Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wanted: Dead or Alive

Notoriety is a bit more pleasurable, even when you see your own picture on the 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' posters. Kinda like your 15 minutes, until you realize that everyone standing around you sees the same thing and is now turning to look at you as if you might just be dangerous. Which of course, you are.

They say the best laid plans of mice and men are the ones that go awry. Or at least I think they say that. They say so many things that I'm never sure which are real and which are made up. My guess is that most are made up. Personally, the mice tend to just run around all skittery, while a man will run only if he thinks he's being chased. Notice I said 'thinks'? Yes. Be it a rarin' bull, a bucking horse, or a woman whose bed he just left.

I've detoured. I believe you paused today when you heard about the 'Wanted' poster. Or I want to believe you stopped to see what happens next because of that. Hell, at this point I can believe anything I want to. So can you.

It's not a great likeness. But then, I always could find fault within my own lines and features. Is it still a feature if you don't like it? If I don't like it? The pencil sketching shows me with perfectly round eyes, when my left one leans a little to the side. The etching has a dusty trail ride feel, with my bandanna tied to my neck and my hat pulled low over my forehead, as if I was a hardened killer like Billy The Kid or something. Jesus, I like to think I'm prettier than him. Why can't I have a better etching than that fool boy? Besides I wear dresses and rouge and powder in an attempt hide the bruises and scars. Throws the boys off when they hear the rustle of petticoats instead of the whisper of chaps. I look just as good in both, or at least I've been told. Just once I'd like to see a poster with my hair in curls and the ruffles of my best dress. Then, I suppose, if I wish hard enough, the day they finally do catch and hang me, I'll get my wish.

He wasn't supposed to die. The bastard knew the whole plan. It was his plan. He was just dumb enough to think that I would follow it. For Finnegan's sake, I told him I loved him, not that I would follow him into the street for a fire fight after we rode back into town. Damn fool. Most men are, in my opinion. Which is why it's easier to stay wanted and not caught. What a man will do for a little thigh grabbing and ankle spreading... or vice versa... Ahh, I don't need to tell you that, you just use your imagination a little and you know exactly what I'm sayin'.

His plan was to walk right into the Bank and walk back out. My plan was to let him. See who's standing now? I loved him, but I didn't say I was as stupid as him. I went out the back door, down the alley, and up the stairs to our room at the hotel, where I walked out onto the balcony with the rest of the town to see the sheriff pull his foolish, bulleted body out of the road.

All I can do is sigh. He was easy enough on the eyes and rough enough on my body. The girls standing next to me know, they turn away to whisper about me. I turn around and let them. By nightfall I'll be on saddle and gone. This time flush with cash, and a three day ride to anywhere else. Give a few of those bruises time to heal before I don the lace and silks again. Stay low to the sights, find the towns that see the most of the land rushers and sojourners that there are no questions asked about a woman traveling alone.

Three. I don't count the last one, the sheriff did that for me. I only count the three I pulled the trigger on myself, you see. Of all the things I do in this life, I will remember them. Responsibility weighs just as heavy as guilt, that it feels about the same. Riding alone, camping under the stars, asking for the forgiveness that only the preacher can give when I finally do hang, and then making myself believe one more time that I'm not wrong. Justice is funny that way, ain't it? You can believe that I'm as innocent as the day I was born if I wanted you to. Till I tell you I knew right what I was doing each time. Didn'n make it any easier.

I've been back to those towns twice. Once to pick up what I'd squirreled away in waiting, and once just to see if'n I'd be caught. Not a bat of an eye at another lady on the street. Not a second thought at another whore in the saloon. Just another drunk to follow me up the stairs and mysteriously be found shot the next mornin'. Not just any drunks, mind you. I hold my reasons as close as I hold my aces when playing cards. When the time comes to lay them on the table, then you'll see what I've been hidin'.

Plain as day, I stand here in the general store, purchasing a few more tinned goods to pack for the next ride. I'm standing right next to the poster, when the recognition crosses the gentle man's face. I just smile sweetly, nod once and thank him for my purchases, then I spout up "Well, my stars! Have they not caught up to that girl yet? I wonder if any of us are safe in our beds with her on the loose!" He gets my hint with fear in his eyes. Poor man, I mean him no harm, but he will surely be afraid for a long time to come, knowing that I stood across the counter from him holding a can of dried meats and had a gun strapped to my thigh.

That bold heft of metal against my leg, either strapped to the outside of my pants or tucked underneath the layers of my skirts, gives me the cocky attitude of invincibility. It's when I take it off at night that the world feels just a bit more intimidatin'. Sometimes I think I can go just far enough away, ride for days till I or my horse drops, before I can start all over. Then sometimes ends and I know that I'm the only one who knows it was me in the first place. Those are the days I pull that hat a little lower and let them whisper what they will. Because most of the time I think the stories they tell are made up ones anyhow.

(Written March 2007)


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