What She Always Wanted

Carmen Lau


He lived in her head a whole week while her soldier was gone, a miniature cowboy so well-mannered, simply standing in her brain. He wore a tan hat and black boots with spurs. Outside her head he might have had a horse, but she did not look. She bumped around the house pretending to clean while they talked. Never anything deep: pleasantries about drink and dancing, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash.

She could have kicked him out but she didn't. No sex meant no cheating, right?

Her friend Annie called Wednesday, lonely. She could feel her own gone lover somewhere in her solar plexus, she said. Annie was certain this man was her one and true soul mate. Despite knowing him only a couple months? Despite possibly never seeing him again in the physical? They were partners on some other plane, Annie said, each guiding the other, even though their bodies were a whole America apart. There were theories behind it, spirit things. It was all so spectacular she could cry. Just missed the cuddling, was all, and the sex.

She listened half distracted by the cowboy. He stood politely silent, his beautiful hat in his hand. The hat was of a leather she had never seen before, deep red and lustrous. She wanted to wear it, go out dancing in it. She kept asking him what kind of leather it was. Dragon? But to all her questions he gave only a crooked half smile.

She had a sharp longing for her soldier then, who was bright and rowdy as Saturday morning cartoons. No secrets about him. Were she and her soldier soul mates? Who knew? She had no idea what he was doing, if he was still alive, even. She just missed the cuddling and the sex.

After the phone call she cooked, ate and cleaned her rabbit's cage. She told the cowboy to sit down.

"No thanks, ma'am." Standing there like always, arms at his side, as if waiting to be hugged.

 "What's this going to be?" she said. "I can't cuddle you. I can't fuck you. I can't even love you."

"Miss," the cowboy said, dipping his head in apology. "I'm just here for the conversation."

So they talked: The Grand Canyon and chivalry, God and what's your favorite candy. She had always wanted to see bison up close. She had always wanted siblings. She wanted a ranch someday and a real live cowboy. She loved her soldier.

Annie called Friday evening wanting to talk about something, anything, but pauses kept happening, and then it was time to check laundry. The rabbit kept scratching at its cage, its eyes following her. In three days the cowboy was gone without a word or a tip of his beautiful hat. That's men for you. She cleaned her rabbit's cage, cooked and ate, thought about sledding even though it was June.