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WINGING IT / Connie Poten THIS WAS THE BEST PART, this opening into the plains. The red Toyota pickup swerved easily down the eastern slope of the pass and CaroUne turned up the music. Keith Jarrett's piano crescendoes echoed the land rising westward, sleek as a hawk's wing, to the tips of the dark Rockies. Her heart picked up speed; she felt swept clean. She Uked to expand her territory inch by inch—a slow, sensual gaining of the world. The geology job helped. Now, Scobey, Montana, a tumbleweed town pinned to the map near the Canadian border. She'd spend a few days in the musty courthouse, probably not much different from the half-dozen others she had poked through, poring over old mineral claims—sad diaries of ambition and loss—and then the hikes over the land, looking for ore clues in the rocky outcrops. She had brought her gun along; she would hunt alone, the first time. For a moment she pictured herself wounding a deer, jamming the gun, no one there to fire the killing shot. She pushed the image away. On the wing, that's how an old lover had described her. Something about traversing this high country alone thrilled her. She thought of tracking elk in dark wet November dawns, moving through deep snow, smelling the animals up close, aiming. A couple of Indians stood on the shoulder, hitchhiking. Caroline watched the lean figures, their long black hair, red bandannas, glowing dark faces. Holders of the old secrets, a world apart. Caroline slowed the Toyota for the north bypass around Great Falls. Rain splattered the windshield; the sky ahead hunkered down grey and solid. A slender, young Indian woman stood by the stop sign. She wore designer sunglasses and she looked cold. She's a woman, she's safe. Maybe she'd give up some of the secrets. Caroline eased the truck off the highway. The passenger door flew open and the girl jumped in, folding herself with a flutter of quick movements. "Thanks for stopping," she smiled at Caroline, glancing out the back window. "I was getting paranoid about the Highway Patrol." When Caroline shifted into third she noticed straight white scars fanning out like claws to each finger on the back of the girl's left hand. She looked over at the stranger. "Where you headed?" "BiUings," said the girl, unzipping her wet sweatshirt. The Canadian maple leaf glittered in silver on her tight navy teeshirt. "Gotta get The Missouri Review · 209 to Billings. Ohh, my head. Feel this knot on my head." She leaned over to let Caroline feel a large lump through her damp hair. Caroline hesitated, then touched it gingerly. "A Chippewa woman attacked me last night in Shelby." She touched the sweUing. Caroline glanced at the girl's slight body, her arms thin as flutes. "Why did she do that?" "I was out with her husband," she giggled. "He asked me. Billy, he's so cute, he really liked me too. But she didn't. She slammed that pool cue into my head—and she's a tank—so hard I couldn't see straight for a couple of hours." Caroline watched the girl take off her glasses to dry them on her sweatshirt. Clear skin, high wide cheekbones. The slanted, dark eyes were a little close together. She looked like a tiny, birdlike Sophia Loren. "Shelby's at least a hundred miles west of here. You must've started hitching early." "Yeah. About six." "Well, Tm going northeast. You might want to catch a ride with someone going in your direction." "Oh, no. That's fine. Where are you going?" "Through Havre to Scobey." Caroline mapped out the triangle in her head. The detour southeast to BUlings would add another two hundred miles to her trip. Montana was not Connecticut. But maybe she should take this girl home. She remembered reading somewhere that should and could were not part of the Indian language. "I was in Havre two nights ago. Whew!" The girl shook her head. "My name's TUIy. What's yours?" "Caroline." "Caroline. That's a pretty name. Let's get a six-pack...


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pp. 109-122
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