He came out of nowhere. That’s the story that went round. Like he just appeared. One second there was a wind blowing and the dust of the street making small grey clouds, and the next he was there, standing in the road dressed in a black wool suit and a black tie knotted at his neck and his shoes all glassy shine despite the dust.
‘Course, he said nothing to contradict what they said, what the women gathered at street corners whispered to one another, touching their hair and their lips when they said it. Coming from nowhere meant he could be anyone and that’s the birthplace of rumour.
Candy said he was a millionaire and he’d lost his way and the will to be. He was here in Barstow looking for some small truth to make sense of his life. That’s what she said. ‘He paid for his room with hundred dollar bills. He pulled a crumpled fistful from his coat pocket, like just so much rubbish, and he dropped them on the counter.’
Ruth said he was a thief and that explained the money. She said he’d turned over a small bank and he’d shot the cashier dead. He was a wanted man, she said. Wanted in three states. Then she changed her story. He was the cashier and it was the thief that had been shot and the bank burned to the ground, everything gone, all ‘cept a single bag of money. What had changed Ruth’s story was that she took a liking to him one night and after a drink too many she was in his bed.
‘Smells of spearmint,’ said Alicia. ‘Not just his breath or a taste on his tongue. But his sweat, too, and the back of his neck just below his hair, and the space between his fingers and his toes. Spearmint, I tell you.’ Alicia was a virgin before he came to town and then she wasn’t.
First Ruth and then Alicia and Marjory and Ellie and Lizabeth. I didn’t believe ‘em all. Not at first. But then behind Ed’s bar, just where the streetlight don’t reach, and we did it standing up and leaning against the slat-wood fence, and spearmint kisses just like Alicia said and all the rest.
One day he wasn’t there and then he was. It was the same when he left. Like he just disappeared. Like he had never been. ‘Cept a while later Ruth was sick in the morning, and Ellie, too, and two or three others besides. And those that weren’t felt something like loss and they took to walking to the edge of town standing on Barstow’s high ground and staring into the blue beyond with a look of wistful longing on their faces. I stood there, too, watching the wind whipping up the dirt.
→Thanks again to Lindsay, a regular reader and contributor by way of comments to the Daily Journal Prompts I post. This piece is in response to Daily Journal Prompt #238, September 1, 2012. Lindsay’s writing leaves me breathless and longing–lucky for us, she continues to share it here. (And here and here and here and here and here.) It gives me great pleasure to read what folks write in response to the prompts I post; check the comments section for others, and send me yours! As always, thanks for reading! -PMc←