Wednesday, July 20, 2011

STORY-"Bull Rider"

     The cowboy limped behind the bucking chutes. His nose itched from the dust, rich with powdered manure, it hung in the air like brown fog. His own sweat ran down his back and his armpits, staining his clothes, competing with the smell of horses and bulls.

     He carried his bull rope in his right hand, slapping it up against his work-a-day chaps, unconsciously marking a beat with his limping gait. Not for the first time this night did he questioned his sanity with his presence at the annual Labor Day Rodeo, in lovely scenic Guymon Oklahoma.

     Why in the hell am I doing this?-He thought for the millionth time in the last twenty minutes; his left hand shaking with anxiety and pent up adrenaline as it unconsciously clenched and released in a pantomime of nervous movement.

     A voice in the back of his head replied-‘Cause girls think it’s sexy as hell… Besides pain has a way of letting you know your still alive.

     Shrugging off those errant thoughts, he handed up his rigging to the Chute Crew and climbed up on the elevated walkway behind the bucking chutes. The cowboy’s grim visage went even grimmer, if that was humanly possible, as he cribbed his way sideways along the walkway, next to chute #3. He saw what two go-around’s of effort lay-in-wait for him.

     There inside, was 1,900lbs of romping, stomping bovine flesh, a Brahma bull named China Blue. He could feel the bull’s hot alfalfa scented breath on his legs. Looking down he saw China Blue’s horns; in the intensity of the moment, to the cowboy those horns looked like telephone poles.

     The bull saw rider and rigging crew approach. With a gimlet cynical eye, the bull began slapping his head and horns up against the sides of the chute, warning any mere mortal foolish enough to try to get too close, he would hurt them. With the whites of his eyes rolling this way and that, the bull’s coal black cornea scanned to see where the next threat was coming from…

     -Luck of the draw!-The cowboy said to himself as he glared down at his blue black nemeses. -Two times I have drawn you, you ornery piece of shit! Two times you have done your level best to stomp the piss out of me and then drown me in my own mud puddle. I am going to ride the hair off of you, even if it harelips the governor! Third times a charm…-He declared to himself.

     Then a sly, sneaky voice began whispering to him, -Yeah tell us another one boy! Who you trying to convince? Yourself or the beast? Just look at him. He’s eyeballing you boy! That bull knows who is-a-crawling on his back. He done smelled your fear before. You gonna let this side of beef get the better of you? Cause these boys and girls around here aint seen you whup him yet I don’t know as if you got it in you to…-The cowboy crushed silent those fears.

     But what has been thought, is often times the hardest to ignore, the cowboy thought back, to Sunday morning’s draw where he heard they had pulled this particular bull out of the hat for him. Billy Calvin his best friend, came up to him and slapped him on his shoulder and said, “Hoss somebody up there don’t like you! Did you piss God off or something? I want you to know right here, right now, you don’t have to worry about your barrel rider. I promise I will comfort and console her, after they get done burying you tonight.”

     Gallows humor from his best friend. All he could do in response was just shake his head.-Great! Who needs enemies when you got friends like this…

    An hour later he began his ritual. Inside the change house, he stripped himself out of his dress jeans and got into his cowboy gear. He taped his left ankle, which was still weak and floppy after that ride down in Amarillo three weeks ago. He then rubbed Tiger Balm into his knees, and pulled on supports for both knees. He walked over to where Doc Kieffer had his aid station and asked him re-tape his ribs.

     As the good doctor applied new rolls of fabric backed tape, the cowboy thought to himself,-I wonder how many miles of this stuff, I have used up riding these damn bulls? On the heels of that thought, he saw in his mind’s eye the last time he had a go-around with China Blue…

     Three weeks earlier-Amarillo’s fairgrounds, on a hot July Friday night. The wind had been blowing all live day long off the Caprock and with the setting sun, instead of cooling off the arena; the wind just seemed to make it hotter somehow. Dusty gusts, kept half of those in attendance holding on to their beers in one hand, their hats in the other.

     He sat down on China Blue with the bull snorting and slinging frothy snot and slobber all over the chute. The bull felt the cowboy’s weight settle down just behind his hump and began twisting and rubbing up against the walls of the chute. One of the rigging boys grabbed the bull’s tail and twisted it up behind him, pulling the tail between the boards of the chute.

     The hand began yelling at the bull, “Now jess you settle down damn you!”

     In response China Blue tried to crawl his way out of the bucking chute. One of the riggers yelled over to a rough stock hand and said, “Damnittohell! Give me a cribbin’ stick, we gonna settle this ’Ol boy down right quick!”

     When the cribbing stick hit the bull in the ribs, he slammed his left side up against the gate side of the chute. The cowboy’s left foot was just an inch or so out of position and he felt something in his ankle pop. He knew his foot was injured and probably pretty bad.

     -Oh shit! This aint good!-

     Just as the cowboy was figuring out how his foot was doing, the Chute Boss yelled over to him, “He aint gonna get no readier than this hoss!”

     It wasn’t like he had never ridden injured before, so he did what he always did, He looked the Chute Boss in the eye and said, “Yeah! Lets Dance Boys!”

     His world then went sideways…

     To some combat vets and rodeo cowboys, time can slow to a crawl and sounds disappear as their powers of concentration narrow. A perfect sphere of living in the moment, in their shared bubble, it was just the two of them competing against each other.

     He felt gravity change its grip on his body as China Blue launched like a broken, spinning bottle rocket to the right. Applied inertia and 1,900lbs of bull pulled on his legs and his straining right hand.

     He hung with the bull through the first two clockwise revolutions. At the end of the second, China Blue exploded straight up in the air. When he and the cowboy hit the dirt of the arena, he spun counter-clockwise one full revolution and then stopped stock still.

     It was the cessation of movement from the bull beneath him and the forces of inertia which caught the cowboy out of rhythm with the bull. More importantly the bull could feel the cowboy’s weight shifting off-center… The cowboy tried to “Grip and Rip” as they say, with his legs, his left foot just flopped uselessly on the bull’s flank and he began to slide.

     -Damn and blast! I aint got a left spur to hold with!-

     China Blue in an instantaneous moment of bovine judgment, spun once more to the left, with an added elegant flourish of a hopping jump thrown in. When they once more made landfall, the cowboy was sliding forward and to the right. His upper torso slid over the top of his right hand and with momentum carrying him forward, he slapped his face into the large hump of fat, just behind China Blue’s head.

     The bull with malice of forethought, jerked his head up and to the right. His horn missed goring the cowboy’s right eye by a distance that was almost too small to measure; but the bull’s horn continued up and to the back and smacked the cowboy across the forehead.

     He woke up in the ambulance as they hauled him to the emergency room at Baptist Saint Anthony Hospital on Amarillo Boulevard. His right arm was out of socket, his left side had two cracked ribs and his left foot although not broken, the ligaments and tendons on the outside of the foot had hyper extended to the point where it felt like it was just hanging on by the skin covering his foot.

     He had the mother of all headaches and what felt like crowbar of a contusion standing out from his forehead. It was the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association’s-Doc Kieffer, shinning a light into his eyes that woke him up.

     One of the ambulance’s attendants looked at the cowboy from where he was recording his vitals and said, “Check your wallet. I think the bull that mugged you, had a credit card in his mouth when they let him back into his pen.”

     Doc Kieffer looked at him and said grimly, “Yep you guessed it boy, you‘ve got a concussion and you might just want to think about taking the next couple of days off.”

     He spent the night in the hospital, with a pounding head, trying to throw up every meal he had ever eaten. It had been three weeks since he got banged up by one Mr. China Blue.

     Tonight, the creeping sensation of loosing which always hovered in the shadows of the arena, hiding beneath the announcer’s booth, watching through the rough stock fencing, lurking in the upper corners of the change house, seemed to have fled those shadow lands and taken up residency on his back. He could feel defeat breathing its stinky fear stench breath on the hairs on his neck.

     He checked each piece of latigo leather, his tooled grip and then his cinch strap. He grabbed his rosin bag and tied off the cinch strap to a pipe hitchin’ rail on the back of the change house. He stropped the leather with the powdery rosin bag.

     Each stroke he worked the bag harder and harder, trying to permeate the leather with enough rosin, so when the bull flexed his enormous ribs, there would be enough sticky stuff in the leather rope, he wouldn’t slide off. It was a quiet ritual every bull rider went through. He looked to his right and he saw his friend Billy working his cinch the same way, with his eyes gone blank, viewing his own up and coming ride. So much of the cowboy’s sport was mental. As he worked his rosin bag, he reviewed each bull he had rode to get to Sunday.

     -There was Buffer the cowboys first go-around. Buffer was an Angus-out of the Diamond Bar Ranch in Ardmore, OK. Buffer farted a lot and like to hook to the right. He was also an old hand at the circuit, eight seconds he was done. When the buzzer rang, he would turn to the gate leading back to the pens looking for something to munch on. There were times when it was really hard to get him excited enough to give a ride worthy of a good score.  

     Then next go-around on Saturday came Governor. One of the few Hereford bulls in the circuit-out of The Bell Bennett Ranch from Green Forrest, AK. Governor was a leaper. There wasn’t much of left or right in him; he was the kind of bull who tried to fly. He wasn’t for the novice though, get out of sync with him and next thing you know, your down in the mud with him kicking at the clowns, trying to grind you into meat paste; Governor would get a serious hate going for anything laying in front of him.

     Then and only then on Sunday, after he had survived riding four plus tons of spinning, jumping, snot slinging, mean as hell bulls, would he get the chance to ride the one bull who hurt him and more importantly who Beat him.

     Friday night Guymon Oklahoma. Just outside of a prairie town, with the tallest structure being the local Co-Op granary, squatted the rodeo arena. In front of and to the right sat, a prefabricated indoor roping arena, which during the rodeo would be turned into a dance hall. It had change facilities inside.

     The hottest thing going in Guymon was ordinarily the cars full of young teen some-things headed for Amarillo, Texas-125 miles to the south-west; but this wasn‘t an ordinary weekend, The PRCA Rodeo full of cowboys, horses, barrel riders, clowns and danger had come to town.

     The Cowboy came to Guymon riding in his father’s beat up Ford. He had paused at the Sale-Barn Café in Texhoma, Oklahoma earlier in the afternoon filling the truck up with gas and grilled cheese sandwiches for himself. From his booth the cowboy could see the cribbed wooden stockyard, where a motley collection of mostly Herefords were being off loaded for sale on Saturday. He ate his food and crunched his way through a coke full of crushed ice, as he listened to local men eating and chatting about the holiday rodeo.

     He drove the twenty five plus miles to Guymon with enough time to find a place to dash his dad’s truck and pay his entry fees. He and Billy stood around as they made the draw for the night’s ride.

     As they were headed to the changing rooms, Billy said, “Don’t worry son, I’ll garun-damn-tee you, you’ll get a decent run off Old Buffer tonight.”

     “Thanks Billy, you aint too bad a stepper yourself.” The cowboy said.

      “Naaw no worries there hoss. I got five bucks saying you aint going to make it 6 seconds.”

     “Shit! Thanks a lot.”

     “Yeah you know me, always willing to help a friend out. Try to make it at least five seconds, so the crowd won’t think your taking a dive will ya. I need the money to buy your girlfriend a beer.”

     “Speaking of, have you seen Arlene?”

     “What you two didn’t come up together? Hoss, if I had a knowed that, by golly I would be laid up sorry and sore in some flea bag hotel back in Canyon.”

     “Hey now, keep your grubby paws off her. I don’t want you confusing her with your big Lubbock city ways. She’s a good hide, and would hate to think you could just plain ruin her.”

     Billy stopped in front of the change room door and looked at the cowboy with a humorous glint in his eye and asked, “What the hell have you got, I aint got?”

     “Six sections of Sugar Beets and five hundred head of Brangus.”

     “Oh so what your saying is, she’s one of them material girls?”

     “Nope, you just asked what I had and you didn’t.”

     “Well I don’t know about you having six sections of Sugar Beets and five hundred head of Brangus… I do know your daddy might be surprised about the actual ownership of such a spread.”

     “Ok you got me there.”-The Cowboy said whith a sly grin.

     As the two men walked down the corridor to where they could begin their preparations for the nights rodeo, Billy’s voiced faded around the corner with, “Seems what you got aint much more than me. Too bad your little feet aren’t bigger; I really like those new Tony Lama boots you’re a wearing. Be a real shame to bury them with you.”

     Later at the back of the arena, where the rough stock were kept, the cowboy stood looking at the bulls in their pens. Billy Calvin walked up next to him and stood silently for while before speaking

     Billy said, “Well there he is… Buffer! Big Ugly Fat Fucker-The lazy bastard. I caint for no good reason understand why they keep that piece of walking BBQ on the circuit.”

     “Cause Bobby Burke is tight with the circuit. He’s got dirt on everybody and been in the rough stock trade for forty years. That’s why, dummy.”

     “Oh! Well thank you for filling that particular hole in my education.”

     “Por Nada.”

     “Like I said, don’t you worry yourself none. I got a special treat in store for him.”

     “What the hell are you going to do?”

     “That aint your concern. All you got to do is jump off him before six seconds!”

     The two of them stood there laughing for a moment, then the cowboy said, “Right hoss, I got to motivate. I saw one of those damned Goat ropers sniffing around Arlene just a while ago. Got to make sure nobody messes with my in-home nursing staff.”

     “That’s ok. I got my eye on Bridget Thrasher.”

     “Son! You've been too long without a girlfriend. Bridget’s got thighs bigger than you. She’s corn fed.”

     “Yes sir she is. But you know what they say about big legged women…”

     “You’re a freak.”

     “Probably so…” As Billy walked away, he looked back at his friend and said, “Remember six seconds!”

     Laughing, the cowboy shook his head.

     The rodeo like any cultural event has its own rhythms and tempo. There is the opening Gymkhana show, where local boys and girls, ride in a figure eight, showing state and regional flags. At the conclusion usually a rodeo beauty contestant comes out holding the American flag and the national anthem is sung, while everyone in attendance holds their hands over their breast and the cowboys take off their hats.

     The first event is usually Bareback Riders. Then followed by a timed event usually Team Roping or Bull Dogging. Followed by either the first half of the Saddle Bronc competition or Barrel Riders.
You could always spot the barrel racers who were true dedicated competitors. They were the women, who when getting ready to race, would pull up their pants legs so they could strap on plastic and metal shin guards. Those were the women who where going to shave the top of the barrels at the expense of their shins and knees.

     Arlene was such a woman. Her personal philosophy in regards to life and relationships was, ”Lead, Follow, Or Get The Hell Out Of The Way!” However, she was not so self centered as to not know her boyfriend was going through a rough time. China Blue had cast a specter of self doubt into his eyes she had never seen before.

     They had spent two weeks together at her folks place with him limping around. It was as if the bull had taken his self-assured preconceived notions of how the universe was ordered from him.

     She thought to herself, “It’s always hard on bull riders when they find the one bull who really gives ‘em a fight. Especially if the bull gets in the first punch.”

     They spent the last day sniping and biting at each other. Finally he got up said he had business to attend to and told her he would call her in a couple of days. That had been a week ago. She saw him walk out to the rough stock pens and begin looking over the bulls.

     She pretended not to notice her cowboy, as a steer-roper, whom her mother would describe as “skinning and grinning” tried to convince her to shuck off her flour-sack drawers and go for a tumble. She was only half paying attention to what the roper was saying, when she saw Billy Calvin, look her in the eyes and nod his head and give her a wink as he walked pass. Arlene couldn’t say exactly why, but for some reason she took great comfort from those subtle gestures.

     Then the next thing she knew her cowboy had slid up next to her and kissed the back of her neck, then looked the roper dead in the eye and said, “Howdy…” With the unspoken question of: Why are you talking to my girlfriend? Hanging like a pregnant heifer in the air.

     She turned to her cowboy and looked deep into his eyes. She didn’t say a word to him, she just leaned in close and gave him a kiss.

     “There is more of that, when you win your go-around tonight.” She said.

     He grunted, and just smiled. She could still detect a faint ghost of doubt in the back of his eyes.

     “you going to cowboy up for this or what?” She asked him, in a light but challenging tone.

     “I reckon. Don’t want to pass up a chance to get some more of those kisses.”

     “See that you do. Cause, that goat roper from Childress was starting to look pretty good.”

     “Well, I guess if you want someone from Childress keeping you company, I aint sure I want to know you…”

     He took the sting out of her barb and his sharp reply, with a kiss which took her breath away. The cowboy then turned on his heels and limped away into the confusion of the riders and chute crews as they prepared for the next evolution of the rodeo.

     She was still thinking and worrying about him as she prepared for her own run. When she was done with it and had finally caught her breath, she had to apologize to her mare Dusty. On the final lag of the run she had ridden harder than she had ever done previous.

     The fact that she was still thinking about her cowboy made her mad and then even madder when she realized she had flogged her beautiful girl.-It came as a real surprise when she heard she had won her event.

     The cowboy limped off to a quiet spot up in the bleachers as far away from the announcers booth as he could find. He saw Arlene ride the hair off Dusty. When they crossed the finish line, both his girlfriend and her mare had their ears laid back and their teeth bared. It was the angriest he had ever seen her ride.

     -Whoa! Shit I am in some kind of trouble.- He knew she was a tough competitor, but he had never seen her ride that angry before.

     Even before the thought had really registered, he began shutting down from the outside world as he thought his ride through from beginning to end. He sat silent and closed to the world, as life and the rodeo ran away from him. The Steer Ropers had their turn, then came the second half of the Bareback riding. Halfway through the Saddle-Broncs, an empty Colorado Kool-Aid can came sailing from out of the announcer’s booth and hit his Resistol hat.

    He spun in his seat, with a look which would have caused instant rigor mortis if it had fallen on a person he didn’t like.James Timmons one of the PRCA’s officials, was standing in the doorway to the announcers booth. He caught the cowboy’s attention and simply pointed down and behind the stands, where Billy Calvin stood.

     Billy shouted up, “Hey hoss! You going to sit there and watch the whole damned rodeo or are you going to compete?”

     Time and concentration had caught the cowboy unawares. With a muffled oath, he climbed down the bleachers and went to get his bull rope.

     Billy handed him two sets of numbers, with their name written in black magic marker along the top. The cowboy took two safety pins and pinned Billy’s on his back. He then turned around and Billy did the same for him.

     Neither said much more to each other as they grabbed up their gear and did one more final inspection. The specter of failure had by this time regained its perch on his shoulder. Uncertainty was insidiously spreading creeping tendrils through his chest muscles and down into the pit of his belly, making his testicles ache, with phantom ghost pain shooting into the backside of each of his knees.

     Behind the chutes, the cowboy obsessively checked each strap, buckle, notched his spurs one more time. Ran his fingers over his rope, making sure his bell was secured.

     Billy stood off to one side with a paper grocery bag. He leaned over to Jake Thompson, a rider out of Cimarron, Kansas and said, “Damn! Hoss there, is acting like this is his first go-around.”

     “Yeah, he’s got a bad case of the shakes. But hell, I think I would too if, I got hit in the head with a baseball bat.”

     “Well, I got the cure right here.”-Billy opened up the paper bag and half pulled out a short hafted hot shot.

     “Jake, Hoss drew out Buffer for his go-around. I aim to make that lazy SOB get up and dance his way out that effing chute!”

     “I tell you what Billy, when our boy gets ready to ride, I’ll help you rig him. Keep his attention on me while you work your magic.”

     The two men shook hands, and then climbed up on top of the arena fence and watched the last of the Saddle-Bronc riders get bucked off. They each parted to round up their personal gear, as the announcer introduced each of the clowns who would be running interference for the bull riders in that nights go-around.

     One of the rough stock contractors Johnny Warken, kept a short black Mexican fighting bull for the clown segment of the rodeo. They turned it loose and in a choreographed routine, the bull would charge the clowns, who would jump inside specially padded empty barrels. The bull in turn would run up and try to knock the barrel into the next county.

     Behind the scenes, back where the real work of the rodeo went on, this was the premier event of the evening. The bulls who had been placid at the start of the night’s events, were now shifting around in their pens. The more aggressive of the bulls had quit munching on their alfalfa and had their ears twitching back and forth. They knew what was coming. Bulls such as China Blue looked forward to having their chance of stomping some unfortunate cowboy.

     The rough stock crew got busy and began running the bulls through a series of gates to move them to each of the bucking chutes. Bobby Burkes’ hired hands, got Buffer into motion and herded him into chute number two. The chute boss nodded to his crew and they locked Buffer in. Billy Calvin helped the cowboy get up on the cat walk and started laying out the cowboy’s bull rope.

     The chute boss said, “Hey there cowboy! Ya got your rope on backwards. That there strap needs to go around on the right side.”

     The cowboy laughed and said, “Naaw, I don’t always have such fine hands like yourself to help me rig. I ride with it coming up on the left side. That way I can do most of the tightening myself.”

     “Oh ok, like that Brazilian cowboy I saw down in Houston couple of months back.”

     “Yeah, I heard that’s how they rig down south.”

     Buffer meanwhile was placidly sitting in the chute letting the hands, run the girth strap around his belly. This was just another night in the life, as far as he was concerned.

     That was, until Jake Thompson, came up level with chute number two and looked over to where Billy was helping the cowboy pull his strap up and tight. Jake winked his eye to Billy. Who in turn looked to one of the rigging crew down on the ground and gave a quick nod of his head.

     The man reached into Billy’s grocery bag and pulled out the hot-shot. Just as the cowboy had settled on Buffer’s back and was adjusting his seat, the man stuck the cattle prod into the junction of Buffer’s cantaloupe sized testicles and pressed the trigger.

     With a bellow of rage, Buffer tried to jump right out of the bucking chute. Jake Thompson, grabbed the cowboy and kept him from falling off. Buffer meanwhile was about as mad as one full grown adult male bovine could get. He was throwing his legs around, kicking the sides of the chute. The man with the hot-shot, kept stabbing him in the balls with the electric cattle prod. Buffer was going bezerk slapping his horns, bellowing, throwing snot and snorting. His front hooves were digging into the dirt of the chute.

     Billy finally waved the hand off with the hot-shot. He turned to his buddy and said, “Shit Hoss! Looks like Old Buffer here might just want to dance tonight!”

     Jake Thompson still holding onto the cowboys shirt said, “Whooeeee! Billy boy! You want to change that bet to from five dollars to 20 bucks? I say he won’t make it four seconds!”

     “All righty! I reckon Buffers going to put our boy in the hurt locker fer sure! Twenty bucks it is!”

     Hearing the exchange between his friends. The cowboy knew they were pulling his leg, but the longer this shit went on, about him not making the ride got him mad, got him mad as hell.

     “Quit yer screwing around Billy. Tighten him up.”

     Billy took another grip on the cinch strap and pulled it as tight as he possibly could. He passed the strap over the cowboy’s hand and double weaved it back onto itself in his leather grip. Then passed the remainder behind the cowboys hand so it made a loose noose of leather. It was a dangerous type of rig. It meant when the bull began to buck, the excess slack in the strap would instantaneously suck up tight. If Billy or the cowboy got it wrong, it would trap the cowboy’s hand against his rigging and he wouldn’t be able to kick free.

     The chute boss said, “You ready? Cause I think Buffer’s leaving this station, whether your on him or not.”

     The cowboy, his body absolutely filled with adrenaline and flight or fight hormones, with his breath high and ringing in his ears, just nodded his head. Buffer got one more shot in the testicles, just as the gate began to open.

     In one corner of his mind he could hear, Jimmy Timmons saying, “Coming out Chute Number Two, Riding Buffer Is a Cowboy From Canyon, Texas Give a Hand For…”

     As Jimmy Timmons called out his name, his world and everything in it exploded. Buffer farted as the gate swung open and shot out of the chute. Tonight he was rolling his shoulders left and right as he bucked. The cowboy rode each roll and buck like a boat on the ocean, then he felt something sliding up and out of his left shirt pocket.

     His hyper aware senses realized it was his little black book, where he kept all of his rodeo contact numbers and addresses. On Buffer’s second bounce out of the chute his book shot out of his pocket and hung in the air. It seemed to the cowboy time and motion were incased in a warm flowing syrup. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his notebook just hanging there. If he wanted it, he could reach out and grab it with his left hand. So he did.

     Behind him he could just barely make out one of the clowns shouting, “Holy Shit! Ride Him Cowboy! Ride Him! You Got This SOB Rode!”

     Just before the buzzer went off, with a crumpled note book in his hand, he reached up and grabbed his hat brim and took off his hat and began fanning it back and forth over Buffer’s head.-The crowd went wild. The buzzer went off. The cowboy kept riding Buffer as he bucked and stomped himself to a shuffling halt. The cowboy kicked himself free and landed on his feet like he had just stepped down from a bus. Buffer still angry and pissed off, ran kicking and farting back to his pen.

     The cowboy took it all in. In the moment, his ankle didn’t hurt. His ribs didn’t ache, in fact he was riding such an emotional adrenaline laced high he couldn’t feel any pain. He bowed to the crowd. He could hear their response, their clapping and stomping their boots on the bleachers as he walked back to the bucking chutes and climbed over the fence.

     Later that night sitting at a table in the roping arena which had been converted to a dance hall, with a local band doing cover versions of Straight and Garth playing in the background, the cowboy, Arlene and Billy Calvin, were hashing over the day’s rodeo.
Eventually the conversation came back to his ride.

     “I got to tell you something hoss. That was the God damnedest ride I think I have ever seen.” Billy Calvin said while grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

     “What the heck was that thing, you grabbed honey?” His girlfriend asked.

     “It was my address book. It had your telephone number in it. I couldn’t run the risk of some asshole like Billy getting his hands on it.”

     She laughed and reached over and grabbed his hand. “You’re sweet.”

     “I just wanted to know what the hell got into Buffer tonight? I can’t remember ever seeing him buck like that. He never just shoots out and jumps straight up. He always bounces once and then begins to hook to the right.”

     Billy and Arlene looked at each other and then looked over to the cowboy and practically fell out of their chairs laughing.

     “What the F…?”

     Holding up a hand, Billy said, “You remember I told you I would guarantee you got a good ride out of Buffer? Well while Jake and I were helping you get rigged, I gave Sam Leonard a hot-shot. He apparently went a little overboard and practically burned Buffer’s balls off him.”

     The three of them simultaneously burst out laughing. They laughed until tears were running down their eyes.

     When they calmed down the cowboy said, “Remind me to buy him a bag of carrots before this rodeos over. He earned it.”

     Just then Bridget Thrasher sauntered up and grabbed Billy’s arm and said, “Are y’all done with him? Cause this boy and I have a dance or two to do.” She all but dragged him out his chair.

     Billy looked like a condemned man heading for his execution.
Arlene smiled sweetly and held up her right hand and made tiny waving gestures toward the duo.

     The cowboy laughed and then silently mouthed the words, “Your fucked…”

     Arlene and the cowboy sat in rapt fascination watching Billy two step Bridget around the dance floor. All the while giggling at the look on Billy’s face. He kept running through a gauntlet of emotions ranging from perverted fascination to outright desperation.

     Finally Arlene leaned over and whispered into her cowboy‘s ear and said, “I know you can’t do the two step very well tonight. But I thought if, your not doing anything else I could teach you the horizontal waltz…”

     Friday night faded like a warm happy dream as moths immolated themselves in the empty rodeo arena’s floodlights.

     The cowboy and Arlene got up before the Sun came up and drove the fifty plus miles down State-54 to Dalhart, Texas. Two blocks off the interstate sat a little red painted café with a two pump gas station attached. It wasn’t much the XIT Café, but it did serve a real Texas style chicken fried steak. They prided themselves on not serving some sort of pseudo frozen steak like substance, which usually was deep fried with the French fries. They served honest to goodness steak, pan fried in a cast iron skillet.

     Arlene didn’t know it but her cowboy had called his folks Friday night before he left the change house, and asked them to come up and have breakfast with them. He also asked them if, his grandparents could come as well. Since his grandparents lived just outside of Dalhart across the border in New Mexico, it wouldn’t be an overly big deal for them to show.

     At the un-Godly hour of five AM, Arlene and her cowboy found themselves eating breakfast with his family. Introductions were made, even though Arlene knew his mom and dad.

     His grandfather asked, “Son we love ya and it sounded like you had a heck of ride last night.”

     -Arlene blushed to the tips of her ears.-

     “But your grandma and I were planning on coming over to Guymon to see you ride this afternoon. So why did you roust us out of the house at the crack of dawn?”

     The cowboy stammered a reply for a moment, then turning three shades of pink, pulled a small box from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of Arlene.

     “This is the reason Daddy let me drive his truck up to the rodeo.-The cowboy had sold his truck.- I thought you might like to make an honest man out of me.”

     With eyes round and her cheeks running with tears, Arlene opened the small box to find a diamond engagement ring.

     There wasn’t a lot of talking for a few moments as the cowboy’s mother and grandmother watched the young vibrant barrel rider place the ring on the third finger of her left hand. Then it was Katy bar the door, a full on flood of tears and happy repeating of one word-yes.

     “Last week, I called your parents while you were out exercising Dusty and met them at the steakhouse outside of Borger. I asked your Daddy for your hand and he gave his go ahead. I bet it has just been killing your mom, her not being able to tell you. If you didn’t know it, your folks are going to meet us for lunch this afternoon.”

     Laughing and wiping tears from the corners of her eyes, Arlene said, “Well it’s a good thing I don’t like Goat Ropers from Childress.”

     “Nope guess not.”

     The couple snuggled and exchanged deep meaningful looks all the way back to Guymon. Arlene decided she didn’t want to just blurt out their engagement but short of an emergency operation, there was no way in hell she was going to remove her bright shiny new ring.

     The cowboy was feeling… well he really didn’t know how to explain how he was feeling. It wasn’t a confused or scared emotion. It was if someone had combined a sense of rightness with eager anticipation. He was so happy he had a humming sound ringing in his ears. It was very similar to how he felt after he got off Buffer.

     To the young couple it seemed like they were in Guymon in no time. One minute they were in Dalhart, the next they were pulling into the arena.

     Dusty- Arlene’s horse, was expressing her displeasure at being locked overnight in her horse trailer by repeatedly kicking the back ramp of her trailer and the cowboy had to gather up his gear and hurry over and receive his draw for the Saturday afternoon go-around.

     The cowboy walked up to the base of the bleachers directly under the announcers booth where the rest of the saddle bronc riders, bareback boys and the bull riders were gathered for their draw. He saw Jake Thompson talking to a couple of Oklahoma hands and limped over to him.

     Before the cowboy could say anything, Jake began to laugh and point to a picnic table sitting off to one side of the crowd. There holding his head in his hands, minus his Resistol hat, sat Billy Calvin. He was still wearing the same clothes he had worn the previous evening. There were deep dark circles under his eye and what appeared to be the outline of a woman’s hand on his face.

     “What in the hell happened to Billy?”

     Jake tried to reply but every time he would settle down and try to explain, he would begin laughing again.

     Seeing Jake was no help, the cowboy limped over to Billy and asked, “Hoss your wearing the same getup you went out in last night. And why in the hell do you have a hand print on your face?”

     Billy just sat there and groaned… Finally seeing how his friend was not going to walk away, Billy finally spoke up and said, “Well Bridget Thrasher is what happened to my face! Damn yer eyes! We went back to her hotel room and got to fooling around. Lord that woman is… well she made me do things no Christian man is supposed to even know about.”

     Billy half laughed or sobbed, the cowboy couldn’t tell which.
Gamely Billy continued on, “At one point I was behind her and going at it pretty good if I don’t say so myself. Then she looks back over her shoulders and begins to holler at me-Hit me! Hit me ya big pussy boy! Hit ME! So I hauled off and socked her in her eye.”

     “Oh shit.”

     “Exactly. We were off to the races after that. She came out of the bed cussing and swearing, telling me she was going to beat the ever loving shit out of me. A woman that big, is a force of nature I tell ya! She chased me up and down the corridors of the hotel screaming and yelling. Both of us not wearing a stitch of clothing. Finally, she chased me back into her bedroom.-I want to state right here, I was hoping to make it to the bathroom, so I could lock myself in. But Bridget body tackled me and hit me in my bum left knee.”

     By this time the cowboy was laughing so hard he thought his ribs were going to need taping all over again.

     “Next thing I know, she’s got me hog tied to the bed post and doing things I didn’t even know a woman could do, all the while slapping the shit out of me.”

     Holding his side, the cowboy asked the sixty four thousand dollar question, “So how did you escape?”

     “I promised I would marry her.”

     At that point the cowboy just started laughing so hard he had to sit down in the dirt.With a timing only a Catskill vaudevillian could even hope to attempt, Bridget Thrasher and Arlene walked around the corner. The cowboy was laying on the ground laughing, when he spied the two women through the legs of the gathered riders. He could see Bridget’s face and her left eye was all but swollen shut. She also had a predatory grin spread from one ear to the next.

     “Our fiancés are here.”


     “Yep about two hours ago, I proposed to Arlene.”

     “Oh Shit.”

     “Hahahahahaha your fucked” The cowboy had tears running down the side of his face.

     Bridget and Arlene came to where the cowboy was laughing and holding his healing ribs.

     “I guess we aren’t the only ones with good news this morning?” Arlene said.

     Bridget still smiling reached down and pulled the cowboy to his feet, without even so much as a grunt. “Quit laughing. Your making a spectacle of yourself.” She said with a grin.

     Bridget Thrasher was not a fat woman, just big. She stood six feet tall in her stocking feet and probably had the largest non-augmented chest in Christendom. She had a flat washboard of a stomach and a large heart shaped hind end which flared out to nicely rounded hips. Bridget could have been a centerfold material if, everything she had just wasn’t so damned big.

     The cowboy dusted his pants off and looked Bridget into her good eye. “I hear congratulations are in order.”

     “Yep, I won him fair and square.”

     Laughing the cowboy replied, “Looks like you got a ring of a different sort.”

     She grinned and ducked her head.

     “So when is the big day?” the cowboy asked.

     Bridget’s head snapped up and the predator was back in her face, “Day after tomorrow. The Texas County Recorder’s office and the County Judge won’t be open or back until Tuesday morning.”

     Billy Calvin just sat there and made a sort of moaning noise in the back of his throat.

     “And when are you and Arlene going to get hitched?”

     The cowboy looked over to his fiancé and said, “Well we haven’t talked about it but, I was thinking the NFR will be over around Christmas. Thought maybe we might use one of those Marrying-Sams out in Vegas and get a quickie and then have a formal wedding when all of our people can show.”

     Bridget looked over to Arlene and said, “If your smart, girlfriend, you come with me Tuesday morning and we can make it a double wedding.”

     Arlene gave Bridget a weak smile as Bridget turned to face Billy Calvin and asked him, “You draw out yet?”


     Bridget turned around and yelled up at the announcer’s booth, “Hey now, when the hell are y’all going to start this draw, cause some of us have bidness to attend to damn it!”

     To his amazement, the cowboy looked down at Billy Calvin and saw his friend was smiling from ear to ear. He leaned in close where Arlene and Bridget couldn’t hear and listened to what Billy had to say.

     “She thinks she is running a bulge on me. I got news for the heifer. Come Tuesday morning, I actually plan on marrying that woman. Just made my mind up about it. That is… if she wants me.”

     “Son are you sure. I mean a little slap and tickle is all well and good. This is serious stuff here.”

     “You know what they say about big legged women.”

     “You’re a freak.”

     “Yes! Yes I am and more importantly so is Bridget.”

     Seeing the officials from the PRCA were coming out with the draw slips, Bridget turned around and asked, “What the heck are you two a doing?”

     Billy said with a serious look to his eye, “Talking about getting married.”

     Like a lot of women of size, Bridget had a weakness. She never actually thought someone would love her for her. The predator in her face fled, when she saw Billy was actually meaning to keep the promise she extracted from him the night before. A fleeting look of fear and pure panic ran across her face.

     “Hey partner, would you mind doing your Ol’ Billy a solid? Get my draw for me will ya. This lovely woman and I have some things to talk about.”

     Just behind the cowboy he heard his fiancé Arlene say, “Shoot! I guess it happens like that sometimes.” Tears were leaking from the corner of her eyes.

     “Damn and blast! Everyone around here is going to think we have all gone soft in the head.” The cowboy said as he limped over to his future wife and kissed her on the lips.

     The rest of the morning and afternoon passed pretty much in a blur. Arlene and Bridget both placed in a tie for second. Arlene’s folks and the cowboy’s family ate lunch in the stands of the arena. There was a lot of handshaking between families and hugs. There were lots of hugs going around between the women folk.

      Later after the opening ceremonies James Thompson, on his way to the hamburger stand came by and offered his congratulations and reminded the cowboy he only had an hour to go before he had to ride.

     He stood up looked at his girl and their families and Arlene just said, “Go on cowboy win another go around and we will see what dance lesson we can learn tonight.”

     The cowboy found Billy and Bridget tied up in a tight cinch just outside the changing room.

     “Ok you two break it up. Your going to scare the little kids and make the horses want to bolt.”

     Before either one of them could say anything, the cowboy grabbed Billy Calvin by his ear and dragged him into the changing room.

     “Son! Get yer head on straight. I am happy for ya. Hell it looks like against all odds, it might just be a good match up. But let me tell you this-We do not think about the heifers before we go-a-riding the bulls! Son! Get yer damned game face on.” The cowboy said, letting go of Billy’s ear.

     The cowboy limped into the change house and got ready for his date with China Blue. Everything else would sort itself out after that. Purple lions raced the setting sun as a rain front blew across the prairie as the rough stock grew restless with anticipation.

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