“Another Wild Turkey?” asks the bartender of the woman in the flowered dress. He notices that she is staring at the tattoo of a horseshoe on his bicep. “I got a mermaid, too.” He pumps his hand to show off the gyrating woman-fish on his forearm.
The woman takes the glass of whisky, drinks it down. “Big deal.” She gives him eight dollars. “I hear voices.”
The bartender holds the five up to the light. “They don’t tell you to kill anyone, do they?”
The woman shakes her head. “They tell a story.”
“Yeah, especially after a couple of shots of whiskey,” he says, heavy
on the sarcastic tone.
The woman doesn’t reply. The two of them watch the ceiling fans stir the sluggish air. The woman rubs her ears. Then she tells the bartender to listen by her right ear. The bartender bends so close that his breath stirs her hair. He listens then steps back, startled.
“What are you, a ventriloquist?” he asks. “Sounds like a scratchy .45 of Hank Williams. Talking.”
“It took me a while to figure out,” says the woman. “I hear voices. I hear Lex and Hank. They’re cowboys.”
“Hey, check this out,” the bartender calls to the waitress, who is lining up several saltshakers on the counter, in order of how empty they are. “Life is stupid enough,” the waitress mutters.
“Listen,” says the bartender. “Stand right here, by her ear. This is wild.”
The waitress rolls her eyes but walks over. She bends close to the woman in the flowered dress. She looks up at the bartender for a moment, then leans over again, tucking her hair behind her ears to hear better. “That’s the one with Clint Eastwood,” she says finally.
“You’re not hearing a movie,” says the woman.
“Here’s the story so far,” the bartender interrupts. “Hank and Lex only have three bullets left between them.” He moves aside several glasses so that he can lean closer to the woman’s ear. “And a guy named Buckskin Frank is going to drill them full of lead.”
“It’s the T.V. show, then,” says the waitress. “The one with what’s-his-name.” She leans closer, too. “Can you just sit still?” she asks the woman in the flowered dress. “Delivery,” says a man at the door. “U.P.S. Who’s going to sign?”
“Quiet,” says the bartender with a cautionary hand. “We can’t hear. Damn! What happened? They’re gone.”
The woman in the flowered dress shrugs, says they come and go like that. She tells them about brushing her teeth that morning and noticing disembodied drawls talking about dogies and cayuses and branding, as clear and insistent as a radio transmission, which they weren’t, and how--
“What are they saying? Sounds like Spanish,” says the bartender.
The waitress interprets. “Two guys are hailing a Mexican man, asking if he has any ammunition to spare.”
“Their names are Hank and Lex,” says the woman. She presses her cold drink to her forehead.
The waitress continues. “The Mexican man is offering them two fresh horses so they can vamoose under cover of darkness, thereby foiling Buckskin Frank’s dastardly plan.”
“What does he take them for?” says the bartender. “Cowards? Hank and Lex don’t sneak.”
“They’re surrounded,” says the waitress. “They’re going to get killed.” She sifts salt through her fingers. “All the good ones do.”
The bartender brings a round of beer, Lone Star that he chooses after reflection, but the woman in the flowered dress asks for another Wild Turkey. The bartender pushes the whole bottle to her. “The voices get louder when you drink,” he says. “Drink up.”
The UPS man asks, “So, Hank and Lex are the good guys, right?” Trying to hear better, he leans between the waitress and the bartender, who pushes him away.
“Hank and Lex are cowboys,” explains the waitress, letting him in.
“They’re on a long cattle drive, and they’ve just begun to discover each other’s true self when all of a sudden--”
“That’s not the story,” says the bartender, “That’s totally off. There’s no ‘discovery.’ They’re surrounded by these men who have falsely accused them of drygulching Buckskin Frank’s little brother--”
“Oh my God,” shrieks the waitress. “Oh my God. Did Lex say what I thought he said to Hank?”
The bartender says with scorn, “He means it in a platonic way-- they’re partners.”
The waitress narrows her eyes. “Months on the trail and what are they going to shack up with, a cow?”
“They’re cowboys, for God’s sake. Get your own story.” The bartender punches the air with excitement. “Drill him full of holes, Hank!”
“Spill your heart, Lex,” urges the waitress. “If you die, it’ll be too late.”
“You’re ruining my story!” the bartender says.
“Get out of my story,” she replies firmly.
“What’s drygulching anyway?” asks the UPS man.
“Shooting in the back, I think,” says the woman in the flowered dress.
“My dad was a western buff. His funeral was yesterday.” She slides off the stool, adjusts her skirt, steps away from the people clustered around her. “I have to go,” she says. “These voices are driving me crazy. Maybe if I take some aspirin.”
“Wait,” says the bartender. “We won’t know what happened. If they shot their way out or what.”
The waitress adds, “Or if Hank and Lex ever, you know.”
The UPS man brightens. “Maybe they’ll be rescued by the cavalry.”
“That’s a nice thought,” says the woman in the flowered dress. She opens the door, and the deep gold of the sunset spills into the bar. “But I kind of hope they just go away.”
“They might die in each other’s arms,” the waitress says. She hugs herself. “Declaring love for each other.”
The bartender shakes his head. “No--Hank’ll get shot through the liver and die a slow, agonizing death, and Lex will take on Buckskin Frank in a hand-to-hand fight to the finish.”
“Lighten up,” says the UPS man. “They could be rescued by a tribe of Sioux.”
They turn back to the woman in the flowered dress, but she is gone. With beer in hand, the UPS man peers out the door, first to the right then to the left. “She’s disappeared,” he says. He takes a quick, hard pull on his beer. “How could that woman have voices coming out of her? And who was she, anyway?”
The waitress says with feeling, “She was a stranger from the high country, breezing through.” She smiles.
The UPS man finishes his beer and sets it on the bar. He pulls out his clipboard and asks for her signature.
The bartender leans against the doorframe, looking into the glow of the setting sun. “She was the woman with no name,” he says dreamily. Whistling, trying to find the spaghetti Western melody, he flexes his fist and watches the mermaid dance.