Word Count 1,981
Johnny remembered talking to his pinto in “Person Unknown”. I wonder if he might have said something like this:
Come on, horse, just a few more miles. I know, you ache and I do too. My backside feels like it’s bin through so much hell it don’t have any more feelin in it at all. How long we bin going on, then? Too dark to tell time right. Wish I had me a watch. You gotta walk, I know that, but it does seem almighty slow.
I wisht I’d taken that man’s coat. It only had but the one hole in it. It’s cold up in these hills, coulda used a coat. Maybe if I walk awhile it’ll give you a chance to rest and me a chance to get some feeling back in me.
There now, ain’t that better. Hey, you like it when I pull your ear, don’t you, caballo. How much further you reckon you can go now? This walking’s doin’ me some good, I can feel it already. I’m a might sore down my side, so I guess what I did wasn’t such a good idea. Cept maybe I’d be dead if I hadn’t dived when I did. Had a feeling he had a partner. He wasn’t reckoning on me knowing something about how things go along. I reckon seventeen’s a mite better’n sixteen. I learned a whole lot this year. Got the draw down, like this… Sorry, horse, didn’t mean to spook you. This here revolver, it goes off real easy now. I learned how to do that this year. I learned how to look a man in the eye and how to hold off, and when to hold my breath and the moment to choose. I’m goin to be the best I can at this business.
I learned about women this year, too. They like the way I look. It’s easy to get them to come to me; I just sit in the saloon and look hungry and lost – which ain’t too hard, I tell you – next thing you know, one of them’s feeding me and another one’s giving me a drink, and then later – woooeee – horse, you shoulda seen that girl in the last town. Or maybe you did. She was – sweet. And that bed, and a bathtub in the room! I never been so clean and so – well, that was soft living. And look at me now; I’m just as dirty as ever I was. And cold. And hungry again. Why’d I spend that hundred dollars all at once? Next time I’m gonna make sure I keep somethin’ back for a rainy day.
Hold up there, horse. I walked far enough. I’m tired of walkin’. I need a place to make camp. I gotta be on time day after tomorrow but I guess we come far enough. Down by that stream, mebbe? Come on, now, you can have a drink and I can git a fire to goin’. Madre de dios, where’d I put – oh, here she is, si, now, I fetch some of that dry wood – can just see to do that. Maybe I can catch me a rabbit – no, don’t be stupid, too late for that. Well, I bin hungry before. Hey, horse – who’s that? Come down here, hush now – don’t want to be caught out …
Por favor, horse, stand still. Hush – don’t get spooked now. I can’t run after you. If you leave that’s it for me – can’t do it – can’t even get into the saddle. Maybe if you just walk forward a while, let me hang on. Gotta git me some help, any help. So this is what it’s like, horse. Seen it so many times, so many times. Never thought of it happening to me, not like this, not so soon. I learned a lot, such a lot. Why didn’t I keep movin’?
All right, horse, hold up here, this bank should do it. There, just let me – there, got my foot in the stirrup so if you could just kindly move a little this way, yeah, this way, now…
That hurt, horse. If you wanted to know it, that hurt like nothing I felt before. Wish I could reach round, find where that bullet took me. I mean, I can feel it but – if I could just get something on it it’d feel better, I know it would. Maybe if I took that spare shirt – maybe if I can just reach round for the saddlebag. Hope those guys back there are dead. Tried to hit them so they’d die quick. Once that bullet took me, I don’t know, maybe I didn’t do such a good job.
Get on, don’t wait for me to tell you, I’m just hanging on here best I can. Least this shirt’s stopped the bleeding a bit, I think. Not running down my back no more. Is it better the bullet’s still in there or not? I seen what a bullet does on the way out. Maybe I’d be dead right now. I don’t know. I ain’t a doctor. What if the doc ain’t there? Can’t stop shaking, horse – I know it’s makin’ you nervous. You just keep goin’. I ain’t groanin to put you off, just can’t seem to help it.
Long way – but at least those lights down there, that’s the town. Feelin a mite light-headed here, maybe I ain’t gonna make it. There’s a house or some such up ahead. Maybe the folks there’d help me? Don’t want to impose though. And maybe they’ve heard of Johnny Madrid and they’ll just send me on my way. More folks than I’d have thought have heard of me. Whoa! You nearly lost your rider there! What’s ailing you? You ain’t moving right now – you tore something? You went down that hole just at the wrong time. Well, I guess that’s it then, them lights are too far off now for sure, for you and me. This hole I got, it just keeps leaking and I ain’t got that much blood to waste, I don’t reckon anyways. Well, I’ll get down, you won’t have to carry me no more. Maybe if I just shout out now, the folks’ll help me. Last chance, I reckon, horse. Last chance.
You breathe in, horse – you ain’t foolin’ me none. Just because I ain’t rid you in a while, don’t mean you can blow yourself up and me not notice. There, that’s better – though you’re fatter’n a hog after all this good food you been eatin’. I bin fed good too, least as good as they could manage, and I am goin’ to pay them back, I swear it. But my pants, they’re a mite looser; had to borrow some rope to keep ’em decent. Maybe I better get some new ones next chance I get. Have to get a new shirt, too – don’t want to go advertising to the world I’ve been shot. That won’t go with the picture of me, Johnny Madrid, now will it.
I know, horse, I know. You don’t want to leave, do you? You like it here. Nice place, sheltered, and she keeps it all so neat and clean. Like me. She kept me neat and clean for them first days, till I could do for myself again. Didn’t know where I was … hush now, here she comes. Don’t know what I’m gonna say, but I’m gonna thank her best way I know how.
Well now, I guess it’s just you and me again. I hope you’re ready to have your ears talked off, horse, because I – well, I guess I got kinda used to havin’ people around who – well, they cared for me. Yeah, shake your head, I know’d you’d do that. Don’t believe me, do you. Well, that girl – I promised myself I wouldn’t look back. Because if I do I might just end up ridin’ straight back there and I don’t reckon no man would do that. So I’m just goin’ to watch the road and keep agoin’, no turning round or nothin’, and I reckon she’ll understand why I’m doin’ that. Leastways, I hope she does. But I want to look just once more, I want that so badly. Won’t do no good but that don’t mean I don’t want to do it.
The place must be out of sight now. So maybe just one glance… Yeah, out of sight, like I said. Right. Now, I’ll move along the road aways, further back towards the border again. Seemed to be headin’ north there for a while, not sure why. Gonna miss her though, same way I missed Ma – not, no the same way. Though she fed me like Ma did, when I couldn’t feed myself. Made some food specially. Had an odd taste but it helped, I know it did. You know what pain’s like? Like you want to step away from your body because it’s paining you so much, but you’re trapped there and ain’t nothin’ goin’ to stop your mind worrying away at the pain. I had a fever, she said. I guess her Pa helped out then, I don’t know. I don’t remember too much. A few things – like a fire, I remember that, and the smell of food cooking; and how hot it was in the house, although it might have been how hot I was, I don’t know for sure. But she kept right at it, forcing me to drink and eat that broth, and changing the bandages. Hated that. Worst part was movin’. Lyin’ still now, that weren’t so bad.
Then we just talked and talked. Is it easier talkin’ to a stranger? I guess sometimes. I told her a few things I never told no-one else, except you maybe. Got to where I’d know just what I could say and what I should leave out. Some of the things said, they set me to thinkin’ after a while, though I don’t see how I could change, just for a girl. No, ain’t likely I will. She said she thought takin’ a life meant I was takin’ somethin’ from myself too. I’m goin’ to think on that some, I reckon. But it feels so good, when I do the job right. And now I’ve learned, find out about the man you’re planning to gun down, make sure he ain’t got friends to come and try to set things right, eye for an eye. Damn fool thing I did, forgettin’ simple thing like that. Two more people dead. Them or me. Straightforward enough for anyone. Still hope they didn’t suffer too much. Half killed me, too. Last year, mebbe, that would have been it – I’d have thought that far and then stopped thinkin’ altogether. I don’t know what I mean. It’s like I can see a bit further now.
Wonder if her Pa will ever know – well, you won’t go tellin’ will ya. Feel stupid just tellin’ you tho. If he’ll ever know how I felt about her? Mustn’t let that happen again – getting’ that attached, it ain’t good in my profession. Have to break myself of that. I think I heard one man talk once, said fallin’ for the nurse, that was a common thing to do. Maybe he came through some war or other. I heard tell there’s a war. Or it just started, mebbe; or somethin’; anyways, maybe it was then. So I got to be strong and get back on the road. I am goin’ to be one helluva gunfighter and no pretty girl is getting’ in the way of that ambition. Just hold up a minute here, horse, I got something in my eye, fly or somethin’. Can’t go into town looking’ like there’s somethin’ wrong with my eyes.
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