“I’m not going to tell a story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”
I once wrote about Love and Cowboy Jack.
This is not him.
He is not nearly as handsome as Cowboy Jack. But if you stop long enough to look closer, he has a peculiar sort of charm. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t talk too much. He’s relaxed, steady and content where he’s at. He doesn’t need a remote for entertainment and he doesn’t ask a lot.
He keeps watch up the street from Doc Holliday’s in a part of town where there aren’t too many gamblers at the moment. The folks who work in the halls at present spend about as much time outside on the narrow sidewalk as they do inside at the tables. Watching, smoking, chatting and waiting for paying customers.
If there’s no one else around, they talk to the old cowboy outside. The nice part of that is there are no arguments and no one else with whom to compete for topic. What would otherwise be soliloquy becomes conversation and nobody is the wiser.
I was inside a shop that sells various old things about noon on a day when the door stood open to let in fresh air. There amidst the dolls and the hats and the faint stench of various this and that of long ago, I got a notion that I might like to buy a Raggedy Ann doll.
As I picked it up, a rich voice outside the door made me look to the street. I saw a big man with a black hat at the top end of drawn out jeans. Two American flags were painted on each toe of his boots. I could see that his face was lined and grey and more used up than his body might suggest.
In the higher elevations and thin air of chunks of Colorado, there is no shortage of character. If you walk the streets of most any small town you will find at least one somebody who has traced a route less traveled. If they are wealthy, they are called eccentric. If not, they are called spirited.
So I thought little when the man with the black hat took a drag of his cigarette and looked straight at the eyes of the stiffly seated cowboy and began to talk.
“I don’t know the best way to say this.”
His left boot kicked at a rock on the ground and he grabbed hold to the anchor of the silver buckle at his middle.
“I have missed you and I love you.”
He pulled off his hat and ran his hand through the fixed and skinny hair underneath.
“Do you think you could marry me”?
Getting no reply, he turned away and squinted a wrinkled eye toward the street.
He was quiet as I bought the Raggedy Ann doll and did not look up as I passed the two cowboys when I left the store. When there was decent space between us, I turned back to look again.
Just then, a rounded woman walked out from a building and crossed the street toward the man with the black cowboy hat. He put his hat back on and sculpted his belly back into alignment with his jeans and shifted in his boots as he stretched taller. When she got to him, she reached hold of the hat and leaned as far up as her comfortable shoes would let her and kissed him.
They stayed like that a moment too long and I watched with a tad too much interest.
Their story, as I remember it, was a story of a shy and awkward cowboy who had long ago lost his young wife. Since then, he kept to himself mostly, busying the years by mending fence and finding strays and watching as the price of cattle and the work it took to run them made it harder to make a living each year.
She had come to town after a divorce, which happened before the complicating factors of children or money. There had been time spent since then with men who seemed nice enough but they never stayed long enough to sink their hearts into it. She came here broke, but all in all, she’d done pretty well with the shop she had on Easy Street.
They met one day when she decided to drive to Denver to Christmas shop and was headed out on the highway that eventually meets up with Interstate 70 and she had a flat. She knew how to change a tire but he happened to be right there, mending the broken fence at mile marker 9, at the spot where the cows had forged open range last night. He’d been taught manners by his mama and since he lived the ethics of a cowboy, he knew what should be done and so, he fixed the flat.
She went on to shop but when she got home from Denver she called and asked if he would like to come for dinner. He seemed to like the roast she cooked and they talked and smiled a lot and before she had to go back East to care for her ailing mother, it seemed they were moving in a certain direction.
After roundup months later, he decided to go to town to see if she was back. He walked into her store, twisting his hat brim in his hands while his eyes adjusted to the soft glow of the inside and he heard in his ears the full-out dash of his heart.
She was with a customer who was not from around here but she stopped and walked over to him and held out her hand and smiled. She said she could stop for lunch in a half an hour or so, if he had time. He told her he did.
And when she crossed the street to greet him a short while later, they kissed, long and slow, almost like they were standing under a full moon instead of on the sidewalk in the middle of town and in front of the cowboy who sits watching stories, day in and day out. Not long after, the cowboy in the black hat found the courage to use the speech he had practiced with the stiff cowboy on the street. And she said yes.
Theirs is a love story I glimpsed as quickly as I did the wink of the seated cowboy as he reigned solid and quiet over the sidewalk before I moved down the street.
“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories.
Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.”
Are there stories around you that beg to be glimpsed
or whisper to be heard?