"You got a fucking good view here, Bill. Just mentioning that should you happen to want to lift your head any time and take a fucking look around. You can see the fucking Black Hills and...and trees."
Jane Cannary frowned as she turned her head slowly from one side to the other. She waved the bottle of rotgut in the air along the 180 degree arc her eyes described and murmured, "A fucking shitload of motherfucking trees."
She took a drink, settled her eyes on the camp below, and raised her voice to carry on the still air: "And you can see all them pissant boat-lickers down there, grubbing like fucking maggots eating into a knife cut!" She paused, but nothing answered her, not even a ripple in the bustling movement that wasn't part of its own self-generated chaos. She sniffed and swiped her sleeve over her running nose, taking comfort from the familiar scent of the worn buckskin.
She fixed her eye on the source of the raucous music wafting upwards. "And you can look down on the biggest fucker of them all. I know it sounds like a fucking joke, Bill, but that slimy-Limey bastard has gotten hisself a piano. Bought it from a catalogue, of all the goddamned things, and had it shipped all the way out here. We got us little ones gnawed on by wolves, Injuns with their heads cut off, girls with snatch-itch from filthy pricks, a camp full of men with fewer balls between 'em than an ant colony, and the great--" she lifted her voice into a yell "--Mister Cunt A. Cocksucker buys hisself a piano!"
Still no ripple in the fabric of life below. Another mouthful of whiskey and another swipe of her sleeve over her face, and Jane relaxed back against the board supporting her back. She tilted the bottle back and forth in her lap, watching the play of light on the sloshing amber liquid. Only half gone. She giggled.
"Only half gone, Bill--'cept I'm not sure if that means the whiskey or me. The whiskey and me. Always one fucking friend that don't let you down...."
Her mouth flooded with saliva and she turned her head to spit out the bile of anger and helplessness. When she blinked her eyes clear, she saw her gob of spit had just missed hitting a ladybug perched on a stunted tuft of speargrass. Jane froze, watching with her breath held as the delicate creature walked up a leaf blade before spreading its wings and lifting off into the air.
"Shit. Never meant to almost drown you, little lady." She squinted into the sun-dazzle, trying to follow the speck. "Fly away, fly away, fly away home."
She started to lift the bottle, then let it fall back against her thigh. Its rounded end fit snugly into the crease of her groin. She idly rubbed it back and forth, enjoying the muted sensation that worked its way through her pants and longjohns.
"In case you're wondering, Bill, I didn't plan on coming back so soon. It just happened. Like so much of life, eh, Bill? Fucking life just happens and you can't fucking tell what it's gonna be. I was heading out, over the pass, dead shit bored with this place; bored with fucking Charlie Utter, too, I'll tell you that for nothing. Colorado Charlie a freight manager fucking businessman--and he wanted me to work for him! Can you beat that? Anyways, so I was heading out on the Lead road with my path all tangled up with a mess of idiots heading in. And among 'em were a couple of fool squareheads with a herd of beef that'd be worth gold if they could get 'em to the camp without losing 'em all to falls or wolves or Injuns or shitheads, take your fucking pick.
"Real smart thinking, bringing in that herd before the snows come; real shit-ass dumb trying to do it with just the two of 'em and a couple of snot-nosed kids, and one of 'em tied up with driving the wagon and the others used to the plains, not handling fucking cattle through the hills. I scooped up a calf, saved her and her mama from going off the side of a gorge, then suggested powerful-like to some ball-less turds it weren't worth their while trying to hijack the rest. Them squareheads was real grateful. I'd lit out of camp so fast I forgot to get an extra fucking bottle and I'd already emptied my flask. Wouldn't you damned well know it, they didn't have no liquor in that plains wagon of theirs? But they offered me cash money to help 'em get them beef to camp. So I come back. Weren't that far out; figured I could fill my flask and get a couple of bottles and leave lickety-split....
"Ah, hell, who'm I fucking kidding. All right, Bill, if you has to have the truth, I come back mostly because I wanted to have one more look at the little one. Hearing that fucking squarehead jabber reminded me awful bad." She lifted the bottle to rub the cool, smooth glass against her cheek. "Anyways, I owed her an awful lot of fucking pennies again by then and they was weighing me down. She's got a name now: Sofia. Ain't that about the most beautiful name you ever heard? And don't it just exactly suit her? She's gonna be all right, Bill; I know you'll be glad to hear that. That Eastern widow lady you was helping is gonna keep her. No more need to hide the little one away from Mister Cunt A. Cocksucker to keep her safe. That rich lady'll be able to protect her better than I...than I--"
She took a long swig from the bottle, closing her eyes as the burn of the liquor cauterized the other wound helplessness had dealt her. As she wiped her mouth, she whispered, eyes boring into the heart of the camp, "Cocksucker."
She blinked away the web of dark memories with an effort. She didn't come here to burden Bill with crap he couldn't do anything about.
"I saw that Montana fellow you liked so much, though, to speak on a better fucking subject. That one's got manners pretty as them fiery eyes of his. Wouldn't be surprised if what he's got in his unmentionables ain't just as fucking pretty--not that I'm ever likely to find out. He's sniffing round the skirts of the lady and I can't say that come as any fucking surprise. I reckon she's the only woman good enough for him hereabouts, and I reckon it goes the other way, too. He did a fine thing fetching that murdering asswipe--" she spit venomously into the dirt beside her boot, after first checking it was clear of all but stones and twigs "--to his proper comeuppance, which I hope the federals give the cunt-eyed bastard since Charlie and Montana didn't see fit to do it themownselves. Yeah, you don't gotta worry, Bill; he did it all fucking legal like, won't be no one coming after him for what he fucking done.
"Your Montana lit out of here after that cunt-eyed prick like he had an avenging angel riding his coattail. Reckon he'd come to care about you quick as you did him. Charlie met up with him on the trail. There's some goddamned story there I ain't heard the full details of, which don't fucking matter neither way because the thing you'll want to know is your Montana is back to hisself now. Back to what you knew before that cunt-eyed coward blasted it all to hell...for all of us."
She scratched idly at an itch inside her shirt and cracked a flea. She looked at her blood-smeared fingertips and sighed. Bath time again. Why a body couldn't just go through her days without all this fuss pushing in at her all the time when there were more important things....
"I wondered if you might've found out what kind of pretty snake your Montana has hiding in his sit-down-upons, Bill. Just couldn't fucking help wondering about it, seeing the way the two of you were together. Couldn't help being a mite jealous, too, if you gotta know the truth. You were easy with him like I hardly ever seen you with anyone right fucking off like that. Matters just seemed smooth and sweet as Kentucky mash between you--and he just smiled and you smiled back. He looked at you with them fiery eyes and you looked back. He talked and you listened. And you talked to him.
"I'd've listened, too, Bill, if you'd wanted to talk. I'd've listened. And you smiled at me when I smiled, I know that, I ain't fucking forgotten. It's just I--"
She nursed at the bottle lip without drinking.
"Just a stupid damn fool, is all. Don't mind me. If them pretty eyes and that pretty snake give you some happiness, I'm all right with that. I never could offer neither of 'em. Never have wanted to, neither." She laughed and swiped at her nose. "Though my eyes ain't bad, come to think about it. I can recall my mama saying long ago, when I was smaller than the little one, that my eyes were my best feature--though Pa, he'd say it was how eyes saw, not how they looked, that mattered. I figure I've always been able to see pretty fucking clear, one way or another."
She sought out the hardware store below, a big, square, two-story building right on the main route through the camp. Its pale, new timbers made it gleam with an odd purity in the surrounding muck. Though, hell, the same could be said of most of the stinking camp. She chuckled.
"Reckon these fucking eyes of mine've seen a few things maybe they shouldn't. And maybe I shouldn't tell you this, Bill, but just between you, me, and boney joe there next door to you, I think maybe you'd've had some competition for your Montana, if you had inclinings that way. I seen him the other night at that store of his. Can't remember how I ended up there, but it was that alley at the back of his place. My ass was damned cold, I remember that, so I reckon I must've been sitting on the ground for quite a piece. Lucky the fucking Doc didn't see me that time or he'd've been pestering me to get inside or up off the ground or some crazy thing when I was perfectly fine sitting tucked up against the back of some shed there. Except for my cold ass, but it weren't annoying enough to shift or take on about. And I was just sitting there minding my own business when your Montana come into a room at the back of his store. Kitchen, looked like, when he put a lamp down on a table and light spilled out of a little window. It were a mite bleary at first, but I could see your Montana lifting a coffee pot. He's fucking Christ nice on the eyes; mine cleared up in no time, watching him."
She snorted a laugh and cocked her head, fancying she could hear a distant echo.
"Yeah, figured you'd appreciate that, Bill. Anyways, he kept turning his head while he was messing around with the pot and I could see he was talking to somebody. Them fucking pretty eyes of his was fucking sparkling fit to outshine the fucking motherlode itself. He kept smiling, too, and sometimes he'd listen and once he laughed. I couldn't figure the lady'd be there, in his place, late at night like that; especially not now she's looking after the little one. I reckon them two get together for poking in the middle of the day, when folk might not be as quick with their goddamned finger-pointing as they'd be if the two of them was seen together at night. But he was looking at somebody that night the way he ain't likely to in the middle of the day, out in sight of other people. It kind of took me aback, I gotta say, thinking he might be fucking looking at a whore that way.
"But it weren't no whore, as it happens. It was the Jew walked in front of that little window, going around the table to him. Yeah, Bill, the Jew. There's a fucking corker, huh? And your Montana kept right on looking at him with them sparkling eyes and the Jew smiled back at him and said something that made Montana laugh again. Then they went still, just standing a foot or so away from each other smiling like loons. Looked pretty fucking silly, if you must know, staring at each other like they was the only two people in the entire fucking world."
The cold mud in the alley that night had wet the seat of her breeches through and the stink of the piss and turd of animals and men alike was an itch in her nostrils, but she was warm enough otherwise in her coat and with the red-eye in her blood and not inclined to move, why the hell should she. Light spilling out suddenly from a window she'd not even been aware was opposite her, cutting through the darkness like sheet lightning, and she'd looked in at Bill's new friend. A damned good friend who did a good thing getting that cunt-eyed cockchafer to his just desserts. Montana's dark hair shone in the lamplight like polished onyx and his smile as he looked at his partner was warmer than whiskey.
Warmer than anything she'd felt for a long time.
"It was the Jew that moved first. He ran the back of his fingers across Montana's cheek. It was like he was wiping away a smudge, only no one takes that long to wipe off a dab of dirt and no one fucking smiles like that while doing it. Montana turned his head at the last moment so his mouth brushed the Jew's fingertips as he pulled 'em away, almost accidental like. Then Montana cocked his head upwards and the Jew nodded with another of them fucking smiles between 'em. Montana took the lamp and they left and it all got dark again. Where I was, anyhow. Fucking dark as hell and suddenly cold as a bull's tit."
The only time in recent memory she'd felt such a yawning crevasse of loneliness as she had at that moment was now.
She sifted her fingers through the rocky dirt she was sitting on. At least her ass wasn't cold, though it probably should be considering she was likely desecrating a grave. Just as well that poor goddamned fuck of a Reverend wasn't around anymore to see, not that he'd've fussed even if he'd been able to put two thoughts together so she could make sense of them. She bent her leg and got her knee under her and heaved up to her feet, though she had to hold onto the plank grave marker to keep from falling back down. She steadied herself, then swept her foot carefully back and forth over the top of the grave to wipe out the mark of her sitting.
"Didn't mean no fucking disrespect, Bill. Reckon you know that. Just wanted to feel close to you for awhile. I lied before. I did come back to see the little one was all right--and to stock up on booze--but I come back even more because it was damned hard to leave you. And, yeah, I ain't so far gone I don't know you're fucking dead.
"It ain't about what is, but what things feel like. I reckon that Montana of yours and his Jew know all about that."
She tipped the bottle and slowly poured the whiskey onto the grave. "Here, Bill, have a last smile to toast 'em with."
The liquid formed small pools on the surface like miniature black lakes on an arid plain, but was quickly wicked away into the dry dirt. In only moments, it was gone, leaving behind barely a trace of its passing on the barren ground.
"Not like you, Bill." She turned and headed down toward the teeming, restless, empty life in the camp. "Nothing like you."