The Dark Horse
I never liked cowboys, but I liked her. “The Dodge City Dynamo was how everyone else knew her, but I knew her as Jane. She blew through my empty saloon doors like the dust storms I had grown accustomed to. However, nothing could have prepared me for the sand in my eye she would become. Jane always made me love the things I hated, and I hated her for that. It’s also why I ran away with her. Being the only woman in this bar, I have forgotten my own name. After you’re referred to as, “Sweetheart, honey, my choice for the newest addition at the bed house,” enough, it’s easy for your bona fides to fade.
I missed those times when that place used to be a theater and I’d be up on that stage commanding the room rather than the other way around. The dream left, but I stayed, having no other option if I were to remain among the living. There ain’t nothing left out there. The wild desert makes prisoners of us all in one way or another.
Not Jane though. (“Nor Cassidy,” she’d tell me.)
Jane turned the Dark Horse back into a hot spot, rivaling its heyday. Suddenly, people were making treacherous journeys from all around just to watch her do her thing. No one could tell you what that was, except me. She enchanted them, I tell you, hypnotized men into puddles. People figured she just sang and danced real good, but I knew better, and she knew that. Sometimes it felt like she was performing only for me.
“You’re immune to my charms, most women are. But you also have your own.”
I don’t know how immune I was. I’d wake up, dying to kiss her, and every night she wasn’t in my bed, I’d stay awake until the next time she was. That’s when I began to feel a shift. Not only in the stale air but inside myself. I felt free yet not an active participant in my own liberation. Where did this sensation come from? More importantly, how quickly could I use this to burn my old life to the ground? Such thoughts would sear through my mind, leaving their marks, like the brand on the ass of a bull. All the while Jane kept smiling at me, performing her nightly stage rituals, and loving me in no way a man ever could.
I do not pretend to understand what happened when she exploded into my life. Everything upended in an instant and I never looked back. I never missed the old Cassidy, the one who never knew who she was, or betrayed all the strength she had. One morning, even before the sun dared speak, Jane shot up from a deep sleep and peered at her hands. She did not respond or break her concentration as I called her name and asked her what was wrong. “Tonight will be the last performance.” That’s all she uttered as she laid back down, abandoning me to the darkness of the room and my thoughts.
Everything went on as usual. The crowd got rowdier, the beer flowed, and Jane went on bringing the entire place to their knees. I went out back to fetch some more water and the early dawn seemed to approach. This made no sense; it was hours before it should be rising, but the glow was strong and warm. Silhouettes dotted its horizon, their outlines barely visible in the liminal light. A shoot out in some far-off hole — two men who probably missed the irony of being in the wide-open west and still thinking there ain’t room enough for them both. When I came back, the saloon had come to a standstill. If I had looked at the clocks, their hands would have stopped too. No more music, no more lewd cheers from the patrons, no more glass shattering to the floor. Nothing except Jane, standing above them all, as she always had done. I turned to put the water down and when I whipped my head around again, she was out of her elaborate costume and the entire audience had disappeared.
This was a different emptiness from the one I had become used to. They hadn’t run off; they were just gone. Jane strode up to me, hands behind her back, commanding every floorboard her spurs rattled upon. “My dearest, I have loved every second being here with you,” she caressed my face. “But it is time for me to go.” My eyes fell to the floor.
“You see, I have spent the better part of a century calling out, reciting the story of my kind, in the hopes it would reach them once more. It finally has, so onwards I must.”
I didn’t try to keep the tears from falling.
“Now, now, my little rattlesnake, don’t go and bite me. I have two horses waiting out there.”
Through the swinging saloon doors, I could see she was telling the truth. She walked outside and I followed. She hopped onto one of the horses and looked at me. The false dawn I had seen before was closer now and even brighter. It was no duel after all and those silhouettes were no mere hotheads. The crows were swarming, and cawing into the twilight as they broke apart to form other, more human shapes. They did not move, they simply stood there, in the distance watching, and beckoning to my Jane. She never blinked as she continued staring at me and was the only time I had seen her waver. The reins were loose in her shaking hands, the uncertainty eating her alive, but as she heard the squawking yonder, she had no choice. No, the only one who did was me, and I froze. Jane patted the horse and took off before I could catch her crying. I was left there, slumped in the dwindling lamplight. What was I thinking? What was I doing? The years here had truly atrophied my head; this was my chance and I was sure it would never come again. I yanked the gas lantern down from the entrance, smashed it to the ground, and brought its flames to one of the curtains. I mounted the horse, whose patience I remain grateful for, and positioned myself. There was a wayward Stetson left on the hind of the animal, and a wicked glint found my eye.
Picking it up, I tossed it into the saloon as I rode off, leaving an inferno in my wake.
I told you, I never did like them cowboys.