The Cowboy Rides Away
November 17, 2009
From a distance, you’d never know he was seventy-eight years old. His tall body was lean and muscled like that of a younger man, and his thinning gray hair was always hidden by one of his sweat-stained cowboy hats. He was a little bent over, but he’d been somewhat crooked for most of his adult life; that’s what years on the rodeo circuit will do for you.
He stepped into the relative cool of his work shed. It was as neat and orderly as his life appeared to be. Rows of dusty mayo jars lined his work bench, filled with specific size nuts, bolts and nails, like grown-up versions of the general store candy jars he remembered drooling over as a kid in Iowa. His old bareback rigging hung from a nail next to his old spurs. The leather on both was faded and brittle. He knew if he bent one of the straps just a fraction too far, the leather would fall apart like dust in his hands.
His holster was another story entirely. The intricately worked black leather was as pliable as the day in 1952 when he first strapped it low onto his hips. He remembered how he felt that day – young, powerful, optimistic. He was newly wed to a woman who was so beautiful that she turned heads every time she walked down the street. All of his friends were in love with her, but she only had eyes for the tall cowboy. She had a waist so small he could almost encircle it with his hands, and she had a merry sense of humor that helped dispel the periods of gloom he’d battled all of his life. They had matching black Stetsons and belts with their names tooled along the back. She couldn’t ride a horse any more than she could sprout wings and fly, but she was charming in her boots and pearl-snap shirts. He adored her in those early days.
But the early days became the later days and no matter how hard she tried, his wife wasn’t able to stay young. Her red hair became salt-and-pepper, then completely gray. The tiny waist was gone and her health began to fail. That’s when he started to feel old.
He sat down at his work bench and pulled the Colt .45 out of its holster. The gun had been meticulously maintained. Its surface was almost as black as the leather that had cradled it for half a century, but it was oiled and cleaned and he knew it would fire as smoothly as it did the day he bought it. He took two bullets out of an old baby food jar he kept hidden behind the nuts, bolts and nails.
The bullets tried to escape his arthritic hands, but he caught them before they could roll off the work bench and slid them into two waiting chambers. He snapped the gun closed and laid it down on the work bench. Reaching into his back pocket, he took out his wallet and laid it next to the gun. He removed his worn white handkerchief from his breast pocket and laid it beside the wallet, then put his glasses on top of it.
He picked up the gun and stepped outside again. His ranch seemed so small these days; housing developments and vineyards had crept inexorably over the surrounding hills during the past three decades, making his little piece of Southern California almost indistinguishable from anyone else’s piece. The sky was brown, the traffic was ceaseless. He couldn’t have livestock any more, not since the County put through new zoning ordinances.
He swept off his cowboy hat and ran a hand through his once-luxurious hair. Taking a last look around, he placed the muzzle of the Colt against his heart.
Almost before the gunshot stopped reverberating through his body, he was on the back of a horse. He put a gentle heel to its side and clicked softly. The mare broke into a seamless gait and loped off in the direction of the sun.