Lula was pissed. As she sat over the tin bath full of rapidly freezing water, cleaning the piss and shit off his breeches, she was pissed. No matter how slow or fast she scrubbed, his snoring followed the same tempo. She sped up, he went into a full whine, she slowed down, he became a fat sow. And when she stopped he gurgled in the back of his throat.
As annoying as his snoring was, and as much as she hated scrubbing the piss, shit and the smell of other women out of his stinking breeches, she was pissed because in two days this would all be stopping. The feckless idiot, only three days home from chasing a fruitless bounty in the Black Hills, would be leaving with those asshole Johnson brothers to head down to Lubbock, Texas to try and bring in a wild gun they called Texas Red. Three days, she thought as she worked on a particularly stubborn piece of shit, three days he’s been back and he’s only fucked me properly once. If once includes him not moving and then finishing before she’d even got started.
But she loved him. She’d loved him since the moment, as a 13-year-old, when he beat her elder cousin Bo for picking on the handicapped boy who lived with his drunk father at the back of the saloon. The way he did it, no trace of anger, just a stern look, a whispered threat and a solid backhand when they didn’t suffice.
Two years after that she’d watched him come and go. He was 10 years older than her and every now and then he’d ride into town with another woman. She hated that, but couldn’t help admire that he’d bring whatever woman he wanted back. Black, Injun, Mexican, he didn’t care, the only thing he cared was that they were pretty in the face, heavy in the chest and wide of hip.
By the time she hit 15 she knew he’d started to look at her. It was July 1876, not long after the railroad began sneaking out towards their town. He’d arrived back a week or so earlier with a hellcat Mexican woman with eyes like the devil. From her window Lula could hear them. The screams when they fought, the crashes and bangs when she threw anything she could get her hands on and then the iron bed rattling the death train as they made up.
It was wet that morning. After three weeks of dust storms the clouds broke and God pissed all over them. Dogs wallowed in the sod, kids bathed in the puddles and Old Man Hickey, who’d been three parts mental since birth, drank so much of the water that was contaminated with horse shit that they had to stick him in the gaol after he tried to grope one of the whores in O’Reilly’s.
She’d been on the porch peeling Daddy’s potatoes when she heard the yell. Before she looked she knew it was him, and there he was, chasing that Mexican out of his house, his body naked save for his gun belt and boots and the contents of the chamber pot the hellcat had emptied over his head. Lula never did ask why that had happened, but listening to him snoring she could probably guess. He was just about to turn back into his house when he stopped and looked over his shoulder, normally he’d have just nodded but his gaze washed over her as he looked her up and down and smiled. She blushed like a spring Primrose and tried not to look down from his eyes. At least not until he turned around.
They were married three weeks later. Her Daddy wasn’t happy at first, but after he’d beaten him at Stud and drank all his whiskey, they came to an arrangement. Lula was Daddy’s favourite, on account of her looking and acting like their dear Mother and not him. In every other child he saw his deficiencies. The huge bent nose, the sallow Irish skin and the red hair he thought a deficiency. But she was all her mother. 5’3”, hair raven black and eyes that he said danced like a pair of wild Mustangs in the moonlight. She had to take Daddy’s word for it as her Mother had died when she was three of the consumption
The first year they’d been married was heaven. She persuaded him to stop Bounty hunting and take a job dealing cards at the saloon. They were happy, he’d saunter home every night and they’d drink a little, smoke a little and fuck a lot. They fucked all around that little house, her held in his arms and balanced on places she never even thought she’d sit, let alone do that.
Then came the first miscarriage and the sex had to stop for a while. He was fine about it, not like Duane Widdows who everybody knew was back on his poor wife the moment she had given birth. He looked after her, even cooked for her, and he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. But after the fifth, when she was too broken inside to consider anything but the Laudanum, he quit his job at the saloon and took up his guns again.
Three years now it had been this way. She knew he still loved her, still wanted her, but she’d lost some of him along the way. For months at a time he’d leave, and it’s not that she minded him seeking a bed when he was away, after all he was only human and she’d come very close with young Charlie Widdows when he came to chop her wood. It was that he wasn’t there. That they were no longer the exception to the rule in a town where women kept their mouths shut and their skirts open.
But she could never hate him. As she wrung his breeches out and went to the kitchen he stirred and mumbled something. She walked over to him, hoping that he was asking for her, that he wanted her to climb in with him. But he wasn’t, he was dreaming about something. Fool’s Gold, Whore’s skirts, who knew, what she knew that it wasn’t her.
As he rolled over and turned his back to her, she walked to the kitchen, picked up his tobacco and headed to the porch. She knew the busy body from across the street would tell everyone that she saw Lulu Hackett rolling her own cigarettes and drinking whiskey, and she also knew that they’d say that was why she couldn’t have a child. But she didn’t care. As she put the cigarette between her lips, a mangy dog walked up and slumped in front of the porch. Normally she’d shoo it away, fleabag that it was, but she figured they had a bit in common. Inhaling deeply she began to rock to the beat of his snoring, replacing the thought of him leaving with the sight of Charlie Widdows chest under that shirt.