WILDE WOOD SALOON
By Melinda Williams
COME WITH ME
Howdy. What would ya like? We got beer, any beer a man could want. Finest whiskey in town. You look like a whiskey guy.
What’d you just say? Say you in here lookin’ for Luke Reems? Aw, shit. I tell you one thing. That’s one too many goddamn city kids comin’ in here, lookin’ for Luke Reems. Was the first time, too. You’re mighty special, bein’ the second one. You best not ask another soul.
Oh, you say you gotta good reason, is that right? Well, so did that last kiddo come in from the highway. That your shiny car outside? No business drivin’ that shiny car on our dirt roads. An ol’ Wilde Wood? He don’t much like shiny cars parked outside a’ his saloon.
Why don’t you jus’ shut yer mouth an’ come back here with me. Goddamn. Come on back.
That’s right, I keep Wilde Wood happy. You talkin’ in particular ’bout cleanliness of this here bar, well, I tell you right now you ain’t never gonna find another bar clean as this one. My towel’s fresh. The cleanin’ water don’t never get murky. The glasses shine, never a smudge. I mind the bar. But you talkin’ cleaninless of this here saloon? Ain’t never been a more dirty, low to the ground place in all of the west. The happenin’s in here, they’ll bring a soul down to the hardwood ground squeekin’ un’erneath your feet, there, city boy.
You ask lots a’ questions. That’s for damn sure. Why don’t you jus’ shut your mouth, ‘fore I do it for you. Now, I got a lil’ story for you. A diddy.
Oh, you know. Jus’ a good ol’ story for entertainin’. I think you’ll find this one entertainin’ enough. But here’s the catch. It’s up to you to tell me if you think it’s a story to laugh at, or one to run your behind home to mama with.
You stupid or somethin’? Just when did I ask you ’bout yer goddamn mama!?
Let that be a lesson. Don’t you dare move. I’ve shot on less fault than a question dumber ‘n squat.
Now I tell you what. You’re gonna sit there. Yeah, just like that. You sit there, city boy, and listen to my story. Oh, I’ve been longing to tell it. I didn’t think I’d get my second chance so soon here! Warn’t but a week ago I had this same opportunity! You’ve gone n’ made my goddamn day! I thank ye’.
Now, you see, our little town here has quite a history. Never was a time better than when I was a boy, a kid about your age. My generation, we ran this town like it ain’t never been run before. The best part about it was Miss Loretta Buckley.
Shh… shhh… that’s right. Can’t make a fuss now, can ya? I told you, keep still, city boy.
Now, Miss Loretta Buckley was the one who made all others look like slop. Plain ol’ slop! She had the eyes, the hair, the pretty little fig’re. Tiny little fig’re every boy in these parts wanted. And I tell ya, they wanted ‘er bad. This warn’t no typical gal, can’t make her up in a movie. Can’t give words to do her justice. And let me tell you what. She was crazy about one damn ol’ fool.
I can see it in yer eyes… you scared? Calm down now. Ain’t no need for that.
But you see, there was one problem. One tiny hitch, you could say. Yeah, she liked the wrong damn ol’ fool.
There was one kid here in town who wanted her more than the rest. He was sincere. Most sincere cowboy the west has ever had ridin’ on its back. His name was Al. Al din’t talk much. Kept to hi’self. Guess you could call Al a loner. But quiet as he was, he still had gals followin’ him ’round town. But he kept his eyes on Miss Loretta Buckley. Knew he could have ‘er, too. It was his pick. Had been his whole life. All he had to do was say the word, n’ she’d be his. He was a goddamn quiet charmer.
That is, until ‘ol Luke Reems moved to town. He came in badder n’ a rattlesnake, quicker n’ a winter storm. From day one a’ his time livin’ here, Luke was bad. He come in, pickin’ fights ev’ry day. Takin’ the low down gals home ev’ry night. Drinkin’, never stoppin’ to pay. Never had to. No bartender n’ town woulda asked Luke Reems to pay up. Wanted to keep their dignity. Sometimes, dignity is all a man’s got. Luke stole it all. Left none for anyone else. And that Miss Loretta Buckley? She loved ‘im. Loved ‘im the day she spotted him walkin’ front a’ her daddy’s store. He might’ve just stolen from the bank, she din’t care one lick. No, sir. She din’t care. I watched her myself, watchin’ Luke Reems. An Al?
He no longer had his pickin’s a gals in town. She was the only one he wanted all ‘long.
But life is always so damn complicated, ain’t it, city boy? So damn complicated. ‘Cause what do you think might’a happen’d? Huh? Think maybe, Al’d get mad n’ lose his head, tryin’ a’ get rid of Luke? Think Luke would go an’ make an enemy with Al? You’d think. But no, sir. No, no, no, sir! They became the best a’ pals. Ev’ryone watched it happen. Al got piss ass drunk one night, fell right down in the street. And Luke saw’ll it happen. He picked Al up un’erneath his arms, drug him over to the alley. Poured some water on ‘is face an’ slapped him. Al woke right up, puked his guts out, n’ Luke got him home safely. From then on, Al n’ Luke was together. Workin’ as a team. No one still ain’t heard Al say but a ‘thank ya ma’am’ in all his life here in town, an’ all of a sudden he was talkin’. Jus’ talkin’ to Luke. Helped Luke out. Got Luke to stop bein’ so bad as he was.
Well, that only made Miss Loretta Buckley like Luke Reems even more! Made friends with that quiet boy! Calmin’ down! Bein’ polite! Folks still scared a’ shit of him walkin’ toward ‘em on the street. But not Miss Loretta Buckley. She waited, bidin’ her time. Looked past the different gals Luke took home each night. Looked right past ‘em. Looked right past Al, too. Al ain’t never took home one damn gal! Not one! But Miss Loretta Buckley din’t care one lick.
You doin’ alright, city boy? Look like you’s gone start cryin’. It’s just how it’s gotta be. Why don’t you try noddin’ your head once for yes. Alright. Alright, then.
Weeks passed, n’ ev’ryone knew what was comin’. It was like the whole damn town watchin’, waitin’ for the day Luke Reems would fin’lly talk to Miss Loretta Buckley. Meant to be, ev’ryone said. She’d set ‘im straight, more n’ Al ever could. She’d get Luke to church. She’d be the one gal to go home with him from then on, f’only he’d talk to her. Then one day, it fin’lly happened.
But you see, life’s still complicated. So, so damn complicated. I think you’re learnin’ that more n’ more, city boy.
Al, jus’ like ev’ryone else, knew what was comin’. He din’t spoke a word, but he knew. And he decided that for once, he’d speak. He’d go right up to Miss Loretta Buckley an’ confess his love, ‘fore Luke could swoop in n’ steal Al’s life from before his eyes. But Al, he had a hard time doin’ that, knowin’ his friend was plannin’ on it, too. Luke had told him. Al hadn’t said a word about it. But that weren’t Al’s fault. Al just din’t say much at all. The one day he did, you could say it backfired. Backfired like the gun that blinded my own daddy. Backfired. Bad.
Al went up to Miss Loretta Buckley one day. She was closin’ up shop. Weren’t even payin’ attention ’till Al coughed enough n’ got her to turn ’round. She was startled, sure ’nuff. But she smiled that sweet smile, walkin’ toward Al with that little body he wanted for all time, n’ asked him if she could be of assistance. An’ you know what Al said? Well, at first not a single noise left his mouth. He really was a shy ol’ fool. Instead of talkin’, he decided he’d show her. He’d know right away if she felt the same. So he did it. He scooped her up right to him n’ kissed her smack dab on the lips. She struggled, just a bit, n’ then finally tore away from Al’s arms. She looked fiery mad. She yelled and yelled, pointed and threw a spool of yarn toward his head. She called him a mute, a dumb mute who din’t know love and certainly din’t know her. Al got his answer alright. He got his answer.
Al din’t tell Luke. No, sir. Knew that wouldn’t be of no good. No good to no one in town, knowin’ what Al done. And Miss Loretta Buckley? She din’t tell, niether.
‘Fore anyone knew what was happenin’, Luke Reems n’ Miss Loretta Buckley plannin’ their own goddamn weddin’. Took all but one month after Luke tol’ her he loved her. She swooped right in, soon as Luke’s arms open’d up fer her. Ev’ry other gal in town fightin’ mad, green with jealousy. Al, he purty jealous there, too. But do you reckon he say one word?
Blink twice fer no. Alright, then.
Now she called Mrs. Reems. Happen right before Al’s eyes. He was the bes’ man in the weddin’! Never did know why Mrs. Reems din’t tell Luke ’bout what Al done. But she never did tell. Al had to stan’ right there n’ watch ‘em get hitched. Had the first class ticket, best spot in the house. No one saw his tear. All eyes were on the purtiest gal in the west, her white dress, her words to Luke, promisin’ to be his fer all time.
Al, the quiet soul he was, really stopped talkin’ after that. But ol’ Luke, he din’t really notice. He so caught up in real life. A new life. Mrs. Reems really did change ‘im, way Al never could. He stopped stealin’. Stopped bettin’. Never took another gal home again, ‘cept for his own wife.
‘Fore Al knows it, Luke’s got news. Big news. Mrs. Reems already pregnant. Pregnant after hardly no time at all bein’ married. And Luke? He happier n’ a kid with a new pup. He so happy, askin’ Al to be the godfather n’ all. Al nodded his head that day, forced some kind a’ smile. Din’t know how he managed that, ’cause deep inside, Al already gone crazy. He went right crazy that day, thinkin’ a’ how Mrs. Reems got pregnant. Couldn’t ‘magine no other man with her. Even Luke! Her own husban’. Even knowin’ they were married! It was a fact, like a fact a’ life. But it din’t hit home with Al ’till he hear the news. ‘Till he seen her growin’.
Al warn’t able to sleep. Din’t go out much. Luke stopped comin’ by, but they’s still best a’ friends in his eyes. Luke was jus’ giddy all the time. Not noticin’ his best friend changin’, growin’ bitter. Mrs. Reems warn’t but three months in when they guessed it was twins. She bigger n’ a gal should be at three months. Ev’ryone saw it.
That’s also ’bout the time Al dun fall off his rocker. Luke asked him over for dinner. Al said yes, but knew it jus’ might be the worst day a’ his life, sittin’ there across from Mrs. Reems, who in his mind would always be Miss Loretta Buckley. Already had a plan formin’. Warn’t no good plan, neither. But it was set. He’d do it.
Sittin’ there at dinner, Mrs. Reems was polite, as always. She really was a polite little thing. Asked Al how he doin’, he said jus’ fine. Luke sittin’ there, talkin’ a mile a minute ’bout names. Names for their twin boys. Luke already sure it’d be boys. Al steamin’ outta his ears, not a soul noticin’. Al was always so quiet.
You still breathin’ city boy? Don’t fall asleep on me, now. Jus’ getting’ to the good part! Blink once if you wanna hear more! Ha!
Try again. That’s right. Thought you wanted to hear more.
Luke was right, ya know. ‘Bout havin’ twin boys. She had ‘em. They warn’t but two weeks ol’ when Luke had to leave town. Business. He was a good, truthful business man, supportin’ his family. Family a’ four! Al couldn’t never believe it warn’t his family. Years ago he already had the names picked out for his n’ Miss Loretta Buckley’s kids. Still in denial that he warn’t her husban’. Still mad, growin’ meaner by the second. But he so damn quiet! Nobody done know.
Luke even came by, askin’ him, could he please watch over his wife while he away for business. He’d be back in two days. Al agreed. It was like a sign. A sign it came time. Al went over the firs’ day, Mrs. Reems warn’t too thrilled to see ‘im on their front porch. But he tipped his hat, tol’ her have a good day. She always been givin’ him that look. That look that said, ‘yer nothin’ but a dumb mute who tried kissin’ me once.’ It only made Al worse.
Next day, Al took his time walkin’ over to the Reems’ house that evenin’. When he got there he looked in the window, saw Mrs. Reems puttin’ both boys in their cribs. She singin’ them a song. It blazin’ hot outside, n’ Al could see her sweat rollin’ down her forehead, down her neck, down to where he couldn’t see but the shape a’ her body. Al knew enough a’ their home to know they din’t bother lockin’ the door, now. ‘Cause, you see, who in their right mind would cross Luke? Even the new, changed for the better Luke? Not a soul. So Al walked over the porch, keepin’ his boots quiet, not letting the squeaky spots squeak so much. It was already a windy, rough day outside. It only getting’ worse the closer Al got to that front door.
He knew the boys’d be all tucked in. He could hear Mrs. Reems inside, walkin’ her way across their front room. Al would wait ’till she warn’t ready. Heard her hummin’, even! Hummin’ a song. That same lullaby she sang to her baby boys. It was time.
Now listen close, city boy! This here is the best part! You’re still breathin’. That’s good. That’s mighty good. Wouldn’t wan’ you to miss the grand finale.
Now was time for Al to make his plan come alive. He’d been dreamin’ of the day, gettin’ madder n’ madder, crazier n’ crazier by the minute. Had in his mind this very evenin’ that Miss Loretta Buckley was his, n’ always shoulda been.
Al opened that door. Always was a quiet soul. Miss Loretta Buckley din’t even notice, she jus’
hummin’ away up in her room at the end a’ the hall. Al’s still steppin’ so softly on the ground! She din’t even know! When he got to the doorway she saw him. Yes, sir, she saw him a’right. ‘Fore she even let a scream out Al already got her down on the bed. Al had a quiet, small presence in town, but he was big n’ tall n’ strong. His hand was ’nuff to cover her whole face, sad as he was to cover up her beauty. She kicked n’ screamed, but warn’t no use. Al smiled, big n’ wide, lookin’ down on the gal shoulda’ been his all along. In Al’s mind, they were doin’ what was meant. What they’d a’ done if Luke Reems never moved to town. He did love Miss Loretta Buckley first, after all. N’ you guessed it. He ripped at her dress, slapped her cheek, the wind hiding whatever noise n’ tarnation bein’ caused that night, Al there in her room. On Luke’s bed. Right on Luke’s bed! She screamin’, sayin’ she ain’t well, jus’ havin’ twin boys n’ all. But Al, he still smilin’. He tellin’ her he always loved her. Sayin’ he’ll forgive her for callin’ him a dumb mute. She sure makin’ up for it now.
God damn! Last city boy here din’t look near scared as you! Look at them wide eyes. Look like a deer. Calm down, now. Story’s almos’ over. Then you ain’t got nothin’ to fret ’bout again.
Al, he still lovin’ life. By the time he done in the bedroom, he done knocked Mrs. Reems out, hittin’ her hard as he did. She knocked out cold on the bed, naked as a jay bird. Al liked seein’ her like that. Imagined in his head for a minute that this was how he come home ev’ry day. His wife there on the bed, waitin’ for her lover to come home. Al was her lover that day! Al know’d it, takin’ pride.
Left her there, right on the bed, messy with what Al done. Men Al’s own size din’t wake up from a stone cold hit that way, not for hours. Al warn’t worried at all. Knew Luke would stop in the saloon ‘fore he made it home. So to the saloon Al went. He walked in, sat right at the bar, grim look on his face. Al always so quiet, always so grim anyhow, no one seemed to notice. Luke came in hardly no time later. Sat down right next to Al. N’ Al says he got some bad news for Luke. He heard an awful rumor comin’ from all over town.
Luke said he dun believe in no rumor. Al said he’d like to know this one. A fella no one recognized came into town not an hour after Luke left the other day. More n’ one folk said Mrs. Reems let him in from the porch. Let him hold her babies. Let him right in, stayed there all night long. Luke, he din’t believe it! Not his wife. Not the gal he married in front a’ the whole town, front a God n’ all else in this world. Not her.
But Al dun talk much. He only say what’s important. Luke know’d it. Even better n’ that, Al knew Luke know’d it! Luke starts gettin’ all fightin’ mad, lettin’ his old self come back. Says he dun wanna believe it, but how could he not? Comin’ from a friend like Al. So Al says, why don’t we go to your house together? He might be there. We’ll see. You outta have a friend there with you.
The wind almos’ knocked ‘em both over on their way to Luke’s home. Luke, his hands were shakin’ the closer they got, n’ Al? He pattin’ Luke’s back. Says, why don’t you go in first? Jus’ see what’s happenin’ in there. She mos’ likely all decent, tucked into bed, nightgown buttoned up tight. She mos’ likely a good wife. Luke jus’ looks at Al, already dreadin’ what he might see inside. But up he went, up his own front porch, feelin’ like an intruder the closer he got to the door. Al jus’ sat down on the rockin’ chair on that porch. Waited. Feelin’ good.
You look like you might know the endin’ already! You jus’ might. But hold on. I don’t like people spoiling the endin’ to my story, now.
Luke, Al heard him from the porch. His screamin’ soundin’ like no man had ever screamed. Yelled n’ yelled… Al done never get up from his rockin’ chair. He smilin’ to himself now.
It din’t take but five minutes for Luke to come outside. He slammed the front door open, ignorin’ the babies cryin’, steppin’ right up to Al.
He says, Al, I need your help. I gone n’ done it now. You were right. The rumors, all true. I dun believe it. She layin’ there, jus’ done wrong by me. I saw it… she covered in him. She wearin’ nothin’ but her weddin’ ring. Shit. I gone n’ done it now.
Al, he sees Luke’s tears fallin’ down his face. First time Luke ever cried. Last time, too. But Al helped Luke that day. They carried her body into the woods. Buried her good n’ deep. Buried their weddin’ quilt along with her, for it was all they had to cover up her indecency with.
Luke, Al says, how you know those boys even yours? Now you know what kinda woman she is? How you gone raise boys might not be yours?
Luke thought good n’ hard. Decided he’d give ‘em up for adoption. Send ‘em away. Rest a the town, they understood. Understood a man couldn’t hardly raise no twin babies by himself. Not with a wife who up n’ left in the middle of the night. The town understood. But they also knew Luke Reems turned bad again. Nothin’ left to keep him good. Even Al couldn’t help. What’s a friend when a wife’s gone n’ left, bastard boys gone n’ sent away to the orphanage? Al dun all he could. But Luke changed.
And Luke? He din’t like bein’ Luke. No. No, sir. He done changed his name.
Said why keep a name when someone ruined that man’s life? I can’t be that man no more.
So Luke Reems, he opened up a saloon, keepin’ it mighty clean, lettin’ the dirtiest deals in town pass by without a glance.
You wonderin’ his name now? That Luke Reems? Man you lookin’ for? Blink one for yes. You’re gettin’ better at this.
Luke Reems, he din’t go by that ever again. No. The folks started callin’ him by a different name. And they called him Wilde Wood.
This here saloon belongs to him. Last city boy, by the name a’ Samuel Reems Jenson, came in lookin’ for Luke jus’ a few days ago. And boy, he sure did look a whole lot like you. You could be twins. I had ta’ cut him up a bit. Smack him a few times. Get him to stop talkin’. You done much better. I know Wilde Wood dun want nobody askin’ for Luke. Jus’ make him meaner, you see. So I had to take it upon myself to bury the city boy. Right nexta’ his mama, out in the woods.
I think last, you might wanna know my name. Never did introduce myself. Might help ya’ decide if this story is a funny one, er’ a goddamn tragedy.
The name’s Al.