1884 Shy: A Short Story

Written by: Pam Backlund  

 Illustrated and read aloud at: https://youtu.be/mZenRhZJ2H8          

          “He said he hated my mother, he hated my father and he hated me.  Then I was falling out of the canoe.” Rosheen wailed as I helped her out of Dove Creek.

          I had been traveling with my horse, Sneed when I heard the deafening screams of a woman in distress.  So as I was pulling her muddied ego out of the river, I couldn’t help but wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

          Sneed and I were on our way to go to work at the “Angelo Journal Newspaper” on Oakes Street.  I’d been in correspondence with Mr. Acker there while I lived in Fredericksburg.  West Texas called out to me and my rigorous, insanely accurate ways.  Errors in my hometown paper were few and far between because of my rigidity; and I promised Mr. Acker to be the same for him.

          In case you wondered, my name is Shiloh and I was born the year that Abe Lincoln was killed, nineteen years ago.  My parents left to see the Lord two years ago and I’ve been on my own ever since.  I wear my hair up in a flattering style and almost always wear black clothing, (especially when I’m typesetting.)  I’m shy.  I have a secret about myself that I am unwilling to share with others.  So I keep to myself to prevent the public from finding out.  I don’t want their sympathy.

          “Sneed, be good while I help her pack,” I said as I brought him a bucket of water.

          Rosheen had been good company in my wagon. We were about to pack up her belonging and head on, so she could catch a stage coach.  She would go back to her parents in Illinois to escape her belittling spouse, she said.  I helped her pack her two grey bags with her clothing.  I noted that we wore about the same size.   She also had a hefty waist and small breasts.  One might say that we are both kind of linear.

          Nevertheless, we got the clothes and were working on kitchen items that she could sell to get train fare at Fort Worth.  Anything of value was captured quickly and boxed in a large crate in the back of my wagon.  She was so nervous that her husband would find her leaving and prevent it.  She’d thought of this day hundreds of times and here it finally was.

          “I’m so lucky you came along when you did,” remarked Rosheen.

          “I can’t imagine living with a man like yours for as long as you did.  Just because he didn’t put his hands on you to smack you around, he was still controlling, blatant and disrespectful.” I said.

          “I would always think that in the future he would be better, you know?”  Rosheen finished packing the last thing that was hers.  “Oh, I almost forgot…I’d hate for him to find this under the mattress someday.”  She’d darted to the bed.

          She pulled out an obscure cardboard box with a womb veil in it.  “He shames me for not being fertile because we haven’t had any children.  I owe my lack of being a mom to this handy device that I mail ordered soon after realizing he is so arrogant.”

          “Why’d you stay with him so long?  Didn’t you realize he was deflating you?  I suspect he distorted and alluded that he is perfect and you aren’t.  I’ve seen others like him.  Also, I bet he is really handsome,” I alleged as Sneed responded to my reins.

          Rosheen looked back longingly to the cabin behind us and remarked, “I knew voices told me to leave, but it was just too hard until you came along.  Thank you.”

          After a while, we no longer thought that every noise nearby was her husband hunting us down.  So at some point, I stopped the wagon and found a private place for Rosheen to get out of her wet clothing.  We were on the banks of the Concho, edging closer to the stagecoach station where the stage would take her to Fort Worth.

          While she was changing, I remembered that my uncle was a lot like her husband.  Once before my puberty, I was at his house whittling wood in the middle of the day.  He said to me that ‘he was a nothing’ and yet, ‘HE was all that he could think about’.   He switched gears and actually seemed interested in me saying, “But I will now concentrate on you.” 

          My eyes brightened.  But without further ado he asked me if I thought he was a good man.  Before I could respond he became arrogant about his accomplishments.   It turns out that most of ‘HIS’ good deeds were actually completed by my aunt.  This was his typical behavior.

          I mentioned this memory to Rosheen and investigated the expression on her face.  She was predictably lost in thought.  There were some nods and an “ah-ha” as she re-evaluated her own marriage.

          Rosheen described, “I’ll never forget what happened when we were in the canoe.  I was telling him how I missed my family.  Before I knew what was happening he was trying to manipulate me into never seeing them again. He said he’d be burning all of their letters to me, unopened.  He was so sneaky when he purposely rocked the boat so I would fall into the creek.  To sulk, he probably went to his pathetic ‘secret’ place where he keeps his stash of booze.  It was all because I said I would divorce him someday.”

          What could I say to her?  I felt such sympathy…but I also didn’t understand why she seemed to take responsibility for him being dysfunctional to her.  After other discussions during the ride, I found out that she is also superstitious.  How do you reason with a person who thinks she was doomed to have bad luck because she broke a mirror three years ago? 

          “God bless her.” I remarked to Sneed as I was feeding him that evening. 

          We settled for the night near Ben Ficklin Quarry (only we didn’t know that at the time.)  I slept under the wagon as I usually do.  She slept in a makeshift tent fashioned with my slicker.  The next morning arrived with the sound of a very loud blast.  The explosion and tumbling of rocks shook the ground.  She feared that the noise had something to do with her husband.  I thought, “All my aspirations of being an editor someday have been extinguished like a candle.”

          After realizing that we weren’t going to die, we investigated our camp’s perimeter and realized where we were.  I have to say that a quarry is a neat place to be if you love rocks.  The crew was at work moving boulders and cutting stones to manageable sizes.  Some craftsmen, as artistically as a woodpecker, were making dimensional blocks for the Tom Green County Courthouse. 

          We stayed for a bit since the stage in Angelo would probably leave that afternoon and our only concern was being followed by an angry husband.  During the crew’s morning break Rosheen (upon my advice) tried to sell some of her wares for the money she would need for passage between San Angelo and Chicago.  The coffee pot sold as did several items from the kitchen.  The men had little use for her girlish things as they were away from their wives for the duration of the building of the courthouse.   One man really was squeamish about the “womb veil” she had laid on her blanket with her jewelry.  None of the men wanted to ask what it was, but in their hearts, they had their guesses. 

          After we had sold all that we could in the limestone camp, we got Sneed ready for the last little stretch of the ride to Angelo.  The wagon being a little bit lighter still moved slowly in the frequented road.  There was a part of me that wanted to scout for a lesser rutted road paralleling the one we were on.  But I just didn’t want to leave Rosheen alone because of the possibility of ‘you know who’ catching up with us.  

          Eventually we reluctantly parked by the river for Sneed’s water break.  She and I went separate ways in the bushes.  My break took longer than hers as I had taken my toiletry kit with me.

          Getting into town was by no means easy, but we made it.  ‘Soon to be ex-husband’ was nowhere to be seen, thankfully.  I parked Sneed and the wagon in front of the Nimitz Hotel where we hoped to sell her goods to some of its guests.  I had no idea that in her sizeable crate in my wagon’s crate there was a miniature harp.  When she opened her crate, there were tears in her eyes that, to me, meant that the harp was a family relic.  She lifted the harp out carefully and began to play an Irish tune.  This drew a sizeable crowd to the wagon and I knew that someone would offer enough money for her trip. 

          Since she had everyone’s attention with the harp, she laid out almost all of her belongings (thankfully not her womb veil) in the back of my wagon.  She explained her desire to go to Chicago and asked if anyone in the small crowd knew how much money she would need to get there safely.  Someone replied and I’m sure her heart sank as the quarry deposit was not near enough money.  She didn’t want to part with her father’s pocket watch or the harp, but was desperate. 

          A few of the ladies in the crowd bought hat pins and costume jewelry.  But a big purchase was necessary to make the goal.  Two men wanted the harp so an impromptu auction ensued.  Because she was brokenhearted, I started the bid at a reasonable amount.  The men bid openly against one another, with each subsequent bid being higher than the previous.  At some point when it seemed that the trip to Chicago would be complete and then some, the saloon keeper next door came out.  He mentioned that neither of the two twits had that much money on them; for if they did, the money should go toward their bar tabs at his establishment.

          Everyone yelled, “Let’s bid on the harp again.”

          It was with reluctance that I did and this time the bidding was with new respectful persons who had come out of the hotel because of the previous loud bidding.  The harp sold and Rosheen would be on the stagecoach shortly.

          “Goodbye sweet friend!  Shiloh I don’t know what I would have done without you.” She said this to me as if we’d known each other for years instead of a day.  We had done a lot of talking on our way to San Angelo.

          “I know we’ll see each other in another time, Rosheen.” I said as my ward was entering the stagecoach. 

          As I was holding her two grey bags with her dresses in them, she ever so slightly said, “I want you to have one of the bags to show my appreciation for your efforts and advice.  Take either the green or the red one, your choice.”

          They both looked grey to me so I chose one for myself and the driver lifted her other bag to the top of the coach and tied it down with the other passengers’ bags.

          “Good bye, Rosheen.”

          “Good bye, Shiloh.”

          My adventures with Rosheen had started and ended within 24 hours.  She among others never suspected anything about me.

I will start typesetting at the newspaper tomorrow as a woman with a manly figure.  I will take my toiletry kit and shave my face twice a day in the outhouse behind Oakes. I will remain forever grateful that I didn’t get the grey luggage with a useless womb veil in it.

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Here are my research notes!

http://pamsliterature.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/1884-Shy-historical-relevance.pdf

2 thoughts on “1884 Shy: A Short Story”

  1. I taught biology for 23 years. One of the topics we covered in the course was chromosomal abnormalities. Klinefelter Syndrome is actually fairly common. It is where someone is a male but with female physical characteristics. Also is the same unit of genetics we studied red-green color blindness as being more common in males. I thought I’d write a story that seems to be about a female (Cheyenne) helping an narcissist abused survivor escape a failed marriage. But in reality someone is actually a male.

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