Miranda grabbed the scissors when Black wasn’t looking and ran as fast as she could. She made it as far as the back fence before she ran out of breath and fell to the ground.
Catching her breath, Miranda placed the scissors in the dirt alongside the length of rope. She hoped she could remember how to tie the knot like Daddy taught her. She planned to catch a rabbit for him before he came back off the road. Black said they lived in the hills and there weren’t no rabbits out here and Miranda asked Black what did she know.
Miranda cut some rope about the length of her arm and started working on a knot. Thin ten-year-old fingers struggled with the twine, making the first knot. The sun was still high in the sky and Daddy didn’t usually come home until the sun was low and the sky had taken on the reds and purples like those in Black’s eyes.
So Miranda was surprised when she heard a horse coming up western path. She squinted because the sun was in her eyes but she knew the rider wasn’t Daddy. At first Miranda thought it was a thin man, maybe one who wore their hair long like Daddy’s friend Jude. The rider even wore a coat like Jude’s but it was different because the front looked like it had been dipped in maroon.
Black called from the main house.
‘Randa! Where you run off to with my scissors?
Miranda kept silent and worked on her knots, paying no mind to the rider. Her Daddy had riders come through all the time with bundles and bags and sometimes gifts for her. She thought about the coppery, hot smell they brought with them off the road. Most of them had scarred hands or were missing fingers. Miranda imagined sometimes that it was some kind of secret thing of going west – you had to come back with bags of secret things and gifts and more often than not, scars.
Her Daddy never came back hurt as far as she could see.
She was thinking about this and her knot when Black snuck up on Miranda and clouted her on the ear.
What you do that for?
You know what for! I’ma –
Black looked out at the rider.
Black wasn’t black like her name. Her skin was a deep dark grey. When Black looked at the rider though, she would swear up and down that dark grey went to pale.
Git in the house.
Miranda thought that maybe it was one of what Daddy called enforcemen coming up the way. Daddy would always promise to sic them on Miranda when she was being bad. But Daddy always talked of them coming in dozens and hundreds.
This was just one and he was riding funny.
And he was a she.
Git in the house, I said! Collie! Collllleeeeeee!
Miranda let Black drag her back to the main house. It was the only building on the property that had electricity yet and it was where Miranda and her Daddy slept. Black used to sleep in Miranda’s room but last year Daddy made her start sleeping round in the smaller house.
Big old Collie slept where he slept – in the sand for all Miranda knew. When Daddy went on the road, he left Collie there. Miranda was supposed to listen to Collie first, then Black, but Collie didn’t ever say anything. The stooped old man was still big, still needing to crouch when he walked through the door like he did now. With his one good eye he looked in on Miranda and Black. Satisfied they were okay he walked to the back path.
Miranda tried to twist free and follow Collie but Black was strong. Daddy said muties was always strong and Miranda had taken enough spankings to believe him. Miranda reckoned she’d have to watch through the window.
Collie reached the fence and for the first time Miranda thought about how old Collie must be. Miranda was sure he was the oldest person she’d ever seen and he looked so naked out there without his rifle.
The rider had a rifle out. He kept it across the horse’s back, cradling the stock in his arm.
For the first time, Miranda noticed that the rider’s face wasn’t as hard as those she normally saw. It wasn’t doughy like Black’s but it wasn’t the face of a man.
Miranda recognized the nose and chin and the too-red hair. From when she looked in the mirror.
For some years Miranda thought that her Momma was dead, but here she was, pointing a rifle at Collie.