We meet at the gallows. Her crime? Shooting a man dead, back turned, cold blood. Hot stuff. Mine? Horse thievery. Before she cuts my rope loose, she asks me why I want to live, anyway. I tell her, I want to see my horse again. She scoffs a little, like it’s a joke, but it’s not. She cuts my rope loose anyway, and she lets me come with her, even though I don’t think I ever asked. We go to my horse that night, and I find her in the abandoned farmhouse where I left her, my beautiful black-maned girl. She’s happy to see me. Me and the girl with the Peacemaker on her hip ride double from town to town—always to the west, always toward the ocean, always toward the setting sun. My baptismal name is Susan, but she calls me Betty. I call her Joshua Tree. She kills without thinking. I shake my gun with her like I’d do it too, but mostly I help sew extra pockets into our pantlegs. Our legs jingle with the sound of necklaces and rings and family jewels as the lawmen chase us out of town again, and again, and again.
She asks me one day, whispering into my ear as I hold the horse’s reins, whether I’ve ever thought of starting a family. I tell her, That’s a new question for me. I tell her, I don’t know. She says, That’s okay. She says, I was just wondering. We’re stuffing our pockets at the next town when a husband and father lunges at us with a knife. My finger twitches. I kill a man for the first time. She looks at me different. That night, we wander out into the Mojave and look up at the stars, and I feel like the night sky is going to open wide its gaping maw and suck me up and set me back somewhere that’s home, someplace I came from but was not born, somewhere nice, somewhere with horses. Joshua Tree doesn’t ask me questions anymore. One day, a sheriff’s bullet grazes our horse, and she starts limping. We’re getting into California now. It’s greener here. We bring the horse out to a beautiful pond overlooking a beautiful field, and we put her down. Kinder that way. Next town, bank teller shoots me with my back turned. Joshua Tree kills him, then weeps.