The Last Woman Standing

By: Thelma Adams



Tombstone kicked my ass and I kicked back. No one expected that of a little Jewish girl from a no-name family. I wasn’t invited to the dance near the O.K. Corral with my husband, Wyatt, and his brothers Earp, or those irascible Clantons, or my ex, Sheriff Johnny-come-lately Behan. I was just a woman—a footnote—expected to tuck my skirts under my tail and inspire male bravery when I wasn’t baking corn bread or childbearing. That was never my idea of the wild frontier life for which I’d run away from a good home. I had big dreams and big brown eyes and lashes like whips. I wanted to straddle my man like a pony and ride into the sunset.

Pardon me for spreading my legs so soon. You hardly know me. But you will.

You may not like me—I’m not the first beautiful girl to be conceited, and my mouth tends to shoot off faster than my brain kicks in. But, you’ll have to admit, I got a long way from folding kreplach in my mother’s kitchen and brushing egg white on the braided challah at my father’s bakery for a lass lacking much talent for singing or dancing or debauchery. And since this all happened in a time before archives, in a territory with a longer past entrusted to the songs of the Apaches, sometimes I think that a lie is as good as the truth if it’s prettily wrapped.

I’ve finally come back to where it all began for Wyatt and me. Not by steamer and train and stagecoach, but by automobile in one straight shot, no Apaches. Not in furs but in wool flannel. It’s my 1937 one-last-look tour with friends who are hoping the trip will inspire some memories that I haven’t already shared, and maybe make me a buck. Wyatt and I were a boom-or-bust couple who never saved a dime. He’s become a cottage industry of myth and legend and outright bullshit. I have the real stories locked away, gleaned not so much from pillow talk as being nosy whenever I had a chance to watch or listen. And I didn’t bunk just with Wyatt—I first took my turn with Johnny Behan: sheriff, politician, and friend to cowboys and ranchers and the anti-Earp gaggle. Johnny hated me for switching partners in the middle of the dance, even if I caught him riding another woman in our bed with his own son, Albert, by my side as witness. Men are funny that way. They put a brand on your ass and expect you to behave while they’re out lassoing another man’s wife. I don’t know how he missed that irony, but as smart as a man is (and Johnny was, book-learned and all, with a head for figures), if he’s a womanizer, there’s never any shortage of lies he tells himself and those who love him.

I’ve always been a good talker and a better listener. I’m curious about people and things. Not so much politics, but how folks jockey for power and goodies when there’s so much joy on this earth to go around. What I learned from Tombstone is that God is in the landscape: in the big sky and the hovering moon, in the scent of mesquite and wood smoke. He’s embedded in the chests of rare men like Wyatt, and in the communion   between a man and a woman that leaps like flying embers from the physical to the spiritual until they become one flesh, two hearts.

Now I’m listening to the wind banging loose boards, standing alone in the corner window on the second floor of the Tourist Hotel directly across from the old Oriental Saloon where Wyatt had the gambling concession. I’ve told my friends I’m napping, but I’m really hiding out. I could never sleep at a moment like this: too many emotions. I just wanted to feel them as deeply as I could without all the chatter and explaining. Tombstone hasn’t fared much better than I in the fifty years since we last rolled in the sheets together. The wind has its way with the ghost town, howling just for hell, bowling down Allen Street, churning dust and candy wrappers and memories too tough to die. We’ve crossed into the twentieth century, and I’m a relic, faded and forgotten. I don’t quite know how to wrap my heart around that yet, and I’m lonesome as always since Wyatt died in our Los Angeles bungalow eight years ago.

We had a long run as Mr. and Mrs. Earp—I swear there’s a marriage certificate somewhere—but I’m not eager for my final curtain call. I could say God isn’t ready for me, either, but I’m not prepared for him. I was raised Jewish, but he never spoke to me in a synagogue with all that Hebrew mumbling of men. I never entered a church—not once, my whole life, not even for Wyatt’s funeral at the Congregational Church in Los Angeles. I skipped that formation, spurning the gawkers and celebrity seekers and Hollywood pallbearers. I couldn’t face screen cowboy Tom Mix’s tears without Wyatt beside me. Afterward, I carted his ashes up north. I buried them beside my parents in the Little Hills of Eternity, the Jewish cemetery in Colma, California. The graveyard’s lush stillness offered no peace; beside Wyatt, my empty plot beckoned. I have as yet declined.

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