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Alison Parham

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Richard Huffman

Tainted Love


       Although not known at the time it eventually became a difficult matter of opinion Guy and me had over the girl dancing on the gold pole out there in the middle of the stage. She had a tattoo on her forehead, which neither of us cared about one way or the other but for its curious nature of placement. Guy had his tattoos running down both arms from shoulder to wrist, one being a series of bosomy raven-haired girls atop bucking broncos and the other arm having something to do with dragons, winged fairies and a saying, ‘Ride into the sunset on a well-shod horse’.
       I myself had never indulged in such fantastical elements nor cared to reveal secret longings inked on my flesh; not to mention my abhorrence of being needle-poked by strangers. Not that I would welcome such from friends either.
       When Shibanna crawled across the stage on all fours, her eyes peered straight as a shot arrow at Guy. I turned to him to make some sly remark. I could have clunked him with a brick and he wouldn’t have cared, being so transfixed by his future wife—which he later told me was a foreseen developement despite the tattoo now apparent as she gyrated a foot or so away.
       Juan, Mon Ami was the proclamation inked into her flesh, and to my surprise, more than this assertion of love for Juan, was the comma, indicating that either Shibanna or the Tattooist deemed punctuation an important part of the message. I wondered if there had been a discussion about it when the artist started in, such as Shibanna saying, “now be sure to not forget the comma” before her forehead was transformed.
       It took a hundred dollars of Guy’s money for Shibanna to say she would come up to our hotel room for a drink. “It ain’t for sex,” he told me when I offered to vacate our shared premises for a few hours, or more likely, minutes—not that I was keen on our room being used for such a lowly purpose.
       “It ain’t for that,” he said. “It’s for us to get acquainted. I wouldn’t mind marryin’ this gal someday.”
       Guy has never been one to think things through to a logical conclusion, such as marrying a stripper with another man’s name tattooed on her forehead might not bode well for a lifetime of marital bliss.
       My advice was to avail himself of whatever pleasures he could, therefore making the best use of his hundred dollars. I reasoned that once the testicle urgency brought on by her stage performance was released, he might then consider options other than marriage.
       “I’m surprised at you—and disappointed,” he said. “She’s not that kind of girl.”
       Despite Guy’s fondness of making spontaneous decisions that turn disastrous, this seemed to me a new low. I do not say this with any delusions about myself. Guy is my best friend, which my first two wives found dumbfounding, though not the reason for my divorces, neither of which I regret for a single moment. I would rather be with Guy, living in his illogical world than have someone scold me about an errant sock on the floor or a shirt not hung properly that evolves into world war three. When it comes to matrimonial choices I am not one to be emulated. Still, I wondered how he knew this was the girl for him.
       “It isn’t something ‘splainable,” he said in that serious way of his. “It’s like when you look out there at a storm and see that lightning strike that is just an amazin’ thing. Well, that’s about the best I can say how it was when she looked me in the eyes.”
       Even then I figured nothing would come of it after he and this gal had a few minutes together. But my predilictions are known to have been off a time or two. This, as it turned out, was one for the books.
       When Shibanna finally showed up—I was surprised she did—she was wrapped in a stylish leopard-spotted shag coat that left bits of itself trailing behind.
       “It was a mistake,” was the first thing she said, pointing to her forehead. “I know you want to ask. If you want me to explain it any more than that you’re out of luck because there isn’t anything else I can say that will make it seem OK to someone who thinks they’re better than I am.”
       What could one say to that?
       “Hardly noticed,” Guy said.
       “Who smokes in here?” she said, wincing at this perceived horror.
       “We neither do,” I said. “They didn’t have any non-smoking rooms so I guess we got stuck with one where someone did once. Be assured it is not a vice we indulge in.”
       “Why do you talk like that?” she said. “You been to that community college downtown?”
       I was flattered she would think so but denied any such affiliation to which she grunted an assent, like she supposed it might be a lie but wasn’t up to caring one way or another.
       She walked over to one of the twin beds bed and sat herself down with a heavy plop and laid back. She closed her eyes and said, “And I’m not Shibanna once I’m off that stage. It’s Patsy, and I’m pooped.”
       It seemed to me that Shibanna suited her better.
       “Would you like some coffee,” Guy asked.
       “Does it have caffeine in it? I can’t have caffeine,” she said with her eyes still closed and her arms splayed out across the bed. Her feet dangled off the end, the red sparkly shoes she wore out of place in our room that was within our budget, or had been before Guy gave Shibanna the hundred dollars.
       Guy looked at me to answer the coffee question as neither of us had much experience with coffee that lacked caffeine. Not that we hadn’t heard of de-caf, but the concept was one we could not quite understand,  like non-alcoholic whiskey or square tires or one of any other seemingly illogical inventions. The diner where we usually had breakfast back home did have de-caffeinated coffee, though the pot sat mostly unused and was emptied into the sink by LeeAnne once breakfast was done. Every now and then someone lost off the interstate would come in and order a cup.  It always created a quiet curiosity amongst the usual crowd and set an edge to the place.        “There’s another one,” old Hank Peters always said, shaking his head and others nodding their agreement.
       I figured Shibanna’s request would turn Guy’s head back to some normalcy but he just shrugged and went over to the little table that held the two-cup coffee pot and took the only unused packet of coffee and set it in the recess of the coffee maker, poured water from a plastic bottle into the pot and pushed the red button to brew. He stood there while the water gurgled through the innards of the pot, then trickled a light brown brew into the glass pot. I watched Guy watch the pot like it was something he had never seen before When it was done, the coffee-maker gave a sigh and stopped and the only sound in the room was the soft snores of Shibanna.
Neither of us was sure what course to follow next. Guy quietly fixed a plastic insert into a plastic cup holder and poured in coffee and stood there holding it as though he was waiting for Shibanna to wake up and say “Oh, thanks.”
I glanced at the clock on the table beside the bed, and then at Shibanna. I wished I was the one lying there sleeping. It was early morning and she had chosen the bed that was mine. It would be unseemly for me to lie on Guy’s bed.
       “She’s had a hard day,” Guy whispered. He was still holding the coffee, which by now was tepid, at best.
       “Well,” I shrugged, “that seems to be.”
       Guy put his fingers to his lips and said “Shh—you’ll wake her,” which seemed to me the best idea he had all night.
He motioned with his head that we should go outside to talk. I nodded my OK and we went out, Guy opened and then closed the door as though the merest creak would be disastrous.
       “Look,” I said in a hushed voice, when we were in the hallway, “we need to wake her up. You can get her number and call her. Another day might be better.” My thought was that once we were back home and sweating over hay bales Guy’s amorous expectations would quickly let off.
       “I dunno,” he said with that worried look on his face he has when he can’t quite figure things.
       “It’s only a couple hour’s drive. Call her when you get back and see how that goes.”
       “You mean just wake her up and tell her to get out?” There was almost an anger in his voice. We had seldom argued in all our years of friendship and when we did it was in jest over something neither of us really cared about.
“Well, that’s a harsh way to put it,” I said. “It might be better to explain how we have to get back to work and you’ll get in touch with her.”
       We both looked one way then the other in the hallway. There wasn’t a sound but for the buzz coming from an ice machine a few doors away. A good portion of the lights above each door were unlit, and there was a window at the far end that was in the early stages of leaking in a pre-dawn gray. Our checkout time was 10 o’clock and I knew I needed some sleep before driving back to the ranch. My days of being able to stay reasonably alert for a 24 hour stretch had gone long ago.
       I imparted this information to Guy. He thought it over a few minutes, scratched at his chin a few times and finally, reluctantly, agreed.
       “OK,” he said and turned to face the door in all his despondency and then turned to me. “Go on then, and open it.”
       There are times in this life when you feel as though God has finally given up on you and allowed you to go your own blind way of fumbling through it all. Such a time  this might be with two cowhands standing outside their hotel room staring at a faded green door with the number 206 painted on, and neither of the two having the key, it having been left inside.
       “We’re going to have to knock.” I said.
       Guy sighed. “I hate to wake her like that.”
       “Well, we don’t have a choice in it.”
       “Alright,” Guy said. He raised his hand and laid it against the door and then gently rapped his knuckles against it with such delicacy it would not have disturbed a mouse.
       “I’ll go down and get a key from the front desk,” I said. Off I went.

       The night clerk, who I recognized as also being the day clerk was not inclined to friendliness when I woke him, but he gave me the key. When I got back to the room the door was open and Guy was inside sitting on the bed. He looked wore down. Shibanna was gone. I hadn’t passed her on the stairs, so guessed she took the elevator down, that I thought was broke, or she went out the fire escape, which seemed unlikely.
       I knocked my boots off my feet and laid back on the bed. It was still warm where she had been. “Gonna get some sleep,” I said.
       Guy’s “Alright” was a weak and pathetic sound.
       “You can call her,” I said.
       “Sure,” he said.
       I closed my eyes, thinking love was a strange and injurious affliction.

Shibanna, six months later

       No one has to tell me about how many times I have screwed up my life. This may just be another in that long string. In the middle of nowhere with a ranch-hand of questionable intelligence; not that I am holding myself up as anything but the same. Two half-wits do not make a whole wit, as my father used to say—and before you go to thinking he was a bad father—he was not. He died young and treated me good up to the end, which came quick on a hot August day while he mowed the lawn.
       And my mother was as good as any mother could be expected to be. I have no excuse, from a family perspective, of how I let things unravel in my own life.
       I do not remember the tattoo. It was at the lowest point, or nearly so. It has been more painful getting rid of it than getting it, the result being a forehead best unseen. Guy says the bangs make me look younger.
       And it may be thought that the job at the strip club was the lowest point but it was not. That being, along with the tattoo episode, me standing on a street corner dressed in a kangaroo suit swinging a sign about a furniture sale. That was the worst two weeks in my life, as I had to be sober enough to not fall down and high enough to forget what I had come to.
       The strip club was a step up the ladder, and now I was somewhere farther up, I hoped, though the jury was still out. But I was giving it a shot.
       When I woke up in that hotel room back in Reno, and remembered the two hayseeds, Guy and Chet (whose names I later learned) being there I was reminded of this joke my father told. “What did the doe say when she came out of the woods?” And he would wait a beat while someone shook their head, saying, “I dunno…what?”  And he would say, “That’s the last time I’ll do that for two bucks.”
       Well, at least I had a hundred, and it wasn’t until some time later that I learned nothing had happened in that room, and that those two were honest-to-goodness cowpokes with a sense of right and wrong.
       Not that Chet is my biggest fan. He doesn’t say anything against me but I see it in his eyes. I’m not sure if he’s been working on Guy to ‘wise-up’ but I think he has this cowboy thing going on where he’s going to let Guy sink-or-swim on his own, and then be there to save him if he starts to drown.
       Things probably began going south for me in high school, where I was known as ‘one of those  girls’, meaning I would ‘put-out’ for any male who had nerve enough to ask. I did not see much wrong with this. I believe somewhere in my recessed DNA there is a male component dueling with the female. Had I been a full-fledged boy in high school and slept with every girl I came across I would have been a ‘stud’, admired by my male pals and a curiosity to girls contemplating sexual adventure. Why couldn’t a girl have the same leeway? But of course I was as naïve as they come, allowing my libido to be my guiding light. It is different for boys and girls. Whether right or wrong, it just is. We’ve never had a fair shake. Never will—at least in my lifetime.
       I am skipping around a bit here. Probably going too fast. But that’s my way, good or bad. Take my name. Shibanna is not it, and anyone who thinks so is lost in a cloud of delusion. Guy, being prime evidence of delusion, who thinks I am some kind of wonderful, though I have told and warned him otherwise.
The name I was given at birth, Patsy, is in honor of Patsy Cline, the country Western singer, who I adore to death, based solely on listening to her songs and watching old tapes. I would sell myself to the devil himself to be her. And by the way, there is good reason the devil is male. But then so is God, so I guess it evens out.
       I tried singing. Some say I was not too awful. My father saying I was “pretty danged good”. But I sure wasn’t Patsy Cline, so what was the use? I could see myself  singing in little out of the way places where nobody listens, preferring to watch the game on one of the fifty overhead TV’s that have slowly infected America with an incurable disease that just keeps getting worse.
       Most of the time it is not bad out here on this ranch, though I often have the urge to get going. But I know I’ll slide back into the life if I leave. I know about addiction and what it does to a person. Anyone who has not had it doesn’t understand the pull it has, like it is a magnet and you are just another loose piece of metal being yanked on. Maybe it’s an age thing and when I get older it won’t be so bad. I mean, I won’t feel the need to be someone else or go somewhere better.
       When Guy first came for me I wasn’t in that bad a shape. I was a little high and a little drunk, which was a normal state of things then. I did not remember him when I opened the door and he stood there with his hat in his hands, looking nervous and smelling of a not too unpleasant cologne.
He made me laugh when he told me about his grand plan of marrying me and living on a ranch. I guess I was laughing at the idea anyone would come up with this scheme. There he was, sitting on my crappy old couch, making this proposal and me sitting there in a crappy chair in a crappy apartment that reeked of stale beer and god knows what else. He said his place was just a small house but he kept it neat and knew how to cook and would work hard to make my life a good one. He was so earnest that I could not think of a sarcastic thing to say. I was not so jaded by my life that I could not tell decency from the other thing, which I was more used to—the other thing, I mean.
       But it was the mirror that did it. I went into the bathroom to pee while he drank the coffee I made him. I was going to dig out a pill and then saw myself looking back and I swear the other one of me said, “You’re a fool if you don’t.” That my reflection had come to life scared the be-jesus out of me.
So that was that. I left with him right then. Packed a few things. Left the key in the door. Went off to Cowboy-land.
       We aren’t married yet. I told him I need some time to get used to things. Not sure if I’ll last through each day that comes around, much less the rest of my life, but I’m giving it a go.
       I wouldn’t put any money on this thing making it. Some days that magnet is pulling so hard I feel like I’m being torn apart. Seems like Guy’s always there then…senses it somehow… and then there’s Chet with that wolfish look of his; knowing I’m not going to make it. I wonder if I’m staying just to show him he’s wrong in this and he isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is.
       Problem is, he is smart.

Guy, In Pursuit

       Chet, my best friend, says it don’t matter that I ain’t real smart about readin’ and writin’ and those kinds of things. He says I’m smart other ways, like ranchin’ and that I have a goodness to my heart. I ain’t sure it’s any better than anyone else but it makes me feel good when he says that.
       He tole me the other day, he says, “Guy—you got more to teach people from what’s inside you than any amount of books could do,” or somethin’  like that.  He says he is my friend and will always stick by me, no matter what. But I don’t know now. He is plainly getting flusterated with me.
       I am set to go after her, and Chet says she will just use me as a door mat if I find her again. He does not know her the way I do. What is inside her, I mean, and I told Chet what he said about me, that I can teach people from inside. He just shrugged and said, that maybe there’s some people who might not ever learn, no matter what.
       He’s never been mad at me before like this. “You’re gonna lose your job here,” he said, “and the house, and everything else.” And it came the closest I ever been to hittin’ Chet when he said she was just a whore and a hustler, and it was time to get the law after her for the money she took.
       No matter what she did I could not do such a thing. It makes me sound foolish maybe and the other boys look at me and shake their heads and Ole        Tom just come out and said I was makin’ an ass outa myself.
       If Chet, or even Ole Tom was ever in trouble I’d do what I could t’ help out, and they’d do the same for me. At least, Chet. Tom might not be able considrin’ his age and poor health, crippled up as he is. But he’d do somethin’ if he could.
       Well, there’s the same problem with someone bein’ crippled-up inside. They might not be able to help themselves or another fella because of bein’ twisted up inside, the same as if they had a twisted-up back, which is plain to see, whereby the thing inside is hid from most.
       So, yes I am goin’ after her. Not that I am gone make her come back, but once I explain things to her she will understand. Why would she not? To which Chet just threw his hands up in the air and said even if she come back the money would be gone and she would just wait  till she could figure out somethin’ else to thieve. The boys would not cotton to her bein’ back, he said, finally, even if she was in my place and even though it wasn’t their money. And I asked if that meant him too, and he kinda scruffed his boots in the dirt and cursed up at the sky and said to do what ever I had to do, but it sure as hell wasn’t gonna wind up no prince and princess fairy tale. Not that I ever thought such a thing, myself.

Chet, flummoxed
       Even though I am Guy’s friend, come hell or high water, I couldn’t blame the owner of Guy’s place for renting it to someone else. He let it set the one month, having Guy’s deposit. Then another month, and that was it.  I took as much of Guy’s stuff as I could and put it in my garage but it wouldn’t take long for the mice and rats to get at it there.
       A day did not pass that I didn’t think of going after him. But I was afraid of finding him in a sorry state, or even dead. I doubt she ran with the best company if she had fallen back on her old ways and if he found her there was bound to be trouble.
       I told the boss, Mr. Banford, that Guy had family problems and would be back, and he said not to worry, that Guy would always have a job at the ranch. But after a month went by a new man was hired who seemed to be doing most of what Guy had, and doing it well, so I wasn’t sure Mr. Banford would be able to keep his word. 
       Then, there they were one day, three months after she left. Guy’s good pick-up had been replaced by a junk heap that limped up to the curb in front of my place. He came out first, hardly looking like himself he was so thin. She came out from the back seat and waved at me like they had just gone shopping or something, and then Guy pulled out a duffel bag and a small bright blue suitcase and followed her up the path to my front door.
       “It’s all right,” she said when she came up to me. “Guy’s been drivin’ through the night. He’s tired out and his place got rented out so we’re here.”  She looked fit and fresh. Her hair was cut shorter and the obliterated tattoo scar had faded. Her lips were red and she had the look of someone who had just come out of a shower, all rosy and bright and ready for the day.
I would not have given her the time it would take to kick her off the porch, but he was there behind, as weary looking as a man might be. It took some effort to not get misty over him, but I held it in and simply nodded to her and let the two of them glide by and into the house, with nary a glance my way from Guy. Whatever happened had not set well on him.
       He slept for about twelve hours and still looked beat. I made him coffee and fired-up some eggs the way he liked, with the yolks just shy of getting hard. I spread butter and Junie May’s homemade marmalade on some toast and set it on the plate and waited for him to wolf it down. He poked at it with his fork and took a bite off the toast and drank half the coffee before he said anything.
       “I got on the dope,” he said. He was sorely embarrassed and sighed a deep sigh.
       “That so?” I said, wishin’ she was dead, bringing this onto a decent man.
He looked up at me. His eyes met mine for the first time since he had walked in the front door. “Ain’t her fault,” he said.  His eyes had a watery yellow look.
       “I’m off it now,” he said. “Just need to get some strength back.”
I glanced back at the door to the spare room where they had slept on the floor.  “She still here?” I asked.
       I waited and sipped my coffee.
       “Don’t blame her,” he said. “I ain’t a chile. I knowed what I was doing.”
       “Do you now? And what is that—what you was doin? Known you most of my life and you never did like this. You don’t think she has a play in what’s gone on?”
       Guy shook his head and swallowed hard to clear his throat. “She helped me out.”
       I nearly spit my coffee across the table I coughed so hard. “You left here with a good job, nice home, friends, a little money in the bank, a paid-off truck—and you come back with—what?”
       He shrugged. “It’s all right.”
       “All right!  You look like hell… lost the job, the house, most of your friends… God knows what happened to your truck but I have a good idea. And you haul in here with her actin’’ like she’s been on a spring cruise.”
       “We married,” he said, his voice weak and tired.
       I could only shake my head. “Well, she must not of got everything yet,” I muttered. I expected argument. Nothing.
       “You sick?” I said. It scared me then, that he might have caught something.
       “Just the dope sickness. Been two weeks now I quit. Tired, mostly.”
“Well, you look it.”  I’d never seen a man look so pathetic.  I felt my orneriness easing off, some. “Go on back in and get some more sleep.”
He nodded. “I’m askin’ that you not treat her bad. She’s my wife now.”
       I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it.”
       “Promise me,” he said.
I nodded. “Go back to sleep. You can use my bed if you want. I have to get to work.”
       “Naw. That’s alright.” He pushed himself away from the table. “Thanks for the eggs. Just not hungry, I guess.”
       I waved him off. “That’s OK.”
After he was back in the room I heard them talking in a low tone and then something being moved around and then it was quiet again. I went to the sink and scraped off the eggs and watched them slither around almost like they was alive and then I started the disposal and pushed them inside. I picked up the toast I had made and chewed on it as I went out.
       The day already warm. Heat shimmered off the car they brought. I glanced inside. Fast food wrappers and empty soda bottles. A couple of cheap paperback books on the rear seat. Stained upholstery. A sour smell to it.        ‘Pitiful,’ I thought.
I climbed up into my truck and backed up and rolled the window down and looked at my place for any signs of life. It was quiet. “Just don’t burn the damn thing down,” I whispered.

Patsy, Gone

       I’d like to think I did it as much for Guy as myself. When I ran off, that is. He was never going to see me for who I am. He is like one of those missionaries who goes into some dark jungle to save the natives. But then the natives always come out on the short end of the stick, don’t they?
       I am not proud of taking that money but what else was there? I knew he wouldn’t set the law on me. He was that far gone. Jesus, even farther than that, coming for me the way he did.
       So, there was this thing, like he wanted to crawl into my skin to understand and I said— this is probably the worst thing I ever did and will rot in hell for it—I said OK to that. Live my life for a while. I didn’t think he really would. I swear I didn’t. Right up to the point that the needle went in. But if he was trying to get me to quit, he did. I felt like I had kicked a wounded puppy. It was the worst thing of my life, and believe me that covers a lot of ground.
       But for him it was like he was the little kid who sees the circus for the first time. The dope can be like that for a while before the misery of it sets in and you don’t even know the misery is there. You are in warm mud that is not like the soothing mud in one of those expensive spas. It is swamp mud. You only know that when you get out of it, and even then the smell of it is on you.
       There’s no sense rehashing the all of it. We ran out of the money he got for the truck pretty quick. I was off the stuff but rent isn’t cheap in the city and sure, I treated myself to some nice things. He was getting worse and I saw the end coming when I hinted at working the streets and though he said not to, it wasn’t a NO Way! kind of thing I expected.
       Here’s the thing about a sick dog. You will do anything to save it, and by anything I mean me taking him back where he came from. I figured I could leave him with Chet, and hope Chet wouldn’t murder me. I’d go somewhere new. I doubted Guy’d come after me again. What kind of fool would that be?
Maybe that’s the way life is. It just keeps going around and around to the same places. I was reading about this religion that believes that. You keep getting chances until you get it right. But what if you never do? What if you just keep running that same circle over and over till you get tired and just give it up?
       Lying on the floor of a man’s house who hates me, and another man beside me who has lowered himself in the worst possible way to be with me. What’s a girl to do with that?
       I wish none of this was there to even think on. I wish I was different inside, which is how the dope helps out, making you think everything is OK, which is the worst lie there is.
       I have figured ways to end this and none of the ways I come up with seem like much. Maybe to circle around to where things all started—before these two, before the strip club, and definitely before the tattoo. Back to listen to my father, who like I said before, was a decent enough man and the last one I remember me loving for who he was, and not just because I felt sorry for him, like this fella sleepin’ on the floor.
       There isn’t much I brought. That suitcase. The car ain’t much but it will get me somewhere. I can get work in some little bar singin’ and stay away from the dope as much as I can. I can try to keep up with things and try to not feel bad for leavin’ this poor man again, which is the best I can do for him. Though he would argue the point.
       There’s nothing worse for two cowboys than a female coming into the mix, at least the kind I seem to be. Chet knows that. Guy don’t yet. Maybe he will when he’s feelin’ better.
       For now, I’m going on the road. I have my Patsy Cline tapes, our names intertwined, her voice in my head, her soul in mine. The wind in my hair, as they like to say in sappy romance books.
       It’s a pretty damned nice day, even with the rain headed this way. At least it’ll knock down the dust some. A girl couldn’t ask for much else.



       The fight with Chet was the worst thing I ever done. His wrist got broke and Mr. Banford, who was always fair with us, said he wouldn’t have none of that on his place. He was one of them Quakers and didn’t have any truck with that kind of carryin’ on.
       At the emergency place, after Chet came out with his cast on he sat down aside me and put his arm around my shoulder and said, “look what she done to both of us. You gotta give up on this,” he said.
       I tole him how sorry I was he got hurt, and he said it was worth it if it showed some light on things.
I said it did and I was done with her. After that he took his arm back, which let off on the awkwardness of him layin’ his arm across my shoulders, the way he did. “We alright then?” he said.
       “Sure,” I tole him and said again I was as sorry as I could be.
        “Ain’t nuthin’” he said and we got up and walked out, where it looked to be a fair day, and put our hats on. Later we tole Mr. Banford things was OK and he said “alright, but that better be it, then.”
       We said it was.

       That first week was hard. I’d see her face everywhere. Stackin’ bales of hay, and there she’d be, that smile on her face that lit up the world, and then her laugh, that come from deep inside. More real than anyone I ever heard laugh. Or havin’ coffee, there at a table and hearin’ her say “how do you drink that stuff? You oughta try some Camel-meal tea, which I did and tried not to spit out, and she would just shake her head and say. “you are just a died-in-the-wool cow hand aren’t you.” And we’d both laugh and I’d say. “Guess you’re right.” Which most likely don’t sound all that entertainin’ but made me feel like the sun was inside my heart that we could both laugh like that.
Sleepin’ was the hardest part. She wasn’t the first woman I was ever with. She was the first woman I was ever with I cared about so much. The onliest person I could ever tell how I loved her without feeling squirmy. Sometimes, if enough light came through the bedroom window I’d watch her sleep. Her face glowed in that kind of light and her breath so light I’d bend down close to make sure she was OK, and place my hand onto her chest to feel her heart there. Those times I felt like it would be fine to die just then, with that feeling I had for her runnin’ through me like some flower just opening up in the spring. It’s a thing I could never esplain to Chet, nor anyone else either.
There was bad times, which I just as soon forget and am pretty good at doin’. But none of it was her fault, and I ain’t going to dwell on it.
       I started seein’ this gal over from North Eakins. Darlene. Everybody likes her. Chet says she’s “a good one” and if I was smart I’d make something of it. I always shrug and say “we’ll see.” There isn’t a thing wrong with her. Puts up with me, being the main thing, and has a good job and is pretty enough. She’s had some hardness in her life so knows a thing or two, and though we don’t talk about it I ‘spect she’s heard about Patsy, which is how I always think of her.
       Some days I go out and look up the road where she went, thinking about what she must be doing and if she’s OK. I figure she is. I hope she thinks on me once in a while. It has been more than once I have thought about trying to find her, just walking off on that road.
       There was a postcard some time ago. A picture of New Orleans. No address. No name. Just “Hope you are doing OK” printed out. I hid it away so nobody could find it.
       I took it out just about everyday and looked at it, figurin’ it had to be her. Once I tore it up and was ready to set it on fire on the stove but stopped and taped it back up and set it inside a book. It’s there still. I have yet to read the book. Not sure I’ll ever get around to really readin’ it. Probably best I don’t.

Several years ago, when Richard Huffman was disgruntled with his writing, he was contacted via Facebook by someone who remembered a story he had written in the 6th grade. He barely remembered the story, but it was a good kick in the pants to keep going.

He has become fascinated with Western characters that now make up a bulk of his fictional creations. Novels he hasyet to publish are peppered with Western miscreants and heroes of both sexes, the women often going against the grain of respectable behavior.

For the past fifteen years or so he has received tremendous support and helpful criticism from his astounding writing group. He is in awe of their writing. They set a high bar that makes writing both a challenge and a joy. They keep him going.

"The Group" Writers
Wallace Baine
Jessica Breheny
John Chandler
Richard Huffman
Elizabeth McKenzie
Peggy Townsend
Vito Victor

Featured Artist
Alison Parham



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