Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fronda of the Plains, Part 1

A Lance Lawman story, by Gimp Pecosa

Lance woke early, fingers of hot sun poking through the chinks in the mortar and prodding him to “get up, get up, see to what needs seeing to.” It was going to be another scorcher, he thought, as he dragged himself out of his sweaty burlap sheets and damp mattress-ticking, and up and out the cabin door. Blinded by the sun, whose force was more like a mean left hook than a poke now, he staggered across the yard to the water trough. He scooped up a handful of tepid water and threw it over his sweat-greasy face. “What a way to enter the waking world,” he thought, and said, to no-one in particular, “My aunt Beatrice, but it’s dang hot today!”

As his eyes began to adjust to the nuclear brightness of the Texas morning sun, he looked out over the plain and wished, for the thousandth time, that the tiny cottonwoods he had planted on the edge of the paddock were higher than his knee. He wished for trees – any kind of tree: birch, maple, oak, willow, it didn’t matter, so long as it stood solid, large and proud against the sun and cast its sweet cool shadow over him. But instead, the bald horizon stared back at him, curving downward like an angry mouth. He kicked the bare ground and winced at the little plume of dust that rose there. Then he turned and started back to the cabin, stopping to relieve himself against a fencepost, cursing the lack of trees again.

As he let his stream go, as it hit the dust and sent little whirls of dust and steam up into the hot air, he looked around the bare paddock. And something – there, right by the edge, by the baby cottonwoods – caught his eye. A pile of blackened brushwood, cinders. Had someone built a fire – right here, on his property, while he slept? He tucked himself in and went to investigate.

It was indeed a pile of cinders, surrounded by a well of footprints, marking a distinct circular pattern. There were three feathers stuck standing straight up in the middle of the cinders – marking the spot where a tiny skeleton, bits of flesh still clinging to its tiny ribcage, lay – or rather stood, posed as if it were sitting up, head perched on top with rather a lot of blackened skin and hair still covering it. Some kind of rodent. As big as Lance’s big hammy hand, with sharp teeth and little claws and – “Oh god!” Lance uttered, almost realizing it – “Oh my god! A squirrel!” – and he turned on his heel and beat it back to the cabin, double-time.

“FRONDA!” he cried, as he ran. “Fronda! Baby, are you there? Little Fronda, my little Fronda!” – and burst back into the gloomy cabin, where he shook his head, trying to make his eyes adjust, as he stumbled toward the corner. There stood a willow-bark cage. Empty, as empty as his tobacco-tin piggy bank, as empty as the promise of Cherry, the beautiful girl who had first brought Fronda to him in a basket lined with linen cloths, a tiny bonnet on the squirrel’s little furry head. “I’ll be back for her soon,” Cherry had said, “I promise. And when I come back there’s something in it for you too, you big hunk of lawman.” That was a year ago, and since then he’d gone to the general store every week to get the pecans Fronda liked, had lined her cage with fresh grass, and had told her all his stories, his joys, fears, and sorrows. And he had dreamt of Cherry night after night, and sometimes in the dreams Cherry had little dark eyes like Fronda’s, and she nestled against him with the same little soft burrowing motions that Fronda made.

And now Fronda was gone. Gone forever, irreversibly gone. An ache started deep in Lance’s chest and swelled and swelled up, up to his throat, his mouth – and he opened his mouth and released a cry, an inhuman sound, a wounded animal bringing the dark matter of his pain out into the sunlight, a wrenching, grating syllable: “NOOOOOOOO!”


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