Nothing to worry about but me

 

I spend the day alone in the hills, soft grass ticking my bare feet.

Iím 17 and a free female, living a life most boys would envy.

My fatherís ranch stretches out before me so far even General Sherman couldnít burn it all in one day.

With the war over, my father has nothing to worry about but me.

He thinks Indians will be me or worse if I wander off alone like this.

I guess he already knows the truth.

And wants to know who Iíve been with and whether he can expect me to deliver him a grandson soon.

I wonder if I ought to keep going.

Even the wild canít be much worse than the cot in the kitchen and the bruises my brothers give me wrestling with them at night.

My father would kill them all if he found out.

I love my brothers too much to let them die like that, and love my father too much to let him live with the guilt.

So I keep quiet.

I keep thinking maybe I should talk with Reverend Billy.

But I donít move.

I just watch the ranch and the main road through it along which all sorts of things travel, the dust of wagon wheels hinting of the settlers my father has come to hate.

I keep thinking of Louis, too, Reverend Billyís quiet son who went to the hay loft with me one night after the dance.

I figured if I let my brothers do it, why not Louis who I like.

No one would believe anything like that about him, of course, because everybody thinks heíll follow in his fatherís footsteps someday.

I might never know for sure whose child I carry, though if my father presses I blame some passing stranger, perhaps one of the slick-haired gamblers who pass this way now and then.

Sunset comes.

I never get tired of watching that red ball sink into the distant horizon.

I never get tired of watching the glitter of the town rise out of its after glow.

But I do get cold.

And the howl of wolves or coyotes gets me nervous.

Yet I donít want to go home.

So I pull my thin jacket closes, knowing it canít keep out the cold or the wolves.

This could be my first night of freedom if I decide to go.

A twig cracks behind me and I jump.

A stranger appears out of the twilight, his craggy face visible only by the dim glow of his cigarette.

I see the pistol at his side, pearl handle glinting in the last of the sunlight.

It is a pistol exactly like my father, which the stranger guesses I recognize from my gasp.

He asks me where Iíd seen one like it and when I tell him he asks me where I live.

I point.

He nods, then starts down the hill.

He fades into darkness, and I watch and waiting, jerking up when I see the flashes and hear the sound of gunshots.

When these end, I start down the hill.

To bury my father, maybe.

Or my brothers, too.

The whole time I wonder who will care for my baby with them gone.

I know Louis wonít.

 


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