Western Short Story
The house was small and unimposing.
Livable, but in need of some long overdue repairs. It sat on a bone
dry patch of worthless dirt in the middle of nowhere. The only spot
of real color came from a rather dismal looking vegetable garden at
the back of the house. The high desert altitude combined with the
hot, dry summer air made it difficult for most living things to
thrive, and that included Maggie, the lady of the house.
Maggie was in her mid twenties, but didn’t look her age. She looked much older.
The hot desert sun and constant wind were as relentless as the endless hard work she was expected to do in order to keep her husband’s heavy hand at bay. On this particular morning, she had spent most of her time on the back step, laboring over an old wash basin and a well-used scrub board. Once again the clothes, plain and well worn, were washed and hung out on the line. The usual hot afternoon breeze was beginning to pick up, and with it came the dust. The freshly washed clothes were destined to be dirty again, even before they dried.
The afternoon was young, but for Maggie, it had already been a long, hard day, the same as yesterday and no different than tomorrow. To Maggie, every day was the same. Nothing ever changed with her wearisome and boring life. From morning till night she cooked breakfast, dinner and supper. She washed the dirty dishes and she washed the dirty clothes, she tended the meager garden and, without as much as a coarse word or an evil thought, she put up with it all, including her worthless husbands daily verbal abuse and occasional backhand.
As the yet damp clothes flapped in the afternoon breeze, Maggie’s mind began to wander. The back step was her favorite abode for losing herself in one of her frequent daydreams.
As she gazed off toward the distant hills, she imagined what it would be like to escape this God forsaken hellhole and travel to the other side, never to return. It was then that her sharp eye happened to catch a faint movement on one of the distant ridges. She curiously kept her eye on it and closely watched, as whatever it was, slowly traversed its way to the bottom of the hill leaving a slight wisp of dust in its trail. It soon became apparent to Maggie that what she had seen was a horse, a lone rider out in the middle of nowhere, and heading in her direction.
Maggie kept a close watch, hoping the rider would continue to come her way as there hadn’t been a visitor to the house in close to a year, and she sorely looked forward to holding a conversation with someone who would actually have something to say other than simply barking an order in her direction.
It took some time, but as she had hoped, the rider soon made his way right up to the gate in front of the step where Maggie sat.
She was instantly smitten by the ruggedly handsome young cowboy. His jaw was square and his teeth were as white as pearls. Gorgeous sky blue eyes showed bright from beneath the brim of his well set hat. He looked tall and comfortable sitting upon a finely tooled saddle and riding a magnificent looking white stallion. His clothes were clean and pressed as if he had just put them on for the day, and his silver spurs glistened in the noonday sun. His bright smile was as refreshing as the cool breeze that suddenly wisped across Maggie’s face as the young rider courteously tipped his hat.
“Good afternoon ma’am, May I trouble you for a tall drink of cool water? I’ve been ridin’ a mighty long way and the sun has been awfully warm this afternoon. My name is Andy by the way, and you must be Maggie?”
The question didn’t deter Maggie’s wistful gaze upon the handsome young rider, and with a bit of surprise in her voice she replied. “Why yes, I am, Maggie. How did you know? Have we met somewhere before?”
A brisk response from the handsome young cowboy set her mind at ease.
“No ma’am, this is our first time. But the day is still young and we have plenty of time to get to know each other. So tell me, ma’am, what’s a pretty young thing like you doing in the middle of a dust bowl like this? Why heck, a woman as lovely you should be sitting in a fancy parlor wearing a fine new dress and drinking sassafras tea with her lady friends. Not out here in the middle of nowhere slaving over a wash tub full of dirty, worn out laundry.”
Maggie couldn’t help but blush. “I’m afraid I don’t even own an old dress, let alone a new one,” she replied. “And unfortunately,” she continued, “I’m the only woman around these parts. I, I’d like to have fancy dresses, but I have no money to buy such things, and no occasion to wear them. As for friends, our nearest neighbor is ten miles from here. He’s a widower and we hardly ever see him.”
The handsome young cowboy shifted in his saddle, he tilted his hat back some with the tip of his finger and leaned forward a bit, resting his forearm on the saddles horn. “Now that’s a downright shame,” He replied. “A pretty young woman like you shouldn’t be wasting away out here all alone. You should be someplace where you can socialize with lots of girlfriends, and you should have them over for tea and biscuits, don’t you think? Why, if you were my gal, I’d make sure you had the finest dress in town, and lots of occasions to show it off.”
Maggie pressed her hands up to her smiling face as she tried to hide the blush that had come over her. “Why Andy, don’t be teasing me like that, why we don't even know each other.”
“Yes, that’s true,” he replied. “But as I said, the day is young. And I must say, that color looks good on you Maggie. A little blush of the cheeks does wonders for your complexion.”
“Andy? Who’s Andy? Who in the devil are you talking to woman?”
Maggie, startled by the sudden appearance of her husband, jumped up and spilled the dirty wash water on her dusty bare feet.
“I’m not talking to anyone. There’s nobody around here to talk to, there never is.”
Maggie’s husband stood in the doorway behind her as he scoured the area, and except for Maggie, there was no one in sight.
“I think the sun is getting to you woman. Why haven’t you started my supper yet? I swear, you’re getting more and more worthless every day.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t started your supper yet Stewart. I’ll be getting to it right away.” Brushing past her husband, Maggie headed for the kitchen.
Stewart lingered on the back step a moment longer as he satisfied himself that there really wasn’t anybody around.
“Damn woman is going crazy,” he muttered to himself as he headed into the house behind her.
The following week Maggie was once again outside slaving over the laundry tub. She had just hung the last pair of wet overalls on the line and was reminiscing about her recent encounter with the handsome young cowboy, when a voice from behind startled her. She whirled about to see Andy, sitting high and handsome upon the back of his stout white horse. He tipped his hat back with the tip of his finger.
“I said good afternoon Maggie, how are you today? As beautiful as ever I see.”
“Why Andy,” blushed Maggie. “I didn’t hear you ride up?”
“My horse is mighty quiet Maggie. He moves like the wind.”
“I believe he does,” replied Maggie. “You know, I never did get you that drink of water the last time you were here, would you like it now?”
“No Maggie, I don’t think I would, I just stopped by to ask you a question.”
Maggie was somewhat crushed as she was hoping Andy would stay and talk for a spell. “And what might your question be, Andy?” Maggie asked in a disappointed tone.
Andy leaned forward in his saddle. “Maggie, I’ve been thinking. How would you like to hop up on this horse with me and ride away from this place? Leave this lonely ol’ dust bowl and see what life is like on the other side of those far hills you constantly stare at. We can leave right now if you like?”
Maggie, astonished, but yet somewhat intrigued at Andy’s boldness, replied. “Why Andy, I couldn’t do that any more than I could…”
Just then, Maggie’s husband began yelling from inside the house.
“Maggie, who in the hell are you talking to out there, and why isn’t my supper on the …”
Stewart stopped in mid sentence as he stepped out the back door and looked around. He was a bit puzzled. He knew he had just heard Maggie talking. The wash water was still in the tub and his overalls were hanging on the line, but as for Maggie, she was nowhere to be found.