Originally Published in Zahir Sometimes the vaqueros like to sit in clumps together and tell ghost stories in Spanish. You know some Spanish from growing up on the border and from the words Maria taught you, to bring you closer to her world, after she crossed the river for you. The vaqueros tell the stories like they don’t want to admit they believe in them: they speak of them lightly, laughing together, but sometimes you can discern an undercurrent of – not fear exactly, more like nervousness – as if they worry that some long-dead abuelita might swoop down and chastise them for not believing. And you know that when you hear the stories, told beneath the thick sky, maybe the first chilled breeze of the season stirring out there among the cattle, you feel a shiver go up your spine, an infinitesimal vibration of fear, and you roll up a cigarette and laugh at yourself.
Recently he has taken to bringing garter snakes into the house, appearing in the doorway wearing a bracelet made of shining grey and yellow scales, his fingernails still muddy from digging in the dirt. “Mama! Mama!” he hollers victoriously. “Mama! Look what I found!”
She knows what it is before she looks. “Mi cielito,” she says. “I told you not to bring them in the house.”
But Felix doesn’t care; he’s too pleased with himself, with his discovery of the garter snake. He brings it over to where she stands, next to the sink, soapy water running down her forearm, dripping off her fingers onto the patchy floor. She wipes her hands on the thin fabric of her dress and takes the snake from Felix. When it twines itself around her fingers, she holds it up to her face so she can look it in the eye. Its tongue flicks out, getting a sense of her.
“Come along,” she says to Felix. “He doesn’t want to be inside – he wants to be outside, out in the grass.”
Felix looks at her solemnly, his eyes big and black and shining. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she says. “Yes, I’m sure.”
They go out, mother and child, into the yard, the grass toasted golden by the sun. The bright-blue sky seems to droop in the languid autumn warmth, as if she could jump up and extend her arm and let her fingers graze across it. She kneels and the garter snake slithers away, making the grass sigh.
Her name is Maria. Her last name doesn’t matter; it’s not really hers anyway, but her husband’s, an ugly conglomeration of letters harsh on the throat and tongue, probably German in origin. When her husband is here, she has to adopt the name again, she has to try and speak the language of this country – she understands it quite well but finds that, like her husband’s name, it often sticks to her teeth.
But right now her husband is gone, gone up to the northern part of the state, and she has no reason to pretend in their little house near the river. The melodic language of her childhood suffices.
Maria brings Felix back into the house. He sniffles a little but otherwise says nothing about the loss of the snake. These small tragedies have happened before. Maria finishes the dishes and then tells him to wash his hands, which he does, dutifully, standing on the rickety wooden stool her husband made for him before he went away. Then Maria goes into the pantry and brings out a crate of glass jars, the last of the ones they bought in the spring. When she brings them into the kitchen the sun catches them and pale yellow light ricochets around the room.
“Okay,” Maria tells Felix. “Are you ready to help me?” Felix nods. “Okay then, go out onto the back porch and bring in the basket from the garden.” Felix runs off, and Maria listens to the rainfall of his footsteps. She lights the stove, striking a match near the burner, the phosphorus twisting up toward the low ceiling. Then she fills her largest pot with water and carries it, with some difficulty, across the room, and sets it to boil. Felix comes in, the basket almost too large for his embrace.
Maria looks at the basket’s contents in dismay: tomatoes, mostly, a few potatoes, some carrots the size of fingers. The soil in the garden is thin, and in the Valley the rain, seeming to find the act of falling exhausting, does so only sparingly. Still, she needs to preserve these tomatoes. She needs to save for the winter. The envelope of money that appears monthly in the mailbox, its stamp bearing the name of some unfamiliar northern city, is hardly enough, and the amount varies from month to month. Food from the grocer in town is expensive.
Maria lines up the cans on the little aluminum table tucked up tight against the wall. Felix watches her. When the pot on the stove begins to vibrate from the blue flame burning beneath it, he turns his attention there, and watches the steam rise up from under the lid. Maria drops the tomatoes into the boiling water and then scoops them out with a large wooden spoon and places them in a bowl filled with a half-melted block of ice.
“Mi cielito,” says Maria. “Peel these tomatoes.” She pushes the wooden stool over to where the tomatoes sit steaming. Felix jumps up and pulls the skins away with his fingernails, the thin red strips sticking to his hands.
They work for the rest of the morning, slicing the peeled tomatoes into chunks, dropping the tomatoes into the jars, dropping the jars into the boiling water. The kitchen grows hot and steamy; Maria feels her hair deflating, pressing limply against the back of her neck. She opens up a window.
When they have finished, five jars of tomatoes sit neatly across the kitchen table. The noonday light spills through them, sparkling and clear, and they look like jars of chopped-up hearts. Only five.
Maria stares at them in dismay.
You took the job up here in the Panhandle partly because you and Maria needed the money but mostly because you were starting to feel stifled in that shabby little house sprouting up among the river weeds down there on the border. You can’t quite admit this to yourself. Not after the year in Mexico, when you met her in that fancy, European-style café. When you bought her fake, fiercely glittering jewelry and bouquets of flowers and books in English and fought her older brother while the younger one stood beneath the mesquite tree smoking and rolling his eyes – he was always rolling his eyes, like he couldn’t believe the cliché his family had become. And that was only in Mexico. When you brought Maria back to the town you were born in, when you walked her down the aisle of the dusty sunlit church next to the orange grove, her belly swelling just enough beneath her pretty floral dress, you felt the steady acidic stare of your neighbors. The girls your age, the ones you had been expected to choose from, whispered furiously among themselves when they saw you in town. The mothers clucked. The fathers shuffled their boots.
You met a beautiful girl in Mexico and brought her into Texas. This disappointed everyone.
The old postman brings one of the monthly envelopes of money, a patchwork of stamps decorating the corner. As Maria walks back into the house, she tears it open and counts the crumpled, worn bills – fewer than last month. Maria frowns. She counts the money out on the kitchen table: enough to buy smoked meats from the grocer, some soap, a bottle of milk, a package of cheese. Maybe a few other things. Some months a couple of bills might remain, and Maria will slip them back in the envelope, fold it over once, and tuck it into a metal tin she keeps under her bed. The tin is filled with nothing but such envelopes.
But not this month. This month there are no bills to save.
That evening Maria drives the noisy old truck into town. Felix sits next to her, his fingers wrapped around the edge of the seat to keep from bouncing up and down as they drive over the dusty dirt roads. The sky oozes orange and pink and red, and the sun casts long black shadows across the Valley, across the town’s empty main street. The town is drying up: every time she drives down those dirt roads in her husband’s blue truck, sputtering and roaring, the town grow fainter and fainter, and she waits for the day when it will turn to powder and blow away like spores from a dandelion’s head.
Today is not that day. Maria drives to the grocer. She buys all she can with the money from her husband, placing the items carefully in the basket, Felix holding her hand and watching with starry eyes. Mrs. Gutherson punches the prices into the cash register and smiles at Felix but not at Maria, and Felix hides behind his mother’s dress, the fringe of her shawl draping across the top of his head.
“Thank you,” says Maria, in English, and Mrs. Gutherson sniffs.
Maria carries the groceries out to the truck and drives down to the post office. The light has turned gray and the air chill; only a thin line of red sun slashes across the horizon. Still, Maria knocks on the post office window and Mr. McGreevy opens the door for her.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “We lost track of time.” And she pulls Felix around in front of her, knowing he’ll grin his sweet little boy grin. She watches Mr. McGreevy melt.
“Can’t stand in the way of true love,” he says, tipping his postman’s hat.
Maria smiles sadly.
Mr. McGreevy reaches around behind Felix’s ear and extracts a piece of hard candy, wrapped in crinkling cellophane. Felix gasps in delight. Maria, listening to the familiar sounds of Mr. McGreevy drawing candies out of the air, scrawls a message to her husband on a postcard with a black-and-white-line drawing of the town hall: We received the money. We love you. Every month she sends one of these postcards; every month they say the same thing. She calls Felix over and hands him the pen, and he stands on his tiptoes so he can write out his name in large block letters. Maria hands Mr. McGreevy the coins for the postage; he waves them away with his hand.
“True love,” he says again, and when he smiles his eyes twinkle.
Maria is certain that Mr. McGreevy was not born in this dried-up dandelion town.
Most of the other cowboys aren’t married; you wonder if they find it ridiculous, or perhaps quaint, that you are. A few of the older ones profess to have wives waiting many hundreds of miles away, but still they tell you it’s all right, sometimes, to go down to the cathouses with the others, that a man’s got needs, you know? They say it’s not the same if you’re paying for it: just a transaction, nothing more. Then invariably they slap your back and you all laugh.
The first time you went you felt guilty and so you asked for a Mexican girl, but the one they brought out looked nothing like Maria, your Maria: she was too tall, too gangly, her skin a shade too light, her mouth a size too big and painted an obscene color of red. Still. You went upstairs with her, and paid her when the hour was up. It got easier after that. You don’t go often, not as often as the others anyway, but when the northers blow down from Canada and the air gets cut through with sharp coldness like glass, you ease a few bills out of Maria’s monthly allowance and put on your coat and pick out a girl: because there is something about the cold, maybe because you’re not used to it, maybe because you grew up under that oppressive Valley sun, that makes you unbearably lonely, makes you miss Maria so bad it stirs up a pain like a stomachache. And no whiskey or coal space heaters or faded old quilts can melt that painful loneliness away like a woman.
Winter trickles into the Valley the way the nighttime cold trickles into Maria’s bedroom: creeping low to the ground, curling into corners. Maria makes soups for dinner: because of the cold, yes, but also because soups can be stretched out cheaply with potatoes, the moldy parts cut away, or with rice, which sucks up the thin vegetable-flavored water and fills their stomachs for an hour or two at a time. Meat, of course, is sparse: also stringy, cheap, unappetizing.
A norther pushes through one sunny afternoon. Maria sits on the porch and watches Felix play in the dying yard. In the distance, the tops of the trees wave back and forth. The grass ripples. Clouds spread across the oppressive expanse of blue sky. Felix begins to dig a hole in the ground with Maria’s rusted old garden spade. The wind dusts his hair across his forehead; and Maria feels it wash over her and seep through the pores of her skin into the viscera of her body, her blood, her muscle with its thin coating of feminine fat. The screen door flies open and slams shut again, and then: cold.
The temperature drops.
That night Maria takes down the last of the canned tomatoes and mixes them into a pan of weak vegetable broth and beans and garlic. The warmth from the stove fills the kitchen, and Maria wraps up Felix’s head in an old scarf, which he constantly pulls away, peeling himself like an onion.
“Mi cielito,” says Maria. “You need to keep warm.”
“But it itches!” says Felix, and he rubs the end of the scarf against the back of Maria’s hand, which she pulls away, distracted, so she can ladle the soup into bowls. The cold creeps in through the cracks between the window and the wall, and Maria sits at her place watching Felix slurp the soup from his spoon, greedily, and it occurs to her that he is hungry: not hungry the way she would be hungry sometimes back in Mexico, when she skipped breakfast after sleeping in, but genuinely hungry, muriendo de hambre, dying of hunger.
Maria spoons the soup into her mouth and it tastes like hot, dirty water. She thinks about her husband, wonders how the cold manifests itself in the north, if snow chokes out the air the way she has seen in photographs of New York. If it covers the world like a blanket. She has always wanted to see snow. Perhaps that’s why she decided to love him, the norteamericano. Did he promise her snow? She can’t remember but it sounds about right: in that dusty year before she had to leave her home, he was always making promises.
The first of the snow comes, just a thin sprinkle of it, enough to dust the backs of the cattle and turn the dirt to cold mud. The vaqueros start telling ghost stories again, their Spanish drifting up from the fire like smoke, and you stand outside and listen. You don’t know why but the one about the weeping woman chills you the most. It makes you feel colder than the air. You’ve known your share of terrible things: you’ve fought other men before, with fists or with knives; you’ve walked away from bars with your hands covered in another’s blood. You once saw a man trampled to death during a stampede, saw his body transform into a long red smear across the plains. And you could handle all that. But the idea of a woman, a mother, drowning her children in the icy river, for want of a man or for want of food (the vaqueros tell both versions and seem to take pleasure in arguing about them) so confounds you that you begin to study the faces of the few women you see – the rancher’s wife, the whores – looking for some clue, some evidence of their capacity for selfishness, for cruelty, for violence.
Muriendo de hambre. Maria repeats the words over and over in her head, lets them roll around, examines them. Muriendo de hambre. Felix hardly goes outside anymore, not because of the cold, but because he has grown listless and thin. Dark moons form underneath his eyes. His hair stops shining, and instead simply hangs, lank, across his forehead.
At night Maria lies in her empty bed and listens to the leaves skittering across the roof. The starlight spills through the curtains, turns her world silver. And Maria feels herself filling with anger. Her body starts to tremble, and she clenches and unclenches her fists, and the familiar pain in her empty stomach disappears in those moments when the rage is the strongest, when she thinks about her husband whispering to her under the Mexican sky, before he was her husband, back when he was just a gringo with astonishingly blue eyes and rough hands that felt nice against the skin of her stomach. When he promised her a big house in an American city, fashionable dresses from New York, her own car – cherry red, he told her, with the top pushed down. When she thinks about this tiny shack in the Valley, the threadbare clothes, patched together and cheap, the monthly envelopes with their inconsistent contents – and this month the envelope hasn’t even arrived yet – tears, hot and furious, squeeze out of her eyes and smear on her cheekbones. There is no money. There is hardly any food.
The next day Maria checks the mail but all she sees is a gossamer cobweb strung up against the back corner of the mailbox. She digs her nails into her palm.
Maria goes into the house, into the little closet near the back, and pulls out the rifle her husband left there. She takes down the box of shells and loads them clumsily into the chamber. Felix appears at her side, watches her with dark eyes.
“Mama?” he says.
“I’m going to look for food,” says Maria, and she can hardly believe the sound of her voice saying it. “Stay inside. I’ll be back soon.” She wraps her shawl around her shoulders and steps out onto the porch. The chilly wind flutters her hair. She pulls the gun close to her breast and walks out into the yard, through the gate of the rusted chain-link fence, away from the highway, out into the open land. In these desolate months, she does not know what animals she’ll find out here -- if she’ll find any at all.
Maria walks, hearing only the wind and the sound of her feet shuffling over the scrubby grass.
Birds appear as black smudges against the blue sky, but she doesn’t think she could hit them; she doesn’t know if she could hit anything. Maria did not grow up the sort of girl who fired guns. But she saw her brothers do it, for sport, and during her first week as a wife, she watched her husband shoot at Coke bottles, the glass shimmering in the sun as it exploded. She thinks she can do it – because she has to do it, because her husband has forgotten her and their son, their beautiful Mexican son, carried across the border in her belly.
Soon, Maria sees the dog.
The dog belongs to the Montgomery family, who own a sprawling ranch some miles to the west; it must have gotten loose. She can see the dog’s red collar, the shine of its black fur. The dog perks up its head as she approaches, tongue lolling, eyes bright. It sits back on its haunches and watches her without guile or fear: Maria thinks of Felix, his dark crescent-moon eyes, his waxy skin. She thinks about the empty mailbox and the empty icebox and the empty pantry.
Maria holds the gun up to her shoulder. The dog stares at her. Its tail thumps the ground.
Maria fires. The shot echoes across the emptiness.
The dog collapses.
Maria walks over to the dog. She shot it in the side; Maria gags. The dog isn’t dead. Its ribcage moves in and out and it pants raspily and whimpers a little. Maria vomits water and stomach acid. Then she points the rifle at the dog’s head and looks away and squeezes shut her eyes and the trigger at the same time. Another booming echo. And then silence.
She places the gun on the cold earth and kneels next to the dog. Now that it’s dead she finds it easier to detach herself from it, to see it as a thing, inanimate and inorganic. She unlatches its collar, slippery with blood, and tosses it in the grass. She takes off her shawl, wraps it around the dog, and throws this bundle over her shoulder like a sack. Then she picks up the gun and stumbles back towards the house, which she can see like a blemish on the smooth line of the horizon.
When she gets to their property, sweating beneath the chill of the air, she carries the dog around to the back and lays it on the ground near the porch; then she goes inside, toward the kitchen. She passes Felix playing with a wooden truck on the living room floor and slips her bloody hands behind her back without thinking. He looks up at her.
“Did you find anything?” he says, his little boy voice solemn.
Maria nods. “Yes,” she says. “A deer.”
Felix looks at her with clear eyes. She turns to the kitchen.
“Stay in here,” she says. “While I clean it.” She does not want her son to see the dead dog; he will refuse to eat it. From the kitchen Maria takes the large butcher knife and the nice tablecloth. She goes outside through the front door, walks around the perimeter of the house, lays the tablecloth over the ground. She heaves the dog’s carcass onto it and sets to work cutting the fur away in long bloody strips. She does know something about preparing meat: she learned on chickens, but a dog is not so different, and Maria works steadily, soon covering the front of her dress in blood.
About halfway through the process Maria stops and sets the knife down on the tablecloth. She looks at the bloody meat laid out before her. She listens to herself breathing. A piece of her hair falls across her eyes.
Maria begins to cry.
She makes no sound, just lets the tears flow down the plains of her face. Her shoulders shudder and she holds her hands, stiff with dried blood, out in front of her. She wonders if she could take Felix and recross the border and return to Mexico: would they welcome her home? Could she bear the humiliation?
The sky turns orange, turns violet, turns black.
Maria cuts the dog into steaks, which she wraps in parchment paper and places in the icebox. That night she cooks two pieces in the cast-iron skillet, and although at first she wondered if she could bring herself to eat the Montgomerys’ dog, the smell of the sizzling fat makes her mouth water and her stomach growl and she realizes how hungry she is, and when the steaks are done she eats slowly, letting the meat dissolve in her mouth. For Felix she cuts the steak into small pieces and feeds them to him one by one, not wanting to allow him to make himself sick after a diet of rice and beans.
That night Maria goes to bed full. But still she stares at her bedroom’s silvery ceiling, and still she feels an emptiness inside her.
It’s a hard winter, the snow even piling up into drifts sometimes, white and sparkling and lovely when the sun comes out, but cold, colder than you’re used to. The work warms you up; so do the women in town, but every month you dutifully send the money to Maria and Felix. Marriage might make you feel hemmed in, but you’re not a cruel man. Then one month you notice that you never receive the familiar postcard with the line drawing of the town hall; you don’t see Maria’s lacy handwriting telling you that she loves you. At first you’re bothered by it; but then a coyote works its way onto the ranch, and it slips your mind, that phantom postcard.
The next month, you send the money, no postcard. A hard freeze covers everything in a thick fringe of ice: you’re dispatched to round up the cattle, light fires, keep them warm. Out under that cold starry sky you begin to wonder if Maria has run back to her parents’ home in Mexico, if she has left you alone out here.
And so you scrounge up some scuffed, torn paper and a broken pencil and lean against a fence post and begin a letter to her. You don’t finish it; it gets stuffed in your pocket and forgotten until the next month, when winter should be abating but has instead decided to hold on, sending blasts of arctic air across the Panhandle, and again you receive no postcard. You write another letter, addressing it to Maria’s childhood home, drop it in the mail.
But what you do not know is this: Maria has not run back across the river. She can’t bring herself to do so. She has not been sending postcards because she has not been receiving money; she has not been receiving money because in the post office near the ranch one of the few, underpaid workers has taken to holding the envelopes up to the light, looking for the outline of bills. When he sees them he rips the envelope open and tucks the money away in his wallet and shreds the envelopes and throws them in the trash; he will not be caught for another six months.
You listen to the ghost stories of the vaqueros. You go to the whorehouses. You drive the cattle. You carry on.
Two months have passed but Maria doesn’t know it; time has muddled for her. They have lived off the dog meat and the last of the rice and beans and also the pecans that tumbled out of the trees in the fall. Maria feels that emptiness inside her expanding like a black hole; eating her from the inside out, sucking her into a state of fugue, and she moves through the house, pale as a ghost, her hands trembling and frail.
Felix watches her with his starry eyes, plays with his trucks, talks to the snakes in the yard.
Maria watches herself watch him. She can feel her heart breaking one piece at a time, falling into her bloodstream, sharp painful splinters of it like a mirror.
The world pulls farther and farther away. Maria stops checking the mailbox.
The night the temperature drops for the final time that winter, Maria feels the last piece of her heart fall away. While she lies in bed, a light suddenly blinks out somewhere inside her, and in the silvery starlit gloom of her bedroom she has a moment of painful clarity: they are dying. And every step she takes to prolong their life really only prolongs their suffering. They are going to starve. To die.
Felix is going to starve to death.
Maria sits up. She steps out of her bed and puts a threadbare sweater on over her airy nightgown. She puts on her shoes.
She goes into Felix’s room. A triangle of moonlight falls across his face, and in that unforgiving light she sees how gaunt he has become. He looks like an old man.
“Mi cielito,” she says. Her voice showers over him like rain; he stirs. “Mi cielito. Wake up. I need to show you something.”
“Mama?” He turns, fluttering his eyes open, throwing his arm over his forehead. “What is it?”
“A surprise,” she says.
His eyes widen.
“Put on your coat and your scarf. You don’t want to get cold.” She pulls the scarf off the top of his chair, helps him out of bed, winds it around him. Her hands linger on his hair. She can feel the notches of his spine as she pulls on his shirt.
“Let’s go,” she says, in the same voice she used last summer when they went swimming in the municipal pool.
Maria and Felix go outside, letting the screen door slam behind them. The cold wind nearly knocks them back. Maria wraps her hand around Felix’s bony fingers. She leads him across the yard, through the gate, toward the river dissecting the landscape, rocky and overgrown with vines. The stars twinkle against the black sky, but when Maria looks up she feels that she is looking into the void inside herself.
“What’s the surprise, Mama?” says Felix.
Maria looks down at him. “I can’t tell you.”
Felix crinkles his brow.
They arrive at the river. Maria can hear the voices of the water. She no longer feels the cold; she no longer feels anything.
“Be mindful of the branches,” she tells Felix, suddenly aware of the resistance in his grip.
“Mama?” he says. “I want to go back home.”
“Shhh, mi cielito, mi cielito.” When she picks him up and cradles him in her arms, he whimpers a little. “Mi cielito.”
The stars blink, watching Maria wade out into the river. They watch her hunch over the water, black in the darkness of night, and then plunge her hands into it. They hear her intake of breath at its iciness. The water, churning, turns frothy and white, and there comes a brief high-pitched screaming, like the call of a bird, and then it is done.
Maria straightens and for a moment feels whole again, the way she did before this dreadful winter – this winter so much colder than usual, and so empty, and so barren.
But then she looks closer at the water. The sphere of light glinting on the surface is not the moon and the black weeds drifting among the rocks feather out in a way unlike the movement of the other weeds, and she screams.
“Mi cielito!” Her voice cuts across the cold night. “Felix!” She screams and screams until her throat is raw and she is screaming blood, until she herself is nothing but a scream, a wail, a sob. She stands in the water and weeps and in her weeping her skin and bones and blood transmute into mist, her hair into shadow, her eyes into the night sky. Her entire world falls away: Mexico, her husband, the Valley, the mailbox, the envelopes, the hunger. All she knows is the face of her son gleaming beneath the clear film of water, and her weeping.
This is all she is.
It’s a clear night. You’re out alone among the cattle, listening to them shuffle, low, bump into one another. The vaqueros have gone to town tonight, to spend their paychecks on whiskey and women. You roll up a cigarette, light it. The flare illuminates your face.
And that’s when you hear it. Weeping.
The sound sends a chill up your spine. You stand very still, the cigarette burning between your lips. It’s caught on the wind, this weeping, and so it spreads out over the plains. But it has to come from somewhere; somewhere, there is a woman, caught, trapped, wailing.
You jump the cattle fence and whistle up your horse and ride out. You pause every few minutes to listen. The sound seems to come from the north, up near the sludgy pond formed by the water tank; you dig your heels into the horse’s side and head that way. The wailing grows louder. There’s something peculiar about it: a movement, vaguely musical, that reminds you of water lapping over rocks.
When you come to the water tank, the horse shrieks and pulls back and nearly bucks you off – you have to lean forward and whisper consolingly to it, but when you do, you catch sight of the woman, standing knee deep in the pond, white hands covering her face, weeping. You freeze, staring at her.
The Spanish words of the vaqueros’ ghost stories flood your thoughts, drowning all else. You wrap your fingers in the horse’s rough mane. The woman drops her hands from her face, and the horse jerks its head up and immediately you shout, for in the place where the woman’s eyes should be are two dark holes, reflecting back at you the constellations glimmering overhead. Her hair hangs as if wet. Her skin hardly seems to exist. She does not stop weeping.
And then you remember the vaqueros’ ghost stories, and you know that this woman wants to drown you: she wants to wrap her narrow fingers, icy with death and the cold water, around your wrists and drag you into the pond with her. She has mistaken you for her lost child.
She moves forward, the water stirring in her wake.
You kick the horse and it rears, turns, gallops away. You dig your heels deeper into its ribcage, lean down over its neck, and listen to its hooves pounding over the frozen dirt. Its breath puffs out white; so does yours. And this is how you ride away, away from the weeping woman, toward the ranch,the sound of her wailing fading into the sound of the wind and your breath, and some lucid part of you wonders why the ghost woman in the water tank pond reminds you of home.