Excerpt: H.M. Patterson, "Ballad of the Family Bishop"


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"Ballad of the Family Bishop," by H.M. Patterson

[When] he’d recovered from the rung bell that was his noggin, the hunter gazed up to make out a scraggly horse, sneezing, hip bones protruding, next to a ramshackle lean-to with unlit windows. And then, in a dress as filthy as the old gelding’s hide, a young woman—the likes of which Daryl’s path had never crossed—planted her bare feet next to Daryl’s sizzling ear and goose-egged temple. 

His gawking began at the cracked tea rose pink nail polish on her diminutive toes and made its way, deliberately slow, up the length of her sylphlike olive legs—which he could see in their entirety through the sheerness of her dress—thank heavens for this angle of sunlight!—to her waist, to her finger-tapping hands on hips, up the length of her scrawny arms to the swanlike elegance of a grimy neck. Then to her face, to her jet hair, to her face, to her face, to her dazzling face.

“You scared The Governor,” she said, tilting her head toward the horse, her voice somewhat deeper than Daryl would’ve imagined. The Governor shook, and a passel of flies lifted then landed back on his back. “You shooting everything in sight, or what?”

“Just doves. Mourning doves.”

“Well, thank goodness for that. Now The Governor and me can rest easy knowing our heads aren’t going to get blown off.”

Daryl attempted to stand, to speak. For the first time, he wasn’t aware of the location of his shotgun and the direction of its barrel. He ached to be clever in this moment. “You’re so pretty you could make a hound dog smile,” he stammered.

The young woman grinned and extended her hand. “I guess you’re sweet,” she said. “I’m Millie.”

* * *

Daryl asked for a sip of water, and when Millie led him inside the lean-to, he noted its enormous door, questioned his sense of scale, depth perception, wondered about the seriousness of his head injury, until The Governor followed him inside—not ducking—lightly kicked the door closed behind him, and commenced to nosing around in an enormous apron-sink filled with dried grass. “I’ve never seen a horse in a person’s house before.”

“Oh, this ain’t my place. It’s The Governor’s house. He just lets me stay here as long as I keep the sink filled with hay and tidy up once in a while.” Millie patted The Governor on his rump and he stamped his hoof on the rough pine floor.

Daryl believed he’d fallen asleep at the dinner table again, and rather than awaken to Viola and Dot amid a fury of forks to faces, he concentrated on keeping the dream rolling, accepting a horse munching away on his lunch in a kitchen and a woman as handsome as Millie picking him up off the ground and taking him by the hand. He looked at his hand; he’d heard that gazing upon your palm in a dream gave you the power to control it.

Read the rest of this story in Unstuck #3.