By Lisa Drozd
On afternoon in Soledad, California a jerkline skinner named Slim was tending to his horses, like he does every day. Today, however, the sun was hot and distracting. As Slim looked to the sky, contorting his head in search of any clouds to break the suns beating rays, a strap from the reins of his lead horse broke. Snapping back, the rein whipped across Slims face. Disheveled and in pain he dismounted from his horse and began making his way to the bunkhouse to retrieve medicine for the lash that was beginning to swell on his cheek. As he approached the old cabin-like building a women’s faint sobs became more audible. Opening the door he saw Curly’s wife sitting at the table, where the men usually play cards, with her head in her hands. Slim, forgetting his reason for coming to the bunkhouse, made his way over to the crying girl. He sat in the chair adjacent from her and calmly asked, “Why are you crying?” Immediately she began to sob harder. “You left him in here with me,” she said through gasps of air and broken cries. “He knew and you left me alone.” Slim slumped back into his chair, eyes distant, and mind recalling the events from earlier that day.
Just hours before the sun was rising on the Salinas River and most of the workers had already cleared out to start their day. Slim sat on his bed and gathered his gear to go begin his work with the horses. A knock was heard at the door and Curly’s wife entered excitedly. She ran over to Slim, jumped onto his lap, and stole a kiss in the process. This was normal for the two. They both knew what kind of man Curly was to his new wife and they went about their meetings carefully. They chatted about their plans for the day, the work that had to be done on the ranch, and even figured out how to meet in secret again later that day. Just as Curly’s wife leaned in for another quick kiss the bunkhouse door flew open, startling the two. Almost instantly both Slim and Curly’s wife were on their feet. Ominously Curly glared at the very guilty looking couple. “What are you two in here for?” Curly shouted sore as hell. “Nothin’, Curly, I just came to grab my gloves so I could get to tendin’ those horses,” Slim said, trying to sound assuring. He slipped out of the bunkhouse as quick as he could before Curly tried pickin’ scraps and made his way over to his horses.
Snapping back to the moment, Slim picked up the playing cards on the table and began to shuffle them. It was quiet for a moment before Curly’s wife spoke in the smallest voice. “He hit me, Slim,” she said. “He’s threatened to do it before and came close, but he never did.” Slim plaintively set the cards back down on the table. He pulled her hand away from her face and she lifted her head. Her swollen eyes reached his and she watched his face, which was full of concern. “He ain’t never gonna hurt you again,” Slim said mollified. “I won’t let him lay a hand on you as long as I’m here to protect you. He crossed the line this time.” Curly’s wife nodded solemnly and her lips formed into a small, but reassuring smile. She knew she would be safe from now on.