My mother died of pneumonia when I was just a kid. My father had kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years. After the funeral, he gave it to the yardman. He tried to act cheerful, but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in his house. Then, one day, hoping to begin a new life away from the scene of all his memories, he moved us from Texas to Ft. Dupree, South Dakota.
Little did I realize that what began in the alleys and backways of this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.
He was handsomer than anybody I'd ever met. He looked just like James Dean.
Kit went to work in the feedlot while I carried on with my studies. Little by little we fell in love. As I'd never been popular in school and didn't have a lot of personality, I was surprised that he took such a liking to me, especially when he could've had any other girl in town if he'd given it half a try. He said that I was grand, though, that he wasn't interested in me for sex and that coming from him, this was a compliment. He'd never met a fifteen year-old girl who behaved more like a grownup and wasn't giggly. He didn't care what anybody else thought. I looked good to him, and whatever I did was okay, and if I didn't have a lot to say, well, that was okay, too. Of course, I had to keep all this a secret from my dad. He would've had a fit, since Kit was ten years older than me and came from the wrong side of the tracks, so called. Our time with each other was limited and each lived for the precious hours when he or she could be with the other, away from all the cares of the world.
In the stench and slime of the feedlot, he'd remember how I looked the night before, how I ran my hand through his hair and traced the outline of his lips with my fingertip. He wanted to die with me, and I dreamed of being lost forever in his arms....I didn't mind telling Kit about stuff like this, cause strange things happened in his life, too, and some of the stuff he did was strange. For instance, he faked his signature whenever he used it, to keep other people from forging important papers with his name.
And as he lay in bed, in the middle of the night, he always heard a noise like somebody was holding a seashell against his ear. And sometimes he'd see me coming toward him in beautiful white robes, and I'd put my cold hand on his forehead.
Did it go the way it was supposed to?...Is that all there is to it?...Gosh, what was everybody talking about?...Well, I'm glad it's over. For a while, I was afraid I might die before it happened. Had a wreck, or some deal like that.
Kit made a solemn vow that he would always stand beside me and let nothing come between us. He wrote this out in writing, put the paper in a box with some of our little tokens and things, then sent it off in a balloon he'd found while on the garbage route. His heart was filled with longing as he watched it drift off. Something must've told him that we'd never live these days of happiness again, that they were gone forever.
Then sure enough, Dad found out I'd been running around behind his back. He was madder than I'd ever seen him. As punishment for deceiving him, he went and shot my dog. He made me take extra lessons every day after school and wait there till he came to pick me up. He said that if the piano didn't keep me off the streets, maybe the clarinet would.
Kit left a record playing over and over for the District Attorney to find. He was gambling for time.
Kit made me get my books from school, so I wouldn't fall behind. We'd be starting a new life, he said. And we'd have to change our names. His would be James. Mine would be Priscilla. We'd hide out like spies, somewhere in the North, where people didn't ask a lot of questions. I could of snuck out the back or hid in the boiler room, I suppose, but I sensed that my destiny now lay with Kit, for better or for worse, and it was better to spend a week with one who loved me for what I was than years of loneliness.
We hid out in the wilderness down by a river in a grove of cottonwoods. It being the flood season, we built our house in the trees, with tamarisk walls and willows laid side by side to make a floor. There wasn't a plant in the forest that didn't come in handy. We planned a huge network of tunnels under the forest floor, and our first order of business every morning was to decide on a new password for the day. Now and then, we'd sneak out at night and steal a chicken or a bunch of corn or some melons from a melon patch. Mostly, though, we just lay on our backs and stared at the clouds and sometimes it was like being in a big marble hall, the way we talked in low voices and heard the tiniest sound. They hadn't found but one set of bones in the ashes of the house, so we knew they'd be looking for us. Kit made sure we'd be prepared. He gave me lectures on how a gun works, how to take it apart and put it back together again, in case I had to carry on without him. He said that if the Devil came at me, I could shoot him with a gun.
We had our bad moments, like any couple. Kit accused me of only being along for the ride, while at times I wish he'd fall in the river and drown, so I could watch. Mostly though, we got along fine and stayed in love. I grew to love the forest. The cooing of the doves and the hum of dragonflies in the air made it always seem lonesome and like everybody's dead and gone. When the leaves rustled overhead, it was like the spirits were whispering about all the little things that bothered 'em.
One day, while taking a look at some vistas in Dad's stereopticon, it hit me that I was just this little girl, born in Texas, whose father was a sign painter and who had only just so many years to live. It sent a chill down my spine, and I thought - Where would I be this very moment if Kit had never met me? Or killed anybody? This very moment? If my Mom had never met my Dad? If she'd of never died? And what's the man I'll marry gonna look like? What's he doing right this minute? Is he thinking about me now, by some coincidence, even though he doesn't know me? Does it show on his face? For days afterwards, I lived in dread. Sometimes, I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened.
Kit felt bad about shooting those men in the back, but he said they'd come in like that, and they would've played it as down and dirty as they could. And besides, he'd overheard them whispering about how they were only interested in the reward money. With lawmen, it would've been different. They were out there to get a job done and they deserved a fair chance. But not a bounty hunter.
Kit never let on why he'd shot Cato. He said that just talking about it could bring us bad luck and that right now, we needed all the luck we could get.
Suddenly, I was thrown into a state of shock. Kit was the most trigger happy person I'd ever met. He claimed that as long as you're playing for keeps and the law is coming at ya, it's considered OK to shoot all witnesses. You had to take the consequences, though, and not whine about it later. He never seemed like a violent person before, except for once, when he said he'd like to rub out a couple of guys whose names he didn't care to mention. It all goes to show how you can know a person and not really know him at the same time.
At this moment, I didn't feel shame or fear, but just kind of blah, like when you're sitting there and all the water's run out of the bathtub.
The whole country was out looking for us, for who knew where Kit would strike next. Sidewalks cleared out, stores closed their doors and drew their blinds. Posses and vigilance committees were set up from Texas to North Dakota. Children rode back and forth to school under heavy guard. A famous detective was brought in from Boston. He could find no clues. People left their lights on when they went to sleep. My clarinet teacher said I probably wasn't responsible, but others said I was. Then, on Thursday, the Governor of Oklahoma sent out the National Guard to stand watch at the Federal Reserve Bank in Tulsa when word got out that Kit meant to rob it. It was like the Russians had invaded.
The day was quiet and serene but I didn't notice, for I was deep in thought, and not even thinking about how to slip off. The world was like a faraway planet to which I could never return. I thought what a fine place it was, full of things that people can look into and enjoy.
Sometimes he acts like there's something wrong with his bean. Hope nothing ever goes wrong with mine...He's kind of odd. They claim I've got him wrapped around my little finger, but I never told him to shoot anybody.
Fearing there'd be roadblocks on the highways, we took off across that region known as the Great Plains. Kit told me to enjoy the scenery - and I did. "Rumor: Pat Boone is seriously considering giving up his career so he can return to school full-time and complete his education. Fact: Pat has told intimates that so long as things are going well for his career, it's the education that will have to take a back seat...Rumor: Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth are in love. Fact: True, but not with each other." Through desert and mesa, across the endless miles of open range, we made our headlong way, steering by the telephone lines toward the mountains of Montana. Kit would sometimes ram a cow to save on ammo, and we'd cook it. Once we had to eat a bunch of salt grass. It tasted like cabbage. For gas, we used the leakage from the valves of the pipelines we found along the way. Drip gas is what it's called in that part of the country. Little by little, we approached the border. Kit was glad to leave South Dakota behind and cursed its name. He said that if the Communists ever dropped the atomic bomb, he wished they'd put it right in the middle of Rapid City.
We lived in utter loneliness, neither here nor there. Kit said that solitude was a better word, 'cause it meant more exactly what I wanted to say. Whatever the expression, I told him we couldn't go on living this way... "I feel like a, kind of like an animal living out here. There's no place to bathe and not any place to get anything good to eat."...In the distance, I saw a train making its way silently across the plain, like a caravan in The Adventures of Marco Polo. It was our first taste of civilization in weeks, and I asked Kit if we could have a closer look.
He took and buried some of our things in a bucket. He said that nobody else would know where we'd put 'em, and that we'd come back someday, maybe, and they'd still be sitting here, just the same, but we'd be different. And if we never got back, well, somebody might dig 'em up a thousand years from now and wouldn't they wonder!
We took off at sunset, on a line toward the mountains of Saskatchewan, for Kit a magical land beyond the reach of the law. He needed me now more than ever, but something had come between us. I'd stopped even paying attention to him. Instead, I sat in the car and read a map and spelled out entire sentences with my tongue on the roof of my mouth, where nobody could read them. That night we moved closer to the border, and clear across the prairie, at the very edge of the horizon. We could make out the gas fires of the refineries at Missoula, while to the south, we could see the lights of Cheyenne, a city bigger and grander than I'd ever seen. I felt all kind of things looking at the lights of Cheyenne, but most important, I made up my mind to never again tag around with a hell-bent type, no matter how in love with him I was. Finally, I found the strength to tell Kit this. I pointed out that even if we got to the Far North, he still couldn't make a living.