This is a piece I wrote to explore using a different voice and idiolect. In this case it is a female voice, American small town. Does it sound authentic? I wonder if the story behind it rings true? How soon did you see the story underpinning the story? All comments welcome.

*****

I first saw Łyżka when he was benching on Main Street, just along from the Post Office. Every store has a bench out on the sidewalk. It’s mostly oldsters and young Moms, with children in strollers, who sit there gossiping, so it was unusual to see a black t-shirt. I checked him out with a passing glance and moved on, casually scoring him as us gals do.

He came into the bar late the next evening and asked me for a table for one, upstairs in the restaurant. He was good looking but in an understated sorta way. I liked the way he looked me in the eye while talking to me. He said his name was Whistler, or something like that anyways.  He had the most beautiful, liquid brown eyes. I think I was attracted to him from the get-go.

I’m from Ridgway, a few miles up valley. I left there because it was so stuck in the past.Yeah, sure, I have been to the other towns around the area. I quite like Silverton and Teluride, probably because they aren’t too big. I once went down valley to Durango but there were too many people, too many cars, and too many buildings there for a small-town girl like me. I feel I know most of the eight hundred or so folks in Ouray, to nod and say ‘Hi’ to anyways. The winter season brings outdoor types in their SUVs for the skiing and ice climbing while summer brings the hog riders along the San Juan Skyway before noising up and down Main Street, clogging the bars and generally saying, ‘look at me on my shiny Harley, ain’t I good looking with my beard, shades, bandana and dangerous looking black t-shirt?’ I don’t like ‘em, they hassle me at work. I have figured out how to deal with them but there is always a new crop every year that I have to get trained.

My name is Mary-Lou Ellis but at work everyone calls me Dish.  I got asked a heap of times if I was the dish of the day so it was easier to give in and answer to the name. It’s printed on the front of my t-shirt now – that’s where most of the guys look first anyway.

I’ve been with my boyfriend, Rick,  for a coupla years now. We are saving hard to get enough dollars together to get married. I work as many hours I can get in the tourist seasons and Rick gets some good tips from his clients when he takes them out in the San Juan Mountains, either in his 4WD jeep on the trails or hiking, in the summer.  He teaches ice climbing down at the Ice Park during the winter. With my long hours and him being away so much, we don’t see as much of each other as we would like.

Łyżka became a regular in the bar, not sure if it was the beer and food he was looking for or me. His said his name was Polish for spoon, but I called him ‘Whisker’ after he told me that the Polish ‘Ł’ was pronounced the same as the American ‘W’. The name suited him in a strange sorta way because he was about the only biker in Ouray that summer that didn’t have some sort of hair on his face. He called me Mary-Lou. I liked that. We talked a lot, between me serving customers, then later in the evenings when most of the black t-shirts had left. We were getting to be comfortable in each other’s company, so when he offered to walk me home late one night after work, well, things just sort of happened from there and he didn’t leave until after he had eaten the waffles and eggs I cooked for his breakfast the next morning. I get quite lonely so I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. If hadn’t been Whisker, I think someone else would have come along and scooped me up.

Things between Rick and me hadn’t been going too well recently, even before Whisker turned up.  I think I had started to realise that, while I wanted the whole marriage and kids thing, Rick was married to the mountains and the last thing he wanted was to settle down. My girlfriend, Kat, had told me that Rick had been seen getting a little too friendly with some of his young, female clients. Kat is small and shy but she usually has a good handle on what is going on around town. She makes some great music with her violin, just don’t call it a fiddle when she is listening. She plays classical stuff, and was planning to move to Denver soon to try and get a place with one of the big orchestras there. I was going to miss her and so would her man, Little Dog. I told her over and over that she shouldn’t go.

I knew then that I had to sort things out with Rick. He was working up on the Black Bear Trail, doing some maintenance work on one of the grades before the winter set in. I drove slowly up past Box Canyon Falls until I saw him working by the side of the trail with a coupla guys. He was the tall one with the pony tail. We walked off a ways for some privacy, picked a rock to share and started on the chuck box I had brought with me.

I tried to let him down gently. ‘We haven’t been getting on too well recently, Rick. Mebbe we should each go our own way for a while?’

‘I’ve been expecting this,’ he said. ‘The guys have been ribbing me and asking why I let my girl go whoring round town while I’m up here working my butt off. I often ask myself the same thing.’

I got back in the car. I drove slowly home favouring my right hand. I felt used and sad about what might have been. I thought of  Pa, who used to say, ‘under every pony tail is a horse’s ass.’ He had never liked Rick. Men and their egos huh? I guess Rick will have that black eye for a while.

The summer drifted on as summers do.  Whisker had gotten a temporary job with the Park Service, fixing up some of the walking trails around the town. This kept him lean, fit and tanned, none of which made him less attractive. One Sunday we walked up to Chief Ouray’s mine high above the town. He showed me the work he had been doing and then, as we sat under the pines enjoying their sweet resin scent, eating our chuck and looking through the clear air in the valley to the mountains opposite, he asked me to come and live with him in Denver.

We batted it to and fro for a while as I looked down at the little town I could soon be leaving behind. I said I would think about it. I’d let him know. It would be a wrench for me to go to live in the big city and to leave my folks behind. I only saw them every coupla weeks or so but it was somehow comforting to know that they were close by. I had long wanted to have a look at the rest of Colorado and this seemed like an opportunity. Who knew if we would last together? He seemed to have the type of relaxed attitude to life that fitted with mine so maybe we would get along.

I called Kat, and asked her round to my place that evening. I suggested she leave Little Dog at home and I put Whisker off so as we could have a girl talk over beer and chicken wings.

‘So, what’s on your mind Girl?’ she asked, as we settled on the couch. I poured out the whole story about Rick, Whisker and my feelings about leaving Ouray for Denver. ‘You kep’ on telling me to stay and now you want out as well,’ she teased. ‘I’m leaving town soon, I’ve got an audition in three weeks time with the Denver Symphonia.’

‘What’s going to happen with you and the Dog?’ I asked.

‘I asked him to come but he won’t leave Ouray. He says he could never leave the land where his ancestors are buried.’ Kat didn’t seem too bothered about leaving Little Dog, which kinda surprised me as they had been together for some five years.

That settled it for me, it would be a lot easier in the city if I had a good friend just around the corner.

We arranged a date to leave. Whisker gave up his job and sold his Hog. We planned to travel to Denver in my car. He seemed quite happy about that, perhaps he was going to be capable of being domesticated. He said he wanted to get married and have kids but you just never know with men do you? I’d heard that stuff before from Rick.

Kat said goodbye to a sullen Little Dog before we started the long climb up from the Uncompahgre River Gorge to Red Mountain Pass.  We travelled at night to miss the slow procession of pretty but feeble hogs. Kat sat in the back playing with her beloved violin, while I was in the front with Whisker. He was beautifully lit up by the full moon shining through the windshield from the clear, black sky.

‘Why is there no cow to  jump over that beautiful moon? That would make me laugh.’ said Little Dog to himself.

 

© Richard Kefford                                                                                                        Eorðdraca

*****

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2 thoughts on “Farewell to Ouray.

  1. I didn’t get it until the very end I’m afraid and then was disappointed, I thought it was going to be an interesting story! I liked the black eye (lunar reference?) but am not sure that “gossiping” or “gals” are the right US slang. A bit more detail than was necessary perhaps?

    Like

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