The whole night the inn burnt and I walked back to Chinatown and the old lady let me sleep in her stuffy opium den filled with other people, other races, dazed and lost in the high. I woke up in the morning and helped the old lady push her wooden cart around filled with cooked white rice and some sausages. I had no money to be on my own so she let me stay and work for her. I had good food, a place to lay my head at night. I stayed with her for a whole year and worked to earn back what I had lost at the inn. When I decided that I had enough money, I spent a week going around town buying what I needed for my trip. The old lady didn’t want me leaving her but I wanted to make my fortune. Watching all the men head up in groups north every day made me all the more impatient to go. I was able to buy a double-barreled shotgun, a bootleg pistol, some ammo, rope, a thick blanket, a sharp knife; a gourd canteen to carry my water because if I used leather, it would make the water taste funny; a shovel, and a wooden bucket. Knowing the lady, I was able to get good deals. She had connections all around town, and I was able to buy a good horse.
I left early in the morning before the sun rose. I knew the old lady was up. I stood there staring at her. Her back was toward me. Her eyes were closed as she sat burning incense. She wasn’t going to open her eyes and say good bye to me. Ha! That proud woman wasn’t going to let me see her cry. I smiled and left. I got some cornmeal and carrots and found a dog wandering alone. I needed a dog to be my ears at night. I fed it and it followed me. I rode my horse through the south to get around the bay. I finally reached the small rickety bar where I had my fire whiskey at. There was an Indian fellow getting roughed up in the dirt by some drunks. “Leave him be,” I said and touched my shotgun. The drunks backed off and scurried inside. The Indian looked at me and said, “Thank you.”
I went right to it, “What’s the safest way north?” I asked.
He looked stunned and then smiled, “I could be from the south.”
“You wouldn’t be wearing so much fur. A person like you had to come from the mountains.”
He smiled, “Wear this for protection.” He gave me a handwoven necklace to wear. When he saw me put it around my neck, he smiled again and said, “The safest way is…to stay away from people that look like you.” And we parted.
I continued my journey and passed orchard fields of apples. When the sun started to sink and the sky became a deep bluish-orange, I stopped and set up camp. I built a small crackling fire and ate a cooked chicken thigh and some rice that the old lady packed for me. I could hear a harmonica in the distance. There were others camping for the evening. The dog laid down next to me in the dirt. And the night was peaceful with crickets and night birds and the sounds of the campfire. The next day, I continued on my journey. I knew I was getting closer to the Sierras when I started to feel the chill that people talked about who came back from the mountains. Soon the landscape changed and became more rugged. There were trees of pine, its red needles all over the ground, and the air was sweet and there were big boulders of massive gray rock. The dog and I ate mashed potatoes at our next rest stop. We kept moving forward every morning. When the food started getting low, I resorted to the small sack of rice the old lady gave me. I cooked it and used it to catch raccoons that came near my campsite at night looking for food.
Categories: Elle Peyarre's Short Stories (fiction)