Fallen Angel

It was Sunday, late morning, when I drove into the gravel lot of the old country store. The sun was merciless, the heat having all but burned the edges of the sky, and when I pulled the pickup into the shade of the cottonwood—the only living tree within five miles—I couldn’t help but thank God I lived in an apartment on Center Street, back in Casper, where the world was still cool and green and full of life.

Waltman was a one-horse town that lay between the two-horse towns of Powder River and Shoshoni. A place that had once, a long time ago, boasted a population of three souls, but now, over many long and difficult years, had seen that lonely number whittled to two. Or, as I was about to discover, one.

The old woman was sitting out front of the aging store in a print dress, legs spread, gray head bent as if she were searching the ground for a lost hairpin. She was propped in a metal folding chair next to a table fashioned from a wooden spool that had once held coils of industrial-grade cable. The spool had been turned on end and painted, its top upholstered with a plaid oilcloth.

“Good morning,” I said, closing the truck door and tipping the brim of my hat. “How’re you today?”

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