Silvery shafts of moonlight touch the sand. The sage brush looks ominous in those shimmering rays, and the mesas are ancient black monuments to the God that created them. A small fire smokes and puffs its way through dry pine and juniper, releasing the scents of a sun-baked desert.
My steel horse sits silently behind me, except for the click-click-click-click of a slowly cooling engine, and the fire snaps, crackles, and pops through its fuel.
“Mind if I smoke?” asks the stranger across the fire from me as he rolls his own without awaiting my approval. I scowl, but say nothing. He doesn’t seem to be a bad sort, handsome even, with his long blonde hair and black duster. “So tell me somethin’,” he says, shifting just slightly so his back is against the saddlebags on his mechanical animal, and one knee is cocked just so. He takes a drag on his cigarette and blows smoke rings at the harvest moon as if he had nothing better to do. “What’s a pretty girl like you doin’ in a place like this?”
I roll my eyes and continue to read my book. I don’t know why I allowed him to ride with me, but yesterday, when he had approached me in Moab, there was something . . . in his eyes . . .
I couldn’t refuse.
I wish I had.
“I guess that’s pretty tired, hunh?”
“To say the least,” I mutter, and try to keep my husband in mind. It’s not so easy…until I remember the argument that sent me out here. Alone. With a Triple A card and a stainless steel nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol strapped to my thigh.
“Not in the mood for talkin’. Well, I guess I can take a hint,” says my stranger as he pulls his hat low over his face, crosses his booted ankles, and stretches out on his bedroll.
I watch him through the tongues of orange and blue and wonder where he came from, what his story is. But I dare not ask. Because out here, out West, the unwritten code of privacy still exists for those on the edge. Because he hasn’t asked for my name or situation. And because, despite my denials, he fascinates me, and I feel guilty.
I move, my body suffering as much discomfort as my mind. The vibrations of the engine had overcome the fully padded leather seat two hundred miles back, and my arms, butt, and legs are still a little numb. So I rise and stroll into the darkness beyond the fire I share with my fellow traveller.
The orange glow fades from my pupils as I berate myself for looking directly into the fire. I know better than that.
But campfires in the desert fascinate me.
* * * * *
“She lives in the past. I don’t think she realizes it’s 1995.”
“Mrs. Hardin? How do you feel about what Don has said? Mrs. Hardin? Mrs. Hardin! There is nothing outside. Our emotions are here, inside, and we must deal with them.”
But there was that bird I just couldn’t stop watching. She layered her nest oh-so-carefully with bits of twine and a yard-length piece of—
“Look at that bird,” I said, and pointed. The marriage counselor and Donny both looked. I felt their exasperation as if from far away. “What’re those things called? The holey things you tear off of computer paper?”
“Snow, please answer the question. We’re getting nowhere.”
“Isn’t it amazing,” I said, “that nature can use our garbage to sustain life?”
“Please don’t start with the tree-hugging stuff again, honey.”
“You know, the Indians would make camp on a spot, then leave it better than they found it. Not only did they not want to leave tracks, but—more importantly—they felt that they owed the land respect. That they belonged to the land, not the other way around. And when they killed an animal for meat, they would ask its forgiveness and portray their gratitude that it would give its life for the life of man.”
I looked at the counselor then. “You have no idea how to deal with me, do you?”
She blinked, as if I were an idiot, and my comment was one of those unexpected and sudden lucid moments of insanity. “Mrs. Hardin, you’re an intelligent woman.” She didn’t believe that. “Surely—”
“Surely I can get with the program and let you pour your Freudian mumbo jumbo into my head?” I looked at my husband, who stared at me with something akin to horror. “I rather like Jung, myself. I thought you knew that.” To the counselor then. “Freud is so out of date. Please catch up.”
“I have made my wishes known to you, Donald. You won’t allow me children, you won’t allow me a career, you won’t allow me any identity beyond that of the wife of Doctor Donald Hardin. Please allow me this.”
“But it’s crazy!”
“Mrs. Hardin, it really is much too dangerous. For a man it would be dangerous, but for a woman? I’m afraid the whole idea is preposterous—delusional.”
“I’m delusional,” I muttered, my emotions shut down.
“You don’t live in 1853, Mrs. Hardin. You are not a squaw—”
“I hate that word. Use ‘wife.’”
“You are not an Indian squaw.”
“I never said I was,” I whispered. “I just said I wanted to be—for one month. I’ll come back to Connecticut and be a good little doctor’s wife for the rest of my life. All I want is a month to myself right now with a motorcycle, a bedroll, and a gun.”
“Never,” Donny hissed as he dragged me out of the office with an apology tossed at the counselor. “Take those braids out,” he snarled later, much later, in our bedroom. “And those feathers! Put them in the trash. Heaven only knows what kind of an impression you’ve made on my colleagues and their wives by now.”
“Mustn’t let the guys know your wife’s a lunatic.”
“I won’t tolerate much more of this!”
“What will you do?” I asked him as I obediently took the braids out of my hair and watched the pure white feathers float into the trash can. Down, down, down, to light without a whisper on a crumpled, lipstick-smeared Kleenex.
“Oh, honey,” he sighed as he came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. I wanted to pull away, but I didn’t. Because Donny was my husband. Before God and man. “Snowy, I know you’re unhappy.”
“Well, can’t you find something else to do besides read westerns and watch westerns?”
“You made me quit my beadwork.”
“Because you were doing all those creepy Navajo designs—”
“Whatever. Darling, why can’t you be happy? What can I do to make you happy? Would a child do it? I know you’ve wanted children for the longest time… Let’s do have a child, then, if that’ll make you happy.”
“No.” Oh, I began to cry. I don’t like it when my emotions are so uncontrollable. “Please let me go,” I begged. I had never begged for anything in my life. “I’ll come back to you. I promise.”
“I would be the laughingstock of the entire medical community.”
“It’s silly,” he continued.
“Not to me,” I sobbed as I slid to my knees in front of him and unfastened his fly. And tried not to gag. “Please, Donny.”
He buried his fingers in my hair to hold me away from him. “What if something happens to you?”
“Nothing will happen to me,” I whispered as I drew him toward me.
* * * * *
A coyote howls in the distance. I start, and spin on my heels. The sand grits under my boots and stirs around my denim-clad legs. The moon has meandered so far that I wonder what kind of trance I was in. I see burning embers of orange glow in the distance, but I do not see the body of the rugged stranger whose name and circumstance I do not know.
I run my hands through my hair. I have no mirror, but I can feel the blonde length, whose satin fall is interrupted by chunky braids interwoven with snow white feathers. My duster flaps about my ankles in the slight desert breeze, which now carries the distance sound of chanting.
I spin again. It is all around me, the singing. And the drums. It grows louder, fills my head, pulses in my arteries along with the pound of the life-giving liquid, coaxes my body to sway and my feet to stomp. I close my eyes and raise my arms to the moon, and I sing.
Sing of past warriors, great men who counted coup on many of their enemies. Sing of brave men who have gone beyond to hunt, where the buffalo still graze and the land is still fresh. Sing of pretty maidens and handsome braves and beautiful children, of the goodness of Wakantanka’s bounty, of nature’s generosity to The People.
The glow of fire lights my face and hands as I dance. I feel the heaviness of my white doeskin wedding dress, weighed down by thousands of beads I have sewn myself. The fringe caresses my bare calves, and my moccasins feel light on my feet.
I stop dancing and look at the man who has called my name. He is tall, broad, with yellow hair, like mine. It wafts around his body, bare but for breechclouts, moccasins, and war paint. A bonnet of feathers that I made for him almost touches the ground.
“Sundancer,” I whisper. “You have counted many coup today.”
“To bring much wealth to your father, the chief.”
“For my bride price.”
“Another calls me—wife.”
He snorts. “A white man, back in the land of the Iriquois, in a different moon. He does not love you like I do.”
“I know,” I whisper.
“Come,” says my handsome, yellow-haired brave as he holds his hand out to me. I feel his comforting grip, and I thrill at his touch. “It is time to take your place among The People again. As my wife. You have been too long gone, and I have missed you.”
“I’ve waited forever for you to come for me.”
“But, Snowy, you had to come for me.”
©1995 Moriah Jovan