The Cowboy

Cowboy

Five hundred head lowing in the yard, seventeen days driving, bone weary, in need of a bath and a comfortable bed and where do I end up? A bar outside of Nashville, dust still in the seat of my pants and a Stetson hiding the smell of the range but not by much.

My mind’s been on Sammi Jo, wondering if she’ll still be there or if she’s finally had enough and decided to go. Can’t blame her if she did. I’m gone more than she deserves and tired when I’m not. A woman like that ought to have her man twenty-four-seven, treating her like a queen, leaving nothing for her to want. Seems like with most things, I got that backwards, too.

“Just got the word,” Randy says, mounting his bar stool as if it’s a steed. He takes a pull from the bottle of brew and wipes it clean with the back of his hand. “Three hundred are ready to drive as soon as we get there.”

“When we leaving?” I wave for the bartender. A couple boilermakers might make the news more palatable.

“Before sunrise.”

Which means I’m not going home. The only reprieve I can cling to is knowing that she’s not expecting me. I haven’t called or sent word we’d be driving in tonight because in my job, you never really know until you get there.

He finishes his suds and tips his hat and the barkeep, looks to me and says, “I ain’t waiting for you now or tomorrow.”

I nod, understood. “Clemson coming along?”

“A-yup.”

Then I’ll be good to go. Clemson, the cook, brews the strongest lawn mowin’ coffee there is. Lawn mowin’ ‘cause you need one to trim the hair that his mud grows on your chest.

Upon his departure, I spot a pretty, shiny, refurbished jukebox and succumb to the melancholy. With another wave the bartender exchanges a dollar for some quarters and I shuffle off to take a gander.

Sign reads five for a quarter. I ain’t got time to hear ‘em all. Some old ones, some new ones, cowboy songs one and all. You’d think out on the trail I’d have my fill of the twang and howl. Of lads whose girls leave ‘em, dogs faithful up and die, the lonely life of a working cowboy, but I don’t. I can’t because, God love her, Sammi Jo sings ‘em all prettier than a nightingale outside the king’s palace. She does a Patsy Cline rendition that’ll make you think the lady got reincarnated and sorry to say, but Loretta’s got nothing over my gal. You like the rhinestone glitz of Dolly and I say why not have the perfected diamond belonging to Sammi Jo?

Tanner Longfellow walks in a drunken lean out from the back room, his zipper headed for his knees and a darkening stain that says he’s as drunk as he stinks. I don’t bother telling him about the job, it’s pointless and a waste of breath. When Randy says he ain’t waiting, he means it thru and thru. Man’s got nothing but a frost covered stone for a heart and a history of leaving wranglers wherever they fall.

If he sees me, he’s not recognizing me behind those beer soaked eyeballs. I keep my peace, looking again at the jukebox, the quarter burning the pads of my calloused fingers.

Elvis wins the first pick. Sammi Jo won’t sing the king’s tunes but boy can that gal gyrate like the man. I picture her out on the dance floor, hips spinning an imaginary hula hoop, head thrown back, mouth wide open with a laugh and a hoot. Smiling like a cattle dog loping through the field, I punch up some Patsy, my man Willie, and what the hell, one by ONJ. By now my heart is dragging on my spurs. One to go, I push any old button and leave it at that, heading back to finish what I started then follow Tanner’s lead and depart for my room.

Time gets away from me and now I’m really banking on Clemson’s mud. Although I secretly think it might be nice to miss the ride out and head east in hopes Sammi Jo is still waiting, I need the money and doubt there’s much work to be had for an old cowhand.

Olivia’s final strains of my Sammi Jo’s namesake trail through the bar and last call is ordered up. That’s my cue. If I stay, I won’t go. The floor slopes but the bar steadies me. When I reach the end and I the open space between me and the door, I’m caught looking for the person I hear weeping. The next song begins and throws me completely off the cliff. That’s her song, our song, and I can’t get over the coincidence. I swear I didn’t pick it. I randomly punched a couple of buttons. B and then seventeen, I remember that because B is the first letter of my steed’s name, Barkly; and seventeen is how old we were when Sammi Jo and I first met. I guess that’s not exactly random, but the song choice, I swear, is.

As unfocused as a one-eyed sailor with a lazy eye, the weeps turn to wails and the shoulders fencing it in don’t let me get a good enough look.

I ought to go. I’m one drive away from putting a down on the ring she wants. But I ain’t like Randy. I don’t have a hard, cold heart and need to help this poor soul cuz those around ain’t doing a damn thing.

Teetering like a see-saw at the park with two zealous sprouts at either end, I pick my way into the corner where the shoulders turn and twist, the gate opening to reveal a sight that instantly brings me to sobriety.

She turns to me; her lashes sparkling with the dewy tears, her cheeks flush as ripe apples. On the bar there’s her favorite Old Kentucky whiskey, the stuff she’ll only drink when her spirits are low. My beautiful girl, my true love, my Sammi Jo.

In my seven years as a cowpoke, I ain’t ever slept past the sun’s rise. Come hell or high water, I’d never miss a job even if the pay is pittance. I don’t suppose I can say that now, but it doesn’t really matter. She thought we were over, thought we were through. She didn’t come out and say it, but if I leave, she’d know it’s true.

I summoned the courage thanks to my inebriated state, told her that’s hogwash, I don’t think I could live another day without her.

She never got that ring and I wrangle bed sheets and bathroom cleaner these days. But it’s all worth it because me and Sammi Jo have each other.

So if you’re visiting Nashville, ever in want of hearing the most beautiful voice in the world, come on out to the bed and breakfast on True Love Road. The sign reads B-17, we’ll be happy to have you.

© 2013 by Kathie Leung, All Rights Reserved

Author’s note: This story was inspired by the song running through my head for some inexplicable reason, Olivia Newton-John’s Please, Mister, Please 1979 hit song. Interestingly, I pretty much remembered the song word-for-word all these years later. Sadly, I don’t have Sammi Jo’s voice, so be thankful I didn’t upload the audio.

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