SOFT IN THE HEAD

Suzanna scowled sleepily at the lopped-off branches that formed the wall of the hillside lean-to and burrowed deeper into the bedding. At least there’s a bear skin to add some warmth, she thought irritably. It was too cold to get up, and if Gerald thought she was going to actually live in this God-forsaken place, he wasn’t thinking clearly.

“Wife?” he asked from the open side of the shelter.

Suzanna burrowed deeper, covering her head.

Gerald chuckled and came to kneel beside her. “I have a fire going,” he said. “I’ve toasted some bread and am heating water for tea.”

Suzanna sighed and reluctantly uncovered her head. “All right,” she said.

“There’s a herd of elk on the other side of the valley,” he said. “I thought I’d try for one after breakfast. We could use the meat. Do you want to come with me?”

“I’m not staying here by myself.” She sat up. “Not until you’ve built me a cabin.”

He leaned in to kiss her forehead. “I love you,” he said.

“And I you.” She shook her head. “Though I still think you’re soft in the head. This valley is so isolated and cold. How does anything grow up here?”

He grinned, stood, and went out. “The water’s hot!” he called from the fireside.

Moreno Valley Sketches II

A GOOD ARRANGEMENT

As the man on the ridge watched, the herd of elk below suddenly broke and pounded across the icy stream toward the cover of the trees. Three wolves, two grays and a black, chased after them, then slowed and sat, watching them go. A young bull elk with a limp had lagged behind the herd, and the wolves appeared to be studying him. A raven cawed overhead.

The man smiled. The wolves had identified his target for him. He reached to lift the bow from his back.  It was a good arrangement, he mused as he slipped down from the ridge and began circling to get downwind of the straggling bull. When he had finished with the elk, the wolves and ravens would attack the remains. “We will all eat well tonight,” he murmured. Which was good, because the elk herd would move more swiftly tomorrow, without the lagging one to slow them.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II

CHICKEN FEED

Andrew had pilfered some of the chicken feed and scattered it on the snow for the finches.

Suzanna shook her head as she looked out the window. “That child,” she said.

“What’d he do now?” his father asked. He was sitting near the fire, mending mule harness.

“How did you know it was Andrew I spoke of?”

“You had that tone.” He smiled at her.

A small boy appeared on the ladder from the loft as Suzanna said, “There is chicken feed scattered outside, and the chickens are still penned up against the cold.”

The boy stopped suddenly, then began retreating upward.

“That’s not gonna work, son,” his father said.

“Perhaps next summer you should gather grass seed and set it aside for the birds,” Suzanna said, without turning.

He came to stand beside her. “They’re pretty, aren’t they?”

“And you are incorrigible.” She reached out to ruffle his hair.

from Moreno Valley Sketches I

ELEGANCE IN ETOWN

The men in Seligman’s Mercantile watched silently as the young woman in the trailing pale blue silk skirts swept out of the store.

“She’s a lardy dardy little thing, isn’t she now?” Charles Idle, the expatriate Englishman, asked. He shook his head and stretched his feet closer to the wood stove. “That dress and hat.”

Joseph Kinsinger spat a stream of tobacco toward the empty lard can by the stove. “Those silks ain’t gonna last long in this mud. And the wind’l take that hat.”

His brother Peter grinned. “You’re just worried Desi’s gonna see her and want a getup just like it,” he said.

“I wonder where’s she’s staying,” Idle said thoughtfully. “Hey Jim, where’d she say to deliver that sterling brush and comb set?”

The clerk hesitated, then shrugged. It would be all over town soon enough anyway. “The Moreno Hotel,” he said.

There was a short silence, then Idle said, “Well, I guess I’d better go see how my mine’s doing this morning,” and rose from his chair.

“I’ll bet,” Peter said sardonically, but Idle only smiled and went out.

from Moreno Valley Sketches, II