Once Upon A Time In The West…

CODY.

I knew a woman once. This was in Cody, Wyoming back in ’98, before the railroad was a twinkle. She was a working woman, if you get my meaning. She didn’t work from any of the bordellos, she worked from home, her profession being one of the few that allowed for such a thing. She had a brother, younger, horse-kicked in the head which left him less than whole with regard to the common abilities we take for granted, so home-working was how she managed the boy and life in general. I paid, for knowing her, always did and always insisted, even when we got to know each other in a more fulsome and complete way and had shared pretty well all the intricate ins and outs of each other’s lives. She was a good woman, even though she sold that special part of her. And it roused the jealousy for a while. I saw the red but had to sit on my hands. It was her working life. Once I got that, understood her working life was a separate thing, like if she worked in the hardware, selling nails and saws, the terms came together a bit better and I could know she was working and still breathe at a proper pace. And the lad, the brother, who I called Little-Matey, was a good boy, but head kicked, as I said, which slowed the processes down. He could fetch water and carry wood if you watched him, but Little-Matey was not that good for much else and in the end of a lot of the times it proved easier to fetch the water or carry the wood yourself. Her name was Alice and I loved her, I guess, and I like to think she loved me a little. But we were friends for sure over all that, and in bed it may as well have been love, for all the difference it made.

So, here I am by the Shoshone river, horse gone, sitting here propped up against a tree, watching the waters. Funny I should think of Alice now, after all that time. Hate to think what she’d look like now. Not good. Best if I do think, to make it back when. Back in Cody, her sitting in her parlour, front door open like she was in a shop window. Always wore a nice full dress and I knew during working hours there were neverthe lady’s under-panty things on under there, which I guess from a point of view of simple efficiency was an accommodation of very plain logic and a saving of some time, although no one, customer or provider was ever in all that much hurry. But once I’d settled to accept her chosen occupation I came to enjoy the occasional passing-by, in the knowledge she was free and unencumbered in that area and on the occasions I got a wink of the eye and a special smile, I must confess to a little stirring and rising in myself in the reciprocal area, as it were. She was beaten by a customer once. He was drunk and his name was Wallace Clarke and he had a hair lip which made him unattractive to love and kindness and the understanding of a woman who would see him for free and no cost. He was letting off after a long period on the trail, but of course that is no excuse. After it she had an eye closed up and purple and two breast so terribly bruised from his use as punching bags it’d make you cry just to see. She was coloured all over from the crazy punching, the man clearly turned insane from the drink. And I ran him down some miles outside the town of Cody and I took him from his horse and I whipped him with my colt till the flesh peeled from his face and consciousness left him and I rode back to Cody without waiting to see life leave him, as I knew it would, from his condition at the end. And I don’t know if that act proved a deterrent or it was just simple fate, as she was never touched in that way again. Until that very last time. Huh, so the whiteness has come over me again like in the frosty time up on old Casper Mountain there, when the cloud descends and you can’t travel another step lest you walk unknowing, off the edge of something deep. And there’s a figure in the whiteness, just a shape, but I think I know who it is. It gets blinding white, the mist does, for seconds at a time, then it dims down again and then it’s all gone and back beside the old Shoshone and she’s running swift and true as a good river should. And I’m thinking I might drag myself from this tree, on down to the bank, and the right time roll in and let the waters take me all the way down to the great wide ocean that I saw once as a kid from the Boston docks. It was the grand Atlantic and it stretched, white-flecked, all the way to the horizon and beyond.

So, now I’m just after another dizzy episode, no idea how long it lasted. Caused from the head shock, itself caused by the abrasive influences of Jackson Miles gun and bullet. Just a graze leaving blood and a little shardy piece of skull bone, like a bitten off slip of fingernail when your down to the very last of it. It’s there, in with the blood, matted into the hair, chipped off but not discarded, and it makes me think of old Mad Leyland Pickett who kept every finger and toenail clipping, along with each and every lock of hair he’d ever cut from his own head. And if you ever asked him why he did it he’d give you the same look he would a common human varmint and explain about the fact that discarded pieces of yourself were collected by the devil and when he had enough he’d make a little miniature of you with them and it would mean you belonged to him then. So Jack McCauly had stolen his tin one night, being drunk and stupid and thinking it would be fine joke to play on a man already mad and it had driven Mad Leyland Pickett to kill his own self with a bullet to his own chest, lest the devil complete his miniature before his time had come. And it was about that time that Alice, poor sweet Alice who made herself so much the comfort to those given a leaning towards needing comfort of that sort by a nature conceived by God to attend such matters, came to a rest. And it was not a blow-in this time, but William Lewis, the livery agent, a man married himself but prone to the deliverance of his own self to days of unending insobriety. And it was during one of these periods he’d taken himself to Alice’s house and, in the process of the undressing had taken his single shot Philadephia Derringer from his boot and from a range of half a foot had blown a shot clean through her head and out the other side, taking with it as it did bone and brain and blood to paste across the wall behind. He said he never remembered doing it and in a misplaced sense of skewed logic, put up as a defence that not remembering was as good as not doing, but of course the judge from Rawlins, Justice Makepeace, being a man of mind and soul as much one with the law as a human creature can be with any abstract, deemed him guilty of the murder of the prostitute Alice Mary Dunaway. He was hanged the next day from a hastily made set of gallows and buried outside the cemetery, a ways down the hill, and by the time I left it was as though nobody had ever been buried there at all, for all the evidence of the thing. And Little Matey had run off the same day from the fear of it all while everyone except essential staff at the saloons was at the hanging, and nobody saw the way he went, which could have been any which-way at all, but turned out to be roughly east as five days later the body was found, shrivelled and dead, from the sun and dehydration Doc Barnett said. Alice was buried the day after William Lewis and the turnout for the two had been roughly similar, the both eternal souls having a blight upon themselves, although each born of a different place in the righteousness of the God fearing of Cody. And I spent a week crying the tears of the damned and deserted with never a thought for the look and I smelled of whisky and deep despair and not a soul came near for even the touch of a shoulder and my only one companion, if that word could even apply, was the current barkeep, a role handed on to the next like a relay, as shifts ended and the greying white apron was passed to the next. And William Lewis’ scaffolding was dismantled and the timber scavenged I stayed on for a few years, but Wild Bill Cody went off and away and that left a hole, and after a time the town had little need of me either any more and I left too and that was all of six months past now.

So, I travelled some of the mighty peaks of Wyoming, over the Sacagawia and the Sepulcher and the snowy Casper peaks and on down to flats and I spent some nights with the Arapaho and the Cheyenne and I avoided the Crow. And I followed the grand Shoshone river for a while till I came across Daniel Clark, being the brother of the hair lipped Wallace Clark who I had occasion to pistol-whip to the edge of death and over, some years earlier. He know me of course and I had heard of him. It was dusk, the last of the light disappearing, and we made a camp and a fire together and fixed coffee and cooked a brace of jack-rabbit I happened to have and we talked of the event in a casual style as two men talking of some foreign action, distant in time and space and memory, and in the course of it all I detailed the events of the terrible attack on my Alice and of following on horseback and the whipping with the colt and my leaving him in a blur of disgust, both for Wallace Clark and myself. And Daniel Clark told of his brother being the younger of them and his responsibility, instilled in him till it was part of his bone, and he explained how it was something he must do as he went to his saddle and belongings and drew his own colt and with never another word did shoot me the three times, and deeming that sufficient unto both our needs, packed himself and, with my own horse along, left the camp at a cautious clip as the moon was in the wane and light at a premium. Now it’s morning and I’m here under this grand pinion pine with no horse for the company they can be, and I’m head-shot and two in the belly, with the Casper-Hills-mist coming and going and bringing with it the figure who’s person I sense from just the feel rather than shape.

And while I know the pain it’ll bring, in a while I’m going to skittle down the Shoshone’s bank and paddle my boots for a bit till the light…of God… And I’m out of another mist from which an angel did come, not my figure, but a grand angel and her wings did beat into the mist so it swirled and eddied about her and she glowed white in the very air before me. And as she approached she reached her arms forward towards me, as though to hold me and gather me, but the mist cleared again before we could touch, but her eyes said she would return and I know she will… for…God … and Jesus were…were…

But the thing about Alice was she was a person in her own self. Which was probably why we were to one another the way we were, and why she would brook no talk of being wedded, or the like of anything that went beyond what we already were. We were something, I knew that and know it now, but exactly what never became completely clear and on the occasions I would ask her to say out loud to me what, at the base of everything, we really were, she would turn away, or pick another subject or stir the pot on the stove or just not answer at all as though she hadn’t heard. And I knew better than to push the thing, lest I damage or lose whatever it was we did have, so I learned to hold my silence and to eventually come to accept that whatever it was was what it was, and to stop poking for the cogs and springs that I came to know would never really reveal themselves.

And the mists are more frequent now, and while they may be phantoms born out of the head shot that now nags my brain with splintering barbs, they are as real to me as the tree at my back and the boot on my foot and I embrace them and their enfolded figure and the sometimes white-angel that also occasionally accompanies.

And Alice was…like Jesus was…but he is not from the bible…which is God’s writing…and there are the snakes of purgatory…and the smell of the damned is upon us…and they run and they run and they run…and the mist…the damned mist…and the figure and it’s not Alice and I knew that…I knew that… I won’t be led by a…

I have emptied my stomach over my front and there is bile and blood and if I’m ever to skittle down to the Shoshone it will have to be now. I don’t think there ever was a mist. I don’t think there was. But God forbid there was no Alice as that would be the most cruel… the most cruel… the most cruel…