"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe" ~ Neil Gaiman (A Game of You)


Painted Ladies

It was a hot, dusty day, the kind of day that Tumbleweed was named for.  Most people stayed home and kept to the shade.  Not many visitors were in the First Chance Saloon, just a few of the regulars sipping their beers and playing a game of cards.  Old Sam, the colored man, played a melancholy kind of tune, not the usual toe-tapper he was best known for.

The doors opened, and the piano stopped playing.  All eyes turned to the figure in the doorway.

He wasn't from these parts, that was for sure.  Seemed a little too clean, if you know what I mean; his shirt had nary a wrinkle, and there weren't any patches on his jeans.  He glanced around the room, seemed to take us all in while dismissing us at the same time, and then made his way up to the bar.

"Gimme a Tanglefoot," he said.  The bartender lifted a brow and gave him a quick once over.

"Ain't got that in these parts, sir.  Think a little Red Eye'll do ya fine?"

The man nodded, took the glass of whiskey and threw it back with one gulp.  He waved to the bartender for another.  The bartender shot a glance at Miss Kitty fanning herself in the back corner of the bar.  She rolled her eyes and pushed herself off her stool and sauntered up to the man.

"Howdy, stranger.  Ya'll in town for long?"

He didn't look at her when he replied.

"Long enough, I suppose."

"You must be tired after traveling in this heat.  What do you say to some real refreshment?"

He threw back his whiskey, his third, set the glass on the counter, and turned to Miss Kitty, tipping his hat.

"I'd be much obliged, ma'am.  That sounds very hospitable of you."

Miss Kitty led him to her back corner where the rest of us were waiting.

Funny thing about an ugly whore.  They keep you furthest back where the shadows are darkest, because powder and rouge can only do so much.  You don't get chosen so often, and you're always worried when you do, because it's usually the mean ones that'll choose ya.  Miss Kitty won't let a man hit her pretty girls, but she figures with the ugly ones, a few bruises don't make no difference. 

So I was real surprised when the man pointed at me.  I don't know, just something about him didn't strike me as mean.  If Miss Kitty seemed surprised, too, she didn't show it, although Miss Alice had to stifle a gasp.  Miss Kitty beckoned me, and I led the way upstairs, swaying my hips real nice for the fellow, and meaning it this time.

With the door closed behind us, I stripped down to my petticoat and corset, and arranged myself alluringly on the bed.  He took off his gun belt and set it on the dressing table, but that was all.  He sat on the edge of the bed, hardly looking at me.

"Do you ever get...people... who just want to talk?" he asked.

Well, yeah, that was something that happened to ugly whores, too.  I felt a little deflated.

"Sure.  Sometimes."

"It's all right, ya think?"

Something in the way he said it made me feel a little sorry for him, like he was carrying a great sadness.  I patted his arm.

"Why, sure, it's all right."

He let out a big sigh and slowly, haltingly, began his story.

"My pa was a horrible, mean man.  Made his own corn whiskey and finished off a whole jug every day and every night.  Had a terrible temper.  He only took it out on us boys, though, never raised a hand to my ma or my sister.

"He spent a lotta time in the saloons, loved to play cards but wasn't very good at it.  He lost an awful lot of money, and sometimes we went hungry because he'd stopped at the saloon instead of the merchant.  Ma never said anything, though.  I didn't know why.

"One day he came home and told my sister to pack her bags.  He'd gotten himself into a world of trouble at the saloon and owed the owner more money than he could ever hope to earn in a lifetime.  'It's either you or the house,' he told her.

"She cried and cried while she packed up, but Ma kept reassuring her.  'You're a petty girl,' she said, 'you're gonna do just fine.  You'll get to wear pretty things, and least it ain't gonna be your pa anymore.'

"I didn't understand," he said with a helpless shrug.  "By the time I did, I came to town, looking for her, but she was gone.  The bartender at the saloon said she just up and left one day, making everyone real mad, but they didn't come after pa because she'd done a real good job while she was there.

"I'm still looking for her."  He stared at his hands for the longest time.

"I chose you because you have pretty eyes," he said, turning to look at me for the first time.  "They look real kind, ma'am."

I blushed.

"I just thought, maybe, if you ever see her?  If she comes by looking for work, you know?  You can tell her that pa's dead now, and her brother is looking for her.  Her name is Annabelle."

I nodded my head, knowing I'd never see that girl, and if I did, she wouldn't be Annabelle anymore.  No one goes by their real name, their Christian name, their pig tails and freckles and crown of daisies name.

He took my hand and held it for awhile, then he stood up and put his gun belt back on.  He left a couple of bills on the dressing table before leaving the room.


Today's prompt:  Set your story in the 1880s, in a mid west, tumbleweed town. The doors of the bar open, the piano stops playing and all eyes are drawn to the figure in the doorway…… Now keep going.

My first  attempt at a Western!  I balked at first, but I'm glad I did it.  It's rough draft, unedited, of course.

To play along, visit Write Anything's [Fiction] Friday here.


Bev said...

Wow, nicely done. So many lines got me. "Funny thing about an ugly whore." So detached, like she herself the same as they do- not as a person anymore. And "their pigtails and freckles name" - what a perfect way to explain the uselessness of the name. Really struck me this one, well done!

Anonymous said...

I thought this was really good.
You give us a real glimpse into his sister's life at home, but in so few words.
It would have been too good if he had found her in this saloon, (or maybe he did?).
If this is your first western, it's pretty darn good.

Shelli said...

Thank you, Bev -- that freckles line was my favorite. :) I'm glad it resonated.

Flying -- Thanks, so much! I think about what it would be like if he did find her; she would be so different. Would it be good, or not so much? I guess it would depend on me, lol.

Scott said...

You took the story in an expected direction - made it really about these two characters. I could really connect feelings to both the cowboy and the whore. Really nice job.

Shelli said...

Thank you, Scott -- That's a great compliment, since "cowboy" and "whore" are typically very cliche. I'm glad I was able to take it a step beyond.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what Bev said - the character is detached. I was thinking it was a narrator, not someone in the story. I liked the colloquial tone.

I always look forward to reading your entries, I know they're always going to be good. I'm glad you did it too.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Ah, I love writing Westerns, so it was good to see you have a go! I loved this line, "No one goes by their real name, their Christian name, their pig tails and freckles and crown of daisies name." Just said it all, how they lose their name when they grow up.