2/21/2020 Short Story Saturday:
She Couldn’t Cook Neither
Mining is hard. So is living in the desert. What is harder? Living in the desert mining. Long days, short nights. Get home and drink a few shots of whisky before falling into bed, if I made it that far. The next day was the same, and the day after that. On Sundays, I’d sleep in church, the hard pew makin’ my butt hurt so bad I couldn’t wait until the last “You’re all going to HELL because you’re all SINNERS!” from Preacher Samuel E. Burns. The same guy who sold snake oil on Mondays, and home-brewed moonshine on Tuesdays.
There were only forty-six residents of our town so we all knew each other. The youngish teacher of the four children enrolled in school. She taught writin’ and ’rithmetic in her kitchen. The owner of the saloon and diner, his wife being the chef. The mercantile store was owned by Bob and his wife. He had two sons who helped. The rest of us were miners and of course, the wives. That’s where this little story starts. The wives.
I take a deep breath here because although I’m not a religious man, I do blush a little about talk of or about women. I’ve never been with a woman even though I’m thirty-six years old. I wouldn’t call myself ugly; I’m tall and lanky. My skin is dark from mining so long, and from the Arizona sun. But I digress. I can tell you’re waitin’ for the excitin’ part. Which wife should I tell you about? I’ll tell ya about the first.
Women from the east and west of the United States wanted to come to Arizona State in the ‘40s. They’ve heard of stories of gold. They’ve heard of stories about riches and automobiles. That was what made Felica come out west. Remember Preacher Samuel E. Burns? He was the middle-man so to speak. The man who had connections. Later on, I’ve found those connections weren’t so reliable, but that didn’t happen until the third wife. Lucky me (sarcasm if you can’t read between the lines).
I was wearin’ my best (only) suit when my bride came to town in the buggy. When she stepped out, I almost cried with relief. She didn’t look like a monster, or had buck teeth (like the second wife), or was too fat.
I couldn’t tell what was on her mind about me though. Her eyes flitted to and fro in confusion and I don’t blame her. Practically the whole town stood in front of the saloon, which was also the courthouse. Most of us were silent except for young Johnny and Ralph, who were climbin’ the flagpole, and screamin’ they were injuns ready to slaughter the lot of us.
I stepped forward, wiping a perspiring hand on my black trousers before offering it to her, introducing myself.
She bowed slightly and said “How do you do.” Her voice was light, pronounciatin’ her vowels. I could tell she had some schoolin’. I was worried already. I never finished the fifth grade.
The crowd in the street parted as we took hands and climbed up the three steps, walking into the dimness of the saloon. Preacher was waitin’ for us and we quickly said our vows.
The next two weeks were hard. Felicia cried every mornin’ as I walked out the door for work and was cryin’ every night when I returned. She couldn’t cook neither. It was awkward at night because we were both shy. We donned our night clothes at sundown and turned opposite each other in bed, me so tired from minin’ all day, and her exhausted from cryin’. We’d both fall fast asleep.
The third week, Felicia insisted I purchase an automobile. “Why?” I asked. There was nothin’ around for miles and miles. Nothin’ but cactus, tumbleweeds, and danger, like snakes and other critters. Those of us who live here in the desert know when we peer out our kitchen window, we see desert. When we breath too hard, we cough up the desert sand, and of course, we all have a permanent slant to our eyes from the ever blazin’ sun.
She cried crocodile tears and stamped her little feet until we walked down the boardwalk to the bank. She was my wife and all, but I didn’t trust her yet to know about all the jars of gold dust buried out in the desert. My hand trembled as Banker Jim laid the crisp bills down on my palm. I spent over half of my saving for the vehicle. It was only the third one in our town, Preacher and Bob bein’ the only two other citizens to own one.
We went out only once in that vehicle, and it wasn’t far since I got scared being so many miles from town. There was nothin’ but sky and desert, but she insisted on havin’ a picnic. We spread out the blanket on the hard, baked ground and sat in the hot sun, tryin’ to eat our bologna sandwiches. But after a few minutes, her face became flushed and she was perspiring something awful. She soon announced she had enough, and refused to serve the rhubarb pie I was lookin’ forward to.
Well, long story short, she left me the next day. Disappeared. There was a rumor Preacher drove her out, but I didn’t care to ask. On Sunday, I gathered up her comb and mirror I had found in the top dresser drawer and gave them to the young teacher.
I had two more marriages. Much the same. Preacher had the connections, they came, they left. Some people don’t like the desert much. I can understand. The solitude. The quiet. The sand getting on and in everything. But you can’t beat the sunsets or the miracle of the cactus bloom. We won’t talk about the scorpions.
I left the vehicle out to rust in the sun. I never drove it again; I had nowhere to go. Sell it, you say? That’s a laugh – to who? Anyhoo, when Preacher died, we buried him and then pushed his vehicle on top the coffin and dirt, which happened to be next to my vehicle. I pictured him waving to us as he drove off on his next mission, where ever it was.
An old quote, referring to the wagon trains arriving from east to west, said, “The weak died along the way, and the cowards never started.”
*Author’s Note: The photos are mine, and were taken when I visited the Castle Dome Museum near Yuma, Arizona, an outdoor replica of a mining town in the area. In the ‘40s through the ‘70s, people would hope for riches mining. There, it told the story of a miner who married three times, bringing the women home to his lonely shack. Looking out the window, past the lacy curtain, while I was visiting the town replica, all I saw was sky and desert. I could just imagine how hot it got for these folks in the summer, when it can reach up to 121 degrees. And they didn’t have the comfort of air conditioning!
Anyway, the wives only lasted several weeks before they split, leaving the poor guy alone again. It must have been a very solitary life. Maybe he enjoyed it since he never left.