;   how much they were going to like their           away, and he knew better than to torment
she usually dumped the table scraps in his      new owners. “They might think you’re just        the horses.
dog bowl.                                       inconsequential ponies without papers, but           Tess put her arm over his ruff. “I
   When he was done gulping the sand-           lack of papers doesn’t mean you have a lack      wouldn’t have told anybody that but you.”
wich, he sat back on his bobbed tail, hop-      of breeding and intelligence. They’ll see            Suddenly Old Blue’s ears cocked forward
ing for more. Tess suddenly felt tired. There   that soon enough. Why, I’ll bet that when        and his body tensed. He leaped to his feet,
was something she hadn’t told Gwen.             they need some real work done with the           whirling back in the direction of the road.
Something she hadn’t even told her daugh-       cattle, they’ll come get you old boys and        Tess sighed and stood up. “I know. I heard
ters. She sighed, thinking about the truth      leave those fancy critters in their stalls.”     it, too. It’ll be the new owners. At least
of why she was leaving the ranch. She              After a time, seeing she had no treats, the   they’re on time. Most people nowadays
wasn’t leaving because she was afraid of        horses lowered their heads and went back         have no respect for time and promises. But
dying alone or falling down and breaking a      to cropping the lush spring grass. Tess set-     the Blakes said they’d be here at three
leg. And it wasn’t because she couldn’t run     tled on one of the big lava rocks that bor-      o’clock and, by damn, they’re early. They’ll
things here by herself. She could probably      dered the reservoir. Old Blue sat down next      be all right, Blue. They’ll be just fine.”
keep the ranch operating with a hired hand      to her. They remained that way for a while,          Blue was eager to get back to the house,
or two. It might be tight to pay them, but      just looking out across the land and listen-     but he stayed with Tess. The Blakes and
she wouldn’t need as much to live on now        ing to its sounds. In their position, behind     their three boys were just getting out of
that she was alone. Nor was it because she      the curve of a hill, the breeze was quiet and    their pickup when Tess arrived in the yard.
was worried about Josh’s hard work falling      allowed her to fully appreciate the gurgle of    Behind the Ford was an expensive gray
into disrepair, although that was a big part    the creek. Overhead, a pair of sandhill          horse trailer loaded with the last of their
of it, yes.                                     cranes flew by, flapping their large wings al-   fancy horses. Cutting horses, they said. In-
   In truth, she had decided to leave be-       most in slow motion and releasing their fa-      deed. They were trained to keep a cow
cause the ranch wasn’t the same anymore         miliar bugling call as they circled the water,   from stepping over a line during a contest.
with Josh and the children gone. A silence      saw her there, then rose back up to the sky.     Games. All people wanted to do nowadays
had settled deeply over the land, and along     The sounds were all those she had commit-        was play games. Put those same horses out
with it a vast emptiness greater than any       ted to memory. Sounds she would never            on the range and they wouldn’t be able to
she’d felt before. The two combined to          hear again in the valley.                        stop their own shadows.
form a constricting knot that closed tighter       Someday she’d be back here in spirit              Still the Blakes were good people, she
around her heart with each new day. She         with Josh. His body was in a cemetery in         kept reminding herself, and they loved this
could go down to the corral and feed the        town, but his spirit was here. She’d stayed      place. Loved it the minute they’d set eyes
horses, patch a little fence. She could even    here all these years because he had loved it     on it. They would face its hardships and
saddle up her gelding, Jack, and ride out to    so much. It had been hard giving her heart       joys, as she and Josh had done, and if they
check on the cattle. But it didn’t feel right   to a land as harsh as this one. And she          had a solid backbone, they’d still be here
without Josh. It didn’t have the same           didn’t know that she ever had. The land          when they were her age.
meaning. Keeping it all going didn’t matter     had taken her heart, stolen it, crawled in-          In the end, it didn’t matter who owned
anymore.                                        side of its own volition and against her will.   the land. The land was insensitive to own-
   The ranch had been Josh’s dream, and         But it had won in the end.                       ership and would survive them all. She and
she had helped him build it up to what it                                                        Josh hadn’t been the first people on this
was now. Not that she hadn’t enjoyed it all      It had been hard giving her heart to a          land, and the Blakes wouldn’t be the last.
those years, but the dream had vanished            land as harsh as this one. And she                She exchanged her pleasantries with the
with the cowboy as he had ridden off into          didn't know that she had. The land            couple and answered a few of their last-
the sunset.                                      had taken her heart, stolen it, crawled         minute questions. She told them, too,
   Tess sighed and forced her skinny,            inside of its own volition and against          about the drinker down in the east corral
arthritic legs to a standing position. She          her will. But it had won in the end.         that hadn’t been acting quite right yester-
placed her hand on Blue’s motley-colored                                                         day, and about a piece of tin that the wind
head. “Well, come on, old boy. We’ll go for       “Me and Josh conceived our first baby          had started to rip off the horse barn last
one last walk around the place. I’ve got to     down here,” she confided in Blue. “Lord, we      Saturday during that bad thunderstorm.
tell the horses good-bye.”                      were so young and crazy in those days. We        Then she went to the house to get her bags.
   Down by the reservoir, in the horse pas-     came down here one night in the moon-            The Blake boys carried them for her and

                               26 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • The Ranch, Linda Sandifer
loaded them in the back of the Chevy. That      but he was watching her and having none
truck was going to look out of place in the     of their coaxing to go back down to the
valley with all its dents and dings and dirt,   reservoir.
but there wouldn’t have been any point in          “I’m just going to town, Blue, and you
selling it. There wasn’t a dealer in town       know you aren’t allowed to come,” she said.
who would have given her two cents for it.         Then she put the truck in gear and set
The Blakes wouldn’t have wanted it sitting      off down the road. She looked back in her
beside that shiny Ford. Of course, the dirt     mirror to see Old Blue running after her,
had already settled over the Ford just from     the dust in his face. “Dang dog. Go home,”
coming the half mile from the pavement. It      she said out loud even though the dog
would look like a farm truck soon enough.       couldn’t hear her.
She was sure that before it was all said and       She could see the Blakes calling to him to
done, her daughters would convince her to       come back. What was wrong with him? He
buy a car. She supposed that would be all       had never tried to follow her when she’d
right, but it had to have four-wheel-drive.     gone to town. He’d always known, some-
   She squatted down next to Old Blue and       how, that she’d be back. Could it be that his
put her hand on the top of his head. A          instincts were just as sharp this time?
lump formed inside her throat. Her vision          He chased after the truck all the way
blurred. “Now you mind your manners,            down the gravel road, eating the dust
Blue. The Blakes were good enough to let        rolling out from behind. He started losing
you keep your job here, so don’t disappoint     ground when she hit the pavement and
them. I know you want to come with me,          threw the pickup into third gear. She
and I’d like you to. I surely would. But you    topped a hill another mile down the road
wouldn’t like it where I’m going. There         and pulled over to look back. He was
wouldn’t be enough room for you to run.         stopped in the road not far from the ranch
To roam. There might be some stray rab-         gate. When he saw her stop, he started after
bits to chase, but they’d probably be some-     her again.
body’s pets and then we’d both be in big           “Don’t do this to me, Blue.” That lump
trouble. You’d get bored in that little yard    was back in her throat, too big to swallow
and you’d find a way out. You’d take to         down this time. Tears blurred her vision
chasing cars. I’d really hate to see someone    and her lips began to quiver as she tried to
as smart as you be forced to such an idiotic    hold them back. She could barely see the
pastime.” She was about to say that she         road. "Go back, damn it. Go back."
would miss him, but the words wouldn’t             She had wanted to sit for a few minutes
come out.                                       and look over the land one last time, but
   “Please come back and see him any time,      having no choice now, she rammed the old
Mrs. Hardin,” the Blake woman said. “We’d       Chevy into gear again and hit the gas. It
love to have you visit. And don’t worry         sailed down over the hill like a schooner on
about Blue. The boys will take good care of     a wave, and Old Blue was lost from sight.
him.”                                              She refused to look back after that. She
   Tess nodded, swallowing down that            didn’t want to see if he was still following.
lump. She said, “I might just do that, Mrs.     She was going too fast for him to catch up.
Blake.” But she knew she wouldn’t. No, it       In time, he would go back. He would get
would hurt too much to come back and see        used to the Blake boys, and he would forget
that plum bush covered with “landscaping.”      her. She might even forget him. After all, he
It would hurt too much to see that Blue         was just a danged old dog.
might have forgotten her.
   She climbed into the Chevy, suddenly         Linda Sandifer is the award-winning
                                                author of thirteen novels, several of which
                                                have been translated into numerous lan-
feeling every year her age and then some.

                                                guages. She lives on a ranch in Idaho.
She fired up the engine, said a few last
farewells. She tried not to look at Blue who
was wondering why she hadn’t put down
the tailgate for him to jump inside. The
boys were trying to make friends with him,


                               27 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • The Ranch, Linda Sandifer
                   Sweet Java
            2008 Honorable Mention




                   By Maxine Neely Davenport




                                                                                                 with the toe of her boot. The smell of fresh
                                                                                                 cookies from Lupe’s oven wafted past them.
                                                                                                 “Got time for a cup of coffee?” she asked,
                                                                                                 hoping to distract him.
                                                                                                    The sheriff chewed that thought along
                                                                                                 with his wad of tobacco. He spit toward a
                                                                                                 grasshopper swinging on a purple cosmos
                                                                                                 stalk beside the fence. “Nope,” he said, “I’m
                                                                                                 in a hurry.” His nose twitched toward the
                                                                                                 kitchen like the rabbit’s in Lupe’s vegetable
                                                                                                 garden. “But I ’spect it’ll be cold up on that
                                                                                                 mountain.” He reached for his thermos.
                                                                                                 “Maybe I could get a re-fill and some of
                                                                                                 those cookies to take with me.”
                                                                                                    Cate sighed. He not only wanted to tres-
                                                                                                 pass on her land, he wanted to have a party
                                                                                                 while he was doing it.
                                                                                                    “You’re right, of course,” he said. “No
                                                                                                 law’s been broken. So I guess you won’t
                                                                                                 mind if we take a little look-see up there.
                                                                                                 I’ve rounded up some of the boys to hunt
Cate McCellan pulled her Stetson low over       way as ranchers hired illegal migrants.          down that bear. They should be here by
her dark eyes and stared at the sheriff’s       While her father had taken advantage of          noon with their horses. That’s alright with
Humvee like a wolf bitch ready to pounce        their gentlemen’s agreement, he was no           you.” He wasn’t asking permission.
on a mouse. The vehicle pulled off High-        longer alive. It was up to Cate to decide           She took his thermos and yelled at Lupe
way 149, and slowed to a stop behind her        employment issues, and her own relation-         to come re-fill it. While that was being
pickup in the back yard of Rancho del Rió.      ship with the sheriff was as prickly as the      done, Cate looked the sheriff in the eye and
From the corral, Cate spurred Blackie to-       cacti scattered across the foothills. She        shook her head. “Sorry, Sheriff. It’s not
ward the house, hoping to stop the driver       pulled Blackie to a halt and slid to the         okay. We don’t allow hunting on this ranch
before he crossed the cattle guard into the     ground behind the gate leading to the back       anymore. There are too many cattle and
ranch proper. She shouldn’t be surprised        yard where the sheriff was parked.               cowboys who might be taken for wild
that Sheriff Simpson had hightailed it out         “Howdy, Sheriff. What brings you out          game. Maybe your boys could ride over to
here to question her about yesterday’s fi-      this morning?” she asked as she led the          Herb Womack’s place. I hear guns going off
asco at the migrant camp, where a hungry        horse around the cattle guard. She worked        over there all the time.”
bear had smelled grilled fish but made the      to keep her voice neutral, but her dislike for      Anticipation drained from Simpson’s
mistake of trying to eat the cook instead.      the man showed in the tightness of her lips.     face, replaced by an angry flush. “Guess I’ll
That lady was now in the hospital with             Simpson’s pleasant demeanor vanished.         have to talk to the judge about a search
deep slashes on her body.                       “Well, I’m surprised you weren’t expecting       warrant, then. We can’t have a man-eating
   Cate was sure the sheriff would claim his    me, young lady, considering what hap-            bear roaming the countryside, endangering
sole interest in coming to the ranch was to     pened on your ranch yesterday.” He paused,       our citizens.” He cleared his throat, making
kill the black bear that escaped after the      his eyebrows lifting.                            sure his emphasis on “citizens” hit its mark.
mauling. She knew better. Simpson was              “The bear attack was unfortunate, Sher-       The sheriff took another juicy shot at the
running for re-election this fall and the hot   iff, but no laws were broken. Didn’t see any     grasshopper, hit him this time, clamped his
issue was whether he was looking the other      need to get you involved.” She kicked dirt       hat over his head and climbed into his ve-


                          28 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • Sweet Java, Maxine Neely Davenport
hicle. He leaned out the window and shook        full raising cows.” Her forehead wrinkled as    down over behind them trees near the
a finger in Cate’s direction. “I got orders to   she stared at the newspaper. “That’s why he     county road. Somebody backed up a truck
make sure the ranchers around here are           wanted to bring a posse up here—pretend-        and took off with over twenty head.”
hiring only green cards. I was a good friend     ing he’s hunting a bear, when he’s actually        “The ones I was selling for taxes? I can’t
of your Dad’s. Hate to have to sic the im-       looking for a stash house.”                     believe it. Where did it happen?” Antonio
migration people on his daughter.” He               She slapped the paper and stood up.          and Ramón led the way toward the back
jammed the gears into reverse and kicked         “Has Antonio seen this? Where is he, any-       pasture. Illegal migrants vanished from
gravel as he sped out of the yard.               how?”                                           Cate’s mind. Selling the cattle was her last
   Cate tied Blackie to the hitching post. In-      Lupe’s eyes widened. “He and Ramón           option for raising cash. Well, next to last.
side the kitchen, Lupe, long time cook and       rode up to count the cattle brought down        Now she’d have to start selling off land.
house maid, stopped peeling potatoes and         from the hills for market. Said they’d be          Surveying the damaged fence, she made
asked what that was all about.                   home by noon.”                                  a decision. “This job was so damned easy,
   “He came out to hassle me. Wants to              Cate grabbed her hat and hurried out to      they’ll come back for more, figuring we
turn a bunch of hunters loose on the             mount Blackie. Her blood was boiling.           won’t have found out it happened.” Anto-
mountain to find that bear. I told him no,       What if Antonio had hired illegal aliens be-    nio looked skeptical, but she went on.
which he didn’t like.”                           hind her back? And his nephew—could             “Let’s stake it out for a few nights and see if
   Lupe lowered her head, hiding the worry       Ramón actually be a coyote, taking money        we can catch ’em.” Her eyes glinted like the
in her eyes. “You haven’t seen today’s           for leading illegal migrants across the bor-    sunlight bouncing off a gun barrel.
Gazette.” She nodded toward the kitchen          der and talking his uncle into hiring them?        “Good idea,” Ramón said looking at An-
table.                                           Or worse, could he be part of a gang-re-        tonio. “I can help with that.”
   Cate picked up the newspaper and stared       lated smuggling operation using her ranch          Cate squinted beneath her hat brim at
at the headline. “Hispanic’s Wounds May          as a drop off point?                            the new employee. This man was a puzzle-
Be Gang Related.” Her eyes swept over the           She whipped Blackie into a gallop to-        ment to her. She knew nothing about him,
lead paragraph in seconds. A Mexican             ward the barn, but slowed when she saw          except what she saw—suave, good looking,
woman living in Quail Creek had been             two riders coming toward her from past the      smooth talking, dressed too nicely to have
found dead with her throat slit ear to ear.      soybean fields, dogs chasing ahead of them      ever been an illegal migrant. Could he have
Police speculated that her murder was in-        to greet Cate.                                  something to do with the story in the
tended to be a message from rival gangs             “Cougar! Sadie!” Antonio yelled at the       paper? Could she trust him not to inform
that her family should cease pirating loads      dogs. The noisy animals crouched and re-        the rustlers of her plans for a stakeout?
of migrants whose transportation belonged        treated behind his horse.                       What she did know was that catching
to the killers.                                     Cate coolly surveyed the men, her eyes       rustlers required a rifle toting cowpoke, not
   “What the hell does this have to do with      resting too long on Ramón, who made no          some dude who looked and acted like An-
me?” Cate asked.                                 effort to hide his admiration of horse and      tonio Banderas.
   Lupe stood winding the dishtowel              rider.                                             She reluctantly turned her attention to
around her hands. “The paper says it may            “The sheriff just left,” she said to Anto-   Antonio. “I’ll report this to the sheriff. Get
not have been a bear that attacked the           nio. “He’s out here looking for illegal work-   a crew together with plenty of guns and
woman in your camp. Gang members may             ers, and accusing me of running a stash         ammunition.” Touching the rein to
have tried to kill the woman to get back at      house. I want to know how the heck that         Blackie’s neck, she let the horse have his
her family for stealing a load of migrants       rumor got started.”                             head.
the gang had dibs on shipping back east.            “Well….” Antonio cleared his throat.            At home, Cate called the sheriff, expect-
The sheriff said it was strange you got a        “Who knows how them things get started?         ing she’d have to eat crow in order to get
load of workers in on the same day as the        We took fifteen workers in yesterday, but       his help to catch the cattle rustlers. How-
accident.” She threw the dishtowel on the        they all had green cards. I checked ’em.        ever, she found him more than interested.
counter. “He thinks you’re running a stash       And the story about the gang members            This was not the first report he’d had of
house.”                                          slicing up the lady is a bunch of lies. I saw   rustlers in the county, using new tech-
                                                 the bear, myself.” He looked at Ramón who       niques to make off with a truck load of cat-
   "That's why he wanted to bring a              nodded. “That’s right, Ma’am,” he said. “It     tle in a fifteen minute hit. It seemed the
  posse up here — pretending he's                was a bear.”                                    rustlers drove up, backed through the
  hunting a bear, when he's actually                “How do we know the green cards are          fence, set up a quick corral while dogs were
      looking for a stash house."                legit? Maybe we’re being set up.”               sent out to round up twenty head of cattle,
                                                    “I shore hope that’s not true, Ma’am,”       loaded them aboard and disappeared to a
                                                 Antonio said, “but even if it is, we got big-   nearby ranch where brands were changed.
  Cate hooted. “A stash house! The sheriff       ger problems to worry about right now.”         The sheriff readily agreed to send two
knows damn well I’m not harboring ille-          He pointed over his shoulder. “Cattle           deputies to the stakeout.
gals. Why would I do that? I have my hands       rustlers hit us last night. The fence was cut      The deputies arrived at sundown in the

                          29 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • Sweet Java, Maxine Neely Davenport
Humvee, pulling a loaded horse trailer.           posed to be looking for thieves. I’m obvi-         promise not to tell.”
Ramón and Antonio, jumped into the vehi-          ously not one of them.”                               Cate listened, worried her judgment
cle leaving no room for Cate. She stood              Ramón chuckled. “Agreed. But the                would be compromised by the moist
watching the men leave. Not to be out-ma-         thieves will be easier to capture than you         warmth of his lips near her ear.
neuvered, she waited until midnight before        were. For one thing, they won’t be throwing           “I am here to spy on the coyotes and to
saddling Blackie and heading for the back         hot coffee.” He looked at her reproachfully.       find out if gangs are involved in the trans-
pasture, carrying a thermos of hot coffee         “I came to send you home.”                         portation of illegal migrants. I thought I
and her rifle. She followed stars lying close        Cate picked up the thermos and refilled         was perfectly suited for the job until
to the horizon, flickering like fireflies beck-   her cup. “I’m not going home, so forget it.”       tonight. Nobody told me I’d be chasing
oning her forward. A bloated moon shone              “Did you bring enough coffee for two?"          cattle rustlers, or be distracted by a beauti-
off and on between feathery clouds. To            His voice was low and intimate.                    ful woman who carries a mean rifle.”
avoid the noise of Blackie’s metal shoes             Cate fought the urge to respond in kind.           As he spoke, a truck came from West 149
against rocks, Cate guided him over the           She glared at the stain on his shirt. “I had       and slowed down near where the cattle had
soft underbelly of the woods. Sighting            enough for two at one time.”                       been loaded the previous night. The two
through her binoculars down the fence                “Bueño. It is my pleasure to share with         jumped to their feet. The truck pulled a
row, she could see where the fence had            you.” He took the cup from her hand and            double-level trailer with metal rails that al-
been cut. The Humvee was hidden in the            drank the dregs of coffee in one gulp before       lowed air to circulate through the lower
underbrush on the far side of the broken          reaching for the thermos.                          half to keep the animals cool. The top half
fence. No horses were staked within sight,           “Help yourself,” she said.                      was enclosed with metal walls, obviously
but Blackie pointed his ears in that direc-          “Gracias.” He ignored her sarcasm and           not meant to carry animals.
tion. Afraid riding closer to the site would      handed her the cup. “It would be better               A pickup parked on the side of the road.
elicit a whinny from Blackie or one of the        with sugar, don’t you think?"                      Two men jumped out. With a short whistle
other horses, Cate pulled in and dis-                “I don’t sweeten my coffee, and I didn’t        and pointed arm, one of the men sent Aus-
mounted. She unrolled the blanket packed          come prepared to throw a party.” She               tralian cattle dogs scrambling under the
behind the saddle and spread it at the foot       touched the cup to her lips, then handed it        fence, across the pasture toward where the
of a large tree near the fence. She poured a      back to him. He breathed deeply as he              cattle were bedded. Another pickup arrived
cup of coffee, leaned her head against the        sipped from the cup.                               and men piled out and began assembling a
tree and wondered how long she could stay                                                            metal corral as if by magic.
awake if the night remained so tranquil.           She touched the cup to her lips, then                Ramón picked up his rifle and hurried
   Blackie released a warning snort at the          handed it back to him. He breathed               away, yelling over his shoulder. “Get cover
moment a hand covered her mouth.                    deeply as he sipped from the cup.                behind a tree. There may be shots.” He dis-
   “Sh-h-h,” a voice whispered. Cate tasted        "Ah, you're right. There's no need for            appeared through the woods, leaving Cate
blood as she bit the flesh pressed against            sugar after it touches your lips."             standing with her rifle. She rushed over and
her mouth. She threw hot coffee over her                                                             lay down behind bushes that hid her from
shoulder and rolled to one side, reaching            “Ah, you’re right. There’s no need for          the corral. One of the drivers maneuvered
for her rifle. A heavy body rolled with her.      sugar after it touches your lips.”                 the back of the truck to the fence, where
She struggled to get up, but Ramón strad-            Cate snorted.                                   another gate opened to the truck bed. No
dled her stomach. He cursed in Spanish               Ramón frowned. “Seriously, this is a very       more than five minutes had passed when
and looked at the hot coffee stain on his         dangerous situation, Señorita. You must go         bawling cattle, herded by the dogs, ap-
shoulder.                                         home.” He paused. “As soon as we’ve fin-           peared over the rise. Two of the thieves
   “Get off me,” Cate whispered.                  ished the coffee.” He leaned toward her and        whistled and pointed toward the corral and
   He released her arms and pulled a hand-        offered her another sip.                           the dogs circled the herd straight for the
kerchief from his pocket to wipe blood               She shot a warning look into his eyes. “I       gate.
from his hand. He didn’t move from his            can take care of myself, you know. I’ve been          Cate frowned as she watched the last of
position.                                         shooting a rifle since I was six years old.”       the cows being crowded into the truck.
   “I said get off me.”                              “I’m sure you can, but you’re not so            What were the deputies waiting for? She
   “I heard you. I’ll get off when I have your    good at sneaking around. I knew you were           took aim at one of the tires on the truck.
word that you won’t scream."                      here from the moment you came over the             She’d be damned if thieves were driving off
   “If I’d intended to scream, I’d have done      hill.”                                             with another load of her cattle.
it already. Now get off.” She gave him a             Cate sat up, needing to get things                 As she watched, a cigarette flipped out
push.                                             straight. “Are you truly Antonio’s nephew? I       the truck’s window, the engine roared and
   Ramón slowly lifted one leg and rolled to      suspect you’re a coyote and a thief, respon-       the driver changed gears as the last cow
a sitting position beside her. “What are you      sible for the problems I’m having.”                crowded into the truck. He gunned the en-
doing here, Señiorita? This is a man’s job.”         Ramón smiled. “I am neither a coyote            gine.
   “What are you doing here? You’re sup-          nor a thief, but I will tell you a secret if you      Behind the truck, the remaining rustlers

                           30 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • Sweet Java, Maxine Neely Davenport
ran to disassemble the corral and load the       weight out the Humvee door and slid to
dogs. Suddenly, Antonio and the deputies         the ground. The broad grin under his mus-
slipped from the woods near the truck and        tache matched the sparkle in his eye.
all hell broke loose. Bullets began zinging      “Mornin’, Miss Cate,” he said. “I’ve got
over her head. Cate heard yelling and the        good news. Thanks to your stake out, we’ve
thieves raised their hands above their           discovered how the smugglers are trans-
shoulders. The deputies dismounted, run-         porting the illegal migrants across the
ning forward with their handcuffs. In the        country —using cattle trucks. Who would
melee, black smoke shot from the exhaust         have thought it?” His laugh rattled toward
of the truck and it began to move. Cate’s        the clouds. He paused to allow Cate time to
hand rested steady as she aimed at a front       admire him and his news sufficiently.
tire of the cattle truck. She fired and smiled      She smiled and nodded. “Did you find
as the tire flattened. She reloaded and          out where the first load of my cattle went?
punctured the other front tire. The truck        And when I get them back?”
continued to move, and she aimed for the            The sheriff’s grin faded. “No, but the
windshield. Abruptly the truck stopped           guys rounding up the cattle are talking. We
and rolled back into the bar ditch, jack-        gist need to follow up on their information.
knifing until the gates twisted and popped       It’ll take a few days.”
open spilling cattle through the corral into        “And Ramón. Antonio says he’s doing
the pasture.                                     well. Have you found any links between
   “Don’t shoot.” Ramón was yelling, run-        him and smugglers?”
ning toward her. She searched for him in            “No, Ma’am.” His eyes stretched large.
the dark.                                        “I’m not at liberty to reveal who he works
   “Open up that top section,” Antonio           for, but you can rest assured he’s legit.” He
yelled. “There’s banging on the walls.”          was obviously pleased with his secret infor-
   Cate watched, astounded, as bodies piled      mation.
out of the top truck bed. They were mi-             “Good job, Sheriff,” Cate said and waved
grants, pleading for mercy, begging for          goodbye as she returned to the kitchen. She
water. Fighting nausea, Cate leaned against      really should visit the victim of the bear at-
the tree. The smugglers had been hiding          tack in the hospital and while she was there
their human cargo in the upper chambers          it would be neighborly to drop by and see
of cattle transport trucks, and putting          Ramón. Probably he’d be tired of hospital
stolen cattle in the bottom. Her finger          coffee by now, she thought, so she poured
tightened on the trigger of the rifle. The       some of Lupe’s freshly made brew into a
bastard smugglers should be lined up and         thermos. She screwed the lid on, then care-
shot.                                            fully removed it. She reached for the sugar
   Cate shivered. This should prove to the       and measured several spoons full into the
sheriff that Rancho del Rió wasn’t running       wide mouth. Nothing wrong with throwing
a stash house. But what about Ramón? Did         a party now and then.
it also prove he wasn’t a coyote or one of
the rustlers? She had to know. She ran to-       Maxine Neely Davenport is the author of
                                                 two novels and a collection of short
                                                 stories. Read excerpts at
ward the truck, flailing through branches

                                                 www.davenportstories.com. A feisty lady
and underbrush until she stumbled, piling
                                                 lawyer is her latest heroine, coming soon.
forward over a soft, yielding body. She hit
the ground on her elbows, rolled over, and
faced Ramón. Her hand slid over his chest
and stopped on a wet, sticky mess on his
shoulder. She raised to her knees and
screamed. “Antonio!”
                      * * *
   The following day, Cate let the screen
door slam behind her as she went to see
why the sheriff had pulled up into her
driveway again. Maybe she was going to be
arrested. She nodded as he pushed his

                           31 • Women Writing the West • 2008 Honorable Mention • Sweet Java, Maxine Neely Davenport
                                                                                                   ture was taken.
             2009 Honorable Mention                                                                   Julie couldn’t recall her dad’s face, but
                                                                                                   she remembered funny things about him.
                                                                                                   How his brushy black moustache tickled



                    Popcorn
                    By Martha Egan
                                                                                                   when he snuggled with her or kissed her
                                                                                                   goodnight. The big Wellingtons he would
                                                                                                   leave by the back door when he came in
                                                                                                   from the barn. How tiny her dainty shoes
                                                                                                   looked next to his. He had a loud laugh you
                                                                                                   could hear from the other end of the corn-
                                                                                                   field. Julie remembered his smell—some-
                                                                                                   thing like denim, a little musty, and a bit
                                                                                                   like alfalfa.
                                                                                                      She had a clear memory of the day he
                                                                                                   came home with his Army haircut. The
                                                                                                   thick black hair that his cowboy hat
                                                                                                   smashed down had been replaced by an
                                                                                                   ugly buzz cut. Rita cried when she saw him.
                                                                                                   She pounded her fists on his chest and
                                                                                                   yelled at him. “It’s a stupid, unnecessary
                                                                                                   war! The Iraqis have done nothing to us! I
                                                                                                   don’t want you to leave! We need you
                                                                                                   here!”
                                                                                                      As her parents argued, Flor began to
                                                                                                   wail, and so did Julie. She’d never seen
                                                                                                   them fight before. It scared her. She ran out
                                                                                                   of the house and hid in the barn where she
                                                                                                   couldn’t hear them.
                                                                                                      Captain Jesse Hamblin was one of the
                                                                                                   first members of the New Mexico National
                                                                                                   Guard to come home in a coffin. When the
                                                                                                   Marine guard handed Rita the folded flag
JULIE                                                 “We’ll think about it, m’hija.”              at the cemetery after the funeral, Julie no-
    “Mommy, can I have a horse?” Julie                Mrs. Hamblin scrubbed a frying pan.          ticed that her mother looked angry, not
asked.                                             “Horses cost a lot of money, Julie. Espe-       sad.
    Rita Hamblin turned from the sink              cially with your dad gone, we have to watch                          * * *
where she was washing dishes. “Ay, m’hija,         every penny.”                                      Rita talked to her parents. Lula and Ben
do you think you’re old enough to take care           “I know,” Julie said sadly.                  Robles had been ranchers, but when Jesse
of one? They’re lots of work.”                                          * * *                      and Rita got married, her parents gave
    “I know,” Julie said. “I’ve been helping          Every day, Julie looked at the photo         them their ranch in Nambé, and moved to
Mrs. Morris at her stable for almost a year.”      Grandma Lula had taken of her family at         Santa Fe, about half an hour away.
    Rita handed her a plate to dry. “You have      Rita’s graduation from nursing school. Rita        “Julie really wants a horse. She’s been
to feed a horse twice a day and make sure          stood next to her tall, handsome husband,       nagging me about it for weeks. Just what I
she has water, brush her, and ride her or          Jesse, who held Flor in the crook of his arm    need—another expense.”
walk her. Daily. Not just when you feel like       and Julie’s tiny hand in his huge, strong          Her mother smiled. “You were horse-
it.”                                               one. Flor was two years old then; Julie was     crazy at her age too. Remember? You
    “Yes, yes!”                                    five. The yellow polka-dotted dress Julie       pestered us until we finally gave in.”
    “And you still have to do your chores—         wore in the picture was too small for her          “You’ve got that two-acre irrigated pas-
keep your room clean, do your homework,            sister now.                                     ture and a barn,” her father said.
wash and dry your own clothes, help me                Everyone was grinning, so proud of Rita.        “You’re no help, Dad,” Rita said.
with cooking and cleaning and taking care          It was a beautiful June day, and nothing           “Is Mr. Mendoza still planting alfalfa in
of your little sister. That’s a lot of responsi-   bad would ever happen to them. Except it        your big field?” Ben asked.
bility for a ten year old.”                        did. Jesse Hamblin, a Captain in the New           “Yes,” Rita said.
    “Please, mom? I promise I’ll take very         Mexico National Guard, was killed in the           “Well, you can get hay from him in trade.”
good care of her. Girl Scouts’ honor!”             Iraq war almost exactly a year after the pic-


                                   32 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • Popcorn, Martha Egan
   Rita frowned. “You’re completely useless!          “Oh, we still keep ranchers’ hours,”          wanted her girls to take riding lessons from
I thought you’d help me tell Julie no.”            Grandpa Ben said. “Up with the sun in the        their neighbor, Mrs. Morris, who was a
   Her parents grinned. “Doesn’t she have a        morning, down with the sun in the                professional horse trainer. She had already
birthday coming up?” Lula asked.                   evening. Aren’t you going to invite us in?”      taught Julie the basics on her horses in ex-
                       * * *                          Rita came into the kitchen. “Hi, Mom.         change for help mucking out their stalls.
   Grandpa Ben talked to his pals at the           Hi, Dad,” she said and kissed them both.         The girl had learned to trot hands free. She
Horseman’s Haven, where he and other re-           “Can I make you some breakfast?”                 had also learned how to behave around the
tired ranchers met every morning for cof-             “Thanks, dear, but we’ve already eaten,”      sometimes skittish animals, moving with-
fee. “Does anyone have a horse for sale?” he       Grandma Lula said.                               out startling them. She knew how to keep
asked. “I need one that’s bomb-proof for              “Say,” Grandpa Ben said to Julie. “Do you     their feet clean, picking the pebbles and
my granddaughters. Like you can shoot off          have a couple of bandannas?”                     manure from around their frogs. She loved
a cannon next to him and he won’t move.”              “Bandannas? Sure.” She came back with         combing the horses’ manes and tails. She
   “I have just the one you’re looking for,”       two red kerchiefs and her sleepy eyed sister.    could coax them into opening their
Chip Madera said. “Popcorn. Until my girl             Grandma Lula folded one bandanna and          mouths for a bridle bit, and get them to
left for college last year, she was her horse.     tied it over Julie’s eyes. “We have a surprise   stand still when she saddled them.
She’s very gentle. Eight years old. She’d be a     for you.”                                           At home, Julie and Flor shared responsi-
perfect babysitter for your granddaugh-               “A surprise!” Flor was instantly awake. “I    bilities for Popcorn. They took turns feed-
ters.”                                             love surprises!” She jumped up and down.         ing, watering, and walking the mare
   They met at Madera’s corral. He whistled           “I think we’d better blindfold you too,”      around the pasture with a halter and rope.
the horse over. She was white with black,          Grandpa Ben said. He put the kerchief over       The horse and the girls got to know each
brown, and gray speckles everywhere. Her           her eyes and led her outside.                    other. Julie taught her how to bow and
tail and her mane were dark gray, almost              Flor continued to jump up and down,           count to three.
black. Grandpa Ben inspected her carefully.        holding her grandfather’s hand. “A sur-                                 * * *
He lifted her feet and looked in her mouth.        prise! A surprise!”                                 The girls walked down the road to Mrs.
“Take her for a spin, Ben,” Chip said. “She           The grandparents led the blindfolded          Morris’s for Flor’s first lesson. Rita thought
has a nice, smooth gait.” He put a bridle          girls toward the barn.                           it was better if they went without her, at
and saddle on her.                                    “What is it, Grandma?” Flor asked.            least at first. Flor had never been on a horse
   Grandpa Ben rode the horse around the           “What’s the surprise?”                           and she was a little nervous. Mrs. Morris
field, first walking, then trotting her in a          “You be patient. We’re almost there,”         promised her she’d be fine, and lifted her
large figure eight. The horse was calm and         Grandma Lula said.                               onto the bare back of an old campaigner,
well-trained. He rode her back to the corral          When they got to the corral, Grandpa          The General, a plodding, 27-year old sway-
and dismounted. “How much?” he asked.              Ben and Grandma Lula faced the girls to-         backed gelding. As soon as Mrs. Morris let
   “How about a hundred dollars?”                  ward their house, and took off the blind-        go of her, Flor slid right off the other side
   “That’s a pretty good deal.”                    folds. “Now, before you turn around, see if      of the horse. She landed in the dirt of the
   “Well, Popcorn’s worth a lot more. But I        you smell something,” Grandpa Ben said.          arena, and began to cry.
know your girls will take good care of her.”          The two girls sniffed the air and wrin-          Mrs. Morris dusted her off. “Everybody
   “Does that include all her gear?”               kled their noses. “Pee-you!” Flor said. “I       falls off at first,” she said.
   Chip laughed. “You drive a hard bargain,        smell horse poop!”                                  The little girl was afraid to get back on.
Ben. OK. A hundred dollars for every-                 Julie began to scream. She spun around        But Mrs. Morris picked her up and set her
thing.”                                            and ran to the corral. “A horse! A horse! My     on General’s back again. “Hold onto his
                       * * *                       very own horse!”                                 mane. Try to find your seat. Wiggle your
   On Julie’s birthday that May, Grandpa              “Well, not exactly,” Grandpa Ben said.        butt until you feel comfortable on his back.
Ben and Grandma Lula drove to the ranch            “You have to share her with your sister. And     Like you’re sitting in a chair. We’ll stay in
in their pickup very early in the morning,         your mom. But there’s plenty of horse to go      place for a bit, then we’ll walk him very
while Julie, her mother, and sister were still     around. Her name is Popcorn.”                    slowly.
asleep. Grandpa Ben quietly unloaded Pop-             “Popcorn! Popcorn!” Flor cried. “She’s so        Soon Flor was comfortable on the old
corn from the back of his truck and put her        big!”                                            horse. “I’m up so high!” she said as Mrs.
in the corral next to the barn. Grandma               At the sound of her name, the horse trot-     Morris led The General around the ring.
Lula tied a big red ribbon around the              ted up to the railing.                              She quickly learned to walk, then trot the
mare’s neck.                                          “She’s beautiful,” Julie said. She reached    horse without a saddle or bridle. When
   They knocked on the ranch house                 out to touch the mare’s velvet nose. “Oh,        Rita didn’t have to work at the hospital, she
kitchen door. “Happy Birthday, Julie!” they        Grandma and Grandpa, thank you, thank            came to watch her girls take their Wednes-
called out.                                        you!”                                            day afternoon riding lessons. “I’m im-
   The little girl opened the door, rubbing                              * * *                      pressed! You’re learning so fast,” she told
her eyes. “Isn’t it a little early for a visit?”      Although Rita was a good rider, she           her daughters. “You’re so beautiful sitting

                                   33 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • Popcorn, Martha Egan
up tall in the saddle. Real cowgirls. I wish     work the day shift, but maybe I can trade          “She’s not a pretty sight. Her head’s
your dad could see you.”                         with Francine.”                                 bandaged; her eyelids are puffy and all col-
   Mrs. Morris put a bridle and saddle on           That Saturday, Flor stayed in Santa Fe to    ors of the rainbow; she’s got scratches
The General for Flor. At first, she bounced      make chocolate chip cookies—“from               everywhere; she’s as white as the sheets;
around in the saddle and nearly fell off         scratch!”—with Grandma Lula. Julie and          and her arm and leg are in casts.”
when he broke into a trot. But she learned       her mother drove Grandpa Ben’s truck to-           “I don’t care how she looks. She’s my
to grip the horse’s sides with her legs and      ward El Rito with Popcorn in the back. The      daughter.”
turn him gently with a touch of the reins.       horse leaned her head over the top boards                            * * *
She became fond of the old horse. Some-          on the sides of the truck. She enjoyed the         In a week, Rita was able to go home to
times she visited him when she didn’t have       ride, with the wind flowing through her         her parents’ house in Santa Fe. One of
a lesson. She brought him apples and car-        mane and across her face. It was a beauti-      them drove her into Albuquerque every day
rots. He nickered when he saw her.               ful, sunny, early fall morning.                 to see Julie. They held her hands; they
   Rita didn’t think her older daughter was         Rita took her eyes off the road for a sec-   talked to her; they played her beloved Beat-
quite ready to ride Popcorn, and asked           ond to adjust the radio when Julie suddenly     les tunes on her iPod; they read to her from
Mrs. Morris to give her lessons as well. Julie   let out a piercing scream. A car crossed into   her favorite books. Sometimes they
worked with even the most difficult of Mrs.      their lane and was heading for them. Rita       brought Flor, who put her own stuffed ani-
Morris’s horses. She walked, trotted, can-       slammed on her brakes and tried to turn         mals in her sister’s bed. But there was no
tered, turned, and backed them up without        out of the way. But it was too late. There      response. Julie lay quietly, not moving,
relying much on the reins. After a month,        was a horrendous bang, a loud crunch of         silent, her eyes closed.

                                                                                                     "Don't get your hopes up, but her
Mrs. Morris felt Julie could ride Popcorn.       metal, and the sounds of breaking glass.

                                                                                                      eyelids are fluttering and she's
   Flor was sad that her older sister was able   Then screaming and moaning and people

                                                                                                     muttering bits of words. It sounds
to do more than she could on a horse. She        yelling.

                                                                                                  like she's saying 'popcorn, popcorn!'"
was especially bummed that Julie was get-                             * * *
ting to ride Popcorn first.                         When Rita awoke, she was in a hospital
   “She’s got longer legs, pumpkin,” her         bed. Her right leg was in a cast above her
mother said. “And she’s had more experi-         knee, and she had a terrible headache. An          After Julie had been in a coma for a
ence. You’ll get there. Just be patient.”        IV tube ran from the back of her hand to a      month, Francine called Rita from the hos-
   Mrs. Morris showed Julie how to walk          bottle that hung from a pole next to the        pital. “Don’t get your hopes up, but her
Popcorn around three oil drums in a bar-         bed. Lula and Ben were there, their hands       eyelids are fluttering, and she’s muttering
rel-racing pattern. The horse seemed to          holding hers. “Thank God you’re awake!”         bits of words. It sounds like she’s saying
know the drill without Julie using the reins.    Lula said. Tears slid down her cheeks.          “popcorn! popcorn!” We sometimes mi-
One day, Popcorn sped up on her own and             Rita opened her eyes wider. “What hap-       crowave popcorn here at the nurses’ sta-
loped around the barrels. Julie was thrilled.    pened? Where’s Julie? Is she OK?” The           tion. Do you think she smells it?”
   Flor sat on the fence with her mother         words tumbled out of her mouth.                    “I’ll be right there!” Rita said.
watching her sister ride. “Aw, I want to do         Lula and Ben looked at each other. “She’s
that!”                                           OK, hija,” Ben said. “Your fellow nurses are    POPCORN
   “You will, very soon,” Rita said.             taking excellent care of her. Don’t worry.”        Popcorn heard screaming and a huge ex-
   “I just have to be patient—right, mom?”          “What happened?”                             plosion before everything went black.
   “Exactly!”                                       “A drunk driver hit you head on. Of          When she woke up, she was lying on her
                     * * *                       course, he’s not hurt. It was his fifth DWI.”   side in a field next to the highway. She
   Mrs. Morris and other teachers in the Es-        Rita moaned and fell back to sleep. Later,   slowly got to her feet, and shook her head.
pañola Valley held rodeos every month that       she woke up just as her friend, Francine,       It was hard to see clearly. Something sticky
summer with their students. Julie became         came in. “Okay, Francine, tell me about         was running into her eyes from her fore-
an excellent barrel racer and won several        Julie. Don’t sugarcoat it. I need to know       head. She saw that the pickup truck she
races in her class. She hung her ribbons on      how she is—the truth.”                          had been riding in was turned upside
the mirror in her room.                             Francine took a deep breath. “She’s in a     down, its wheels still spinning. A red car
   Flor won a couple of ribbons, too, at         coma. But the doctors are pretty sure she’ll    was pushed into the front of it in a heap of
mutton busting, staying upright and riding       wake up. Her vital signs are good. She’s a      crumpled metal. The wooden slats that had
a sheep longer than the other kids.              strong kid. She has a broken arm and a          held her in the back of the truck were in
                     * * *                       broken leg, and we had to remove her            pieces, scattered all over the road.
   In a couple of years, Julie was thirteen      spleen.”                                           From all directions, people ran toward
and a very good rider. “There’s a rodeo up          Rita turned her head and began to cry.       the vehicles, yelling. Popcorn was terrified
in El Rito next Saturday,” she told her          Soon, she was asleep. That afternoon, when      and shaking all over. Her head hurt. There
mother. “Can we go?”                             Francine stopped by again, Rita said: “I        was blood on her legs. Then she heard
   “We’ll see,” Rita said. “I was supposed to    want to see her.”                               sirens, loud, terrifying wails, coming closer

                                  34 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • Popcorn, Martha Egan
and closer. She raced across the field onto a    think of a cloud too, a white puffy cloud.      and kicked at the young stallions with his
dirt road that led away from the highway as      Nervously, she backed away from him. He         hind legs. They whirled around and ran
fast as her sore, scratched legs could carry     stopped. She stopped. The two horses re-        away.
her.                                             garded each other for some time.                   In no time, peace returned to the
   A huge metal bird with a swirling thing          Popcorn heard hoofbeats. Two dozen           meadow. Thundercloud and the others
on top of it flew toward her. It sounded like    horses appeared along the ridge ahead and       went back to grazing.
someone loudly beating a horse blanket.          halted when they saw her. There were                                * * *
Whap! Whap! Whapwhapwhapwhap! The                paints, bays, and black horses of all sizes        As autumn came to the mountains, the
thing stirred up dust on the roadbed. It         and colors. Many of the younger ones were       aspens lost their leaves, the grass turned
swooped barely thirty feet over Popcorn’s        the same shade of gray as Thundercloud.         brown, and the evenings grew colder. Win-
head, and she went even faster, fleeing the      Some were old and scarred, their tails and      ter was approaching. The little rivers and
racket. She ran and ran, up into the moun-       manes matted with burrs. The large gray         waterholes were drying up. The water was
tains. When she could no longer hear the         horse whinnied to them, and one by one,         muddy, salty, and increasingly scarce.
awful noises, she slowed to a trot, then a       they came down the hill. The young ones         Thundercloud led the herd to a narrow
fast walk. Up, up toward the piñón trees         were bolder than their mothers. They            canyon where there was grass and a spring.
and mountain peaks she went, her sides           walked up to Popcorn and sniffed her.           A cliff overhang provided the herd with
heaving. She became so tired she could go        Gradually, so did the others.                   shelter.
no further, and stopped to rest in a grove of       After the horses had eaten and drunk            When the weather was bad, and sleet or
aspens. Soon her heart quit pounding so          their fill, they wandered slowly back up        snow pelted the frozen ground, Popcorn
fast, and she was breathing normally. Walk-      into the mountains. Thundercloud, ever          and the other horses turned their tails to
ing on, she came to a small stream that          watchful, kept them together.                   the wind and hoped for the best. Ice
flowed down the mountain between large              Popcorn followed the herd, but she           formed on their eyelashes, their breath
rocks. She was very thirsty, and waded into      stayed back from them. Except for the time      came out in frosty puffs. The horses pawed
the stream, stooping to sip the clear, fast-     she had spent in Mrs. Morris’s arena, she       the snow, hoping there would be grass un-
moving water. Its coolness helped soothe         had never been around so many other             derneath, but it was hard to find anything
the cuts on her legs.                            horses before.                                  to eat. The winter was long and cold.
   She began to graze on shoots of green            Flies buzzed around Popcorn’s head,            The horses pawed the snow, hoping
grass growing by the brook. The sun set be-      bothering her. An old mare backed up to          there would be grass underneath, but
hind the forest. As darkness fell, Popcorn       Popcorn’s head. Whisking her tail, she          it was hard to find anything to eat. The
stood under a large cottonwood tree,             shooed the flies away from Popcorn’s face.             winter was long and cold.
closed her eyes, and slept for many hours.       Popcorn got the idea. She moved next to
Before she knew it, the sun rose over the        the mare, her head to the other horse’s            Especially on days when she was hungry,
mountaintops.                                    rump, her tail alongside her head. She          Popcorn thought back to her barn and the
   For days, Popcorn followed the stream         whipped her tail around to shoo the flies       little girls who brought her flakes of hay
up into the mountains. Birds flew from tree      away from the older horse’s face. Popcorn       every morning and evening. Sometimes
to tree, singing happily, and calling to each    realized that the wild horses meant her no      they had sweet feed in their pockets for her,
other. The sun felt warm on her back.            harm and she joined Thundercloud’s herd.        or carrots and apples. She remembered
There was plenty of grass for her to eat and                           * * *                     their rides along the ditches, the rodeos,
water to drink. Her head hurt less, and the         She and several of the other mares were      and the girls brushing her beautiful tail and
wounds on her head and legs began to heal.       dozing under a box elder tree one day           mane that were tangled now with thistles
During the nights, she heard many strange        when all of a sudden they heard fast hoof-      and weeds.
sounds, but she wasn’t afraid. Back on the       beats and looked up. Two young stallions           It all seemed so long ago.
farm with those little girls, she used to hear   slid to a stop in a cloud of dirt on the far
coyotes yipping in the night and owls hoot-      side of the stream. They called to the mares    JULIE
ing, and smelly skunks and other animals         in the herd and pranced in the grass at the        Although Grandpa Ben and his friends
digging in the dirt near her corral.             edge of the stream, as if showing off their     went looking for Popcorn in the moun-
   One day, as she was drinking from the         handsome legs.                                  tains, they never found her.
stream, she heard an animal snort behind            Thundercloud leaped across the brook            “She probably joined a herd of wild
her. She quickly turned around. A large,         and charged at them. He shook his mane          horses,” he told Julie and Flor. “I know you
powerful looking dark gray horse slowly          angrily and bared his teeth. Popcorn and        miss her very much, but maybe she’s happy
walked toward her, carefully lifting his         the other horses watched in shock. One of       out in the wilderness running free with
white feet in the tall grass. His color re-      the young males bounded forward and             other horses.”
minded her of the storm clouds that cover        tried to challenge him. But Thundercloud                             * * *
the sky during the summer rainy season.          reared up and lashed out at the horse with         It took Julie many months to heal. After
The white spot on his forehead made her          his hooves. He snorted and bucked, spun,        she left the hospital, she spent five weeks in

                                  35 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • Popcorn, Martha Egan
a rehabilitation center where therapists          Rita redid the bolts, fastening them as        three times. “Wahoo! She remembers her
helped her regain her language skills and         tightly as she could. She patted the hubcap    tricks!”
exercise her mending arm and leg. Al-             back into place. They got into the truck          “Dang!” the cowboy said. His face turned
though she was often in a lot of pain, she        and drove on.                                  red and he kicked the dirt at his feet.
was determined to get better, and worked             They arrived almost forty minutes late.        “Can we make a deal?” Rita said to him.
hard. When the doctors said she could go          The parking lot was full of pickups and           He squinted his eyes at her. “What did
home, she was thrilled. As soon as she felt       horse trailers, tethered horses and burros.    you say your name was?”
strong enough, she went back to school. All       When they got to the corral, the auctioneer       “I’m Rita Hamblin. We live near Nambé
along, her mother, her friends, and her           was selling off the last few horses. They      on my parents’ old place, the Robles
teacher helped her keep up with her               were skinny, old, and very tired looking.      Ranch.”
schoolwork.                                       Julie didn’t want any of them. She did her        The cowboy nodded. “Is your dad Ben
                      * * *                       best not to cry.                               Robles?”
   A year went by. Julie barely limped any           Rita put her arm around her daughter           “Yes. Do you know him?”
more, and was anxious to ride again. She          and hugged her. “I’m so sorry, m’hija.            “Think I met him at ditch meetings
helped Mrs. Morris exercise her horses, but       Today is just not our day. There will be an-   when he was on the Conservancy Board. I
she missed Popcorn. So did Flor. They             other auction soon.”                           live in Santa Cruz. I’m one of the ditch rid-
began to pester their mother for another             Julie and her mother were walking slowly    ers down our way.” The cowboy paused.
horse.                                            back to their truck when they heard a horse    “You any relation to Jesse Hamblin, Cap-
   “I’m sorry, girls,” their mother said. “But    whinnying. They looked up. In the next         tain Hamblin of the New Mexico National
with all these medical bills to pay, we can’t     row, a cowboy was trying to load a speckled    Guard?”
afford one.”                                      horse into a trailer. The horse turned to-        “He was my husband,” Rita said. “Julie’s
   In late winter, Julie read an article in The   ward Julie and her mother, threw back her      dad.”
Santa Fe New Mexican that said the Bureau         head, and whinnied again.                         “Thought so,” the cowboy said. “Name’s
of Land Management was holding an auc-               “Popcorn! Popcorn!” Julie screamed,         not that common around here. I was in
tion of wild horses and burros in Farming-        running toward the horse.                      Iraq with him. Same unit. He was a fine
ton in two weeks. “Mom!” she yelled.                 The perplexed cowboy watched the girl       man. He took good care of his men, saved
   “I knew I should have hidden that news-        throw her arms around the horse’s neck.        some lives. His death was a terrible waste.”
paper,” Rita said to herself.                     “Popcorn! She’s my horse!” Julie said excit-   He turned to Julie. “She’s all yours, m’hija.”
                      * * *                       edly.                                             “Well, we’ll pay you for her.” Rita reached
   Grandpa Ben loaned Rita his new truck             The cowboy frowned and looked at Rita.      into her purse for her checkbook.
and she borrowed a single horse trailer           “I just paid four hundred dollars for that        “Nope,” the cowboy said. “I won’t take
from Mrs. Morris. On Saturday, she and            horse. Papers and all.”                        your money.” He turned to Julie. “But I
Julie drove to Farmington. Rita drove care-          Julie burst into tears. “But she’s mine!    want to make a deal with you, young lady.”
fully, mindful of the horrible accident that      See? She knows me!”                               Julie looked from her mother to the cow-
had nearly killed them. About thirty miles           The horse nuzzled her jacket pocket,        boy. “OK,” she said cautiously.
from Farmington, they felt something on           looking for a treat.                              The cowboy grinned and patted Pop-
the pickup go bump, bump, bump.                      Rita shook hands with the cowboy. “Hi,      corn’s side. “When your horse’s baby is
   “Rats!” Rita said. “I think we’ve got a flat   I’m Rita Hamblin, and this is my daughter      about a year old, I’d sure like to have it.”
tire.”                                            Julie. My dad got that horse for my girls. A      “She’s pregnant?” Rita asked.
   They pulled to the side of the road. Sure      year and a half ago, we were hauling her to       “Oh, yeah,” the cowboy said, shaking his
enough, the right front tire was a puddle of      a kids’ rodeo and were in a terrible acci-     head. “I thought I was so smart, getting two
deflated rubber. Rita found the jack and a        dent. The horse ran away and nobody            horses for the price of one.”
wrench and began to change it. She tried to       could find her. My daughter spent two             “We’ll let you know the minute Popcorn
undo the big lug nuts that held the tire          months in the hospital, and we weren’t sure    drops her foal, Mr. …” Rita said.
onto the rim, but they were almost impos-         she was gonna make it.”                           “Joe Baca, ma’am.” He handed her a
sible to unscrew. “Whoever put these things          The cowboy tossed the halter rope to        sheaf of papers. “My address and phone are
on here must have had arms of steel!” she         Julie. “Show me she’s your horse.”             right here on these BLM horse adoption
grumped.                                             Julie grinned. She backed Popcorn away      forms.”
   Julie worried that they were going to be       from the trailer and said: “Kneel, Popcorn!”
too late for the auction, but she knew her           Rita held her breath. The horse bowed       Martha Egan has lived in and loved New
                                                                                                 Mexico since 1974. Her newest title, La
                                                                                                 Ranfla & Other New Mexico Stories is her
mother was working as fast as possible. Fi-       her head, bent one foreleg back, and

                                                                                                 fifth book.
nally, Rita was able to get the tire off the      stretched the other straight out in front of
wheelbase. She lifted it into the pickup bed      her.
and rolled the spare tire to the front of the        “Now count to three!” Julie said. The
truck. Julie helped her hoist it onto the rim.    horse stood up and tapped her right foot

                                  36 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • Popcorn, Martha Egan
  The Caretaker
               2009 Honorable Mention




  By Leslee Breene




   March 1875: Buffalo River, Minnesota              My youngest brother Carl and I run to             “You should be grateful, old girl. Your
   “We can take no chances, Lars. We have         our small log house, his short legs almost        calf is alive,” Mama exclaims as we watch
to get Nellie into the house!” With the gust      catching up to mine.                              Nellie from the window.
of a stormy night whipping up her skirt,             By the time I find the salt and put it in a       We make pot ost from Nellie’s milk. I
Mama stands over our sick cow. She pulls          pan, my oldest brother Jens has unloaded a        help Mama boil the colustrum in a large
her heavy woolen shawl closer around her          stack of firewood near the stove. I order         double kettle until it is thick like custard.
large belly.                                      him to watch Carl and bolt outside into the       What a treat it is sprinkled with sugar and
   Papa strokes Nellie’s head, a worrisome        whirling snow.                                    cinnamon and extra cream poured over the
look spreading across his face above his full        Papa has a rope around Nellie’s neck. To-      top!
beard. “You want to bring her in the house,       gether, the three of us coax her across the                            * * *
Sigrie?”                                          yard by holding the salt pan under her               Mama brushes my hair before I leave for
   “Her calf will be born before morning          nose. Once through the front door, we             school with Jens. I sit very still, looking into
and it will freeze in this bitter night,” says    shove the poor cow into my room and tie           the oblong mirror on top of the bureau.
Mama.                                             her to the bed post. Nellie and my bed fill       Her heart-shaped face is peaceful today.
   I shift from one foot to another, knowing      the small room. Papa can barely get the           She moves the brush through my hair, un-
Mama would never tell Papa what to do,            door shut.                                        tangling the long strands. My hair leaps out
but this is her job in our family. She is the        We hear her bawling and tugging at her         from my head like sparks from a golden
budeie, the caretaker of cattle, and like the     rope. Papa shakes his head. “Selma, you will      sun ball. It reminds me of our cat Ilsa on a
other women in our community, she takes           take your skin-feld,” he says, referring to the   parched August day when the old rooster
it seriously.                                     warm buffalo robe, “and sleep with the            flew out from behind the house and took

She is the budeie, the caretaker of cat-
                                                  boys in the loft.” Mama smiles at me, but         her by surprise. The orange hairs on the

 tle, and like the other women in our
                                                  Jens and Carl pinch up their faces.               back of her neck stood up just like mine are

  community, she takes it seriously.
                                                     I know we will get no sleep tonight.           right now.
                                                     By morning the storm has passed and               I tell Mama and she laughs out loud. It is
                                                  the calf has arrived. Licked dry and with a       the first time she has laughed like that, I
   Papa nods in agreement and peers up at         belly full of milk, he unsteadily explores the    think, since dear Lisbet left us last summer.
the thin layer of slough grass covering the       house. Nellie is back in the pole shed, and          Mama braids my hair, wrapping it in a
pole shed. The roof started as a thick layer      Jens and I have cleaned up the mess.              circle and pinning it in the back of my head
last fall, but our cows have slipped their           Mama says the calf can stay in the house       while Jens hollers from the yard to “hurry
long, rough tongues between the poles             for a day or two, “until he’s learned to drink    up!” I know he hates walking to school
many times for a lick and sometimes come          milk from a pail.”                                with his big sister every day. Since he’s
away with mouthfuls.                                 This delights the boys, but Nellie isn’t       turned eight, he thinks he can walk by him-
   “Selma, go put some salt in a pan and          happy. For the next few days, she makes a         self.
bring it here,” Mama says. “And be quick          racket calling to her calf to come out of the        But I hurry to catch up with Jens. He is
about it!”                                        house.                                            tall for his age and can run like a deer when

                               37 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • The Caretaker, Leslee Breene
he chooses. Along the road, deep furrows          me. I feel fear for Mama and this baby that       saying, “You are my brave girl.”
made by bobsleighs make our walking dif-          wants to come too soon.                              I lean over and kiss her warm forehead.
ficult. Warmer winds tell us spring will be          I run over to her. She has stopped rock-       Papa is calling and I race out the front
here soon as the melting snow softens the         ing and looks at me through pain-dimmed           door.
hard earth into mud. I step carefully, trying     dark eyes.                                           He helps me up onto the wagon seat. I
to keep my high-buttoned shoes from get-             “Selma,” she says, “fill the big kettle with   look down at the horses, stomping in the
ting soaked through. I am hoping Fru              vater... Put it on the stove.”                    cold night air, probably unhappy because
Bergen will let me sit on a bench to dry out         Young Carl starts to cry and I pull him        they were taken away from the more com-
close to the long, square stove in the front      close to me. I know he is remembering our         fortable pole shed. Their broad backs rip-
of the room.                                      Lisbet. I tell him everything will be fine.       ple beneath the lantern’s light as Papa
   Papa said last week that I am getting too         Papa and Jens burst through the door. I        hands me the reins. I swallow hard.
old for school that I will have to stay at        send Jens to the well for more water and I           Wrapping a heavy skin-feld around me,
home and help Mama when the new baby              throw more wood in the stove. Papa helps          he says, “Don’t worry, Selma girl. I would
comes. I will miss learning the new lan-          Mama onto their straw bed.                        send Jens with you, but then there would
guage that is still foreign to my tongue.            Her face is wet with feverish sweat. We        be no room for Mrs. Pederson on the way
                      * * *                       loosen her clothing. I pat her face with the      back.”
   The flame flickers inside the glass globe      bed sheet. She stares up at Papa. “We must           Papa steps back and sets the lantern on
of the kerosene lamp on the table next to         get Kristina Pederson—she will help when          the ground. “The horses know the road.
Mama. She rocks in the sturdy oak rocker          the time comes.”                                  Just turn right after the three big pine.”
that her mother sent with her from “the              My father starts to go out of the room,           I nod, looking straight ahead.
Old Country.” The darning needle in her           but she grasps his hand. “Lars, don’t leave          “God speed,” Papa says to me and gives
fingers goes in and out of Carl’s sock as if it   me. I must not lose this baby!” Her head          the big fella on the right a bold smack on
has a mind of its own, so many times has          turns on the pillow and her gaze falls on         his giant rump. “Go boys!”
she done this same mending—on Papa’s              me. Papa looks from Mama to me.                      Then off we fly. The sound of clacking
socks, Jens’, and Carl’s. Shadows from her           “I will go,” I hear myself say, although I     hooves on the frozen earth rings in my ears,
busy hands dance in rhythm against the            have no idea how I alone will get to the          makes my heart pound. The northern wind
rough, plastered wall. The rocker creaks.         Pedersons on the opposite side of the big         stings my cheeks. We hit the rutted road
   I am hoping she will play something on         lake.                                             and I bounce up and down on the seat like
the piano like she used to in the evenings. A        Papa heaves a long sigh. I can see it is a     a small frog crossing a pond.
lively tune would be fun, then a soft one.        hard decision for him to make. “Selma,” he           Shivering, I manage to pull my shawl up
   I finish washing the dinner dishes in the      says finally, “I will hitch up the horses. Do     tighter around my head while still grasping
kitchen washstand. Our cat Ilsa lies be-          you think you can do this for your mater?”        the reins tightly. The thought of the baby
neath the wood stove’s arching belly, enjoy-         “I have taken the horses and wagon be-         coming scares me but makes me more de-
ing its warmth. Papa has gone out to milk         fore, Papa.”                                      termined. I lean forward into the sharp
the cows and bed down the horses. Jens is            Papa nods. From beneath his thick eye-         wind, become one with the galloping team
supposed to help him with the milking but         brows, his blue eyes reassure me. Then he         and the racing wagon wheels. The constant
he lags behind, playing some silly game           leaves the room.                                  bobbing of the horses heads, barely out-
with Carl.                                           Carl comes running up to the bed and           lined in the half moon’s light, lulls me into
   When I remind Jens of his evening              leans over Mama. “Is the baby coming?”            a momentary timelessness.
chores, he and Carl break out in loud             His small face looks so concerned.                   Suddenly it is last summer. I see the men
voices. They duel with their lath swords,            “Ja...soon.” She strokes his bent head and     with their swinging scythes in the yellow
swinging the narrow wood strips at each           draws him closer to her breast.                   field ahead. They toss up clusters of wild
other. Ilsa jumps up, bumping her head               I stand at the only window in the room,        strawberries as they near the meadow.
against the bottom of the stove, and scoots       staring out into the dark night. A dim, red       Gleefully, we children hurry to fill our
back against the wall.                            light glows from the lantern as Papa hitches      buckets with the sweet fruit. We find more
   “Boys! Not in the house,” Mama scolds.         the horses to our old wagon. I shiver,            in the fragrant grass along the meadow’s
She starts to get up, then with a sharp cry,      thinking that I have only driven the horses       edge.
hunches forward, her hands grabbing her           once before, last fall to the fields to take         “Mama will make shortcake!” Jens de-
belly. The mending falls to the floor.            Papa and the hired man their lunch. But I         clares. Little Lisbet stuffs a handful of the
   We all stare at her. The boys stand with       am older now, almost twelve, and I must be        red berries into her mouth, and then an-
their make-believe swords held in mid-air.        strong.                                           other. I try to make her stop, but she runs
   “Jens,” Mama says when she gets her               I make Mama as comfortable as possible         over to Carl. They grin at me, their cheeks
breath. “Go get your fater. It is the baby.“      then throw a second woolen shawl around           full.
   Jens drops his sword and runs out the          me. Her pains are coming closer now and              Then we are all riding on a load of wheat
front door. Something mean twists inside          she holds onto herself. She takes my hand,        sheaves stacked in the wagon. Everyone is

                               38 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • The Caretaker, Leslee Breene
jumping up and down, laughing. At two                 “Mama is having the baby!” I splutter            Carl tries to climb up Papa’s leg. “Let me
and-a-half, Lisbet, with carrot curls tum-         out. “She needs you as soon as you can           see!”
bling down her back, can jump almost as            come, Mrs. Pederson.”                               “Here, young fella.” Papa bends down,
high as her older brother Carl.                       “Ja, ja.“ Mrs. Pederson calls the eldest      holding the squirming baby under Carl’s
   The wagon hits a bump and lurches to            girl to fetch her shawls. “And you must be       nose. “Welcome your new baby sister.”
the side—and Lisbet falls. So quickly we           frozen!” She brings me a mug of steaming            It is a happy night. Mama says to fetch
cannot catch her. The wagon wheel rolls            coffee with lots of cream and sugar in it. I     the cider jug from the pantry shelf, and I
forward.                                           sip the coffee gratefully but turn away a        do. Standing around the bed, we all cele-
   “Lisbet!” I scream.                             plate of scones. Hunger does not fill my         brate with a toast to the new girl, “Marie
   We aren’t far from home. Papa carries           mind—only thoughts of the baby.                  Lisbet.”
her all the way, her still, sweet face cradled        In a short time, we are back on the dark         In the morning, after Papa returns from
against his chest. The boys choke back their       road. Kristina Pederson has packed a few         taking Kristina Pederson home, he goes
sobs. My tears are a scalding river. We know       things in a bag for my mater. She has deliv-     into the bedroom leaving the door ajar. I
she is gone.                                       ered babies all over our county, and always      look in and see him gaze down at the sleep-
   Lisbet is laid to rest beyond the wild          knows what to do if any trouble arises. She      ing baby in her crib, then walk over and
plum trees in our small family cemetery.           knows these things from talking to the           take Mama’s brush from the dresser. He sits
My sister, my heart.                               horse doctor who travels through our             on the bed next to Mama as she lies back
   Now I squeeze my eyes shut and swallow          county twice a year.                             on the feather pillows. Her face is so pale,
over the ache in my throat. “Please let this          I see what Papa meant when he said            almost as pale as the bed sheet. She looks
baby wait,” I pray out loud. “Please let this      there would be no room for Jens on the           up at Papa as he takes her long brown hair
baby wait.”                                        way back. Kristina’s wide rump takes up          in his hand and brushes it. Very softly.
   The trees become thicker, more clus-            more than half the seat! With the wind nip-         When I see him do this, my heart brims
tered, as I near the end of the lake. Taller       ping at us, though, I am glad for her com-       full.
and taller they grow on either side of the         pany and her warmth. I settle back on the           At the front window, I look out into the
rutted road. Coal-black witches with               seat, relieved that Kristina Pederson is tak-    yard. The boys have finished their chores
gnarled fingers swiping at me from beneath         ing the reins.                                   and are playing Fox and Geese. Spring is al-

 Jens says witches lurk in the woods,
                                                      The first thing I see as we gallop up to      most here. Soon pink and white blossoms

 waiting for children. But Mama says
                                                   the house is Carl’s face pressed against the     will burst from the buds on the wild crab

    there are angels in the woods.
                                                   front room window. He is barely tall             apple and plum trees. This summer, Papa
                                                   enough to look out. When he sees us, he          says, we will build the new barn with the
                                                   begins to hop up and down.                       help of our neighbors.
their thorny, flapping robes. Jens says               Papa bolts outside and helps Kristina            But, best of all will be the evenings when
witches lurk in the woods, waiting for chil-       and me climb down from the wagon. “It is         Mama plays the piano in the corner and we
dren. But Mama says there are angels in the        good that you could come, Kristina. Sigrie       sing songs from “the Old Country.” I will
woods. Some are always with us. Even with          needs you now.”                                  hold little Marie Lisbet on my lap while I
our Lisbet when she died.                             We hear Mama cry out and we hurry in          rock her in Grandma’s rocking chair.
   I hope some angels are with me now, and         the front door. Papa and Kristina rush to        Mama will sit down at the piano. She will
that these horses get me to the Pedersons          her. Carl wraps himself around me, bury-         look over at Papa and smile when she first
on faster legs.                                    ing his face in my skirt.                        touches the keys. They will feel cool on her
   We come to a fork in the road where the            “Come now, Carl. You must be brave,” I        fingertips. Her chin will lift and her dark
three big pine loom. I turn the team off to        say. We climb up into the loft with Jens.        eyes will close. And then she will play.
the right. After about half a mile, I see flick-      It is not long before we hear a spanking
ering candle light from the windows of the         sound, and the new baby wails. The three         Leslee Breene writes historical and con-
                                                                                                    temporary western women’s fiction. Visit
                                                                                                    her at: www.lesleebreene.com,
Pedersons’ log house. A cry of relief escapes      of us look at each other. The boys’ eyes are

                                                                                                    www.myspace.com/lesleeauthor and
me. Reining in the puffing animals, I jump         wide with wonder and excitement.
                                                                                                    www.facebook.com/lesleebreene.
down from the wagon and stumble to the                “Do you think it is a boy or girl?” Jens
front door.                                        says to me. I shake my head, asking myself
   “Selma!” Kristina Pederson’s round,             the same thing.
cheery face greets me on the threshold be-            With great expectation, we stare at the
fore I can knock. “Come in from this cold          bedroom door below us.
night. How is your mama?” Three little                Finally the door opens and out walks
girls cling to her skirts, peeking out at me.      Papa holding a small bundle. We scramble
Hans, her husband, stands further into the         down the ladder, almost falling on top of
room with their son Olaf. The whole family         each other. Jens and I peer into a berry-red
gathers around me by the fireplace.                face that is opening into a serious yawn.

                                39 • Women Writing the West • 2009 Honorable Mention • The Caretaker, Leslee Breene

								
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