Sometimes a Cowboy Is Just a Man in a Cowboy Suit
She fell in love with a man who wasn’t there. Oh, a man was there all right, just not the man she fell in love with. That particular love had more to do with what the man could be, what he could turn into. Which had nothing to do with the man who just fucked her. Or took her to dinner. Or once for her birthday flew her first-class to Vancouver to fuck her and take her to dinner. He could really flash that money around.
She was surprised to discover, looking back, that she’d been in love with – but had never loved – the man who treated her like that. Like a blank sheet of paper he was uninterested in decorating.
The system cannot withstand close scrutiny. Not the way he’s got it rigged. What with his boundaries unspoken and his rules so subject to change. Once when we were stoned he told me he loved me. “I love you, Davey Houle.” His exact words. But just the once. The things he did to me. The things I allowed him to do. I want him to suffer like my mother suffered.
He came to me fully formed. Immutable is a meaner way to put it. He didn’t change, had no intention of changing, and that’s why I was nothing more than a distraction to him. Because I had my plans. And he could never take seriously someone who wanted him to be someone else. Even if that someone else was better and better for me than the man who, apparently, wasn’t good enough in the first place.
From a Mile Away
Those few years he had on me made me defer to his judgment more often than I would have. And he carried himself like an older man – even older than I allowed him to be. Which along with it came a certainty or an air of authority that was easy for me to follow. Because at that time in my life I thought I needed to be told what to do. And he could sniff out that need in me from a mile away. I only realized this after the fact, of course – years later. None of this did me any good at the time.
With a pointy stick they scratched a line in the dirt, roughly the length of their six-year-old bodies, and then held hands as children do, as best friends do, and vowed that by crossing that line they’d get to their safe place. They closed their eyes and counted back from five. The closer they got, the more their friends and their families and their sadness and secrets and their favorite dolls and favorite teacher Miss Aubernee and the one’s older brother who took such pleasure in teasing two little girls who were so in love, as children are, as best friends are, all funneled down to the bare spot in the backyard where they stood, and nothing else mattered as they got to zero and inhaled together and felt the other shifting her weight as they each lifted a leg in unison and began to lean forward in the shade and the sunlight poking through the shade and together they made the decision to leave it all behind and start over and never be apart and they stepped across the line and, yes – yes it was! – completely different on that side.
He says that she’s wasting her time writing stories like that. As if he best knows how she should spend her time. To him it’s a question of sheer human perversity how she’s writing so-called stories that will not survive a moment beyond her death. As if he determines her work’s significance to posterity. He’d rather she stick to translating into English a French writer’s (male) apparently more worthwhile words. As if he even has a say.
The mother told the boy, the father the girl. The mother found it miraculous that through all those tears the boy could keep from blinking. The father was imagining all the places he’d rather be than sitting on this little girl’s bed in this little girl’s room ruining this little girl’s life.
Rose Dennison was a crow. And as a crow her eyes could bully. Small and severe – stooped over, rail thin, all hard angles – it was Rose who’d spread the rumor that Earl Kramer poisoned his late wife, Bethany, and then blew the insurance money on the slots before he fell down the basement stairs and his children brought him here: The Dappled Oaks Assisted Living Retirement Community. But what Rose and her tar pit eyes were now proposing even her henpecked septuagenarian boyfriend Walter Kern could not abide. She wanted Earl dead.
When Walter refused to go along with her plan, she cawed. Rose thrust her head up and cawed.
Sel Forage had the face of a ditch, all carved up and messy. He belonged in a prison yard, not closing in on his eighteenth year as a case worker for the Chicago Housing Authority, ostensibly helping the same impoverished, broken families he was shaking down for drugs and sex. He got away with it for so long because, basically, no one wanted to hassle a guy who looked like that.
He learned from his mother, the first one, the one who disfigured him, that fury was the hugest, sweetest inhale of all. After she left for good, Sel took that lesson and made it his own. He held it close and polished out the rough edges. Then he packed it together all smooth and hard and dense and stuffed it way deep down inside him. He was eight.
It’s still in him, all that useless rage. But much like how he never allowed mothers two and three the satisfaction of loving him, Sel pays no mind. Not anymore. That fiery knot’s become such an integral part of what he’s turned into as a man and human being that after forty-three years his resulting choices and actions are now these things that just happen, like cell division or gravity. Because however long it takes, you eventually learn to accept the things you can’t control. Be it the color of your skin or the economic station into which you were born or the childhood that vanished *poof* the night she had one too many and then got hold of some scissors and started swinging.