Friday, September 29, 2023


Todd saw dark gray clouds gather in the distance shortly after sunup. He grabbed a shovel from the garage and set it next to the house's back door. He went inside and warmed his hands over a potbellied stove in the kitchen. 
Todd tuned into the local radio station and stood with his back to the stove. The weather report forecasted a winter storm. 
Todd hustled outside, not putting on his coat. In his arms, he cradled a stack of split wood that he gathered from a lean-to shed. 
Todd cut and split two cords of wood two months earlier. He stacked it in the small lean-to shed a few yards from the back door. He did not have far to walk to retrieve firewood. He used to stack it away from the house, into the woods, fifty yards from the house. Although invigorating, when temperatures hovered around zero and below, it was brutally numbing in the dread of winter. 
He added the wood to what already was stacked beside the fireplace in the living room. He tossed two pieces in the fire and steadied them with the poker.
He heard Myra come up from the cellar stairway that was in the kitchen. 
Todd walked into the kitchen. 
“Cold enough for you?” Myra said. 
“Yeah,” Todd said. “I checked on the animals.”
“How they doing?” Myra said.
“No complaints,” Todd quipped.
“Did you hear the weather report?” Myra said.
“Yeah,” Todd said, “the clouds in the west, looks like they’re full of snow. I made sure everything was tied down. I don’t want to be repairing a barn door with the wind whistling up my pant leg.”
Within an hour the snow came and fell heavy. The wind whistled through the pines and naked oaks surrounding the house. 
Todd watched from the kitchen window. Drifted snow collected in all the familiar places; beyond the lean-to shed, near the garage, and just beyond the fence around the barn.  Myra opened a jar of canned tomatoes. She poured them into a pan on the stove.
“What are you fixing?” Todd asked.
“I thought chili would be just the thing for a cold winter night,” Myra said.
“You make the best,” Todd smiled, still watching the snow and wind.
“What’s the weather supposed to be?” Myra said. “It looks bad.”
“We don’t need to worry,” Todd said. “We made this house for days like this. I do worry about others and the animals. There’s the older couple down the road. I’ll give ‘em a call in a while to see how they’re doing.”
“Maybe take some chili down to them, if you can,” Myra said.
“You know what they’re like,” Todd smiled, “if I go down with a pot of chili, I’ll come back with a couple of pies.”
“They’re such nice folks,” Myra said stirring in a can of black beans.”
The aroma of chili filled the home. It combined later with chocolate chip cookies. 
As evening came the storm continued. It was difficult to know whether the snow remained falling or carried by the blistering wind.  
The wind died not long into the evening but its severity cut the electricity. The small house, five miles from the nearest town, sat in an emptiness of quiet and cold—as if a universe of its own. Any fears soon melted away with a fireplace full of crackling flames. The flicker of four candles spaced around the living room danced like ballerinas.
Todd and Myra sat near the fire on the floor leaning against the couch. Todd had his arm around Myra, and she snuggled close. Her head leaned against his chest.
“Your heart beats steady and slow,” Myra said.
“It is because you are near,” Todd said. 
“I feel warm when I’m near you,” Myra said.
“It’s the fire,” Todd quipped.
“I knew you would say that but you knew what I meant,” Myra said.
“Yes, I did,” Todd said, holding her with his other arm. “Holding you is like clinging to a rock during a storm at sea.”
“You’ve never been in a storm at sea,” Myra smiled.
“I’ve been in storms,” Todd said. “Not the weather but you know, just things in yourself that can make you feel like you’re drowning.”
“Is something troubling you?” Myra said.
“Like I said,” Todd said, “I have you.”
“I’m glad this is happening,” Myra said. “It gives us time to think about who we are. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes,” Todd said. “but sometimes things like that can be depressing.”
“Why would you say that?” Myra said slightly straightening up and looking directly into Todd’s eyes. 
“How much I wanted to become someone else,” Todd said. “Something better than what I am. It’s just that every now and then I look in the mirror. It just never changes.”
“It does,” Myra said.
“No,” Todd said. “I’m the same person I was the first time I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. There was deceit, selfishness, scheming, and ugliness.”
“I don’t see how you could possibly feel that way about yourself,” Myra said.
“If you have been with me as long as I have been with me, you’d know,” Todd said.
“Many artists see only the flaws in their own work,” Myra said. “Yet, they see the beauty in the work and talent of others and those others see only the flaws in their own work. Could it not be the same with you?”
“I would just like to be somebody else,” Todd said exasperated. 
“Then what would I do?” Myra said. 
“What do you mean?” Todd said.
“It is you that I have grown to love,” Myra said. “Yes, when we first met you were deceitful, selfish, and you schemed, but you were never ugly.”
“Were you that desperate that you had to go for someone with so little character?” Todd said.
“I would have never loved that man,” Myra said. “I saw you make changes and when I saw a complete transformation I swooped in and snatched you away before someone else did.”
Todd patted Myra on the hand. “Thank you, dear. What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” Myra said. “But when the time comes I know you’ll be there for me. Above all, Todd, that is the best of you, you are always near.”
Myra settled back into Todd’s embrace.

The Defeat of Eddie Fishbones

There was this guy from the old neighborhood named Eddie Fishbones. They called him that because he was so skinny he looked like a rack of fish bones.  

Eddie Fishbones was the best stick (pool player) ever and nobody rattled him. He had nerves of kryptonite.  Some of those big shots from downtown brought their dolls with them to distract his game, but Eddie sent them back uptown every time with their billfolds a little thinner.

To give you another example of his ability to concentrate, I'll tell you about the day Kennedy got shot. 

Eddie was all set to brake and someone announced to the entire pool hall the president was dead. Eddie remained expressionless.  He made the break, ran the table, and went to St. Anthony’s to pray for Mrs. Kennedy and the children.

One day, though, Fishbones met his match.  We were all on the corner talking about the guys who came closest to Fishbones with the least spot and some new guy says he was from the north side and there's a guy there named Joey Two Thumbs who can outshoot Fishbones. 

Right then and there the match was set and a big crowd assembled at "Louie’s Pool Hall" for the show-down.

Fishbones waited for Joey Two Thumbs.  Joey Two Thumbs walked in with some of the boys from the north side and Eddie introduces himself and then he said, "How come they call you Two Thumbs? Everybody's got two thumbs don't they?" Then Eddie chuckled, sort of a nervous laugh he had ever since grade school.

Joey held up his left hand and said, "Not on the same hand." Joey displayed another thumb where his index finger should have been.  

The sight of a man steadying a pool stick with two thumbs distracted Eddie and he quickly fell behind.

After a couple of games, Eddie began to put on a real show.  He had a run of twenty-two straight.  Then some guy from the north side yelled out, "Hey Joey Five Fingers."

Eddie looked up at Joey and said, "I thought your name was Two Thumbs."

"They call me Five Fingers too," Joey said.

"But don't everybody have four?" 

Joey held out his right hand and said, "But I got five on the same hand."

Sure enough, where his thumb was supposed to be on his other hand he had an extra finger.

This made Eddie Fishbones' knees buckle and his stomach turn. Again, he gathered his composure and started another impressive run.

Another guy from the north side walked in and yelled out, "Hey Joey Three Eyes!"

Fishbones' eyes rolled back and he collapsed like a sack of soiled laundry.  

Joey Two Thumbs, Five Fingers, or Three Eyes won because Eddie could not be revived.

I said to this guy from the north side, "How come they call him Three Eyes? I don't want no demonstration, just tell me straight up."

The guy said, "He's the only Greek guy in the neighborhood and nobody can pronounce his name, but it's got three "I’s" in it."

I said, "This guy got any other nicknames?"

"Sure," he said and called out to Joey. "Hey Joey, take your nose off for these guys."

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Lance Merriweather, Frontier Coiffeur

The swinging doors of the Lone Star saloon burst open and everyone inside turned—terrified as though they expected stampeding cattle. There he stood in a shaft of light, dressed in a pink sequined vest, tight lavender stretch jeans with silver pinstripes, white cowboy boots with golden speckles, and a mauve ten-gallon hat topped with a peacock feather.

Rattlesnake McClain's puffy eyes and fat cheeks squinted in disbelief. He stood up from the poker table tossing it aside like it was made of match sticks. He pulled a sweat-soaked range hat tight on his head and hiked his soil-stiffened jeans high on his bulging belly. He adjusted his holster parallel with his arm so as to be ready for a fast draw.

"Who or should I say what are you?" Rattlesnake said with a gravel voice and wiping drool from his chin.

"I am Lance Merriweather. I am the new hairdresser in this town."

Rattlesnake heaved a full belly laugh. Everyone joined in. Rattlesnake took a match from his pocket, struck it across his barbed face, and lit a cigar. "I wanna be enjoyin’ a good cigar when I shoot ya."

Lance placed both hands on his hips, cocked his head, sashayed over to Rattlesnake and grabbed his hand. "Not with those fingernails. You're a nibbler. I can tell by how rough and uneven they are and the cuticles are filthy. "Don't you know that most diseases are transmitted by dirty nails?"

"Huh?" Rattlesnake said.

"And your hair—when's the last time it's been washed?" Lance said removing Rattlesnake's hat and fluffing his hair.

"Huh?" Rattlesnake said. "I don't know. Hey Sagebrush," he yelled to an old cowboy at the bar, "When did it rain last?"

"The night you shot Josh Dalton or was it Wagonwheel Clangston?" Sagebrush said pawing at his whiskers.

Rattlesnake scratched his head and said, "Well, either way, it's been at least three and a half months."

"What!" exclaimed Lance. "Don't you know the damage that can be done to your roots? And that odor—smells like you slept with a canine."

"I slept with my dog," Rattlesnake said. "Are they anything alike?"

"You are such a hoot," Lance said slapping Rattlesnake on the back.

"I've had enough of this sissy talk," Rattlesnake said reaching for his gun. "I'm going to plug you."

"You just wait un momento mon ami," Lance said. "See that picture of General Custer hanging on the wall. He has terrific hair don't you agree."

"Well if I say yes, does that mean anything?" Rattlesnake said."

"The point is, how would you like to have hair like that?" Rattlesnake chortled and continued, "Why sure who wouldn't? I always wanted blonde hair."

"Tisk, tisk silly boy," Lance said. "Blonde hair would not coordinate with those eyes. Just give me two hours and all the ladies over in Dodge City will be forgetting about Bat Masterson and waiting in line for you. I will make you a legend." Lance snapped his finger at Sagebrush. "Get my bags off my horse and let me go to work."

Sagebrush brought two carpet bags full of hair-styling paraphernalia into the saloon. Lance removed his hat and his long wavy blond hair cascaded down to his shoulders like a waterfall. Lance unpacked the carpet bags, spread the contents on a table, and went to work on Rattlesnake. The entire saloon watched with amazement as Lance clipped, curled, washed, rinsed, combed, and brushed.

After two hours Lance handed a mirror to Rattlesnake and proudly asked, "Well, what do you think?"

"It looks terrific!" Rattlesnake said as he fondled his locks of glistening black hair hanging like clusters of grapes.

"Now let's do something about that terrible stubble." Lance pulled a shining straight razor from his hip pocket.

"That had better be sharp," Rattlesnake said.

"It's sharp alright," said Lance. He picked up a card from the table - an ace of diamonds. He ran the razor over the face of the card and the diamond came off the card and floated onto the table. "Sharp enough for you?"

"Be careful," Rattlesnake grumbled. "I got very sensitive skin."

Lance lathered Rattlesnake's face and asked, "What do you do for a living?"

"Oh a little this and little that," Rattlesnake said. "Bank robbing, cattle rustlin‘, blackmail, train robbing, stagecoach holdups, state representative, sheriff, undertaker, and ah, ah, oh that's right preach every other Sunday."

Lance held Rattlesnake's chin back, stretching the skin tight. He slid the razor up his neck stopping at the Adam’s apple. "Don't swallow hard Rattlesnake," Lance said. "I'm liable to slit your throat. Now what were you saying about bank robbing? Two weeks ago you robbed all the savings in the bank at Dry Gulch and that was all the people there had. I'm going to return it. Where is it?"

"It's in my, my saddle bags," Rattlesnake said cautiously. "Sagebrush, go get this guy my saddle bags."

Sagebrush retrieved the saddle bags and tossed them to Lance. Lance gathered his styling equipment and sashayed to the door with Rattlesnake's saddle bags.

"Grab him!" bellowed Rattlesnake, "and let me fill him full of lead."

Several of Rattlesnake's men grabbed hold of Lance.

"Remove those sullied hands from me you vermin," Lance said slapping them away. "You won't shoot."

"How can you be so sure?" Rattlesnake said.

"Next Thursday I have a 10:30 and if you want that curl to hold you'll let me go."

"Let him go," ordered Rattlesnake reluctantly.

Lance flicked his hand at a picture hanging over the bar. "When I return, I want that disgusting picture of that beer-bellied barroom Betsy removed and a Monet in its place."

Lance walked out of the saloon, leaped on his horse, and raced out of town with a billowing cloud of dust behind them.

Everyone in the bar stood out on the sidewalk gaping at the spectacle.

"Who was that guy?" one man said.

A stranger leaning against a hitching post said, "Why that was the Lance Merriweather, The Frontier Coiffeur."

Lance and his horse stopped at the edge of town and he called back to Rattlesnake, "Use a high protein conditioner between visits—away!"

Sunday, September 3, 2023

The Squirrel Hunter

“Didja git yer squirrel?” Maude said looking up from her cup of coffee. She crossed her legs beneath the kitchen table and waited for Tom to answer.

Tom leaned his rifle against the wall next to the kitchen door and walked over to the stove. He grabbed the coffee pot and poured a cup.

“Well?” Maude said. “Ya been gone long enough. Ya shoulduv gotten a half dozen or so.”

“Didn’t git any,” Tom said. He blew the steam from the cup and sipped.

“What were ya doin’ all that time?” Maude said.

“I tromped around for a while and didn’t see any squirrels,” Tom said.

“That woods is full of squirrels,” Maude said. “I betcha I could go out there and shoot me a few b’fore noon.”

“I ‘spose ya could,” Tom said. “Ya always was good at huntin’ squirrels.”

“But there ain’t nobody as good as you,” Maude said. “Ya losin’ you’re touch?”

“Maybe,” Tom said.

“I told ya, ya need glasses,” Maude said.

“It ain’t that,” Tom said. “I kin still read a license plate from the mailbox to the curve in the road.”

“Must be the sights,” Maude said. “I told ya they was off.”

“Sights are good,” Tom said.

“Then what is it, ya lose yer taste fer squirrel?” Maude said.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Tom said.

“When it comes ta food on the table, ya better sure want to talk about it,” Maude said.

“Ya sound like we’re livin’ during the depression or somethin’,” Tom said. “If we want meat we got a freezer full.”

“I know that but ya like huntin’ squirrel,” Maude said. “And I like fixin’ it fer ya.”

“I know,” Tom said, “but—never mind. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“This sounds deep,” Maude said. “And I ain’t leavin’ ya alone until you fess up.”

Tom sipped the coffee again. He stood in front of the kitchen sink with his back to Maude and looked out the window. An oriole fluttered to a nearby tree and danced along a limb. Two white butterflies darted playfully just above the tall grass at the edge of the woods.

“I was walkin’ out there and I stopped a good aim from a tree full of squirrels. They was a barkin’ and chatterin’ like a hen house with a fox in it but those squirrels was havin’ fun; the time of their life. I sat against a tree and waited for a clear shot. There was so many squirrels in that tree I could have spent the whole morning there. I was watchin’ and before long my eyes go heavy. I dozed off. I don’t know what woke me; I think it was the quiet. I looked just beyond my feet and there was this curious little squirrel. Well, he wasn’t little—good eatin’ size.”

Tom turned his head halfway toward Maude. “Are you followin’ me so far?”

“Sure,” Maude said, “but I’m not so sure you know where yer headin’.”

“There’s something ‘bout the woods,” Tom said turning and gazing out the window again. “Ya kin be havin’ a bad day at work, ya come home and take a walk in the woods and it’s all gone; every bad thing, dark thoughts, every curse, every clinched fist—ya just let it go. I read where the leaves absorb CO2. I think they absorb other things—things of the mind—things only felt and not seen or measured. Do you understand me?”

“Have ya been wathin’ that public channel?” Maude said.

“That squirrel looked right into me and saw everything about me and yet he was willin’ to spend a moment to give me some joy. I slowly raised my rifle to my shoulder and took aim. He was maybe 15 feet away. I watched him through my sights. I wrapped my trigger finger around the trigger. I smiled a bit. My trigger finger trembled. I relaxed my finger. I sat the rife down. That squirrel came up to me and sort of nudged me with his nose as if to say move over.”

“Well?” Maude said.

“Well, what?” Tom said.

“Didja move over?” Maude said.

“Of course,” Tom said. “It’s his territory. He roots around a bit and digs up an acorn. He brought it over to me and dropped it in my hand.”

“That’s a crazy story,” Maude said. “I don’t believe it.”

“Maude,” Tom said. “I don’t think I can ever kill another livin’ creature.”