Carrie sat on the bed paging through the tattered cookbook while her mother dressed. Bruises, the color of plums, covered her mother's thighs in bright blooms. Smaller marks, the size of her father's fingertips, dappled her belly, the color of dates and flathead cherries. That morning there was a new mark: a startling strawberry bruise on her mother's forearm. Her father was getting careless. Usually the bruises were in secret places, so no one would know.
"Coming?" her mother said, slipping on her sandals and smoothing her skirt.
"Yeah, I'll be right there."
Carrie closed herself in the bathroom and looked in the full-length mirror. She pulled up her tee shirt and pinched the soft skin around her navel until her eyes watered. Answers lay in that moment. She wondered if her mother would ever find the courage to leave.
When she released the pinch, her skin was the color of a red delicious. The color would transition as the bruise aged, from raspberry, to the warm blue of concord grapes, to a leafy green, then yellow, like the filling of her mother's lemon meringue pie.
Today was Saturday, the day they made pies. Carrie loved Saturdays. She was off from school, her father worked, and she had her mother to herself.
Every week was the same, they made four pies, yet every week was different, because the filling changed. That was the gift, the filling. Fruit-filled pies were her mother's favorite, then cream pies and custards. Her mother favored apple and blueberry. Carrie loved cherry and peach. She brushed her fingertips across her mother's forearm, leaving a skim of flour over the strawberry bruise. Her mother took her hand and pressed a whisk into her curled fingers.
"Mix the sugar into the berries. I don’t want the fruit to sit too long," she said.
Carrie stirred, examining the apples on her cutting board, their skin dappled with brown bruises with no character. They were not shaped like her mother's bruises: a butterfly, a half-moon, lips (a kiss), or a rose. The apple's bruises wore no clever disguises; they did not hide behind whimsical shapes; they did not pretend to be something they were not.
They sang while they worked, their mother-daughter voices blending sweetly as they worked the dough into perfect scalloped edges and brushed egg whites over the top crust. When they finished at four-thirty, flour dust hung in the air. Scraps of dough lay in curls on the cutting board. Mixing bowls sat in the sink, water no longer sudsy and hot, but murky and gray. Four pies sat on the stovetop, a hint of fruit peeking through their golden crisscrossed tops.
Perfect timing. Her father would arrive home from work promptly at five. Fresh pies tempered his mood, at least for a short while.
They cleaned the kitchen together. Carrie capped the flour bin and scrubbed the counter, while her mother washed and rinsed the mixing bowls and cutting board, placing them in the dish drainer. Her mother liked to wash the baking dishes by hand, even though they had a dishwasher.
Carrie placed clean dishtowels over the pies on the stove to trap the remaining warmth. Her mother set the table for dinner, a roasted chicken and potatoes that had cooked alongside the pies. The combination of scents filled the house with the comforting aroma of rosemary, apple, and buttery pastry.
Carrie picked up the carton of eggs on the counter to put them in the refrigerator, but the cardboard bowed and the eggs hit the linoleum with a wet smack, splattering the kitchen floor with broken yolks and shattered shells. It was three minutes to five. She looked at her mother with wide eyes.
Her mother peeled off a long strip of paper towels and knelt on the floor, while Carrie looked on, frozen. She handed Carrie the soggy carton, but Carrie just looked at it.
"Put it in the trash, dear. Please." Carrie shoved it into the trashcan beneath the kitchen sink and wiped her hands on her jeans.
"Sorry, Mom," she said miserably.
"It's okay. It was an accident." There was a quake to her mother's voice.
Just as her mother gave the floor a final swipe, the cuckoo clock in the dining room sang out five times and the front door opened and shut with a sharp click. Her father filled the arched doorway of the kitchen, navy suit coat buttoned neatly over his broad chest and shoulders, his red tie, a bright slash below his sharp Adam's apple. He closed his eyes and inhaled, smiling, and for a moment, Carrie saw what strangers saw: a content and happy man. She wished this man would stay with them. That he would kiss her mother, and give them both a hug, but the smiling man in the doorway opened his eyes, his smile fading, a sharp tack in his eyes. Disappointment. No matter how many pies they made, or how perfect they were, he was never happy, and Carrie knew there would be more bruises on her mother's body tomorrow. She was terrified of what might happen if they ever stopped making their Saturday pies.
"Is dinner ready?" he said, brushing by them and taking his seat at the head of the dining room table.
A month later on Saturday, Carrie woke to the sound of the front door closing, the signal her father had left for work. She rose and went to the kitchen, expecting to find her mother, but instead, found it empty. She peeked in her parent's room and saw her mother in bed. She tried to rise when Carrie came into the room, but sank back against the pillow and started to cough. Carrie pressed a palm to her forehead; her skin was hot and damp, dark circles underlined her eyes.
"We've got to make the pies," her mother whispered.
"I'll do it, mom."
Her mother closed her eyes and was quiet, and for a second, Carrie thought she had drifted off to sleep.
"There are cherries in the refrigerator, and I sliced up some apples this morning, before I started feeling sick. They're in the bowl on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Two pies should be enough. We can catch up later in the week when I'm feeling better. There's beef stew in the crockpot, and fresh bread in the breadbox," she paused. "He'll be angry if things aren't ready on time."
"I know. I'll take care of it, mom. You rest."
Her mother sighed. "I'm so tired of this."
"It's not going to be like this forever, mom. We can leave."
"I don't know how to leave," her mother said, rolling away from Carrie.
Carrie looked around the clean kitchen, heart pounding. She had made pies with her mother dozens of times, but suddenly, she couldn't remember a thing.
"Two pies. You can handle that. Come on," she said, opening the refrigerator. A carton of cherries winked back at her. She set the cherries and a bowl of sliced apples on the counter, and retrieved her mother's giant mixing bowl, measuring spoons, and measuring cups. Mixing flour, shortening and salt for the crust, she rolled out the dough, dissolving into the process of preparation.
Two hours later the aroma of her two pies melded with the earthy scent of beef stew. At four-thirty, the oven timer chimed, and she set the apple pie on the counter. As she pulled the cherry pie from the oven, she saw her father standing in the doorway.
The pie slipped from her hand and hit the floor.
"Where's your mother?" He looked at Carrie with flat eyes.
She's sick," Carrie stammered. "She's got the flu."
"I doubt that. Lazy, useless woman..."
"She is not." Carrie placed one hand on the counter for support and balled her opposite fist. "Why are you home so early?"
Her father frowned at the mess on the floor and took a step toward her. It took all her will not to step back. He pointed to the floor.
"Clean that mess up."
Carrie didn't move. Her father reached out and grabbed her upper arm. His grip was tight, his fingertips dug into her flesh. He had never touched her like that before. She yanked her arm from his grip, and stepped forward, glaring at him, breathing heavily. He stepped back, eyes wide, brows raised.
"I'll tell everyone what you do to her," Carrie said. "You try to keep it a secret, but I know what you do. I have photographs of the bruises. I'll show them to everyone and they will know what a coward you are!" Her father's eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared, he knotted his fists. She braced herself for a blow, wondering where he would strike her. Would it show? Instead, he took another step back.
"Clean that up, now." There was a waver to his voice. "And have supper on the table by the time I get back." He slid out the front door, slamming it behind him.
Carrie knelt over the ruined pie, trembling, and tried to gather the hot filling with her hands. It burned her fingers and palms, but she barely felt it. She started to cry, rocking back and forth over the ruined pie. She squealed when a hand fell on her shoulder, but it was her mother.
"I heard a crash. What happened? Are you okay?" Her eyes searched Carrie's face.
"He came home early," Carrie whispered.
Her mother examined Carrie's burns, then her upper arm. The flesh was red and angry where her father's hand had been.
"That's going to bruise," her mother said, making a soft clicking sound with her tongue. Her eyes held a biting light, sour-bitter like lemons, quick and sharp like her paring knife.
They cleaned up, set the table, and ladled out the stew. They filled the glasses with ice water, and sliced the apple pie. They straightened the chairs, and smoothed the tablecloth. Carried followed her mother to the kitchen, surprised when she reached up into the wooden flour canisters on top of the cupboard, the ones they never used. They had belonged to Carrie's grandmother and were just for decoration. Her mother pulled a large plastic bag from one, covered in flour. She shook it off over the sink. In the bag was a thick stack of bills.
"He is going to miss our pies," she said, draping an arm over Carrie's shoulders, she kissed her daughter's cheek.
The late afternoon sun washed the kitchen in gold, and Carrie saw who her mother would become, her body no longer marred with berry-colored-bruises, her skin the color of the cream she whipped, the custards she baked, the clean pallor of freshly rolled dough.
Hall Jameson is a writer, artist, and cat wrangler from Montana whose work has recently appeared in "Swamp Biscuits & Tea”, “Cream City Review", and "Eric's Hysterics".
Animal ~ Veronica Hackethal
Mama says it was his thing. It was so big and dangley that all he could do was think about the burden of it, she says. That’s what made him leave.
One time Papa came back, though. Mama saw him from far away. He was flaring his ears wide and walking fast. His thing nearly touched the ground. I couldn’t help but look at it, though I tried not to. Mama herded me to the watering hole, away from what was about to happen. I feel sorry for that poor girl, Mama’s eyes said as they pointed toward a young cow, she doesn’t know what’s in store for her.
There were other calves at the watering hole. We splashed and blew water at each other through our trunks. Mama stood to the side, stolid, disapproving. I wished she would stop brooding and play in the water with the rest of us. But she was steadfast and constant. I’ll give her that.
When we returned, Papa had disappeared. The little cow stood munching leaves, as if nothing had happened. She was out of commission for two years after that, while the baby grew inside her. She had a girl, just like me, who stayed with the group. Unlike the boy calves who had to leave when they got old enough.
I wondered what it was like to be kicked out of the herd. I wondered what the males did without their mothers and aunts bossing them.
I saw Papa another time. Even when his thing wasn’t dangling for all the world to see, he was hard to miss. He was one of the biggest bulls around. I had wandered away from the group, near the road where the safaris stop so passengers can take pictures. A Land Rover drove up very fast. A man stood through the open roof, pointing a shotgun straight at me. Papa appeared from out of the trees, flared his ears, trumpeted, and charged at the vehicle. So full of rage. Like the gates of Hell had opened. Nothing and no one could hurt him right then. I ran and hid in the trees. Papa kept charging until the Land Rover turned tail and sped away.
Then he laid his ears down and looked in my direction. I’m not sure if he saw me, but I like to think he did. We didn’t make eye contact. Then he swung his trunk, turned around and headed to the watering hole. I think he knew I was his daughter, though the way Papa got around he would have needed a memory that was, well, as good as an elephant’s.
I can’t explain why the humans didn’t fire at Papa. Maybe they thought he’d do too much damage to their Land Rover before they could bring him down. I was small enough that one shot could have killed me, and I think Papa knew that.
I remember seeing Papa wandering on his own on the Savannah. What was it like to be welcomed back into the herd only when we needed new calves? What was it like to be Papa, to be so alone?
I saw Papa one last time when I was full grown. Mama and I went to the graveyard (yes, we do have them). The largest skull I’ve ever seen sat amid the jigsaw of ribs and femurs. A thick, hefty tusk lay next to it. The end of the tusk was jagged and v-shaped. Papa had a tusk like that. He broke it when he was fighting for Mama. She used to tell me the story. It was the only time she ever talked about Papa with pride. They were fighting for me, she would say, Papa was crazy. So much must dripped from his eyes that it made pools in the Savannah dust. He would have killed that other bull if his tusk hadn’t snapped off, I’m sure of that, Mama would boast. Even with a broken tusk, he was strong enough to win. Mama always told that story with soft eyes.
At the graveyard, Mama fondled the tusk with her foot. She sighed, her eyes wet with dew. I knew I wasn’t Mama’s only child. She’d had others, all boys. They’d all left the group, just like Papa. I was the only girl, the only one to stay with the herd. Sometimes the boys came back, and then I knew they also belonged to Papa. They had the same swagger, the same dangerous confidence, though none had Papa’s bulk. Not yet at least. So I knew Mama had chosen Papa each time she needed another baby. When Mama wept over his bones, that’s when I grew uncertain about this immensely wide, shifting world.
Veronica Hackethal's fiction, travel, and health articles have won numerous awards including silver and bronze in Travelers' Tales Solas awards; she is the recipient of a 2013 American Society of Journalists and Authors Early Career Scholarship.
Motel California ~ Jenny Harp
Katrina ran a clean motel or as clean as her guests would allow. But there was something odd about the guest who had arrived yesterday. She prided herself on being a good judge of character and there was something about the guy she just couldn't put her freshly manicured finger on. She had taken his crumpled, soggy money and watched him scurry nervously away. An eye would have to be kept on Mr. Nervous-Sweats-Too-Much in room 39.
She preferred the time when guests had paid in silver dollars and sighed as she carefully flattened the bills.
In the corner of her eye she saw Stella, a shifty girl who cleaned the rooms. Her? Clean? She was a dirty filthy sneak. But times were hard and Stella was willing to work for an abysmally poor sum. She seemed to have an aura of arrogance for all that. And if there was any gossip or scandal Stella knew all about it. That’s what made her want to retch because no one had ever beaten her at that game before!
Maybe it was time to interrogate her to find out if she could explain the blood curdling screams and torrent of guttural German expletives that had blasted from room 39.
Katrina was certain it was German because she had been born there. It had been wartime. She could not remember her mother because she had never known her. She had been born in a bomb shelter. The best and only thing her mother ever did for her had been to give her life by ejaculating her in an egg sac before succumbing to the bomb’s fumes.
Somehow she had made it to America by slithering into a man’s briefcase. Katrina was not too proud to admit that she took refuge by sleeping in his ear. Food was scarce and she was not above eating fresh earwax. The constant reverberating drum was annoying, but the warmth was worth it.
Somehow Katrina snapped back to the present. She must talk to Stella, loathsome creature that she was. Stella looked uncharacteristically frightened when she approached.
“Tell me about the guest in room 39.”
Stella shrugged, “What’s to tell. He is German and his name is Kafka. The best I can tell is that he is a lunatic.”
"How is he a lunatic?"The question hung like raw meat dripping.
“Well," continued Stella, “He claims he was a man two days ago and that he woke up on his back as a cockroach!”
That was absurd. Who wakes up on their back? And even if you did no self-respecting roach would ever admit to it. Maybe Stella was right. This guy was not right in the head. And how could he have been a man?
“Where is he now?”Katrina snapped.
“In his room howling, ‘metamorphosis’ and rocking to and fro! He hates this place and says it's decrepit!" Stella smirked.
Katrina vehemently shook her head. She ran a grand roach motel. Straining she caught the sound of lyrics in English wafting from room 39, ”You can check out any time you like but you can never leave!”
Writer Jenny Harp is a New Zealander grandmother who lives in the United States with her husband and loves God, life and family.
A Desperate Raid ~ Lee Allen Hill
The forward scout scans the terrain from high in a bucayo tree. His undernourished comrades conceal themselves, awaiting the all-clear to move out. The troop’s food supply is critically low, so it’s staging a desperation raid into enemy territory to steal whatever it can.
The hungry raiders anxiously bide their time, well-camouflaged in the verdant vegetation.
A simple plan: breach the enemy’s lines, procure as much sustenance as possible, then haul ass back to no man’s land—without being detected.
Scout signals the all-clear.
Alpha-1 initiates the assault.
The troop surges forward only to meet heavy resistance.
Feces fly everywhere.
The mission is a disaster and the encroaching monkey troop retreats in disarray. The defending troop howls victory from the treetops.
Author’s note: A social group of monkeys is commonly called a troop. Several species of monkeys use their own feces as projectiles. I have family photos to prove it.
The Viejo ~ Lee Allen Hill
“Viejo, is it true that one of the rifles will have only a powder charge---no bullet?”
The old man knuckled sleep from his eyes. He sat up, leaned from his cot and shook pebbles from his boots. “Would that really make so much difference, Private?”
The younger man gazed out the high window. Black was turning gray. “I would rather not to know that I shot a defenseless man propped against a wall. So, yes, I would prefer that my rifle be the one with no bullet.”
The greybeard grinned. “You have too soft a heart, Private. If it were up to you there would be no bullets at all. What kind of army we would be if all the soldiers refused to shoot bullets, eh?” He struggled to pull on one boot, then the other.
“All I’m saying, Corporal, is that I would rather not shoot a man in cold blood.”
The viejo spat on his belt buckle and buffed it with the cuff of his uniform sleeve. “I think you would rather not shoot a man at all, Private. So, shall I speak to the colonel for you? Maybe he will allow you to carry the gun with no bullet. Would that make you feel better?”
The young one laughed. “You, viejo? Speak to the colonel? So you think you are gentry now? You think you own a big hacienda on a hill? Perhaps he’ll offer you wine and introduce you to his pretty daughter, no?”
The old corporal stomped his boots to better seat his heels inside. He smiled. “I only offered to speak to the colonel, Private. I did not promise he would listen. Now get up and straighten your uniform. You must make yourself presentable. It is almost time.”
The younger man stood, brushed straw off his backside and shined the toe of each boot on the back of the opposite trouser leg. “I have been told such a thing---about the bullet, I mean.”
The old man spoke softly. “Eight bullets, seven…what does it matter?”
“It matters to me.”
“So you say, Senor Private, but you have nothing to say in the matter. Now dust off your shako.”
The young man smudged his sleeve around the crown of his uniform hat. “Viejo, you have participated in firing squads before, si?”
The old man sighed, nodded. “Six times, amigo.”
“May I ask you…how did it feel?”
The corporal stretched the shako strap under his chin. “It felt like duty, my young friend. We are soldiers. It is our duty to do as we are told.”
The private sat down. “I have decided that I do not make a very good soldier.”
The corporal laughed. “You have decided? I believe you have come to that conclusion at a most awkward moment.”
“Just because I do not want to shoot people?”
“But that is what we soldiers do.”
“Then I am a bad soldier.”
The corporal dug the key from his blouse pocket. “Si, and you are also a deserter, amigo. So now you are a dead soldier.” He unlocked the cell door. “Come now, Private, the sun is rising.”
The young man stepped forward, stopped. “Viejo, I will pray you are the one to get the rifle with no bullet.”
“Thank you, Private, but perhaps you should pray that gun goes to someone else.” He nudged the young man toward the outer door.
“So do you really want to shoot me? Will that make you a good soldier?” he asked over his shoulder.
“It is true I am a soldier in this man’s army, amigo, but I am a soldier of God first.”
The young man slowed. “Perhaps I am missing something?”
The viejo spat. “No, Private, I am the one who will be missing. I have already missed six times. You will be my seventh.”
The private continued his march. “Ah, thank you, Viejo. That is some comfort.”
Small comfort, thought the old man. Six bullets instead of seven.
♦ Lee Allen Hill is just a leftover hippie with a penchant for word-slinging.
♦This author's contributions help make Page & Spine possible.
Yuma – 1933
The railroad detective glared at me. “What the Hell are you doing back here?”
“Stretching my legs,” I said pointing to my extra long posts lying across the railway stock car wooden floor.
“Here’s my ticket.” Due to my size, the animal car was the only comfortable place for me.
He glanced at it and threw it in my face. “That’s for the passenger car, not the stock car. Get back to where you belong, or get off my train!”
“I’m not hurting anything back here and I can ride more comfortable.” I knew we were a few miles shy of the next station and I didn’t care to hoof it.
“You’re getting off this train, now!” The railroad dick pointed a finger at the closed door.
“I’m staying right here.”
“We’ll see about that!” He pulled a short barrel six-shot English Bull Dog and told me to open the door. I did.
“Jump!” He ordered.
I hesitated, and he literally booted me off with his right foot.
My seven foot six frame bounced and rolled a few feet, stopping in a patch of jumping cholla. Chollas thorns are a pain in the ass to get out. Each thorn has a briar sheath on it. When an animal or a man brushes against a plant, the sheath grips it and the pad flies off the mother plant. Cholla pads covered the outside of my upper left thigh. My folding knife was in my left pant pocket, out of reach because of the clinging pads. When I grabbed a dead creosote branch, broke it in two and plied the cholla pads off; a good many thorns stayed. I pulled my left pocket open and eased my folding knife around the remaining embedded thorns.
Thoughts of my father entered and quickly left my mind. The knife used to be his. It had all sorts of gadgets on it; mini tools needed when you're working cattle, or sunk low enough to work sheep. Ole knife comes in handy.
Thirty minutes later, most of the thorns were out. I moved away from the tracks, hunting for a place I could water the Lilies.
Cactus thorns can be aggravating if you miss one. I took several more out of my Levi's and then my long johns. When I disrobed, I had a few dozen in my flesh. I reckon it took me over an hour to be thorn free.
The sound of an on coming train was music to my ears. Unfortunately, it headed East and I needed to go West. I began hoofing it to Yuma and the rodeo job waiting. Being shy of water, I placed two pebbles in my mouth and kept on walking.
No one crossed my path as the miles went by. My Guardian angels must be somewhere sipping a cool one. In my condition, I didn't need to think of beer, or even water. I just sucked on my pebbles and put my right foot in front of the left. I ate up ground with my long strides.
According to the sun, it was late afternoon when I spied a large settlement I mistook for Yuma. However, it offered beer and shade. I must have walked ten miles or more, and my feet were cussing me out. I spied a horse trough and jumped in. The water was hot, but it was cooler than the sun. I adjusted my hat, closed my eyes and fell asleep.
"You're poisoning the water." I opened my eyes and seen a pot-bellied man with a tarnished star on his vest.
"Sorry about that." I climbed out of the trough, dripping water.
"I oughta arrest you for bathing in public, but the only two women here have seen more naked cowboys than Doc Peters has pills. You owe me two dollars for using public water."
"How about I buy you a beer, instead?"
"What's your name?"
I was hoping we wouldn't get around to that question. "Thomas Belle."
He studied me as he pushed his hat back and shifted his gun belt.
"Are you planning on staying?"
"I’ve a job waiting for me in Yuma."
"Good. There's a train coming through in about an hour. Be on it. You can forget buying me a beer and the two dollars. We don't need your kind of trash here."
"It was a pleasure meeting you, too, Sheriff." I tipped my worn out hat.
"Don't give me any lip, or you'll regret it." He put his hand on his forty-five and glared at me.
"I'm not planning to. I served my time and I've been out for over two years." He probably knew the story of my killing a drunken cowboy with my bare hands. I wondered if he knew I repeated the act with a bully in Florence.
"I see you ain't packing a gun. You seem to like doing your killings with your bare hands, Mr. Tinkerbelle." He smirked
I wanted to knock that smirk off his ugly face, but I had enough of prison. Ever since that damned Scotsman created his book about Peter Pan and his little fairy friend, ‘Tinkerbelle,’ my life has been Hell. Usually a left jab and/or a right hook finished my fights.
Unfortunately, Johnny Crawford had got off the floor with a knife in his hand. I slapped the inside of his elbow and he ended up back on the barroom floor with the knife in his heart. I ended up being charged with manslaughter and spent four years at Arizona’s State Prison in Florence, Az.
"Do you mind if I have a beer while I'm waiting?"
"Have you got the money?"
I bit back my retort, reached in my pocket and pulled out a nickel.
"Get your beer and get out of town. If the train don’t stop, you can flag it down. If you're still in town in the morning, I'll find some excuse to hang you. Like I said before, we don't need murdering riffraff like you around." He turned and walked away.
They don't cut you no slack, do they, son? I was used to Pa's voice in my head. He started off in life as a tinker, making things out of metal. He opened a small livery and made a few extra dollars blacksmithing. I was his unpaid help. Pa would drink away all of his profits, if I didn’t steal some of it for food and such, first.
Pa was drunk when a mule kicked him in the head. After the funeral, I sold the business for a hundred dollars and kept one horse with its tack. Pa’s debts ate up eighty dollars and it cost me five dollars, including the grave stone, to plant him.
I started working for pay, doing small jobs and drifted until I ended up in prison.
The train stopped and picked me up. I gave the conductor my last few dollars, took a seat and fell asleep. The sun was peeking through a cloudless sky when I arrived at the Yuma station.
The old abandoned Yuma Territorial Prison caught my eye. I was glad they had closed that hell hole before I served my time.
My stomach was glued to my backbone, but I ignored its groaning as I searched for the rodeo grounds, which didn’t take long. A wood shack made do as the office.
A bow-legged old timer leaning back in his chair turned and spit a wad of tobacco inches from my right foot. “Heard you were coming.”
“I’m here.” Smiling, I bent my head and went into the hot, but shady office.
A middle aged man sat at a table and busied himself writing on a form. A stack of forms lay at one end with a worn-out horseshoe holding them down. I stepped to the back corner and waited.
A young woman – mid- twenties, dressed in men’s clothing – entered and stopped at the desk.
“What gives you the right to scratch me from bronc-riding?” She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at the seated man.
The man ignored her and turned toward me. “Glad you could make it, Tom.” He stood and shook my hand.
“I appreciate your inviting me, Mr. Sawyer.” I kept from squeezing his hand.
“Oh, my God!” The lady took her first gander at me.
“Ma’am.” I tipped my hat and turned back to my future boss, who decided to introduce us.
“Rose Shannon, this is Thomas Bell and vice versa.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” I took my hat off and offered my hand. This is one Thoroughbred that hasn’t been branded.
She ignored me. “You haven’t answered my question, Sawyer.”
“I don’t intend to, Rose. Stick with the Ladies Event.” His tone of voice indicated he was talking to a rebellious daughter.
“I have the right to choose any event I want!”
“Not in my rodeo. Come on Tom, I’ll show you where you can bunk.” He put on his hat and avoided the girl as he left with me following.
With an advance of five dollars on my pay, I headed toward the closest eating hole. Rose beat me to it. Her dining partner, a dyed-in-the-wool Westerner, with a wrinkled face looking like a war map, gave me the evil eye as he sipped his coffee.
“Ma’am.” I tipped my hat. She continued to ignore me as I sat at a corner table with my back against the wall.
The owner came out with a pot of coffee, glared at me, and started filling coffee cups, all but my nonexistent one.
He continued to ignore me as he waited on newer customers. I stood to leave. It was a waste of time waiting for service that wouldn’t be coming.
“Mr. Bell, Won’t you join us?”
I couldn’t believe my ears, or my eyes. Rose Shannon was motioning for me to sit at her table. Her companion looked like he wanted to disagree, but kept his thoughts to himself.
“Are you sure, ma’am?” I took my hat off.
“Yes.” Her eyes flashed anger with an attitude. “In a way, we seem to be on the same boat in unfriendly waters.”
I sat down and placed my hat on the empty chair beside me.
“I don’t wait on murderers, cowards and thieves!” The owner inched his hand nearer to his hide-out gun.
Not wanting any trouble, I made to stand, but Rose put her hand on my giant paw. “Then you will wait on me. I want two steaks, a dozen fried eggs and a quart of grits along with a pot of coffee!”
I felt uncomfortable and Rose dug her finger nails in.
“While you’re at it, get me a couple of apple pies. If anything has extra ingredients, you’ll answer to me.” Rose’s dinner partner spoke with a soft Texas voice, but his steel-eyed glare carried the day.
I ate in silence and remembered to share the second pie with my host and hostess. “Thank you,” I said and reached for my borrowed half eagle.
“You won’t need that, Mr. Bell. This is on us.” My stomach twisted as she indicated her dinner partner, who she had introduced as her foreman, Mr. Jack Benson.
“If you would be kind enough to see me to my hotel, you gentlemen can visit at the saloon.”
Jack joined a poker game and I stood at the end of the bar, drinking my nickel beer. My night got brighter when a group of railroaders entered. It didn’t take me long to spot the bastard who had kicked me off the train even though I had a ticket.
I finished off my drink, wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my shirt, and eased up to the new group. I singled out the railroad dick and tapped him on the shoulder. “Remember me?” I back-handed him and lifted him over my head. He started yelling for help.
His friends felt honor-bound to come to my captive’s aid. I kicked one in the balls, another in the gut and floored the other three with my swinging human weapon.
The healthy spectators followed me out the back door to the nearest cholla patch.
“No! Don’t! Please don’t! Helppppp!” The railroad dick squirmed trying to break my hold. I teased him into thinking he could when I dropped him and he began crawling away. He yelped, when I grabbed him by the ankles and whirled him a few times before I released him. He landed in the middle of the patch and tumbled a few times, screaming and howling.
“Leave him be,” I ordered, and returned to the saloon. I’ll be heading back to Florence when the Sheriff hears about this.
The sheriff didn’t visit, and I woke in the loft of the barn. Outhouses are too small for me when I’m standing. All the stalls were filled, so I chose one in the corner and pissed. The outdoor pump helped me to clean up. I washed my face and wet my hair before finger combing it.
My stomach started rumbling and I headed for the diner, wondering if I would be served.
“The bastard is walking down the street.” A railroad man yelled and started for me.
He’s a stupid jackass if he plans to try me on. Just then, the saloon vomited a dozen or more railroaders, including one taller than the others and more muscular.
I was the only fly on the street and felt awful lonely being in their ointment.
Jake Sawyer came out of the diner, toting a Greener Riot Gun. He fired one shot in the air, getting everybody’s attention. “There’ll be no brawling in the street!” He replaced the used shell before continuing toward me.
A bright reflection caught me in the eyes. Jake’s wearing a badge and he has both hammers cocked.
“This bastard threw Roy into a cholla patch!”
“He threw me in one first and I had to walk ten miles before I could catch another train.” I ignored the railroaders and directed my explanation to Jake.
“Tell me the facts,” Jake kept the Greener pointed in the direction of my enemies.
“So you were in the stock car because your legs were too long for you to be comfortable in the passenger car?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
Jake scanned the crowd. “Where is Roy?”
“He’s still at Doc’s getting the stickers pulled out of his butt.”
“Do you want to fight Tinkerbelle?” Jake asked the biggest and meanest of the lot.
“You damn right I do.” Everyone, but Jake and I cheered.
Why did Jake call me by that name? He knows I hate it.
“Okay, noon next Saturday, at the Rodeo Grounds. A dollar entrance fee for you men, fifty cents for boys and the pot will be split 90/10. I’ll handle all bets at a five percent surcharge. Now, get off the street.” He fired another round and the crowd dispersed,
Shaking my head, I glared at him. “I hope to Hell you know what you’re doing. What's with the star?”
“Let’s go get some breakfast and I’ll tell you all about my election.” He turned and headed back toward the diner.
“Mr. Belle, where are you?” Miss Shannon, still dressed in men’s clothing, stood at the barn’s double doors.
“I’m up here, ma’am. I’ll be right down.” I put on my hat and pulled on my boots. “What are you doing here, ma’am?” I asked before I got off the ladder.
“I’ve came for you.”
“It’s not safe for you in town. Roy Jeffords is telling everybody he’s going to shoot you on sight. Sawyer arrested him for throwing you off the train when you had a ticket.” She turned around and walked toward two horses at the hitching rail. Rose pointed to the second horse. “That’s yours. Get on, we need to leave town.”
We rode in silence for several miles with Rose leading the way. She took a side trail that has seen some use in its day. Eventually, she stopped at an adobe ranch house. A small part of the front yard was fenced off displaying a flower garden at the front end and a vegetable garden at the rear. Both were well cared for.
Jack Benson was talking to a group of cowboys near the corral. He cut his conversation short and ambled over to Rose. “What’s going on?”
“Mr. Bell’s life’s in danger, so I’m offering him sanctuary until he fights Patrick O’Tool Saturday.” She searched through the crowd of cowboys, who had gathered around.
“Rodney, this is Thomas Belle. I want you to get him ready for his fight and be in his corner doing the fight. You’re free from any other duties until after it’s over.”
A stocky cowpoke, a head shorter than I and sporting a nose that has been broken a few times and cauliflower ears, nodded and gave me the once over.
“So, you are the famous Tinkerbelle…
I threw a right hook and landed on my butt with my own personal Milky Way. When my head cleared, Rodney stood over me with his hand out.
“Don’t telegraph your punches, Mr. Bell.” He grabbed my right wrist and jerked me to my feet.
That began my six days of Hell; my training started with no let up. Rodney had me up at dawn, running while he followed on his horse. I must have lifted the anvil a thousand times until I could hold it over my head without staggering. Behind the barn, he hung a burlap bag of dirt that I punched while he commented on everything from my stance to how I was delivering my blows. He taught me what he called, “The Orthodox Stance.” It protected the major part of me from my head down to my waist.
“Paddy is a lefty and will do everything the exact opposite of you. Go after his body, especially his kidneys and breast bone. When he lowers his guard, punch his head, mainly his nose.”
Rodney had me practice each maneuver until I had it down pat. He allowed me six hours of sleep and thirty minute breaks for my meals. He stopped everything on Friday at noon. “Rest up until your fight.”
I stood outside after dinner, enjoying the night air, when Jack walked up to me. “Rodney says you as ready as you’re gonna be.” He stared at the barn. “Rose is betting a lot of money on you. Don’t disappoint her.”
“You sound like she’s betting her ranch on me.” I chuckled.
“She is.” He left without another word.
Jack walked toward the bunk house, and I headed toward the main house. Rose, dressed in a robe, opened the door after my third round of knocking.
“I’m not dressed to receive visitors, Mr. Bell.”
“Jack told me you are betting all your money on me.” I had my hat in my hand.
“What if I am? Mr. Bell. Rodney told me you have a good chance of winning.”
“That’s kind of stupid on your part. What if I lose?” I twisted my hat into a ball.
“Then I lose my ranch to back taxes.”
I looked down at her.
“That why you wanted to ride the bronc?”
“Every penny counts. Good night, Mr. Bell.” She closed the door.
All of us, except for the cook’s helper and the wrangler, left the ranch around nine thirty Saturday morning. Rose gave all her help a half month’s pay. Jake was in the arena, supervising the building of the ring.
Rose rode right up to him, dismounted and offered him a small bag, which he refused. I stayed back with Jack and Rodney. We were not party to Rose and Jake’s conversation, but it looked like they were in the middle of an argument.
Everyone gave them privacy, until Jack walked over to them and took the bag from Rose. Then he and Jake got into it when Jack offered him the bag. Jake refused to take it.
Jack switched the bag to his left hand and placed his right on his holstered forty-five. They exchanged a few more words and Jake took the money.
Rose, holding a slip of paper, and Jack walked over to us. She placed her hand on my shoulder and pulled down. I bent my knees and she kissed my cheek.
“Don’t disappoint me, Mr. Bell.” She and Jack walked over to the bleachers where she had another argument with Jake. He threw up his hands, and the two took seats in the Judges’ stand. Some chairs were already occupied by other ranch owners, but Rose was the only woman in the stands.
Forty-five minutes later, Jake nodded his approval of the ring. He checked his pocket watch, had a brief conversation with two men, and joined Rose in the special area. He sat behind a make-shift table and started recording bets.
I could hear the drunken railroaders and the sober Patrick as they entered the arena. Most of the railroaders headed for Jake, but Patrick and another man sought me out.
“You’re dead meat,” Patrick snarled and spit on my boots.
Rodney placed a hand on my shoulder and I stopped. “Save it for the ring, Paddy.” He looked at the man accompanying Patrick. “Did you bring enough diapers for him?”
Patrick roared and took a step toward Rodney who had his hands up. A shotgun boomed behind me and I saw Jake with his Greener in hand. He pointed toward the other side of the ring.
My adversary and his friend walked to the other side of the ring. I relaxed.
“Paddy won’t fight fair, so don’t feel obliged to follow the rules, fight dirty when he does it first.”
Jake kept his seat when a middle aged man walked over to the ring, stepped in and motioned for Patrick and me to join him. Rodney and I started forward.
“The referee is the blacksmith, O’Sullivan, and he’ll be fair. If Paddy cheats, he’ll turn a blind eye for you to retaliate, but don’t overdo it."
The referee quoted the Queensberry’s rules about no cheating, three minutes rounds and stuff. The round was over when the three minutes were up or one of us hit the ground. He drew a line with the heel of his boot, telling us we had to touch the line at the beginning of each round. If either one of us failed to do it, the fight was over. The man standing would be declared the winner.
We each stood in our corner. Rodney didn’t offer any more advice. O’Sullivan blew his whistle and Patrick ran to the line and swung at me before I could step on it. I dodged his blow, touched the line as Patrick’s charge carried him by me. I turned and kicked him in the butt, knocking him down. Round One was mine.
Patrick tried the same trick, but slower this time. I dodged him and kneed him in the balls. Two rounds for me. My opponent started fighting fair in the third round. We went toe to toe throwing punches for all we were worth.
The whistle blew, I turned toward Rodney and Patrick delivered a blow to the back of my head. I heard O’Sullivan’s whistle as I staggered toward Rodney who helped me to my corner.
O’Sullivan left an obvious angry Patrick and walked to my corner. “Round Three is yours. Patrick has been warned.” He turned and blew his whistle.
I took my time walking to the line. Before I could step on it, Patrick charged. I droved my left boot heel into his knee and stepped on the line.
Patrick cursed me as he hopped around on one leg. I knocked him down by pushing him. The referee smiled at me before blowing his whistle. The crowd of railroaders screamed their anger when I was awarded Round Four.
In Round Five, I reached the line first and waited for Patrick to hobble over. He’s faking. I didn’t kick him that hard. Patrick fell and crawled to the line. When he touched it, I waited for his next trick. He rushed to tackle me, I stepped to the side and delivered an over-the-head hammer blow to his kidneys, causing him to fall flat on his face.
Before I returned to my corner, Rodney hurried past me. I turned and he was pointing at Patrick, yelling something to the referee. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but O’Sullivan rushed to Patrick’s corner. He grabbed Patrick’s hands and ordered him to open them. A yelling match started between O’Sullivan and the fighter. Rodney blocked the opposing manager from entering the ring, grabbed both wrists and twisted them, forcing the man to open his hands. Dirt fell out of them.
O’Sullivan pointed to the man and pointed his finger away from the ring. Patrick’s manager was ejected. During the confusion, I noticed Patrick rubbing his open hands against his pant’s leg. When O’Sullivan turned back toward him, Patrick showed his hands to the referee.
Rodney returned to me. “Whenever you knock Patrick down, have O’Sullivan check his hands.” The whistle sounded, and I nodded before going to the line.
Several rounds were fought fairly. I did not attack my opponent’s kidneys, but I did assault his body and deliver an occasional blow to the head. Patrick kept his blows high.
Things broke open for me in Round Thirty-Two. Patrick began to tire. He was unable to step on the line at Round Thirty Five, and I won the fight. Something struck me on the back of the head and everything went black.
I woke, diagonal in a strange bed. “What happened?” My head throbbed.
Rose leaned over me. “You won the fight, and then Roy shot you.” She offered me a sip of water before continuing. “Some cowboys caught him before he could get away. Jake has him locked up.”
“Why am I here?” Rose’s face blurred for a short period and came back into focus.
“After Doc bandaged you up, I had Rodney and Jack bring you out here in Doc’s buckboard. I nurse you in the daylight. Rodney nurses you at night.” She kissed me lightly on my cheek. “Roy’s bullet grazed your head.”
“The ranch?” After her special kind of nursing, my head ache lessened.
“Taxes paid with money left over. I have you to thank.”
Jack entered the room. “Has he asked you, yet?”
“No, but send for the preacher.”
“Preacher? I asked.
Rose was grinning. “While you were out, you made some ungentlemanly comments about me. When the preacher gets here, we’re getting married.”
“But I haven’t asked you.”
“No, but you did mention branding me on my rear end.”
“You better ask her, or me and the boys will search high and low to find a tree big enough to hang you by your balls.” Jack glared at me.
Rose gripped my right hand tightly. “What do you say, cowboy?”
I knew when to yell 'Calf roped,' so I put my free arm around her and pulled her on top of me. “Would you like to become Mrs. Tinkerbelle?”
Charles Lucas is my pen name. It’s meant to protect the guilty, namely me.