The Water Law
by Simon Evans
Water. Water was always the temptation. The land was dry as a dead donkey’s ass so Daddy’s ancestors had set up camp near the river. Only problem being that there was already injuns there. That didn’t stop them though. They was a proud people and their dream was always to make their own little piece of heaven and no god damn injuns were going to stop them from living that dream. The camp turned into a town. The town I was born in. It was a simple town. One road with a line of buildings either side. We had the barber’s shop which we called ‘Colonel Bateman’s Whiskers’, on account that Colonel Bateman once had his whiskers trimmed there. We had ‘Frontier Stores’ where Momma bought our groceries. We had ‘Smith’s Taxidermy’ where Daddy took his beaver. We had the bank, the jail, the post office, a feed store, the land office, and a rail depot. And we had ‘Brown’s Saloon’ where Daddy drank and got himself a whole different kind of beaver.
I remember once Momma got in a fuss about something or other and sent me up to Brown’s to fetch Daddy. Momma said that no good woman would be seen dead in Brown’s. I’d resisted and moped but Momma insisted and looked kind of desperate. So, a few minutes later I was approaching the sound of shouting, laughing and piano music. Then I was tentatively pushing at the swing doors of the saloon. I wasn’t allowed in but I fit my head in the gap and looked through the smoke, looking for Daddy. He was there, at the bar. He had a woman clinging on to him for dear life. One of the women Momma called ‘Trollops’. Jebediah Colon, who was a clerk at the land office, saw me and went and told Daddy I was there. Daddy shrugged the trollop off of his arm and came over to me. He was stinking to high heaven of whisky and cheap, sweet perfume. He cuffed me good, right there by the swing doors til my eyes were wet and shining. Then Daddy dragged me home and gave Momma the same treatment. I was never sure why Momma asked me to go there that night. She never asked again.
Tensions with the Injuns in the valley rose like the sun until it just sat there, above the town, heating the anger in the hearts of Daddy and his kind. It made the town like a furnace, even at night. Daddy said that there were more of us and we had the law on our side and the right to keep those injuns away from the river. He used to get awful mad. Daddy and his kind stopped the injuns from using certain paths and said they could only take water at certain times. They made this the law. The Water Law. Enforcing that damn law became Daddy’s whole life, mission and purpose.
There was once a big fuss in the town because Daddy rescued a damsel from being molested by an injun. Talk in the town was that Daddy shot an injun who was sniffing her red hair by the rail road. Daddy was a hero. Momma just sniffed and said that some women were way past saving.
I didn’t like being in the town. The anger made me restless, sad and uncomfortable in my heart. I took to playing by the banks of the river in the valley. That was where I met Sweet Jane.
Sweet Jane was an injun boy who came to the river to collect water for his Momma. His injun name was ‘Baby Aardvark plays under no bush’ but he said I was to call him Jane. Sweet Jane. He always looked at me friendly and helped me make a raft. We would skim stones and chase critters and ride on each other’s backs like the cowboys on the dusty planes.
Sweet Jane and I made a pretend fort by Cusser’s Ridge and used to lay there all the long day. We had bits of grass we pretended were smokes. Sweet Jane bent some reed so it looked like a flower and tied it to my belt. I used to stroke his long hair and get the dust and grass out of it. One evening it was like our eyes were locked as we stood waist deep in the river. The orange sun hung big in the sky and warmed us gently as we grinned and shivered, naked in the water. Our fingers laced and our knees scraped each other. Our hands touched quivering thighs and our bodies blindly pressed against each other, tentative but pulsing with the beating of our hearts. As our lips crushed together there was a shout and a shot from my side of the river. Daddy.
Sweet Jane gasped and fell back with a splash, red spilling into the orange water. I span around, my dick still shameful and hard. Daddy turned and walked away, his back an accusation. I stayed still in the precious water, arms folded, tears spilling down my face, paralysed with shock.
Sweet Jane’s body drifted slowly away.
I stayed there until the sun disappeared behind the ridge. I stayed there until there were no tears left to cry. I stayed there until Momma came and took us both away from that place for good.