When I went out on the porch to greet the morning Earl appeared with a young woman who definitely looked the worse for wear. He introduced her as Solange which I thought was a strange name. I had only seen it in books. He said that he had to be gone for a few days, a friend needed him. He asked me if I would be willing to keep Solange company if she requested it until he got back.
"I suppose so," I said, "if I am up to it."
"Oh, you are up to it," said Earl, tersely. "I am sure she is far enough along in her recovery she won't require very much attention."
"I am sure I won't," said Solange a trifle impatiently as though she was tired of being discussed without any input from her.
"I am not sure how far along I am in my recovery," I told Solange after Earl had taken his departure. 'I am not sure where I have been or what I have been doing since I left my earthly home."
"We all suffer from these strange memory lapses," said Solange. "The reason I am here is because I took my unexpected departure from the earth right here on this ranch."
"This ranch? I don't understand."
"Don't you know?" said Solange. "This is Earl's actual ranch in Montana. Earl still lives here in kind of an alternate universe. He didn't want to leave. He said this ranch was heaven as far as he was concerned."
"Other people are living here?"
"I was. I was staying here with the people who bought it. My parents sent me out west to see if the fresh air and the mountains would restore me to sanity. But unfortunately a friend sent me some potent drugs to help me over the hump and I expired. That is how I got to Earl. I saw him almost immediately after I left my body. He told me he had once owned the ranch and if I wanted to continue staying here he would look after me until I had begun to recover from my sudden death. I was naturally slightly upset. I am very young, only 22."
"Are you reconciled to such an early death?"
"I have to be. I took the drugs. Once you have been so reckless as to cause your own death you can't take it back. Say I am sorry, I didn't mean it. You look like a pretty old lady. How long have you been dead?"
"Not very long. I clung on to life until I was pretty old."
"A smart old lady. Just what I need. Earl is old, too. I don't know how long I can take the company. Perhaps I should reincarnate as soon as possible."
"Are you sure that would be wise? Perhaps you need to go to school for a while to learn how to prevent an early death."
"But I have been preached to so often!"
"I didn't mean you should be preached to. That doesn't seem to do any good. I have had reckless sons. I know what they are. I feel lucky one of them did not expire while very young."
"Drugs are so potent now days. I don't know what possessed Marie to send me some that were sure to kill me, although she probably did not know how close I was to the edge. I am sure she did not think they would kill me. She will probably be devastated when she hears of my death. She will feel very guilty, but I hope she does not decide to join me. She is the last person I want to see here. She would be worse than a preacher."
"So many young people now days seemed to have lost hope."
"Naturally. There is no longer any future for many young people. They are just throwaways. There are no jobs."
"I can hardly believe that. Where were you looking?"
"I can't believe I am hearing this. Didn't you watch the news, old lady? There is a world wide recession, millions of unemployed."
"I was never gainfully employed very long."
"For god's sakes, why not? You lived in a golden age."
"I was partially disabled."
"What? Oh. Too bad. What happened to you?"
"I was the victim of a crime when I was very young. The ensuring difficulties I suffered through affected my stamina. I had to worry about adult issues too young."
"You were the victim of an adult perpetrator?"
"Yes, most children are. Children don't attack other children nearly as often as adults attack them."
"I am sorry to hear this. Well, we are all the victims of some kind of criminal. I was turned on to drugs by someone older than I am, and you can see the results."
"Yes, I do see the results. You were also a victim."
"When I was too young and stupid to know better. I was very pretty when I was about fourteen. That was my golden age and the last year I was really healthy. Then the boys started noticing me. Older boys. The rest is my sordid history of drug addiction, my parents' breaking hearts, my brother's grief. In my family it was the girl who went wild, not the boy. He was too sensible and smart. I was the reckless one. Oh, I see Earl has horses here. I used to ride when I was a child. I was so reckless. I busted my bones riding. So my parents' took my riding privileges away from me. Big mistake. I wonder if Earl will let me ride with him when he returns."
"I am sure he would love to have a riding companion with him on the trail. He asked me to go the last time he went, but I wasn't up to it."
"Never been on a horse?"
"Oh, many times. I was raised on a cattle ranch. Riding horses was my biggest pure pleasure in life."
"Really. How I would loved to have been a working cow girl. I would have been great. I was just about to break my own horse."
"You must have had a natural courage I did not have. It was hard enough for me just to get out there and punch cattle with my dad. I did not want to break any horses."
"Oh, but there was the crime."
"Yes, dealing with the criminal took all my courage for about three years."
"My god, you are a younger victim of your own appeal I am sure than I was. I bet you were a darling little girl."
"Oh yes, my mother said I used to wink at the men who came to visit my father, before I could even walk."
"Ah, it is a wonder you were not raped in your cradle. It is always a hazard to attract the attention of men. Some among them are bound to be pure shits who will set out to destroy you for their own mindless pleasures."
"I encountered a monster. He was from somewhere far away. A wanderer. He was extremely dangerous. To girls or boys I am sure. He did not care which."
"Well, well. No wonder you are here on this ranch. Perhaps you will recover your youth riding out there with Earl. I think he is even older than you are. If he can ride, you will surely be able to recover your ability."
"I am sure I will. Earl said he encountered a wolf out there who came up to me and looked at him with a question in his intelligent eyes. Earl thought he was asking him, "Where is she? I know there is new one I want to meet."
"No shit! That is so exciting. I did not know there were wolves out there Earl knows."
"Now the wolf is sure to know you are here, too, Solange. You remind me of a wolf with your wild nervy spirit."
"This is so amazing. I have always thought I was a wolf in a previous existence. A cunning female wolf, the leader of the pack! When I used to run the streets of LA, I thought I was returning to my wolfish existence, running with the wolves, the most dangerous young criminals on earth."
'Dangerous gangs. I used to live in a very dangerous neighborhood, too. Gun battles all the time, gang wars. I saw people shot and killed."
"Hmm, were you an old drug dealer?"
"No, but I knew women who were. One had a big family. She used to give her oldest grandson marijuna cigarettes to sell at lunch time for a little spending money."
"Did you have children?"
"Oh yes, some were still living there with me. I was fully disabled by then, you see, and could not afford any other apartment except in bad neighborhoods and government housing."
"That sucks. Why didn't your family help you?"
"They did for a long time. I lived on an inheritance until it finally ran out."
"No wonder you are here with Earl. You deserve to live in green pastures now. I am sure he is helping me because he knows my history, running with gangs, with the worst young thugs in the city. My family did not even know where I was most of the time. I was a long ways from home, baby."
"I am sure you lived a life time in just a few short extremely dangerous years."
"How did you know?" asked Solange.
She collapsed on a couch as though all the air had gone out of her. "I was so tired of running. I was all played out. Oh, I wish I had some drugs. No drugs here, that is hell for me. I have depended on drugs for so long. Now it looks like I have to go cold turkey. I can guarantee that I was such a bad addict, I was going to have to die to be cured. If there were drugs here I would be scoring them right now!"
"Earl is clean. He says that if people come here they have to be clean. So I am afraid you will not be able to do drugs in his recovery program."
"That is what they said. Earl's is a good place for her to go. He is clean, he has horses, and maybe she will take an interest in her old childhood pleasures."
"When I think about the life I used to lead, I wonder if I can ever be cured. It wasn't just the addiction, it was the rush of living with murderers and thieves, armed to the teeth, total barbarians."
"The earth has often been over run with such savages."
"So you never took up stealing and killing along with savage companions?"
"No, you see, it was because of being a victim while so young. I had to think about savages day and night throughout my childhood. What was to be done with them? How could they be punished. I did so much thinking about savages that I could not be induced into joining them for very long. I tried to think about how to keep my sons and daughter from becoming savages while living in such neighborhoods. I knew if they did, they would die young, just like you did. Their friends in those neighborhoods died young or went to jail when they joined gangs. I knew if they were going to survive they had to resist the temptation to join the savages."
"Gee, how did you teach them? My parents tried to teach me, but they loved money just little bit too much to succeed. I looked upon them as savages who dressed in good clothes. They worshiped Mammon!"
"You would have had been a hard child to teach. What does your brother do?"
"I wish I could say that he became a missionary who took the vow of poverty, but he didn't. He has done very well. He just gave up on me. I could see he did not believe that capturing me and locking me up was going to work. I pretended to convert, so I could get out of there, come west. I didn't like being locked up."
"You said he would grieve if he found you had died."
"He grieved all right. He said I was his only hope because I had the nerve to tell everyone to go to hell. That tells you he might have wanted to kick the ambition that was instilled in him from birth, to succeed, to make money. I am not talking about a little bit of money here, I am talking about a lot of money. So in his own way, my brother became a worse savage than I am. He is still on earth taking a lot more than his share of the spoils, but I am out of it. I hate to think I was such a coward that I took the deadly way out. That was so predictable of me. I hate myself."
"Well," said Shadra, "I can't see that kicking yourself too long is going to do a lot of good. I am tired now, and need a nap."
"Oh, I need one, too. I need to escape myself someway or another. I have always escaped in sleep if I could not find any other way to leave my sordid world. Although how can I say sordid world when I am looking out on green pastures, a beautiful sky, a stream running through sparkling and clean. I don't know how to react. I am so jaded."
I went off leaving Solange still mumbling. What a girl. She had exhausted me, but all in all I thought we had a good talk. I was not displeased. I lay down on my bed, to rest, to sleep, perhaps to dream... Suddenly I heard it, a wolf howling. Oh my God, I wondered if Solange heard it, too. I hoped she would not go out there, she was too little recovered from her savage existence, it might be dangerous for her to heed the call of the wolves. I hoped she would sleep and wait for Earl to take her out there in the wilderness. Who knew what was out there? Solange and I needed a guide.