“They come here seeking comfort, but always take something when they leave,” she said.
“I have what I need,” I said.
“They all say the same. And they take without asking.”
A small woman with strong, tan arms and a shiny pink face set a plate before me. Her dark hair was densely curled, and it tumbled below her shoulders. She did not look at me direct, but bowed to the old woman.
The plated meat looked like beef. It was plump and still bleeding, adorned with wild, colorful vegetables. The meat bled onto a piece of hard bread. A pitcher of water was nearby, and I had already drunk half of it.
“You must leave at first light,” she said. “This is a quiet town, and there are many broken people here. We give them a place to heal, and then to work, and the work is hard. But it is a salve. You do not look like you have been broken yet.”
“You can tell?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“I’m looking for a man. I made a promise.”
“And the promise weighs on you. This place would weigh on you. You would begin to resent your promise if you stayed.”
“I don’t resent her. I promised her.”
“Ah, a woman. It is always a woman.”
I chewed the meat, and it had a wild, peppery flavor. Not beef, and not buffalo. Juices dribbled onto my chin. “He hurt her,” I said.
“And so you will hurt him back. Will that end the problem?”
“It’s what she asked me of me. I’m honor-bound.”
The old woman shook her head. “Silly words. If you hurt him, will that make your prick harder for her? Will you be more desirable to her? And at the next slight, will you still be so honor-bound? Will you kill the next man that touches her thigh, or stares at her breasts?”
“It’s more complicated than that.”
The bleeding meat tasted bitter when I finished.