This is our third week of poetry, fiction, and art. Please enjoy the work!

Long Way Down (2)

Lissanne Lake has been a full time freelance illustrator for thirty years. She has done art for over two hundred book covers, including covers for best-selling authors such as Terry Pratchett, Thomas Disch, Raymond Buckland & David Bischoff. In addition, Lissanne has created hundreds of other paintings for magazines and game products and other publications, including a tarot deck, the Buckland Romani Tarot and also has done several large murals. She lives and works at her home in North Bergen, NJ, with her partner Alan and a bossy dog.

The Salty Ones

by Elizabeth Hughey

When I wake up in the morning, and have farm chores to do,
I think of women in coffee shops, drinking their fresh brew.
Women looking “morning cute”, enjoying their technology.
Then, I think of the “salty ones”, who share my genealogy.
Cowgirls, foresters, and farmers, loving animals and nature.
Women who’d rather hike a mountain, and sit next to glacier.
Some have called me “different”, for enjoying grit and dirt.
Being pigeonholed can often, make one’s feelings hurt.
But, I like this designation, and would rather share the day,
with a strong and “salty one”, who can buck a bale of hay.
My guess is, grow’in up, your favorite color wasn’t pink.
Not afraid to share your thoughts, or give an occasional wink.
Coffee shops and ballet flats, they’re nice, every now and then.
But callused hands and dirty jeans, turn sons into working men.
And raising “salty” daughters, is so important of course.
It’s good to know, picking up toads, will not give them warts.
Loving this Earth are the “salty ones.” You know who you are.
These are my women of kin, with whom I wish upon a star.

Elizabeth Hughey is a “mud puddle mom” to a 4 year-old cowboy. Also, a children’s author and a pack boot wearing poet. The seasoned mule advocate and horse enthusiast spent the better part of her twenties horse guiding and mule packing in the National Forests and Wilderness Areas of Northwest Colorado. She now works as the grazing manager of her families Red Angus beef ranch in Southeastern Indiana. Liz has published articles with “Western Mule Magazine” and “Rural Heritage”. To read more of her poetry, please visit her website, http://thecowgirlpoet.com and follow her on social media, @thecowgirlpoet.

A COWBOY CHRISTMAS TREE

by Mark Weinrich

After dogging his share of fractious steers
He hoped to spread some bunkhouse cheer.
He leaned into the stinging breeze
And dreamed of making a Christmas tree.

He cogitated on the perfect plan,
He’d plant a branch in a coffee can,
Then a foot of ribbon and a shotgun shell
Would help to cast a Christmas spell.

And while he rode with hat pulled low
His collar turned up against the snow,
He composed a likely Christmas verse
For those who counted this year the worst.

“We’ve ridden some rough and weary miles
There ain’t no reason for Christmas smiles;
Cause we know this year has rubbed us low,
And I can’t say I’ve got much to show.
But I hope you’ll accept some Christmas glee
From a cartridge in a bare tree.”

Midnight Disagreement

by Tim Allen

the two men, they stumbled
out the window
first one, then the other
a half minute later
immediately, they go for positions against
the night lit by kerosene lamps
hanging from stockyard posts
gunfire pierces the quiet
cattle caught in the middle
with frightful moos
one man opens the gate on his end
the cattle rush through, breaking
down part of the fence and gone
the two men continue to fire their colts
are suddenly gone, lost
in the closing fight
they’re down to knives
now on each other
slices opening skin
they fight through part
of the fence still left
the young one
the unskilled one
is on bottom
thrusts his knife upward
into the older man’s belly
like he was mixing pancake batter
or scrambling eggs
and the older man
the dead man
lets out a blood curdling scream
the rest of the way to
the end

Tim Allen is a graduate of Rutgers University with a BA in Psychology. He writes poetry and short stories. His poetry has appeared in The Stillwater Review and Grounds for Sculpture Ekphrastic Poetry. His chapbook, The Dust Storm, is available from Lulu.

 

Welcome back everyone! Hope you enjoyed last weeks work. Today we present you with a few twisted tales of fiction, one a slant on a modern cowboy. Saddle up and take a ride with us…

the Horse Thieves

Lissanne Lake has been a full time freelance illustrator for thirty years. She has done art for over two hundred book covers, including covers for best-selling authors such as Terry Pratchett, Thomas Disch, Raymond Buckland & David Bischoff. In addition, Lissanne has created hundreds of other paintings for magazines and game products and other publications, including a tarot deck, the Buckland Romani Tarot and also has done several large murals. She lives and works at her home in North Bergen, NJ, with her partner Alan and a bossy dog. Her painting above is titled, “Thick as Thieves.”

Chasing Randy Boone

by Denise Marois-Wolf

He is always there, tucked inside like a secret treasure, exactly where he’s been since she was 10 years old and saw him for the first time as he strutted across the television screen in black and white, the swagger of a man but the face of a boy. She remembers that first time was the first time she’d noticed her own heartbeat.

On the black and white television, his hair looked pale as straw. He rode a paint horse and played guitar, singing in a voice so sweet it made her want to cry. Clarissa remembers summer evenings sitting on the carpet in front of the t.v., the fibers scratching against her bare calves, wishing herself there out on the prairie, wishing she was a tall girl with long dark hair that he would come to love. They would go out riding together. She’d ride the buckskin he’d bought her. He’d be on his paint. At night they’d sit by the campfire and he’d sing to her and play his guitar under a canopy of desert stars.

Fifty years on, her heart is still beating despite the bruises. She looks across the table at her husband, Jeff, who’s talking in a loud voice about the carburetor he just fixed on the old Ford Mustang, a rusted piece of junk that is cluttering their front yard. He’s parked it on the very spot she’d carved out for rose beds. Jeff argued it got the most sunlight and he needed the light to work on the engine, and it would only be there a few weeks. A year later, it hasn’t moved.

Her insides ache when he talks about the car, like it’s human and has the same feelings and ability to wound as he does. He’s good at fixing things, her husband, good at fixing carburetors and cabinets, good at cooking a pork chop though she’s been vegetarian since 1975 and he knows she can’t stand the thought of a slaughtered animal and won’t eat it. Good at asking her what she thinks then criticizing whatever she says.

Sometimes, just as a test, Clarissa will give him the answer she knows he wants to hear. He still criticizes, picks her opinion apart, pokes for holes until he circles back around to give her the same answer she just gave him, only using different words.

“I’d like your opinion on what we should do for vacation,” he said the other day.

“Where would you like to go?” she asked.

“Anywhere, you choose.”

A few days earlier she’d seen him looking at pictures of Taos on the Internet and checking travel bargains sites, so she said, “I think Taos would be nice.”
His face crumpled into the expression she’s labeled you’ve got to be kidding. “It’s too hot in Taos, and too expensive. We can’t afford it.”

“What about Santa Fe?” Another place he’d talked about wanting to see, a place, as he phrased it, on his bucket list, along with buying a new pair of cowboy boots, following the rodeo circuit, and having dinner with supermodel Heidi Klum. Maybe Jeff thinks Heidi shares his interest in carburetors.

“No,” he’d rubbed his hand across his forehead in the way she’s labeled he thinks he’s talking to an imbecile and is trying his saintly best not to lose his temper. “I need to think about it. Taos would mean having to book a hotel now and I don’t want to plan that far ahead. Santa Fe is too pricey this time of the year.”

Clarissa didn’t point out the contradictions in that statement. They weren’t going anywhere this time of the year, but he didn’t want to book ahead. She just nodded and said, “Whatever you think is best,” and went back to crocheting a tablecloth that she hoped would keep her busy till the day she died, because she couldn’t imagine going through life with nothing to do but smell pork chops cooking or answering questions he’d already resolved in his mind.

A couple days later, he’d said. “I think if we book far enough ahead we can get cheap tickets to Taos. We can use up some of my airline miles.” He’d smiled in a way she’s labeled he just had the same idea as me but he thinks it was his, so it must be the right one. She didn’t point out that it was actually her airline miles they’d be using, miles she’d accumulated on her credit card and hoped to use to visit her sister in Connecticut.

This morning, though, she’d seen on the Internet that Randy Boone was playing a folk festival in North Carolina. Her heartbeat, so subdued for so long, had quickened. They could easily drive to North Carolina from their home in Northern Virginia and save her airline miles, drive rather than fly to her sister’s and use the miles next year for their 45th anniversary. They’d go someplace exotic, like Paris or Egypt. The hotel in North Carolina would be cheaper than Taos. She could lose herself in a crowd of people and maybe, if she was one of the fortunate few, get Randy’s autograph.

“What about North Carolina?” she said later that morning when Jeff came in wiping his hands with an oil stained rag. “There’s a folk festival. It would be fun, like when we were in college, hanging out at music festivals and just having a nice relaxing time.” She wondered who among her friends could sell them some weed, just to make the trip feel truly authentic.

Jeff had looked at her with the expression she’s labeled; he’s just seen a kangaroo sitting in his recliner. “Why would you want to go to a music festival?

I suppose next you’ll suggest we buy a bag of Acapulco Gold and get stoned while we’re there.”

She mumbled, “It was just an idea,” and bent her head over her crochet.
This afternoon, Clarissa is having lunch with her best friend, Jerome, who wears his dark hair in a ponytail, makes his own shirts out of old bed sheets which he dyes and embroiders, and always smells of patchouli. She meets him at a café on the edge of town, away from the big box stores and strip malls that dominate what was once the center of their small town and now remind Clarissa of one of those movie sets that are just painted scenery propped up to look real, lacking any substance.

“We’re going out to Taos this fall,” she tells him as she slides into a chair on the patio of their favorite Italian restaurant. Lunch with Jerome always comes with white linen napkins and wine. With a flourish he summons the waiter and orders two glasses of Chardonnay.

“Why Taos?” He asks with a puzzled expression. “You’ve never said you wanted to go there.”

It’s where he,” she puts the emphasis on he, “has decided he wants to go.” She leans back and feels the heat of the chair seep through her cotton blouse and warm her skin. She closes her eyes for a moment, enjoying the sensation of a summer sun like a warm hand touching her cheek. When she opens them she sees Jerome is leaning on his hand watching her. She notices his shirt today sports a riot of bold sparkly thread cowboy boots walking up one sleeve and down the other.

“What?” she says.

“You told me there’s a folk festival in North Carolina you want to go to. Isn’t that old guy you used to be in love with, your first heart throb, performing there? You said he doesn’t do a lot of festivals anymore and this could be your only chance to hear him, maybe even meet him and get an autograph. So I ask you again, why Taos?”

Clarissa digs through her memory for an answer and remembers when she joined Randy Boone’s fan club, the thrill when she opened the packet containing his Technicolor picture and some color postcards. His hair was the color of she’d imagined. She’d written him a fan letter, and he’d replied. He’d told her how much he loved his guitar and his horse. But as she thinks about it now with a glass of chilled wine in her hand and a breeze ruffling the napkin in her lap, it was probably written by some secretary. Like the letter from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who’d written that he loved his guitar so much it made girls jealous. Another secretary scrawl, she thinks, and wonders, why have I never questioned the authenticity of either letter, of the sentiments they contained? Why did I, do I, accept things without question.

It disturbs her to think her devotion yielded nothing but a letter with a fake signature, written by a stranger. She takes a large sip of wine. She wonders whether, if she met Randy Boone, he would remember writing to her, or if he’d give her the same puzzled look her husband gave whenever he tried to remember details of their early years together. As though, she thinks, it only happened in my imagination.

As they eat their lunch, hers a Caesar salad with edamame and Jerome’s a large plate of pasta carbonara, Clarissa feels a longing grow for the music festival and wonders what Jeff would do if she went without him. Then she pushes the thought away as unworthy. As they dawdle over their chocolate mousse, Jerome says, “I’ll go with you if you want.”

She is startled. “You mean go without my husband?”

Jerome nods. “You can go on a holiday without him. You might enjoy it more.” As he dabs at his mouth with the pointed end of the napkin, she realizes with a flash of clarity, he really dislikes my husband. She wonders why, but she has to acknowledge there are times, more frequently lately when she doesn’t much like her husband, either. She wonders how long she’s been walking through life all by herself, exactly when she and Jeff fell out of step. She thinks she might cry so she raises her hand to get the waiter’s attention and orders more coffee. She asks Jerome how he embroidered so many sparkly boots on his shirt without getting the thread tangled.

A few days later as she’s looking at fares for Taos, Jeff comes in and tells her he’s heading over to the auto parts store for some WD40 and some carburetor parts. She feels a slow burn crawl up her neck. The moment she hears his car pull out of the driveway, she books a hotel in the North Carolina town near the music festival. Over the next few days, she doesn’t mention it to Jeff, who is still asking after her credit card with the airline miles. She packs covertly, a few items of her summer wardrobe at a time tossed into a suitcase she’s hidden under the bed. Jerome calls and says he’s rented a van with a trailer hitch in case she wants to buy a horse, and she laughs into the phone.

“Where would I put it?” she says with a giggle.

“Put what?” Jeff comes up behind her and wraps his arms around her waist, one hand reaching for her breast, a move she dislikes, has told him she dislikes. He smells of sweat and motor oil, probably WD40, she thinks. She shrugs him off and says, “Jerome thinks I should buy a horse.”

“I guess we could put it in the back,” he says. “Right by the welder.”

When she hangs up with Jerome, she says, “You know, I’ve always wanted a horse. Even as a kid I was in love with horses, but my parents were afraid I’d get hurt.”

“I can’t see you on a horse,” Jeff says as he slumps into his recliner and reaches for the remote. There are spots on the recliner where the stuffing pokes through, and for some reason this makes Clarissa sad. The arms are especially worn from where they come in contact with Jeff’s watch. Maybe if she buys him a new recliner with her credit card it’ll rack up enough airline miles to take her to Australia. “I think you’d spend more time picking yourself up off the ground than in the saddle,” he says as he channel surfs, settling on a ballgame.

“Well, I’m leaving for North Carolina tomorrow.” Clarissa leaves the room before this reaches his synapses. She is surprised that he doesn’t try to follow her out to the garden where she’s managed to plant a few flowers in a patch by the welder. She can feel him watching her from the back porch, but she ignores him, and when she comes in to make dinner, he’s back watching his ballgame. She serves him in front of the t.v. and eats on the porch. That night when he comes to bed, she pretends to be asleep. She can feel his warmth as he slides under the covers and the way he reaches out to touch her hand, but she steels herself and does not respond.

Next morning Clarissa is up early, but not early enough to avoid Jeff. She comes down with her suitcase to find him at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading his paper. She notices that his hair seems to have thinned since she last really looked at him. He looks up when she comes in to pour herself coffee, his expression one she labels he’s finally figured out what I told him hours ago.

“Did you say you’re going to North Carolina?” He looks confused, then hurt, then angry.

“Uh huh. Jerome’s picking me up in a few minutes. He rented us a van so you can keep the rust bucket for whatever. Oh, it’s only for a few days,” she says patting his shoulder and trying to stave off the guilt that threatens like an incoming tsunami to spoil her mini vacation.

“I would have gone with you,” he says. “I don’t like the idea of you going off on your own.”

“Jerome’s coming. I’m not on my own. And you hate folk music.” The tsunami hits as she remembers how he used to love folk music. She remembers his record collection and the times when they were first dating, when they’d snuggle on the sofa in his apartment on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston drinking wine and smoking a joint. He’d hold up one record after another and play each one for her, hoping she would like them as much as he did, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Kingston Trio, Limelighters, Pete Seeger, anything Bob Dylan wrote in the 1960s. What happened to that record collection, she wonders. What happened to that love?
She watches him slump over his coffee and she thinks they both should have paid more attention before all of those moments slipped away. It’s a short step, she realizes, from now to distant memory.

She looks at her coffee and sees that she forgot to add milk. But Jerome is outside beeping the horn, so Clarissa puts the cup in the sink and gives Jeff a tentative kiss on the cheek to which he does not respond. With her head down and her heart in her stomach she grabs her suitcase and goes out to the van. She sees that Jerome has been as good as his word and there is a trailer hitch on the back, ready to haul back the horse she doesn’t need and has no place to keep. As they pull away Clarissa looks to see if Jeff is watching, if he’ll wave, but he’s not there. It’s unfair, she thinks, that she can’t load up her emotional baggage and hook it to the back of the van, leave it somewhere like a highway rest stop next to the smelly public outdoor latrine.

The drive is only a few hours from the outskirts of Washington, DC. They spend the time listening to country western music and talking about Jerome’s shirts which, he tells her, is his way of rebelling against the cheap fast fashion that now litters the racks of even the most high-end shops.

“I find the most amazing dyes online, and I just dump it all into the wash basin and throw in an old cotton sheet,” he explains. Clarissa wonders if he has an unlimited supply of old cotton sheets because he’s wearing a different shirt every time she sees him. He does not ask about her husband, and she does not volunteer information. But the sight of Jeff bowed over his coffee like a question mark haunts the back of her mind and spoils her enjoyment of the ride. She swears to herself for letting it cast a pall on what she has been anticipating as a great adventure. Clarissa thinks, I’ve let his disappointments become mine. From the moment IBM outsourced his programming job and left him looking for a new career in his 50s, forcing him to retrain as a plumber, then a mechanic, his disappointments have been the stage on which our marriage has played out for the past 15 years.

She sits back and watches the scenery roll by, not taking any of it in.
They check into their rooms in time for lunch in the old fashioned diner attached to the motel. She can feel the muscles on her face turned downward. She forces herself to smile, to pretend she’s having a wonderful time, but the image of Jeff with his look of dejection makes Clarissa feel that she should call and let him know where they’re staying. She could even invite him to come along.

“What’ll it be, cookie?” the waitress says with smile that shrinks her eyes.

Clarissa wonders if the waitress also has a husband waiting at home in a worn recliner thinking up ways to contradict and criticize. The waitress holds her pad as though she wants to crush it. Clarissa sees she’s wearing a wedding ring that is so tight it looks like it’s trying to sear itself to the bone.
Clarissa turns her own wedding ring around on her finger, which she notices is slightly loose.

Jerome orders a ham sandwich and she orders a veggie burger from which she removes the bun, and French fries that she eats until there are none left. She gets up from the table feeling stuffed and slightly sick. Her pants feel tight and she swears even her feet have expanded inside her boots.

They drive over to the fair grounds and wander up and down among the booths selling caramel coated popcorn and frothy pink cotton candy that makes her think of a ballerina’s tutu.

They pick up a program and Clarissa sees that Randy is on for the next evening. They spend the rest of the day watching some of the acts performing on the smaller stages. Clarissa marvels at the belly dancer who must be in her 50s and still has the stomach of a 20 year-old. Jerome throws balls trying to knock a guy into a water tank in a fruitless effort to win Clarissa a teddy bear. She dunks the guy with one swing and gives the teddy bear to Jerome.

That night they find a club where they drink beer and dance to country western songs played by a band that bills itself as The Throwbacks. Jerome two steps Clarissa around the floor. It’s been years since Clarissa’s done the two step but soon she feels like queen of the country western dance scene.

Jerome knocks on her door next morning and when Clarissa opens her eyes she sees the digital clock readout on her nightstand telling her it’s almost 11. She gets up with a slight hangover and after a shower and some coffee from the pot in her room she meets Jerome in the restaurant café for lunch.

The same waitress with the eye shrinking smile waits on them. The place smells of fried meat and something sweaty, which makes Clarissa feel a little sick. She orders a salad and picks at the lettuce which looks on the edge of brown.
The weather is on the cool side. Clarissa is grateful for the steady breeze that ruffles the fairground. Jerome is wearing an especially heavily embroidered shirt with cowboy boots and hats floating against a white background, along with the outlines of cowboys twirling lassos with what Clarissa thinks are varying degrees of success. Some of the lassos look about to collapse. She smiles. For some reason, she finds everything around her amusing, like she’s seeing it all for the first time. Her anticipation of seeing Randy Boone in person is putting a happy patina on her day.

They head over to the main stage where a group from the 1960s is playing a slightly off key version of an old ballad for which they were once famous. Clarissa is a little sad to see the men with balding hair and paunches and the women hiding their excess pounds under garments that flow away from their bodies. Still, they seem to be enjoying themselves, and the crowd is with them, waving their arms and singing along to the chorus. A slight trepidation creeps into Clarissa’s perfect day but she quickly shoves it away.

“Pretty good,” Jerome shouts above the din. But as she picks out the missed notes and discordant moments, the trepidation leaps into full blown fear that when it’s Randy Boone’s turn on the stage she’ll feel the same sadness watching him up there, no longer young and singing not quite on key, his guitar poorly tuned. She is certain her world of childhood dreams is about to collapse into dust. Panicked, she suddenly wants to flee, away from the crowd, away from disappointment that is certainly about to take up the space in her heart where Randy Boone strums his guitar. She feels stupid for coming here and expecting to find the Randy Boone she fell in love with and guilty for leaving her contrary husband who likes to fall asleep holding her hand. She pictures Jeff sitting alone in the kitchen hunched over his coffee that has certainly gone cold by now. Clarissa wonders if he’ll make a pork chop for dinner and if he’ll look around to see if the table is set for two and feel sad that she isn’t there.
Someday, she knows, one of us won’t be there ever again.

Clarissa finds she’s having a hard time drawing in breath. She grabs Jerome by the hand and starts to pull him away, out of the crowd, away from disillusion, when the announcers steps up to the microphone and she hears him say, “Ladies and gentleman, let’s welcome our very own local celebrity, Randy Boone.” The crowd cheers and she’s trapped in amber waiting for him to come on stage. She wants to close her eyes but can’t summon the courage.

He comes out onto the stage with his guitar slung across his back. Her heart beat picks up along with her applause and as her fear evaporates she does little hops along with most of the women there. As the strums his guitar, the crowd settles and Clarissa can see him clearly when he perches on a stool in front of the microphone. He wears his cowboy hat pushed back so she can see his face. He looks out into the crowd and she swears he is looking at her. She feels Jerome give her a poke with his elbow, and he whispers “There he is. In living color.”
She nods but feels impatient with Jerome for distracting her. Randy shifts on the stool and settles his guitar in his lap. Slowly, he begins a song that she remembers from his early years. It’s called “So Hard to Tell Mama Goodbye” and she can’t stop the tears from coming.

He is older but still handsome, and his voice has taken on the richer, slightly deeper tones of aging. Clarissa listens carefully for a missed note but he hits them all. He sings. He sings beautifully.

Then he shifts into a song called “Ramblin’ Fever” and then on to other, more recent tunes, which she remembers only vaguely because she knows in her heart that despite this impulsive trip, she hasn’t really been following Randy Boone’s career all that closely. If she’s completely honest with herself, she hasn’t followed it at all. Not for years. Not since the Virginian went off the air. She feels a bit like an imposter. She wonders at this lapse, this neglect on her part, and it suddenly strikes her that there are so many things she’s let lapse.
While Randy sings about the streets of Laredo, Clarissa tries to remember when she and Jeff stopped going to music festivals, stopped playing those records. Streets of Laredo had been one of her favorite Marty Robbins songs and Jeff used to play it for her on his old scratchy vinyl that is now sitting in the basement with the rest of his record collection, warping in the damp. She thinks they stopped going to festivals soon after they got married. They were a couple of years out of college. She was working at a newspaper in Virginia, and he’d been hired by IBM. He wanted to go to San Diego where Joan Baez was headlining but she was tired, so tired after working all day. After she retired, she spent two days scraping out the patch for a rose bush in front of the house. After weeks of neglect, it sprouted weeds, and when Jeff had asked her what she was going to do with it, Clarissa answered him with a shrug, her enthusiasm for roses having vanished with the hot DC weather.

Standing there in the crowd with the sun on the verge of disappearing into the hills, listening to Randy, she wonders how many other things she took up and dropped. There was acting, then painting, and even a feeble attempt at writing a novel. And always, there was Randy in the background, sitting in some dark forgotten part of her mind, and Jeff right there in front of her, hunched over his coffee like a question mark, looking disappointed.

By the time Randy’s set has ended Clarissa’s weary and feeling slightly faint. Jerome takes her arm and leads her to a spot on the side of the stage away from the crowd. As she wipes at her eyes with a crumpled Kleenex and sips some cold water Jerome has bought from the lemonade stand nearby, Randy comes around the corner.

Clarissa thinks she might faint for real.

“Hi, I’m Jerome and I really loved your set.” Jerome sticks his hand out and Randy takes it, smiling.

His eyes are the same sparkling blue she remembers from the photograph she got so long ago, and his smile is exactly the same as on television. Clarissa says, her voice heavy with nerves, “I used to watch you on The Virginian and Cimarron Strip. I joined your fan club.” She feels overwhelmingly stupid and thinks she might have not said the words properly, and for a moment when Randy looks at her she thinks, oh, shit, I said blah, blah, blah and I’m a moron.

But then he breaks into a huge grin. “That color picture with me and my horse?” When she nods he says “That was one of my first ever color photo shoots. You must have been a toddler.”

Clarissa feels herself blush. She hasn’t blushed since she met her husband the first day of college.

“I loved what you sang. Your voice hasn’t changed.” She hopes she is really speaking words, not spouting verbal sludge. Her heart is beating so hard and loud she can’t really tell.

“Well, I sure do appreciate your coming out here to hear me sing,” Randy says to her and Jerome. “It was nice to meet you folks.”

Then he leans over and kisses her on the cheek. And smiles. Then he’s gone.
Clarissa’s legs are shaking so badly she can barely stand. “I need to go eat something,” she tells Jerome who is grinning like a fool.

“He really is a cutie,” Jerome says.

They walk around in search of food. At least she thinks she’s walking because she can’t feel her feet touch the ground. They find a stand where Jerome buys a couple of hot dogs and without thinking Clarissa orders pulled pork. Afterwards, her mouth retains a metallic taste and her stomach feels queasy, but all she can think about his Randy Boone, her first crush, kissing her cheek.

The rest of the evening is a blur. She knows there are more acts, and half listens with a feeling of generosity. She wants to send out a blue light of love to embrace all the bands with their missed chords or out of tune instruments. She feels benevolent and wants to embrace them all, kiss them on the cheek and tell them everything will be all right.

She has a hard time sleeping. She pictures herself again as a girl. She gives into her past daydreams of riding alongside Randy out on the prairie, the younger, prettier version of herself, and him the handsome boy on the television screen.

Next morning Clarissa gets up bleary eyed and climbs into the front seat of the van. She and Jerome chat about the bands they saw, and at one point he slams his fist on the steering wheel and whoops “Yeeeee hawwww, you got to meet Randy Boone.”

He seems almost as jubilant as Clarissa feels.

But as they draw closer to home, the guilt starts to pile up one road marker at a time. She wonders if in the few days since she left Jeff has had anything to eat.

When they pull up to the house, Clarissa is startled to see that the space around the junk car is cleaned out and there are no more carburetor parts cluttering the lawn. She kisses Jerome on the cheek and thanks him for bringing her to the festival.

In the house, the smell of pork chops cooking brings up the metallic taste from yesterday. And there’s music coming from the living room where she finds their old record player which Jeff apparently has dredged up from the basement. Clarissa watches the vinyl spin under the needle that seems to float over the grooves. There are some scratches and warps, but the song goes bravely on. She hears the music, the mellow voice of Bread’s lead singer, “Baby I’m a want you, baby I’m a need you.”

Jeff comes in from the back yard, a trowel in his hand.

“You have a good time?” He kisses her cheek, on the same spot where Randy kissed her.

“Yes,” she said. “I met Randy Boone.”

“Uh, huh,” Jeff says. “I kind of remember him. He was on some western way back in the 60s, right?”

“Yes.” Clarissa feels like she’s having an out of body experience.

“Well, I’m making some pork chops but I picked up those veggie burgers you like and there’s salad in the frig.”

She nods and looks out the screen door to the back yard. In a corner she sees a rose bush, not much more than a stalk with thorns, sticking out of the ground.
Jeff walks over behind her and points with the trowel. “Found it on sale at the hardware store. Thought you might like that spot. Seems to get a good amount of sun. Well, enough, anyway.”

“Thank you,” she says.

“It’s not much, but it’s a start,” he says, his voice quiet.

She nods. The spot on her cheek tingles, the spot where Randy Boone and Jeff kissed her.

“Yes,” she says. “It is.”

Denise Marois-Wolf has been writing since she was in high school and got into trouble with her shorthand teacher for publishing an inappropriate poem in the school newspaper. At that point she knew writing would be her life’s work. She spent 25-plus years as a newspaper reporter and got her MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. She’s attended so many writing conferences she has a lifelong membership to Conferences Anonymous, a group she just made up. She lives in Maryland with her husband, who does
not cook pork chops, and two Bichons, Bear and Pippin.

“Looking For A Cowboy”

by Luisa Kay Reyes

When my brother moved from our hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Austin, Texas and my mother decided to follow in his footsteps, after all, the lure of the adorable little grandson is a strong one; I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to look for a cowboy. Especially since everything I had ever heard about Texas indicated to me that it would be the perfect place to find a real life livin’ breathin’ all-American cowboy. My friends and acquaintances would laugh at me when I explained what I was going to look for in Texas. But I figured that after the Stars and Stripes and Uncle Sam, the Wild West cowboy was one of the de facto symbols of America. And it would be an enormous amount of fun to actually meet one in person. So when we drove to Texas and the massive lone star flags waving in the wind began to appear, I immediately began my quest of looking for a cowboy.

The first thing I noticed when we moved into our new place in Austin, Texas was that there wasn’t a single Baptist Church on our street. Coming from Alabama where there is a First Baptist Church on main street, another First Baptist Church off of the main street, and still another First Baptist Church on the off of main street street; this took me by surprise. What was even more disheartening, however, was that there wasn’t a single cowboy Church around either. I had seen some cowboy Churches advertised in North Alabama, so I had reasoned Texas would be filled to the brim with them. In Austin, I soon found out, it was not to be. Consequently, we started going to the Methodist Church where we met some sophisticated looking airline pilots and some expert jewelers. But the rugged all-American cowboy, was nowhere to be found.

After asking around in Austin for the hidden location of these famous horsemen of Wild West lore, I was promptly informed that nobody in Austin was Texan. In fact, it had become a haven for California expatriates. And all of the men in Austin were upscale California hippie metrosexuals. They likely knew more about which moisturizer to use than the makeup saleslady at the Estee Lauder counter in the mall. And since I had taken Equestrian 101 in my very proper Southern women’s college, I probably knew more about how to saddle a horse than they did. Undeterred, I consulted a friend of mine from back home in Alabama. He originally hailed from Texas and had moved to Alabama and even become a University of Alabama football fan. He informed me that I should go to San Antonio to find a cowboy, so I did.

My mother and I took a day trip to the Alamo in San Antonio and also saw the beautiful riverwalk that highlights any visit to that city. We had a lovely time seeing the Cinderella-like lit up horse drawn carriages driving past. And we also enjoyed listening to the Mexican Mariachi bands along the river. But the pistol packin’ saddle men of the West, were nowhere to be seen. I asked some locals where a cowboy could be found and they informed me that I would stand a better chance of finding one in Houston.

As fate would have it, I did have the occasion to go to Houston a few times. And while I met a lovely German couple there, some pleasant enough Bostonians, and a smattering of citified locals; none of them qualified as genuine rough and ready cowboys. “Dallas” they said. That was where I could find a cowboy. Although, they couldn’t fathom why on earth I would really want to find one. Then I had the opportunity to meet some Dallas natives. Quite puzzled, they explained to me that Dallas didn’t have any cowboys. In fact, other than the professional football team, whoever heard of a cowboy anywhere around Dallas. But, if I was really determined to find one, I might stand a chance during the one weekend out of the year when a rodeo festival comes to Dallas. They hadn’t ever seen a cowboy there, but it was the best chance I probably had of finding one. I decided to consult another friend of mine from back home.

The second friend of mine from back home whom I consulted regarding my mission of finding this hearty symbol of America, was also a Texas native turned ‘Bama boy. A bit frustrated by this point, I wrote him and told him I was beginning to think cowboys were “Gone With The Wind.” He promptly informed me that I was looking in all the wrong places. That the only cowboys I would find in Houston and San Antonio were “rhinestone” cowboys. I needed to go to places like “Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene, Stephenville, and Graham” to find the real thing. I almost felt like writing him back and explaining that I hadn’t even seen a fake rhinestone cowboy thus far, but I decided instead to focus on my hunt for this elusive mythical creature of the 1950s Wild West shoot ‘em up tv shows.

While I didn’t make it to Lubbock,, I actually drove through Lockhart a number of times. And I even visited several rural outlying towns in Texas such as Burnet and never once saw a cowboy. For Christmas one year, we went to an historical ranch a couple hours outside of Austin. And while we sipped on some hot chocolate by a campfire and gazed at the stars overhead, they informed us that most of the cowboys back in the day were actually really young lads. The average was between thirteen and sixteen years of age since it was a rough life and not many older people could endure it. Furthermore, a good number of them were African-American since it was a field anybody could enter who had a willing hand to offer. And, according to them, the origin of the word “cookie” comes from the cooks who would prepare the meals for the cowboys during the cattle drives. I’ve since read others who claim it comes from an old Dutch word that means “cake.” With all due respect to their wooden shoes, somehow a cookie from a cattle drive sounds more appealing.

After a while, I started volunteering at the local historical pioneer farms. With the first event we volunteered for being their presentation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We had so much fun, that we volunteered for several more events at the farms. Which involved me portraying everything from Snow White, to the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe from Mother Goose, to a colonial girl for the Fourth of July. We got to meet some of the other volunteers at the farms such as the blacksmith, the events coordinator, and the head of the farms who was a tall fellow and would occasionally dress up as a cowboy. He was actually quite a nice guy and well liked by everybody who was involved with the farms. So when we moved back to Alabama after living in Texas for two years, I concluded that he was the closest thing to a real life livin’ breathin’ Wild West all-American cowboy I was going to find.

About eleven months later we were talking to him on the phone regarding the kitty kat we had adopted from the farms. He informed us that his parents were from Minnesota and he was more of an expert in deer than cows. Dispelling my one claim of finding a genuine Texas cowboy even more, he explained that he was actually more of a “deerboy” than a cowboy. I sighed . . . lookin’ for a cowboy is certainly no easy task.

Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in the “Fire In Machines”, Hofstra University’s “The Windmill”, “Halcyon Days”, “Fellowship of the King”, “Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine”, the “Route – 7 – Review”, “The Foliate Oak”, “The Eastern Iowa Review”, and other literary magazines. Her piece, “Thank You”, is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of “The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature”. And her Christmas poem was a first place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, her essay “My Border Crossing” has just been nominated for the Pushcart Prize by the Port Yonder Press.

We are back! Well, we rounded up two new Cowgals, Rebecca Bonham and Crystal Zeller to help in the office, so we can be on top of the state of the press. This week we are featuring some writers, and will do the same next week, until the first week of November.

So saddle up and get ready to ride!

Loyal unto Death (1)

 

Lissanne Lake has been a full time freelance illustrator for thirty years. She has done art for over two hundred book covers, including covers for best-selling authors such as Terry Pratchett, Thomas Disch, Raymond Buckland & David Bischoff. In addition, Lissanne has created hundreds of other paintings for magazines and game products and other publications,including a tarot deck, the Buckland Romani Tarot and also has done several large murals.She lives and works at her home in North Bergen, NJ, with her partner Alan and a bossy dog. Her above painting is titled, “Loyal Until Death.”

“Teach Me”

by Larry Bradfield

He got up his courage and knocked on the door
Of the local school marm who lived ‘bove the store
He’d seen her aplenty when he was in town
And got weak in the knees when she was around
He couldn’t keep his mind on buildin’ a fence
And the boys wondered why he’d gotten so dense
Then she opened the door and said not a word
He stammered “I’m Jim and I cain’t count the herd!
If you’d teach me numbers I’d be well ahead
And ranchin’ that’s hard would be easy instead.”
She said, “I wondered what reason to knock you would find
But counting a herd never entered my mind.
Take me to supper before we talk cattle
Then we can get past this meaningless prattle
And talk about things that we both think about
There is more on your mind than cows I don’t doubt.”
Her straightforward manner caught Jim unaware
He tried to think but all he could do was stare
He thought she might rope him before he knew it
Then he thought, “Well, thank God. Just lead me to it!”

Larry Bradfield TBA

“FORBODING”

(In a cabin near Witch Hazel Creek, north British Columbia, 1957)

by Andrew Hubbard

The winter wind, wolf-like
Claws at the door, rattles it,
And with icicle fangs
Would have it down.

Frost grows thicker on the window
Imperceptibly, in cathedral shapes
Goblin shapes
Claw-hand shapes.

A draft comes down the chimney
Scattering embers that quickly chill
Another draft follows, bolder.

Mindless yet malign
The cold wants to get in at us
Have its way with us,
Consume our fragile warmth.

It wants us stiff, blue-handed
In a rigorous pose it chose
For us to hold until we are
A feast for flies in the spring thaw.

Frankly, I think it will succeed.

I’ve little doubt
It will win out.

(You never liked the little rhymes
I made up at the worst of times.)

My dear, my dear, my precious dear
Come hold my hand.

See the frost tongue
Coming under the door?

My love for all these turbulent years:
We have so little left to fear.

Andrew Hubbard was born and raised in a small fishing village on the coast of Maine. He graduated from Dartmouth College magna cum laude, receiving awards in creative writing and psychology, and a degree in English. He completed his formal education at Columbia University, receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, summa cum laude. For most of his career, he worked as the Director of Training for a number of major financial institutions. He is a well-known speaker on the topic of corporate training, and has authored three books and dozens of articles on the subject. He is a former martial artist and competitive weight-lifter, a casual student of cooking and wine, a gemologist, a collector of edged weapons, a licensed handgun instructor, and an avid outdoor photographer. He currently lives in rural Indiana with his wife, two Siberian Huskies, and a demon cat. His previous book with IP was Things That Get You.

“Bullwhip Bob”

by Leroy Trussell

Bullwhip Bob,
with uh’pop whipper snap.
he had uh’stagecoach drivin’ job,
an his whip unwrapped, with a thunder clap.

He could take out uh’ eye,at ten feet,
strack uh’ match in mid air.
take off uh’ fly on uh’ bovine seat,
an cut uh’ umbras hair,with barbershop care.

One day took on uh’ gun fighter,
with uh’ pop of his whip.
twere uh’ split second blur,
yank that six gun right off his hip.

Why the other day,hung uh’ desperado,
with only his whip.
he was uh’ robbin’ the stage of its dough,
well right out that saddle,off his horse in uh’ outlaw backflip.

Kap tuh’ stage,n horses goin’,
with uh’ crack of his whip.
never leavin’ uh’ mark uh’ showin’,
reins tightly gripped,and loud poppin’ sound of the tip.

Leroy Trussell TBA

“Dusty Old Book”

by Poppa Mac

New cook on the wagon this year
Certainly hoping he’s a good one
Last one only here a month
Before he was on the run

Seems different than the rest
Nothing appears to get him mad
Food tastes pretty darn good
So it’s not starting out too bad

Doesn’t join in the card games
Never seen him take a drink
Sits quietly reading his book
Claims it helps him to think

Asked if I read the bible
Couldn’t say that I had
Momma used to read though
Mostly when I was being bad

One night he asked me to join
As he began to read aloud
Read about how Jesus loves us
Sat with his head bowed

Those words touched my heart
Like nothing else had before
Tears fell from my eyes
I begged him to hear more

That’s when I remembered
The book sitting on my shelf
It was totally covered in dust
Never really opened it myself

Was a bible given me by mom
Been sitting there quite awhile
Funny how now it felt right
Too take it from the pile

Can’t believe what I found inside
The words changed me forever
I now live as a child of God
And will forsake him never.

Geoff “Poppa Mac” MacKay is a Cowboy Poet, Preacher & Storyteller, and was born in Manitoba in 1960, as well as growing up throughout Western Canada.  Poppa Mac is a life-long cowboy, a poet, and storyteller Working on ranches and at rodeos throughout Western Canada as a wrangler and rodeo clown, provided Poppa Mac with lots of stories. Whenever possible, you’ll still find him on horseback in a pasture working cattle, or in a rodeo arena delivering God’s Message.

“PING”

by Mark F. Geatches

Ping

The man watched the red-brown glob ooze down the pitted face of the spittoon. His expression held a twisted smirk like a man trying to drop a stubborn ordure. The saloon was aphonic except for a couple of whores weeping and such. Wiping his forehead with a checkered handkerchief the man propped himself against the tired bar. He counted eight, mostly men, sprawled dead in odd comfortable positions.

Ping

“Damned if I ain’t still got it,” he croaked.

Walking toward the doors the man tipped his hat and wheezed, “Ladies.”
The mahogany doors continued to beat the air as he crumbled onto the parched road.

Mark F. Geatches, whether writing, reading, or riding his Mahindra tractor, Mark’s assiduity is accompanied by music. Mark finds music and writing the perfect mental connection; the nexus of focus and inspiration. Mark has been published in Romance Magazine.

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Confronting Writer's Block