Two cowboys are standing by the sturdy fence Doc Williams' son built, bordering the south pasture on the Dry Creek Ranch, where the long yellow fingers of the autumn grasses loll like drunk feathers, row upon row in chaotic splendor to the undulating horizon. Two cowboys are standing there, feeling the hot wind on their faces and squinting against the glowing, wine coloured blaze of the of twilighting sky. Also: a horse.
"Well," says the first cowboy, whose name had been Vassily until he changed it to Duke, "I'm a-supposin' this here's your new mare."
"Yessir," replies the second cowboy, who had always gone by the name of Rex. "That's her right there." He plucks a stalk of timothy grass and puts it into his mouth: the first action sounds like a heavy raindrop, the second action sounds like the breeze pushing pebbles. "A genu-ine beaut."
Duke nods, and spits into the weeds. Cows low in the distance. A fleet of sharp birds swoops out and in to the grasses in a tight arc. Duke casts an eye over the horse pensively. "She sure is a good looking mare," he drawls.
"Ayup," replies Rex; "A genu-ine beaut, all right. Old Man Cubbins let me have her for a deal, too." Rex's hands are clasped behind his back. Suddenly ashamed of his pride, he pinches his own tough palm brutally, letting his hard nails find blood. His winces, but Duke isn't looking at him. Rex whispers to Christ in his mind, and his cracked lips twitch.
"Cubbins is good people," says Duke in a meandering way.
"Ayup," replies Rex, "that's the truth." His palm smarts.
A whispering, arguing tumbleweed skims the trail, skittering along the edges of the dusty path and butting against the gossipy dry grass. There is brief commentary from birds. Only moments have passed, but the sky has become heavier. The setting sun pierces the leaden haze and runs bronzen and wet across the tops of the hills, skimming the grasses and highlighting the two proud, quiet men. The mare flicks her tail, scattering flies.
Duke squints against the orange light. "I'm a-wondering if you won't see your way to letting me take her out for a ride, iff'n it suited you to." He clears his throat, and traces his square fingers along the edge of his belt.
"Well," Rex says slowly, sensing that Duke has more to say; "I can't say as I see any harm in that, as such..." He steals a quick glance at the other man.
"Mayhaps I could even be taking her around a bit," Duke says, eyes on the sky. "Showing her a good time, like." Catching a drift of Rex's uneasiness, Duke turns to him to make a more open appeal. "I'd treat her real nice, I swear it, Rex. I'd take her out to dinner, first."
Rex takes the timothy grass out of his mouth, palpitating it briefly in his left hand before letting it fall. He looks up, and straightens his hat with a firm tug. "I reckon you cain't," he says softly.
Duke sighs. His shoulders drop, and he puts his hands on his silver belt buckle. His bowels turn to liquid with a low, creaking groan.
"...No sir," Rex continues, "not until she's sixteen."
Now the sky is dark. The men become shadows. With a covenant sealed by a handshake, the two cowboys walk away.
Though she has reason to be afraid, the mare simply urinates in place and thinks of chestnuts.
||IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING THIS STORY, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A SMALL TIP. A PAYPAL ACCOUNT IS NOT REQUIRED. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. YOURS TRULY, C. BROWN.