This is a follow to the Christmas murder story Jean-Marie Saporito wrote about in her first “Letter from Taos” in January — intimate, intense, minimalist memoir, Chekhov crossed with Barry Hannah but telling the truth, with a female sensibility that is sassy, unafraid of her own peccadilloes and desires. What was wonderful in the earlier piece and still holds here is Jean-Marie’s ability to create a dense weave of narrative vectors: murder, femme fatale, sobering up, a cowboy lover, an indiscretion, and the words of historical cowgirls. Jean-Marie is a former student of mine at Vermont College of Fine Arts where she received her MFA. She lives in Taos. For her first “letter” she wrote, “If you want, you can add to my bio that I’m dating a cowboy. You know what a cowboy is? A man who can handle cows — ride, rope, herd. I’m learning a lot.”
I saw the femme fatale of the Christmas murder at my friend’s party. Let’s call her T. to protect what little may be left of her privacy. The papers had graciously kept her anonymous. T. is 17, a child I’ve known since my son and she were in kindergarten. I had heard that the girl had hid in the closet and listened while Charles shot Dylan and that she’d since sobered up. So when I saw T. at this intimate party of recovering women junkies and drunks, I knew, without asking, she was the girl who’d hid in the closet that night.
At this party we played a raucous game of Cowgirls Ride the Trail of Truth. This board game, which the hostess, M., created several years ago, is a version of Truth or Dare, only the dare is to tell the truth. On the front of the cards are quotes from cowgirls like R.C. Jonas (1904) — “To have courage is to have the life you want.” On the cards’ backs are different categories of questions — family and friends, experience and history, sex and body.
My turn from the sex and body category — “What would you do if you woke up one morning and discovered you had a penis instead of a vagina?”
“Fuck the first girl I could!” someone shouted, another, “Masturbate!” We screeched and laughed at our unseemliness. I noticed T. smiling.
I left the party to see my cowboy. We fought over my admitted indiscretion with another man. My cowboy had a violent past, now many years behind him. Still, I considered the game I was playing.
On Valentine’s day, at a burlesque show at the local solar station bar, I saw T.’s mother. I was there with friends, having refused to see my cowboy lover. Maintaining the pretense of T.’s anonymity, I mentioned to her mother that I had seen her daughter recently, that she is such a sweet girl, that she remembered me. I didn’t have the courage to tell T.’s mother I don’t think the Christmas murder was her daughter’s fault. Instead of taking her hand and lamenting motherhood’s travails, I pretended that nothing had happened, and smiled, commenting on the show and the sweet bits of cake we were eating.
A few days later, my cowboy gave me my Valentine’s presents — jewelry, flowers, and a box of condoms.
From the cowgirl, Kathy Willow (1881): “Everything has a meaning, but sometimes I just can’t figure out what it is.”