Uh … Hello?
C.J. turned in the saddle as the cowboy rode up. “Do I know—”
His mind took a tintype of the instant he saw strands of hair flowing from under the hat and over her forehead. He could have picked out the bay gelding she rode if the horse was in a herd.
Invisible Sherman’s neckties tightened around his chest, taking his breath away. A deep ache centered behind his breastbone and traveled up his throat.
Esther May’s white teeth shone in her dirt-streaked face. Her grin widened, and the corners of her eyes crinkled. “The Arizona sun got you too dry to talk, C.J.?”
He looked her over, closed his gaping mouth, and swallowed.
It was Esther May, not a daydream. She was here! She was dirty and smelled of unwashed armpits, clothes worn too long, and the cattle she drove.
C.J. almost fell from his saddle trying to hug her.
Esther May laughed and patted him on the back. “You have a way with words. Can’t you say ‘Hello’?”
“I just … see, it didn’t … I wasn’t … Oh, folderol! Esther May, what are you doing here?”
“Headed for the homestead I told you about. Why don’t you come to potluck tonight, and we’ll catch up? We’re gonna stop upstream a space from these soldiers. They may not take kindly to Abuela and Liluye since they’re Apaches.”
C.J. straightened and couldn’t help putting his hand on his pistol. “I’m not much for liking ’em either.”
Esther May said something that had many ush – ka sounds and repeated vowels like a a and i i in it.
“Lordy, Esther May. You sound like an Indian. What did you say?”
“Be careful how you talk about The People, white man.”
C.J. sipped coffee to avoid having to paste on a fake smile. The uneasiness he felt at Esther May’s camp wasn’t so much because of the Apache women. Well, they contributed, but the feeling was complicated.
Liluye reminded him of Imala, and the memories carried shame like a rider that couldn’t be unseated.
How did he let himself love an Indian? C.J. tried to rationalize that he was new to the country, and she had nursed him back to health. He’s been grateful—that’s all it was.
But he knew better.
If Imala hadn’t gone her way, he’d be living in a tepee in Cibecue.
Did Esther May?
The idea that he wouldn’t let come clearly into focus caused C.J. pain—physical pain. The evil thought poked into his consciousness first this way then that. C.J. tapped his tin cup on a rock, tat-a-tat-tat. Anything to distract his attention.
The question came hard. If he had succumbed to lust and shared an Apache’s blanket, had Esther May?
“Oh.” C.J. groaned and bent over. His stomach hurt.
You Could Do Better, Riding Woman
Liluye smirked. “He can’t drink coffee? These white men that come to you, Riding Woman, are boys. They would be better laundry women than I was.”
“You are wrong, Liluye,” Abuela said. “Watch his face when Riding Woman speaks our tongue. He goes whiter, like the streaks in the sky that are too weak to be a cloud. He wonders about her.”
Esther May sat still, interested in the conversation.
“Pah!” Liluye spat. “Who cares if he knows her? He is nothing. I’ll take care of Riding Woman. She doesn’t need a yucca flower.”
Abuela wiped her mouth and said, “Yucca flowers are useful.”
“They are white and don’t last.” Liluye threw a tortilla into the fire and left.
What Was It?
C.J. listened to the exchange and asked Esther May, “Did you understand all that?”
“Something about desert flowers,” she said.
C.J. shook his head. “Simple creatures, ain’t they? But deadlier than rattlesnakes.”
Will C.J. accept Esther May’s larger world-view, or will they part again? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
Abuela was right. There are ways to prepare yucca flowers.
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.
Please thank our veterans. Tell them, “Welcome Home!” The time to do so is precious.
Want the story to ride into your inbox? Click on the picture or here.