The Shootist

She was a good shot.
Her nerves were exceptionally bad, except when she was shooting.
Loud noises and unexpected news would prostrate her.
She would clutch at her chest, turn pale, and sweat.
There was nothing wrong with her heart.
“Hysterics,” the doctors said, but she wasn’t having it.
She poured herself into her shooting.
She could pick the hat off of a man from two hundred yards away in a stiff breeze.

She toured the country with a Wild West show.
She went by Calamity Jane.
Annie Oakley.
Cat Ballou.
Poker Alice.
A gross of assumed Montanan names.
She sloughed them all like so much dead skin.
She was gun crazy.

Her show toured briefly with a circus.
She made friends with the strongman.
His name was Bandillo.
He was afraid of loud noises and the dark.
She saw herself in him.
He never came to her show, because the gunshots frightened him.
She never went to his, because she was afraid he’d drop a weight on himself.
In Winnemucca, Nevada, they parted.

She wrote to him a few times.
He wrote back, with the help of one of the clowns.
He couldn’t read.
She signed her letters Merle.