It seemed cruel to put her on a horse and head out into unfamiliar territory, but I couldn't think of anything to be gained from staying in town an extra day. While a delay of only one day would make little difference overall, it was a bad habit to get into. A day here and a day there, and eventually we’d find ourselves trying to make our way across the Llano Estacado in the heat of summer. We could count on delays later on that we wouldn't be able to do much about, so we couldn’t indulge a mere hangover.
“Come on,” I said. “We can stop at that little café on our way out of town. How about some eggs and cheese with lots of salt?”
Charlene leaned over the bucket again in answer.
“Well, you can have some coffee, at least. And maybe some chicken broth.”
“How about you just shoot me like you would a horse?”
She was in no mood to head out but I packed her gear and got it loaded onto her little roan while Flecha stamped a foot impatiently in the next stall.
Even though Charlene still claimed no interest in food, I took her past the café to see if it might tempt her appetite. “Last chance until we reach the other side of the mountains,” I reminded her.
She shook her head in answer. Then I remembered one of Auntie’s cures for nausea and I led Charlene to the store by the depot and had her wait while I went inside. Sure enough, they had crystallized ginger. The price was ridiculous, but it was probably the only ginger in town. And since it was coated in honey, it could be eaten like candy, which made it all the better for the road.
I went back outside and handed a small piece to Charlene. “This will settle your stomach.”
She looked at me doubtfully, but I was insistent and she nibbled as we turned onto the main road out of town.
As the well-kept street turned into a winding mud path along an open sewer, children ran out of shacks at the side of the road, hoping we would toss them coins or food. Many of my friends in Unitas had been street children at one time or another and could trot past kids like these, unmoved. But in Valle Redondo, we had made sure all the local children were decently cared for, even if they no longer had living relatives. Street urchins repulsed and horrified me, and to this day I haven’t been able to develop the hard attitude one needs in order not to be disturbed by their rags and dirt, their ignorance, their sometimes horrible injuries and sicknesses, and by the occasional one in whom one can see a glimpse of beauty or intelligence that will no doubt be squandered on hard labor, abuse, illness and an early death.
Luckily Charlene and I weren’t alone on the road that morning, so we weren't the children's only distraction. Two men went past us pushing a cart while two other men collected trash and scraps, and threw them in. It wasn’t from any sense of civic duty that they did this—they were hoping to find something of value among the refuse. This was clear from the way some of the beggar children ran after them, demanding to dig through the cart and making extravagant claims of ownership regarding the rags and bits of old leather and plastic the men picked up to toss in.
This was such a contrast to the tidy area around the depot that it was enough to turn my stomach and I was tempted to join Charlene in chewing a piece of honeyed ginger. But perhaps the town leaders weren’t really to blame for this hypocritical state of affairs. Keeping the business area looking good attracted money, which created jobs. Making improvements out here would be of no benefit to the town as a whole. Not right now, at any rate. As we passed the last of the shanties, I found myself hoping the town’s small bit of railroad prosperity would one day benefit all the people, but I’m not counting on it.
It was a relief to start tracking across the valley. There was little to see here but the looming mountains in the distance.
We made good time and were into the foothills by mid-day. By now Charlene was hungry, and since I had skipped breakfast too, we stopped and each had a hard boiled egg and piece of cornbread—one of Charlene’s town purchases from the day before. It was an indulgence, since we had salt and cornmeal to make our own camp bread, but it was nice to put off having to make what we sometimes called “snakes” in Unitas—ribbons of flour or cornmeal dough spiraled on a stick and cooked over a fire.
The food seemed to perk Charlene up a bit. Now that she was feeling better, she kept me entertained with funny and frightening stories about the people she had met as a bar waitress. She had a good memory and seemed very astute about human nature. Either that or she was making it all up, in which chase she should become a storyteller.
The roads were in decent condition, and a good thing, since these mountains were quite a bit higher than the ones we had crossed before.
Toward late afternoon, I picked a spot for us to camp for the night and we built a shelter with pine and aspen branches.
Then we made a nice supper of potatoes with cheese, which picky Charlene liked a lot.
In all, I’m pretty happy with how far we got today. If all goes well, we may even be able to get across these mountains tomorrow. But that all depends on the condition of the roads. At least Charlene won’t be hung over. She’s sucking on another piece of honeyed ginger tonight. She can’t possibly have an upset stomach, since she enjoyed dinner so much. She must want dessert. I know for a fact she’s already eaten all the chocolate my friend Coyote left for us by the place where he derailed the train. But I didn’t eat all of mine, so I think I’ll go have one now. It will be a nice way to end a good day back on the road.
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