My hands remember hers

by Vanzetti

There's some kind of crud in her eyes, sticking them closed. Jane screws her face up and rubs at them until they open, regrets it right away: that's a fucking lot of fucking bright light coming in the front window. If she squints she can just make out Joanie's shape standing in front of it and looking out.

"It snowed all night," Joanie says, "but the sun's out now."

"Cocksucker," Jane says and pulls the buffalo robe back over her head.

* * *

She tries opening her eyes again a little while later: the light's still bright and she squints toward the window. Joanie's sitting there, a chair drawn up to catch the light, head bent over white stretch of wool and lace. The snow-bright light catches in her hair, making it glint here and there like the flakes pulled out of the camp muck.

"Sure is fucking bright in here," Jane says.

"It's good to see the sun again," Joanie answers her.

Jane grunts and pushes the buffalo coat down. "Fucking cold, too." Joanie's hand keeps moving, quick and certain, making small, even stitches along the edge of the fabric. "What's that?"


"Oh," Jane says. She looks down at her own grubby hands, wonders what a little needle like that would look like between her own fingers. "I'll get us some more wood in." The floor's icy beneath her feet; Jane feels around for her socks and trousers and pulls them on, quick as she can. "Stay up here a little while; I'll call when the room below's no longer cold enough to freeze [two syllables]."

She picks her way down the stairs to her boots. Outside it's cold enough to make her eyes smart and the water freeze on her cheeks. She stamps over to the woodpile, picks some logs off the top, turns around and drops them right into the snow, because there's some man standing right behind her. She grabs for her gun, then feels like a god-damned fool, because it's just Charlie Utter.

"Morning, Jane," he says, like there's nothing strange about it, him walking up through the muffling snow with arms full of green pine.

"God damn it, Charlie Utter, don't you know better than to sneak up on a person like that?"

"You gonna shoot a man with his hands full of pine branches?" he asks her.

"Why're you carrying around all that wood, anyway? Too green to burn."

The look he gives her tells her she's being stupid. "Miss Stubbs asked for it, something about decorating your place up for the season."

Charlie heads for the door like he belongs there as much as she does, and Jane can feel her face flush. "Hold right there, Charlie," she says. She picks the logs back up and brushes off the snow as best she can. "I'll just check inside to see if Miss Stubbs is receiving visitors this morning."

He gives a little grimace and Jane feels a sudden pang of she-doesn't-know-what, but he waits on the porch while she goes in to light the wood stove and tell Joanie they have company.

* * *

Joanie starts ordering her around soon as Charlie Utter leaves: before Jane knows what it's all about she's standing on a chair nailing branches to the wall. Nearly nails her thumb too. "Cocksucker!" she yells, and tosses the hammer down to the floor. Joanie jumps back as it bounces then stands there staring up as Jane sucks at her thumb until it stops hurting too bad.

"Let me see that," Joanie says.

"Don't hurt," Jane says. She takes a look at it: white and red from her sucking on it, that's all. "Don't know why you're bringing all this greenery inside, anyways." House smells like a fucking forest.

"For the season," Joanie says, like it's all obvious, like Jane don't know what the inside of a house looks like, or never looked at the pictures in all those magazines Joanie gets from Charlie Utter.

"Or why you got me up here," Jane keeps going, "like I know where this stuff's supposed to be. I ain't some kind of girl."

"I know that," Joanie says, and now her voice is small and sad. "I understand girls."

And Jane wants to ask what the hell that's supposed to mean, but she knows fucking well what Joanie means so all she says is, "Give me the fucking hammer back, and some of that fucking holly."

* * *

Jane kicks and staggers her way through the snow; it crusts on her legs till she gets to the camp's main street. She stamps her feet and goes on through the ice-churned muck of the road, pausing to spit at the steps of the Gem and in the direction of the Bella Union. Town's quiet as death: three horses ties up outside the Gem, breath steaming up, curtains rustling in the hotel, lights on in Star and Bullock's Hardware. Swearengen's up on his balcony, watching her go past out of those crow-eyes of his; he raises a hand as she goes by, and she muters "cunt!" under her breath.

Her feet take her through the town and out to the graveyard. She'll just stand a while, she figures: she's seen too many idiots out in the snow, bottle still clutched in one frozen hand. She takes a mouthful herself and pours a bit out for Bill, staining the snow over his grave yellow like piss.

"Fucking Christmas Eve tomorrow," she tells him. "Not right, not having you here for it, not like you'd care much. Probably head back to [place to see wife], wouldn't be here anyway." She wipes her nose. Bill doesn't say anything. "Shouldn't be here, either, that's what. Can you imagine me sitting down to Christmas dinner like some kind of cunt?" She takes another drink. "Yeah, me neither.

"Thing is," she says, "Joanie gets these magazines brought in, with dresses and pictures of ladies in them. What a room ought to look like, and a table, all that fucking crap. Well, you wouldn't catch me in a house like that, no sir. Wouldn't fucking know what to do with myself, probably piss on the rug or something," and that reminds her, so she pours Bill another drink, swallows some for herself. "But Joanie Stubbs... Well, Bill, I don't know. She brought the whole fucking great outdoors into that house, her and Charlie Utter, pine branches and all kind of shit. Charlie's fine, by the way. I'm sure he'd say hello, if he knew I was coming to talk to you.

"But like I said, the fucking great outdoors in there. You might think that would make me feel right at home, considering how I've spent most of my life unenclosed by four sturdy walls. You might think that, but you'd be fucking wrong." She rubs at her nose again. God damn, but it's fucking cold out here. "Ain't fit for it, that's all. And between you and me in confidence, I don't think Joanie Stubbs knows that." Jane takes another drink. "Fuck, Bill," she says, "I don't belong indoors any more than the trees and fucking birds do."

The graveyard's silent, like the birds all went inside too, and Jane finds a snort of laughter bubbling up through her nose at the thought. The birds all indoors, sitting on the branches all the finest houses in Deadwood're wreathed in; all the finest houses, and Joanie's too. Maybe, she thinks, since there are no birds at Joanie's she should head home instead. She tips the bottle up again.

The whiskey's warm in her belly and the shadows from the trees at the far end of the graveyard are creeping down toward her, sharp and blue in the bright sun. All that hammering and nailing took a long time. She takes a last swallow and pours the rest of the bottle out for Bill. "Time to get back, now," she says. "Don't know why I come to you for advice anyway. Not like you ever talk back."

Halfway down to camp, she turns around and shouts, "Merry fucking Christmas, Bill! And all you dead cocksuckers, too!"

* * *

Camp smells like smoke and shit; evening coming on and the cold with it bringing the workers back in. There's a man pissing on the wall of the Bella Union; Jane stops to watch as [somebody] comes running out to move him on, like he was pissing inside or something. She hears a snort of laughter and looks up: it's Swearengen again, still up there on his balcony. "Looks like we're getting a fucking yellow Christmas," he says to her. She wishes the bastard a happy one and keeps going.

The house is all yellow inside from the lamp, and still smells like pine. Jane leaves her boots by the door and brushes as much snow as she can off her pants. It's a pretty house, just one room below and one above; Joanie bought it at the end of summer with the proceeds from her sale of the theater building and Jane's still not sure how she ended up sleeping here too, except that Joanie wanted it and that seemed to be all the explanation she needed. And now it seemed that Joanie wanted a house all hung with wreathes of pine and branches of holly.

Joanie looks up when Jane comes, but stays quiet in her seat, needle in hand; Jane feels cheeks turn red, tells herself it's just the shock of coming in from the cold, not shame or anything like it.

"What this room needs," she says, like she didn't storm out hours ago to nurse her wounded thumb and pride, "What this room needs is one of those German trees, with candles and red bows. We could set the whole neighborhood ablaze."

"I think our neighbors would be very pleased if we limited ourselves to wreaths," Joanie says. "Unless you have a tree out there already. I guess I could find some red ribbon for us." Only at the end, her voice wavers a little.

"No tree," Jane admits. "I can go back out, if your heart is set on it." She clears her throat. "The room looks nice enough without." She reaches up the wall and straightens one of the garlands.

Joanie smiles, and holds up a string of tiny red balls. "I'm making cranberry chains. Would you like to?"

"Me and needles, we don't get along so well," Jane says. "I'll sit by you, though, in case any of those little buggers try to escape across the floor." She sits and watches Joanie's hands move in the lamplight, sure and strong, and when Joanie's done she gets back up on the chair and wraps them over and around the pine boughs above the window. When she steps down, Joanie's right there with a kiss. Jane draws back and rubs at her cheeks, and to the question she sees on Joanie's face, she answers, "Just some fucking crud in my eye."

Joanie smiles and kisses her damp cheek.


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Many thanks to Rez for beta-reading.