When Mama sent me to put on a clean shirt, I knew real well that she wanted me to go with her to the cantina, and I would have to do what she said. It made me kind of sick.
I went to my little room off the kitchen and instead of changing I picked up my old piece of braided rein. It was a good length and I like to hear it snap when it was folded in two.
Finally, I put the shirt on. It was too small and scratchy. I wouldn’t be able to button my cuffs without cutting my hands about off. That didn’t make me any happier.
Just then the door opened. I could hear Mama’s voice bubble up and down so I knew my step-Papa had come home. It would be a while before Mama went downstairs now. She would have to ask how he was and what he’d been doin’. Then he would paw over her and say how pretty she was, all that sort of stuff. He had a slick way about him that made Mama scared sometimes. It just made me want to kick out and yell.
All of it would take a whole lot of time. So I sat down by the window and looked out. I started thinking how often Mama slipped her silver flask out of her good bag when no one was lookin’ to take a drink and that there was a lot of trouble and sadness in the world. For people, mostly. I could see a white dog lying in the shade of a tree across the street, eyes closed, flies buzzing around, soaking up the sun. He was so lazy and contented he didn’t even make a move to bite at the flies or twitch them off with his tail.
You could see that dog was happy.
But for people, it was different, doing things somebody told them they had to do. Mama sang in the cantina because step-Papa told her she had to. I walked around in my scratchy shirt smiling and collecting coins, because she told me I had to. There was an awful lot of ‘had to’s’ going on.
I looked out and saw a gringo dandy walkin’ down the street. His boots were the shiniest I’d ever seen with flapjack-big silver spurs. People moved out of his way, nodding their heads once or twice to him, but he never even saw them.
I grinned when I saw the padre come along. Pretty soon he reached the gringo, stopped and shook his head in a real sad way. The padre was always one for pity. Except when he was preaching about how bad the people of the town were, and then he laid his pity on a shelf and forgot about it until the collection plate.
The padre stopped and said something to the gringo.
The man reached down to his big holster and touched the curved black handle of his gun. He shrugged and laughed real loud, right in the man’s face.
The padre fell back a step and scuttled down the street like a big June bug.
Of course, that got me more interested. He had black hair sort of stuffed under his hat and behind his ears. I had just noticed that his gun was slung real low around his hips when the front door opened and Mama’s voice was sayin’ goodbye.
It made me worry to hear that because I knew I was left with my step-Papa. I turned around and made a face. I was pretty good with those faces as I had done a lot of practicing. The reflection in the glass of the window told me I had worked up an especially good one. I was so busy studying it that I didn’t hear Papa. He busted in on me and I hadn’t wiped off all the look I was wearing. That brought him right up and he squared his shoulders back.
“Don’t look at me like that!” he said in his hard voice. “It’s time for you to go.”
Clenching tight fists, I stared out the window. “No.”
He reared his hand back and I picked up my rein, thinking I could push up the window and jump out, but instead I swung it high into the air and brought it across his ear. I didn’t draw blood or anythin’. Maybe it was because I hit him so hard, that he looked a little afraid.
I ran into the padre on my way out to the cantina because I wasn’t looking where I was going. Sent his robes flying every which way until he got a hand on the hitching post. He leaned far away from me and I recognized the look on his face—pity and dislike.
Maybe one day I’ll get a big holster with black-handled gun, too.