Sunday, March 20, 2011

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A story About Cowboys

This is the first section from short story I am working on. It is about cowboys. People like cowboys, or so I have been told.

Twenty acres of farmland surrounded Buck. He lived in a shoddy two-story western style home, with a slightly pitched roof, and blue aluminum siding that was darker on the east half because of an addition. A dirt lane cut through the alfalfa field, ending at a big circle of barns and corrals. Buck had the saddest crop in Spanish Fork— some said all of Utah County. His alfalfa was a dry desert green, and full of Chickweed and Milkweed, Prairie grass and Reeds. The weeds could have migrated through the irrigation water or on the wind, or maybe God himself had reached down with a mighty hand and sprinkled the earth with thistles, and briars. Buck didn’t know where the weeds came from, and he didn’t understand how to make them go away.

He wondered if Dustin had noticed the weeds, or the rust spots on the tractor, or the crooked crop lines, or the stripped bolts as he drove along Buck’s dirt lane. Dustin was slender and muscular as an old gray hound with narrow hips and broad shoulders. A mouse of a man, he only stood 5’ 4”, but his grip was strong and he was light and agile and finely crafted to ride a bronc for 8 seconds. It’d been at least fifteen years since Buck had seen Dustin. Buck used to clean stalls at the rodeo grounds south of town where Dustin used to train. At the time, both were in their early twenties. The two befriended quickly. Dustin needed a fan and Buck needed someone to look up to. Buck used to watch Dustin from the horse stalls, or from behind the woodpile, or next to the barn, or from the window of his truck. He studied Dustin like a code, or questions that might one day come to full illumination if he just stared long enough.

As Dustin stepped from his Dodge Ram years later, Buck studied him again. Dustin looked tired, lines drifted from his eyes like knots in old lumber. His boots were heavy cracked leather and caked in dirt and manure, the heels angled to the right like they’d trod many more miles then Buck ever would. In the movie version of Buck’s life he was Dustin, holding up championship buckles and winning thousands of dollars along with pickups from sponsors like Ford and Dodge. Buck always felt more confident around Dustin, like they shared the same accomplishments. And as Dustin’s left palm slapped Buck’s shoulder, he felt that confidence once again.

At 28, Mary stood five-two with tight shoulders, rich brown hair, and a round nose. The twenty acres Buck farmed were Mary’s. She inherited them after her father’s death. She kept the title in her name, hidden in an old box safe under her and Buck’s bed. Mary was not beautiful, but she was not ugly. She was slender for a woman approaching thirty, but her chest was flat, and her face was plain, something similar to a stick figure on paper. She wasn’t much to talk to, ending conversations quickly due to curt yes and no responses.

Mary had not been all that attracted to Buck at first. He was too tall to be boyishly cute and to short to be handsome. His feet were flat, and his knees were doorknob shaped and pushed peculiarly through his tight fitting jeans. He often laughed at his own jokes with an irritating chirp, and he mixed up clich├ęs saying things like “Don’t let your bed dogs bite,” and “I heard it on the power line.” Mary’s own insecurities, and her misunderstanding that Buck was a local rodeo star, is what picqued her interest. To be more specific, it was his buckle. It was the circumference of a coffee mug and read, “Third Place/Lehi Local Rodeo.” A horse and rider, arched in mid thrall, was pressed into the brass. There was some raw appeal she could not explain about that buckle, it held some sexual power same as a guitar or a man in uniform. Although Mary had never seen Buck ride, she liked to imagine that the image on the buckle was a snapshot of Buck breaking a wild bronc.

Buck’s living room had carpet the color of sandstone, and the table was alder with spindly legs. Mary clanked pots in the kitchen and tugged at finicky drawers as she prepared dinner. Buck and Dustin stood next to an oak chest full of Precious Moments figurines. A battery operated baby swing sat folded next to the sofa.

Dustin said he was renting the Holladay’s property. “Hell, you know the place,” Dustin said, “It’s where you used to shovel horse shit all day.” Dustin slapped Buck on the shoulder like they were still old friends that had grown out of the same humble beginnings.

Dustin drew out the A in ma’m, hooked his thumbs in his jean pockets, as he leaned back on the chair. He thanked Mary for making dinner. He was polite while addressing her, saying, “Thank ya ma’m” and “Yes ma’m” and “Boy, I haven’t eaten this well in years.” To Mary, he appeared as shocking as a 95-degree day in winter. Mary had never lived outside Spanish Fork, Utah. Never knew what it was like not to pray in the mornings, and at night. Never met a man that wasn’t Mormon. After the apple cobbler, she asked Dustin about his buckle. It was large, the circumference somewhere between a tea saucer and a dinner plate, with a braded leather frame and an inscription reading Nation Finals Rodeo Champion.

“Well ma’m, I won it.” Buck said. “Got a whole bunch more back home.” He smiled, his canines chipped flat from riding without a bite guard. Mary smiled back, her hands rubbing the creases from her blue and navy dress.

“Now how about you answer something for me,” he said, “How come you keep calling this old boy here Buck?” He pointed at his old friend across the table, his face twisted into half a grin.

Mary stood for a moment, a bit confounded by the question, her slender fingers rubbing against the thumb. “Because that’s his name.” She said, laughing. Buck didn’t say anything, but he wanted to. He wanted to tell Dustin to shut his mouth.

“Hell no it ain’t.” He blurted it out like he were telling stubborn dog to sit. “It’s Tyrell. Always has been.” Dustin tapped his knuckle on the table and then pointed at Buck. “He gave himself that name. I never thought it’d stick like it has. What else he been hosing you with? Probably told you he won that buckle he’s wearing.” Dustin pointed at Buck’s third place buckle, the same buckle he wore every day. The same buckle he was wearing the day he and Mary met. “I won that buckle. Ten years back. Gave it to Tyrell because he hadn’t won shit. Poor kid can’t stay on a bronc to save his life. Cleans a good stall though.” Dustin’s mouth twisted as Buck gripped the lip of the table.

“Maybe I’m being hard on ya. Before you hurt yourself, you were getting better.” Dustin eyes trailed down, like they could see through the table and between Bucks legs. “How’s that doing anyway?”

Mary sat dawn beside Buck, looked him up and down. “What accident?” she said.

Dustin let out a heavy long laugh. “Shoot,” he said. He told Mary about what happened ten years ago. How Buck had taken a bad throw off a bronc and been tossed onto a metal rail. “Hell it was comical.” Dustin said. “That rail snagged him right between the legs and all Tyrell could do was pucker up and tip over. I suppose it got serious when he didn’t get up though.” Buck paused for a moment and appeared a little shaken by his image from the past.

Mary gazed at Buck for a moment, and he could see something draining out of her. Sometimes, when Buck can’t sleep, he replays this moment in his mind. He watches Mary’s reaction, the way her head pulled back for a moment, and wonders if Dustin was simply confirming the assumptions she already had.