Note: During and after the Civil War, it is believed that at least 400 women disguised as men to serve in the military. Few were discovered in their lifetime.
Every battle we have, I keep thinkin’, we shootin’ the wrong people. These Indians done nothin’ to us. I don’t know why I’m here, but the Civil War’s barely over, they only let us off the plantation eight years ago and I’m still waitin’ for ’em to change their minds. Ol’ Massa Johnson, his face still soils my eyes, so every time I fire this Colt revolver it’s Johnson fallin’ down. His face splits so clean it feels like apology, like beggin’. I’ve killed 37 men and his mouth don’t shut.
I get a little cross with Charlie sometimes, he laughs at me in that liltin’ voice and tells me I’m bitter, says bitter is poison, I tell him that’s what happens when you’re bit by a snake, he say that’s when I’m s’pposed to spit it out. His gentle voice cools me. That softness in the eyes. We first got close talkin’ ’bout our horses. Charlie’s eyes would shiver as I told him how years back I learned to break ’em gentle. I told him trust is what opened ’em, what kept me on a horse when ain’t no time for a saddle. It was a bit unsettlin’ to realize my first love was a mare.
Three months before my contract’s up, I steal away to bathe in the river, in the drowsy of night. The water shocks me, soft, and I look up to see Charlie. He’s lookin’ at me like he’s seen somethin’ new, untouched, and he undoes his cloth. Standing in front of me with nothin’ but skin…she smiles as her breasts cradle what’s left of the light. She say, if I had my way I’d chew you up right now.
But I tend to get loud.
Wouldn’t work out.
We said nothin’ about it after.
But it wadn’t long before they knew. She got sick. Medic found out. Discharged, no pension.
I ain’t know ’bout the diabetes.
I ask for furlough and finally find her in a little town west of Amarillo. Used all her savings for this lil’ place. Most her right leg’s gone.
Four nights in, I wake up to a beatin’ sound, find her bangin’ her head into the floor. I grab her in my arms, she screamin’, won’t let up. Finally mumbles, I can’t ride my horse.
I set her in bed, boil some water for her bathin’ bucket. I wake her up, lay her down.
She whisper, you only here ’cause I’m a woman.
I say, hell I wanted you before I knew.
Which was confusin’…
She say, don’t ever save me again. I know when I’ve had enough.
I say, I won’t but I swear…I feel like I forgive somethin’ every time you wake up.
I wash her into quiet.
We pretend to sleep.
Ain’t no saddle here, boy.
I know. I know.