Taos is huddled between two states, New Mexico and Colorado, holding dear to its heart the Pueblo Indians and mountain filled streams of daring rainbow trout. The forest dots the landscape like an eco-green peace bonnet.
The Indians moving west had found a home. But, progress came and brought with it pioneers. And before much time had elapsed this hideaway became an urban tourist attraction for the wealthy and tradesperson alike.
That was niche! Noah Ramsey McTarland was one tradesperson traveling to show his wares. The Festival carved into the wooded lands on both sides and the shrinking head of Indian culture was forced to find work outside their respective reservations.
Noah had traveled to Taos upon invitation by the Woodcrafter’s Association of the festivities. He was master at his craft and excellent with his hands. Candle wax was not softer, though callous of working with wood had shaped his fingers and palms with crevice and line exquisite to his profession. A quiet man dressed for labor. Furrows upon his brow exhibited his resolve and depth framed with red curls lilting about his earlobes drawn down sinews upon his neck. His sturdy stature assured people of value; his honest, clear eyes promised tomorrow.
Traveling down the cobbled edge of Beautiful Avenue, Noah was not paying attention to where he was going but only to what he was thinking.
If I sell haf of what I brung, he thought, then I certainly will have made good money for to bring back home. He pondered this amount and that imagining what he could do with all the money he would make. Now if I bring in four hundred from it all, then I can take it down there to that there real estate man, Ernest Chief, and buy that other haf acre. He smiled thinking of the adjoining piece of property. This other half acre held with it the promise of a pure fed stream, and this delighted his mind with fair trade. Land can be a man’s very own soul.
He stepped up on the curb, hopped on one leg and kicked his leg in front of the other with skipping effect grinning to his self with satisfaction. Noah whistled while he aimlessly walked. Free mind and free thought were certain to be one of life’s greatest distractions. Hand and finger traced shop window and word outline, B A R B E R S H o P, he wondered, why is the “o” so little? His arm following body, following hand, followed finger tracing along the window sill of the next shop…
“Shit!” he jerked his hand closer to his face to look at his finger. “A damn splinter, how the…” He pinched the aching finger with his thumb concentrating on the spot with a grimace and raised brow he brought his finger to his lips and lightly sucked the seeping blood from the sore puncture. There didn’t seem to be any wood in his finger, but there was a curious, sullen woman staring out the glass.
Noah looked her up and down with a quick word. “What?”
The woman smirked, raised her left eyebrow and grunted “Hmmph” as she crossed her arms. She turned her back and walked away from the window.
“Now what in the Hell?” Noah entered the doorway and walked beneath the jingling of a bell. The overwhelming smell of yeast bread and chocolate steamed the air, warm cinnamon buns and the faint scent of butter wafted beneath his nostrils. He closed his eyes and swallowed a gulp of air as if taking a big bite.
That same woman, wooden behind the counter, stood without word, without smile. She looked like an injun, dark complexion, and dark eyes, a lean and strapping curved figure. He wanted to see her smile. She startled him when she spoke.
“You here for festival, right? Where you from? Aw not married maybe you look here for wife?” She peered at him with her sullen face and tucked a long black strand beneath her white makeshift turban. “I make man a good wife, you looking, mister? I am a good cook, hard working and I keep to myself. What else could a man want?” Her arm reached out to him with palm extended she cupped a single dark confection. He took it from her hand looking at her with a curious disposition. He popped the chocolate into his mouth.
Bitter, bitter, bitter sweet hints dappled his tongue he thought, this tastes just like you—bitter, bitter, bitter and sweet. He shook his head and sighed. “Nope, not looking, lady, better luck somewhere else. Thanks for the candy, be seeing ya around” he had traveled half the distance across the store to the exit and was half way to getting that other haf acre when she spoke those words.
“I have money, much money saved, and all I want is to escape this place.” her voice was desperate. “Not care where, not care at all, make you a good wife please mister!”
What a crazy! Then he thought about the money. “How much money do you have saved?”
“Almost two thousand, nigh, two thousand, yes.” She bit her lip.
Noah laughed and considered the possibilities. He could marry this crazy woman, take the money and buy even more land than what he had planned. What would it cost him after all except a little bit of food and shelter for her? She couldn’t want for much she was much too plain. He stood there. She stood there. Silence passed between them longer than the aging of a Joshua Tree.
“What is your name, girly?” He laughed.
She paused and breathed in deeply, relief in her expression. “Joan. Just Joan.”
Noah nodded his head. “My name is Noah Ramsey McTarland. Nice to meet you just Joan.”
Joan’s face softened and a small glimmer of a smile stretched her high, taut cheekbones.
Joan packed faster than she would have if she had packed a picnic. In a plain brown suitcase, she placed four tops and pants, and a wooden handled hairbrush. The poor living conditions and great poverty of living on a reservation had made her life simple. Noah was right; she was a plain woman, very plain indeed! It was apparent to Noah that she wanted to escape from living on an Indian reservation.
Anticipating handing Ernest a roll, Noah could see acre upon acre piled upon a hefty deed of sale. Imagination prompted speed and attention to this sale fine of acres to be had. The winds never failed to fill this sale surely fate had delved deeply in this and he must act. And act now!
The sign read Chapel; it seemed simple enough. Noah pulled his blue truck into the parking lot. By tonight he would be married and wholly rich with a new wife and land. Ceremony be damned he thought. Let’s just get it over with and done. Make it legal then it is all mine! Tossing the cash across the counter, Noah took Joan’s hand and led her towards the makeshift altar of feigned flower hurrah and blabber crap.
“Come on preach, let’s get this thing started!” Noah’s impatience did not work for good results. The preacher struggled slowly with his bible, being cautious with his eyes.
The ordained ambled with careful attention to the bride to be and though he did not speak, it was apparent that he was concerned.
Noah looked at Joan with almost a condescending sympathy, “Now see here, me Tarzan and you,” he paused for a minute, “are just Joan!” Noah laughed heartily. Joan stood there just staring at him, unmoved and detached.
Words ambled and bounced between the fake fountain, fake water and semi real flowers dangling about the Chapel. When the words, “Now I pronounce you…” fell from the air like lead only Noah and the pastor seemed to be moved–but not in a good way.
“Off to the races we go, Wahoo!” dancing down the aisle down-dragging his new wife behind him, Noah could smell the earth of his land calling to him. Stereophonic bullfighter themes played in his mind. All things fast shook around inside his head. Belly dancing mistresses filled his mind, and he was a lord and master. He was a land owner of vast proportions. What could be a greater aphrodisiac! Intoxicated with the fervor, he drove on towards tomorrow catching it with a red cape flapping out before him daring fate to charge him. He would gore the bull and betroth the flowers fallen from all the admiring eyes beneath his feet. Olé! He was driving through the Spanish country of New Mexico traveling with his injun bride back to the Devil’s Armpit.
Mammalian reproduction videos have better sex scenes than Just Joan and Noah’s “unity”. Consummated, knotted, tied at back, by goodness, it was done. They had arrived by nightfall of the next day and spent the entirety of two or three minutes making what might have been thought to be binding. Joan was relieved and Noah, well, he was ready for that money and deed to hold onto the future that elusive tomorrow.
“Okay, baby, are you ready to go and make the future come to us?”
“What do you mean, didn’t we just?”, her eyes wide open—mouth agape like she should be mopping floors or god knew what other chores she would be expected to perform in accordance with wifely duties. “Oh, you mean the two thousand dollars, right?”
“Yeah, baby, bring on the green stuff and let’s get our happy little lives together. C’mon, what do ya say?” Noah’s rubbed his hands together greedily with a toothy grin.
Joan stood there and her sullen expression paled as the blood drained from her cheeks. Without a warning, she shook away her “beaten dog” persona and held her chin pointed high, stretching her neck so that she would have to look down upon his gaze. “I lied,” she said with a stolid expression. Cold shivers ran down her arms and the tiny hairs prickled her as the last word voiced its sound.
“Priceless!” Noah covered his face, rubbed his palm over his eyes then his forehead. Though many thoughts came and went in the short moments during this disturbing silence. “Damn!” He stomped his foot and shook his head angrily. Noah walked out of the house, hopped in his truck, and drove blindly. He tried to calculate the damage of his recent half-baked adventure. The thought of empty bank notes, empty cabinets and one more mouth to feed were among the images zig-zagging in his mind. He now had a wife, no money and a future on a haf acre.
Joan stood amongst her ramshackle surroundings, and began to fully notice what she had married and the level of work desperately needed to be done to her house. It was in bad want of repairs. The kitchen sink faucet continually leaked. The roof needed patching before any rains came for the season. There were yellowed stains on the ceiling. The yard needed to be mowed, but that was no matter for she had her own system of “sweeping” that would soon take care of the tiny front yard.
Joan took the broom in her left hand and walked-out upon the porch she took a deep sigh and began to sweep. First, she swept the porch where past leaves, debris and old newspapers had collected. Next, she swept down the steps to the porch, leaving no trace of dirt behind her feet. Then, as she began to embark on sweeping the grass away, a car drove past and the passengers peered at her with strange expressions watching her as if they had never seen anyone sweep away grass from a yard. How ridiculous these people, Joan thought. Don’t they know snakes come to grass—evil snakes, chase and leave be gone from this home and ne’er return.
Sweeping long into the dusk hours, Joan managed to make the entire earth of the front yard exposed. She felt exhausted and comforted at the same time.
Noah arrived back home at 3:00 in the morning. He noticed nothing unusual about the yard or porch. He opened the front door and collapsed on the couch.
The morning sun rose early, and found Joan busy about her chores of mopping and washing. She walked to town and purchased several lively geraniums from the local grocer along with a bottle of milk and a bag full of white rice. When she returned, Noah was still resting, feet propped-up on the arm of the couch with his big toe haphazardly poking out of a large hole in his right sock.
Joan placed the bottle of milk in the refrigerator and laid the bag of rice upon the counter. It was time to protect her new home. The geraniums planted outside would warn of coming unwanted visitors by pointing their leaves in the direction other than upright. And the rice would bring rain when scattered over the roof at midnight. She would do this.
A day later, Saturday, midnight, Joan took the rice outside and began to throw it on the roof. She called to spirits of her ancestors to bless this land with rain. Noah had retired for the evening since he had spent much of his time in his wood shop carving and seething over all that had transpired.
He reached for his coffee cup, peering out of the kitchen curtain coaching his vision to awaken when he caught a floundering movement between the crevices in the corner of the window. Noah put down his empty cup and walked to the back door. There must have been at least twenty of them. Lord Almighty! He thought. What in the world has happened? Bird flu? Disease?
“Joan, come quick! There is something wrong with the birds.” She came to his side and looked out over the scene at all the flopping and still bodies that scattered across the backyard. They both hustled out the back door and perused the entire yard; it was covered in dead birds.
Noah looked up to the heavens to ask why, and noticed the roof was scattered with white dots. He turned to Joan. “Is that rice up there?”
Joan nodded her head.
Noah threw his hands up in the air waving them over his head, “Woman, are you crazy? Don’t you know that when birds eat that stuff it kills them? Don’t you know that? Huh?”
“I was simply blessing this land.” She shrugged with sadness. “It is tradition.”
“I can’t take this!” Noah stomped off into the house and left in moments to go and get himself a strong cup of coffee at the coffee shop.
Bo Jay greeted Noah as he sat at the bar waiting for a waitress to bring him a cup and fill it to the brim. “So I hear you gone and got married to some foreign lady, ehh?”
Noah nodded, “Yeah.”
“I hear she’s an odd sort. Swept the grass clean out of your yard?”
“Yeah, I guess she did that, too.” Noah sighed with heavy shoulders.
“Well, son, let me tell you marriage is Hell on Earth, and once a man bites the hook, you know, he’s pretty much sealed his fate here. The rest of the time you spend thinking about how everything is gonna work out. Ya know?”
He sipped his coffee; Bo Jay patted Noah on the shoulder. “It’s gonna be alright. Gonna be alright. Just gonna be hell first.” And without another word, the two men sat idle pondering the meaning of Hell.
As soon as Noah arrived home, he walked through the house he spotted Joan and gave her a nod. Joan peered at Noah and watched him walk out the back door toward his shop. Thirty minutes later, Noah left his little shop carrying a sign. He nailed it to the tree in the front yard. Joan stood outside; she had filled two garbage bags with the bodies of dead birds.
Noah stood back from the sign on the tree and purveyed the entity with pride and a tilted head. Joan watched. “Yep,” he said and laughed to his self, “that just about sums it up.”
The sign reads, “Hell’s Haf Acre”, and Noah thought at least I ain’t dead!
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