Coming Clean

A Crusty Cowboy

C.J. turned his head so Imala, riding behind, could hear him over the wind. “C’mon, Imala, I can’t take a bath there. It’s dirty pond water. Critters wade in it, and who knows what else they do?”

“Good for animals, good for you. Stop here.” Imala slid off the skewbald mare before C.J. reined to a halt.

The Apache maiden drew her knife as she walked toward a swaying willow tree. She pointed the weapon at the dusty, red water, and over her shoulder called, “Get in.”

The Bare Truth

C.J. placed Skewy between himself and Imala while he stripped. Each layer of exposed clothing briefly filled the air with body odor.

Imala was right. He needed a bath.

He wrapped a shirt around his waist, gathered the dirty bundle, and tiptoed on tender feet to the wind-sprayed water. At the edge, he found a rock to weight his things and eased in until he saw Imala returning. He rushed in to knee level and sat down.

A Little Help

Imala ripped up a bunch of willow leaves and offered them to C.J. “Use these.”



Was that a sneer on Imala’s face? Disgust, perhaps? Whatever it was, C.J. noted her expression wasn’t one of a love-struck woman.

Shivering with cold and embarrassment, C.J. scooted through the murky water and retrieved the leaves.

Imala turned to wash his clothes.

C.J. edged farther into the pond. “Ain’t you gonna give me some privacy?”

Imala held up a pair of long johns spotted with sweat stains and dirt.

That must have been his answer. C.J. turned his back to her, faced the wind, and scrubbed with willow leaves.

How to Emerge

C.J. expected to be stained red like an Easter egg. He figured to experience humiliation—at least, embarrassment—when he emerged from his bath.

Neither instance happened. The red water blew off him, and Imala’s indifference to his birthday suit made the bath acceptable. He put on his wet clothes, and let the wind dry them.


They found shelter in a room-sized concave in a cliff face. C.J. watched the smoke from their campfire lift slowly upward until it almost reached the top of the overhang. There, the wind shredded it.

He gathered juniper branches, enjoying the scent both before and after they burned. “Does it blow like this often?”

Imala puckered her lips before giving him a non-answer. “Not always.”

To C.J., it seemed the more he was attracted to Imala, the more she aggravated him. “Dang it, Imala. Look. I want to tell you something, and I want you to pay attention to me.”

The Talk

She unrolled her colorful blanket with the zig-zag border, stretched out on it, and propped her head up with her hand. “Yes?”

C.J.’s throat tightened at the sight of her, and he lost his intended listen here speech. “Uh, I wanted to say thanks again for settin’ me right with the HW ranch hands.”

Imala’s eyes held a question that made C.J. feel like he needed to say more.
“And—uh—the bath wasn’t so bad. I feel a lot cleaner now.”

Imala waited.

“So—uh—thanks, and—uh—”

He blurted out the rest. “I think you’re beautiful. I really like you, and I don’t know why.”

Imala smiled. “Because I wish it.” She patted the blanket beside her.

Has C.J. completely forgotten Esther May? Put your thoughts in the comments.

High wind in Northern Arizona isn’t uncommon. There are even tornadoes. Check out this short article.

To read the series, click here for the first post. This will be Tales Old Roy Told. Tap the down arrow in the Archive box to open the list. After Tales Old Roy Told, work upward.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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