"When Gram died, she left me a shitty car, an old-ass book, and a silver disc she always kept under her pillow. When Momma died, all she left me was a name."
Follow Mar Hickok, a modern-day descendant of Calamity Jane, as she tracks the footsteps of the teenage Calamity Jane and her gunslinging Green Man. Across the country and from one end of Wyoming to other, Mar hunts down the Jane she thought only existed in stories. But among the ruins and monuments and ghost towns of the high plains, Mar will find she's not the only one searching for the truth of Jane's aliens in the Wild West—nor the only one coveting the artifacts they've left behind.
Chapter 1: Nashville, Tennessee
When Gram died, she left me a shitty car, an old-ass book, and a silver disc she always kept under her pillow. When Momma died, all she left me was a name.
Momma named me for a calamity. Or so she said. She lied as oft as not and not just to me. She was a train wreck, Momma was. But on this point, I believed her. Maybe because I was made during a one-night stand and I don’t think she ever knew the name of my daddy. I certainly never heard it, if she did. Or maybe was because I was born during a blizzard that shut the whole city down. One of those rare Southern snowstorms that crush whole swaths of Dixie under two inches of ice we call snow in our ignorance. Whatever the reason, Momma always told me I was named for Calamity Jane—the West’s favorite bad-ass bitch, she used to say. And like I said, on this point I guess I believed her.
Like Jane, I never used that old-lady name our moms gave us: Martha. Was a name school teachers and cops used on me from time to time. Not friends or lovers or anyone I cared to know. Sometimes my phone rings and an unknown voice asks for Martha Hickok and I tell them they’ve got the wrong fucking number. Ain’t no Martha here.
Momma had a beat up postcard of Calamity Jane she used to keep on the shade side of her car visor. Was all peeling and swollen around the edges and unevenly faded. I used to pluck it out from over the visor when Momma would leave me in the car while she was at work, trying to figure how that old lady in the picture got them boy clothes and a rifle. And what my great-great grandpa Bill Hickok saw in all that roughness. Wasn’t much of a lady in that picture for a little girl to see. Maybe more lady than I saw in my own Momma, sometimes. But there I was, eight years old sitting in some hot-ass car behind a bar, wondering what kind of girl becomes a woman like that.
After Momma died, I didn’t have to wait in the car anymore. Gram wouldn’t have allowed that. But I suppose the damage was done. Gram and PopPop did their damnedest to raise me proper. Even put me in one of them private schools where the girls wear skirts and the boys try to lift them. And maybe I turned out ok. I’ve got a decent job at one of those honky-tonks where the bands call out to the tourists all night, asking folks where they’re from and what for. Atlanta and Dallas and Louisville and Charlotte and wherever, they’ll answer back. But all I hear in those names are places maybe I should be instead of here.
Momma was run down in the middle of the street, stumbling drunk back toward the car where I was sleeping. More than half my lifetime ago. I just remember blue lights and some huge black man with the gentlest voice I ever heard. PopPop went a few years later, never quite the same after losing his little girl. His heart faded until one afternoon during a Titan’s game it just ran out. Gram was tough, though. She only got stronger with every loss until the time came I stepped out on my own. Was something about that sad smile she gave me when I hugged her in the doorway. Was like her labors were done and she could finally rest. And she did.
The house got split between me and my aunt who I’ve still never met. So that squared up my finances for a while. Gram still taking care of me, I guess. But the car? Shit. She should’ve scrapped that thing a long while back. Momma’s old car. Piece of shit of the first order, it is. I think it was a Honda back when badges still hung on the hood and the trunk. Must’ve been half a million miles on that thing. But still ran. Not purred, to be sure. But ran.
The book Gram left me was something I never held before but I’d seen more times than I can count. In those first months after Momma died, when Gram’s house seemed bigger and emptier than it ever had before, Gram used to sit on the edge of my bed with that book. Was a leather-bound thing and all hand writ on the inside in some flowing and fast cursive I couldn’t read. She used to flip through it, treating it gentle as one might a baby, and then close it tight, her hand pressed on the cover like some devotional. And then she’d tell me the most amazing bedtime stories. Stories of cowboys and Indians and of my namesake Calamity Jane, riding through some make-believe Wild West with a tall creature as fit to ride out of Star Wars as some Clint Eastwood picture. The Green Man, she called him. And that Jane didn’t have no momma either, not in those stories, but was a big wide world she rode through. And adventures she had, plenty. Gram was a great storyteller. Painted a hell of a picture for a little girl.
But truth be told, was the disc which interested me more. I remember standing in Gram’s bedroom, the little house all packed up around me, and slipping that disc out from under her pillow where I knew she kept it. A hundred times I’d seen her holding that disc with such reverent hands, a smile on her face, eyes closed as if they were dreaming. It was faceted on one side. About the size of a CD but much thicker. More like a coaster, maybe.
But smile as oft as she had holding that shiny thing, seemed just a piece of metal to me, right then. And a disappointing one, at that. For all the times I’d seen her draw it out and hold it with such love and tenderness—and for hours, sometimes—wasn’t anything I saw in it but my own reflection bouncing back like off some bug’s eye. But Gram loved it. So I would, too.
Scott—he’s one of those musicians that ask folks where they’re from in the honky-tonks—was helping me box up the house and he saw me holding that little disc. I didn’t know how to tell him what it was. But that night at the bar, when some tourist called out their far off hometown, was a loneliness hit me like I’d never felt before. Worse, even, than I felt those nights so long ago when Gram’s stories soothed my heartbreak. And Scott must’ve seen me sink all of a sudden, as I did, and he came over to me between sets and sat me at a table far in the back of the joint. Gave me a hug and a shot of rye and said a lot of things I didn’t hear. Was like the rest of the world left me at the end of a long tunnel and wasn’t a bit of sound or feeling that came down it.
At the end of the gig, he took me home and stayed over to make sure I was ok. Not sure I said anything to him the whole time.
When I woke the next morning, it was raining and was just the nasty alley bricks of the building across from mine that I could see through the window. Was winter outside and the cold was slicing through the closed window and my sheets, same as they weren’t there at all. But it just wasn’t in me to move.
Scott brought me coffee and I drank it. And sometime after lunch I finally sat up. Was just me in the bed. And that old leather book of Gram’s. Must’ve stared at it for ten minutes if a single second before picking it up. Gentle as I saw her handle it, too.
Was a hole in me wide enough to drive that piece of shit Honda through. Caressing that worn brown cover, I prayed was some story of the Green Man still on those pages to help fill it. Like it had when Momma left me. Like when Gram kept me from losing myself all those years ago.
The book was all writ in cursive. Hard as all hell to read. But I was surprised to see the book wasn’t a storybook like I expected. At least not like any I’d ever seen before. Was more like a journal or a notebook. On the first page—I never could make out the name of the fellow who wrote it all down, scrawled as his name was like some fancy John Hancock—was the stamp of some Buffalo newspaper I’ve never heard of. And was three long, dated entries which told of him meeting my namesake, Calamity Jane, in the summer of 1901. There were notes scrawled in the margins, too, saying he followed her back West from the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo to Deadwood, South Dakota.
Two days I sat there, in my bed, with that book. Read it cover to cover. And if Scott didn’t check in on me from time to time with a sandwich or some coffee, doubt I would’ve stopped to eat or drink at all. Only stopped one time when I’d read so much cursive for so long I gave myself a migraine. Looked up and it was three in the morning, music from the bars half-a-block away bleeding into the room. I pounded some Advil, slept for a few hours, and was back at it before the sun or Scott broke into my room the next morning.
When I was done, I walked out into my tiny, messy living room. Scott was asleep on the couch. Piles of laundry leaned against walls. Beer and whiskey bottles littered the room. Was dark again outside and through those windows I could see headlights passing through the rain.
Was raining the night Momma was hit.
Gram told me stories. Fairy tales. To put me back together again. But that old book? Those were interviews. Those told of real times and places and people. Was like being told Harry Potter was real and Hogwarts was a goddamn option. Out there was an alien cowboy and a lonely little girl who conquered the Wild West. It was all true. And here I was, heartbroke and lonesome with no family and no future and little at all to remind the world I was passing through it.
I was named for a calamity. And I’d become one. Just like Momma.
I woke up Scott. And seeing as I’d forgot to put on pants, he was a sight happy to see me up and about. But I told him to get dressed. That I needed his help.
We were going to Wyoming to look for the Green Man.