It was early afternoon when I parked my truck in a vacant spot below ‘C’ Street in Virginia City. Every other door was a saloon or a gaming house and five different bands or jukeboxes blared five different tunes into the street as I hiked up the hillside.
The rattle of the music superimposed itself on the clinking jackpots being paid out, the coins crashing to the open pan below the one-armed bandits, the tumult of voices in conversation, all punctuated by laughter. Early as it was, the historic mining town was alive.
As I rounded the corner, there stood a woman, a multicolored scarf wrapped and neatly tied around her shaven head. She stood near the street, looking up into the sky, traces of wetness shining on her pretty face.
Immediately, I though, “She looks out-of-place.”
Not wishing to ask the obvious, I avoided wanting to know if anything were wrong. Instead I heard myself, “Can I help you?
She turned and smiled weakly as she answered, “Not unless you have a cure for cancer.”
Initially I took the sarcastic comment as her way of saying, “Go away and leave me alone,” it was so biting. However something told me not to allow this stranger to drive me off.
“What kind of cancer?”
“That’s harsh. I’m very sorry.”
She frowned at me, “Why are you sorry? You don’t even know me!”
“I’m sorry you have to go through the fight again, the treatment, the pain and everything that goes with it,” I came back.
“You been through it before?”
“No,” I answered, “But I work for a company that transports lots of sick people to and from the doctor and the hospital.”
There was a long silence that fell between us.
“You’re kind,” she said, finally breaking the conversational stalemate. Shyly, and not knowing how to take such a compliment, I smiled and looked down at my boots.
“You know,” she continued, “There are so many things I haven’t done and I’m afraid that time is running out. Sad part is I’m only 56.”
A quick calculation and I knew she was 11 years older than me. While her age was of no real consequence, my nature was such that I couldn’t help but do the math.
“So, what is it that you haven’t done?” I asked.
Her face instantly fell blank, “I don’t know. I jus’ know there is so much more to do and I might not get the chance to do any of it.”
The smile on my face left her curious, “What?” she asked, adding, “Oh god…I hope you’re not going to ask me to sleep with you or something.”
“No!” I exclaimed, “But I do want to know if you’ve ever danced in a busy street full of cars and trucks before?”
“Well, would you do me the honor?” I asked as I took her by the hand and gently pulled her into the street.
With all the different music blasting from the bar rooms and much of it fast paced, I held this sad stranger close to me as soon as we reached the white line that cut the town north from south. And there, we danced until both of us were laughing like silly teens and a Storey County sheriff deputy asked us to get out of the roadway.
About that time a woman, she identified as her younger sister, came walking down the wooden sidewalk, grimacing at the woman I had been close dancing with, “Daphne? What’s wrong with you? You know better than that!”
Daphne laughed, “Oh Sis, I am having the time of my life with a cowboy.”
“Have you drugged her or something?”
Daphne gave me no chance to respond, “No, he didn’t – I’m high on life!”
She then kissed me hard on the lips and walked to where her sister stood. I smiled and pulling my hat from head, bowed as low as my stomach would allow as Daphne curtsied, then walked away arm-in-arm with her still suspicious younger sister.