Deleted Scene from early on in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, while Aunt Ruth is away arranging her affairs in Florida.
On our first Ruth-free Saturday, Grandma and I went to The Tongue River Museum to pack up Mom's office.
"It didn't have to be so soon," Mr. Hannock said, meeting us in the parking lot, hugging us both, smelling, like always, of mothballs and the pipe he was smoking. He wore a tweed cap with a little bill and shiny leather shoes and Irene and I used to call him Professor Plum. He looked like the kind of old man who should own a museum, so it worked out well that he did.
"Well it had to be sometime," Grandma said, unloading boxes from the cavernous trunk of the Bel Air, handing them to me until the stack was so high I had to look around it to follow them through the entrance made to look like old west saloon doors and into the lobby. When I'd come with my mom we always used the back door, the one that went right to her office, but Mr. Hannock didn't take us that way.
Mom's office was too cold, which it always was, too cold or too hot. But her desk was swept clean of papers and books and magazines, which it never, ever was. I knew Mr. Hannock must have done that. Her gray cardigan with the toggle buttons was draped over her chair.
"I'll leave you ladies to it," Mr. Hannock said, sort of bowing to us, this weird gesture, before leaving.
Grandma handed me the cardigan, motioned for me to put it in one of the boxes, but I put it on instead. The second to top toggle was just barely hanging on like a first-grader's tooth.
"You that cold?" Grandma asked.
Then Mr. Hannock was back, filling up the doorframe. "Cameron, I don't think you've yet seen the changes your mother made to the Calamity Jane exhibit," he said. "You should have a look before you leave."
"Okay," I said. "I'll look later."
"Go on now" Grandma said, already tackling the top desk drawer where my Mom had kept vending machine change and paperclips and dozens of golden wrapped Werther's butter toffees. "Take your time."
I started to take the cardigan off, and then didn't, but kept it on.
Mom had been a big fan of Calamity Jane. They had always featured her as part of the "Miles Citians of Note" exhibit at the front of the museum, but a year or so earlier a former congressman's wife had donated a bunch of valuable stuff, including pictures of, and clothing and personal belongings supposedly once owned by, Martha Jane Cannary-Burke herself. Mom had set to work immediately installing a larger exhibit, which she'd only just finished before they left for Quake Lake.
It was at the end of "Frontier Town," which was a replica of eleven storefronts representing the Old Main Street in the original Milestown settlement. Where there had once been the generic "Settler's Cabin" Mom had changed the setup to supposedly look like the main room of the cabin Calamity Jane had owned in the 1880s-a cabin that sat at the edge of a ranch situated along The Yellowstone River and just outside of present day Miles City.
In the scene Mom had dressed mannequins in period garb, several scruffy men playing poker at a table with Calamity Jane at the head, decked-out in chaps and a heavy coat, a hat, men's clothes, just like she had apparently been dressing since the 1870s, when she claimed to have worked as a scout for Custer.
There was a placard with bullet points and quotes. I remembered my mom working and reworking it for weeks, wanting to include a little of everything, the dining room table at home a swamp of articles and clippings.
And she did look at home in the display, the fake fire in the hearth and a glass of what was supposed to look like whiskey-but that I knew was actually a silicone gel my mom used for all sorts of things, tinted brown and poured in a tumbler-in front of her at the table. The mannequin's head was back and her arm up, laughing, no doubt, at just how great it was to be Calamity Jane.
There were clippings about Jane's days running with Wild Bill Hickok and her time as a trick shooter in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and even an original movie poster for Calamity Jane, starring the too blonde and too sweet and way too girly to be an authentic Jane, Doris Day.
I felt like I owed it to my Mom to stick around awhile and look, so I did. It wasn't tourist season any longer and it was spooky quiet in there. It would have been just my breathing if it hadn't been for the scratchy speaker system hidden high along the rafters and filling up the rooms with Roy Rogers and his "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."
I flicked the toggle button on Mom's cardigan back and forth like a pendulum and then I just gripped it hard and yanked once and that was that. The wooden button was smooth and cool in my hand.
I could hear voices a few galleries over and then a shrill falsetto, coming closer and closer, and with it the sound of teenage boys laughing. The falsetto was just a second or two behind Roy Rogers, "…beneath a prairie moon, I ride alone and sing a tune."
"How the fuck does he know this?" Somebody asked.
"Because I'm the king of the cowboys, partner. And don't you forget it."
And then there they were, four boys, high school boys, one even in his letterman's jacket.
"Sorry about that," one of them said when they saw me. The singer, I guessed, with his floppy brown hair. "We thought we were alone in here."
They all had the same photocopied paper with them. It was a quiz, I knew, on Montana history--a kind of scavenger hunt quiz. This teacher at the high school did the same assignment every year.
"You know where the L.A. Huffman gallery is?" Floppy Hair asked me.
I stayed silent but pointed to the left. Floppy Hair looked at his buddies, then back at me, grinning. "Creepy." He motioned to the scene behind me. "You the ghost of Calamity Jane or something?"
I didn't answer, and they didn't wait. They headed down the replica wooden boardwalk. I left them there in old Milestown, but lingered in the next gallery, a gun exhibit, to eavesdrop.
"Which one's supposed to be Calamity Jane?" One of them eventually asked.
"The one with tits, dickweed," one of them said back. I'm pretty sure it was Floppy Hair.
"Why's she dressed like a dude?"
" 'Cause she's a Duh-I-Ke," he said, loud and gutteral, stressing it funny, all of them laughing.
"A real beaver trapper, huh?" More laughs.
"An authentic, pioneer fur trader, if you will."
The laughs echoed on through the galleries and away from where I stood. I wasn't looking at the glossy wood and intricate metal inlay on the rifles in front of me, but instead I kept trying to find my reflection in the cases-my still sun-bleached hair, pony-tailed, as always; my jeans with the holes in both knees. It was one of those partial reflections that you have to catch the right light, the right angle, to make out, and even then you're just the echo version of yourself. The boys were too far gone now for me to hear them anymore, and it was just the quiet and Roy Rogers again.
"Duh-I-Ke," I tried to say like Floppy Hair, only much, much quieter. "Duh-I-Ke." I said it to my ghost reflection. I'd never said it aloud before. It felt hard and mean in my mouth, way worse than shit or even fuck. I jammed my hands in my pockets and said it at least half a dozen times, one after another, as mean as I could, somehow like a curse and like penance, too.