Things had been bad for a long time for everyone, not just me. Everybody's got their own problems but I've got my own unique crosses to bear. I don't like talking about them, though, because that's always liable to cause more trouble than it's worth and it pretty much always ends up with me and my girl getting run out of town. Mostly though, we keep to ourselves. We've got a room in the hotel right about the town saloon. That's where we spend our time and take our meals.
We don't talk much to strangers and other folk. I work hard enough for the both of us to keep us out of trouble. It's a rough life and plenty of hard work, but it's worth it because I love her so damned much, no matter what anybody says about people like her.
Problems always start when folks get nosy, and nosy is how things got that warm night that started with a dusty twilight.
"Welcome back, Mr. Remington," the saloonkeeper greeted me the same way every night. It didn't vary to the point where I felt like it was part of the routine.
"Howdy," I'd respond like a pre-programmed robot, and I'd just head up the stairs to my room to be with my Sylvia.
But it was then, on this blistering hot, fateful night, that the saloonkeeper stopped me, offering me a drink he'd already poured. "On the house, just hang about and chat with me for a few."
"Hang about and chat?"
"Well, you're always runnin' up to your room, barely sayin' hello-goodbye. You're a guest here and I feel like the better I know you, the more I can make you feel at home while you're stayin' here."
"That's awful nice of you," I accepted the drink, a dry rye whiskey, "but we're just quiet folk who like to keep to themselves. Being able to do that makes it home enough."
"Well, you know it's a small place and people get to talking."
"I'm not one for much talking, Mr. Witwer."
"I can see that. Two months here and we've spoken more tonight than in that whole stretch of time."
"I work hard and in the sun. Most days I don't rightly feel like talkin' afterwards."
"I hear that. Most times I get home after a long night here and I just button up tight and don't want to say word one to nobody."
"Mm-hmm." I swigged my drink and was just about to head upstairs to my beloved Sylvia when he said the one thing that could turn my head back to him and his damn fool conversation.
"Well, people been talking about your girl. They been wondering if she's all right in the head. It's mighty peculiar, not seein' her out of her room at all."
I stopped and stared, unsure of what to say. Invariably, it was this line of questioning that was the beginning of the end of my and Sylvia's time in a town, and as many times as I'd lived through it, I'd never come up with a right response. "Is that what they say?"
"People like to talk."
"I suppose they do, don't they? But nothing's wrong with her, thank you very much."
"Well, I'm right sure there isn't anything wrong with her. If'n you say so, I'm on your side."
"Thank you for that, Mr. Witwer."
"But if you want the talk to stop, you might want to bring her down to the social tonight."
"The social?" Everything in my gut was telling me that this would be an extraordinarily bad idea.
"Every once in a while, maybe every three or four months or so, the town council declares an evenin' holiday and we throw a social here in the saloon. Anybody who's anybody'll be here and I'd be right honored if you and your lady attended. When they see how fine and pretty she is, all that talk'll dry up like the creek in August."
"That's a mighty generous invitation, but I'll have to talk to her about it." It would be suicide and I knew it, at least as far as our time in this place was concerned. Aside from that, I really just didn't have the energy to move on from this place just yet. It was always really hard to pack up and escape in the middle of the night, then find a new place, try to settle in and find a new job. It was hard to pick up any work that wasn't manual labor in a situation like that, and I'm not sure how much more of it my body could take. I was constantly aching with a dull pain in all of my joints.
"If she's agreeable, we'll be down here dancin', hootin' and hollerin' all night."
"Much obliged for your invitation."
And with that, I tipped my hat politely and walked slowly up the staircase, wondering if I'd even tell Sylvia of the gracious but impossible invitation.
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