I borrowed my brother’s clothes for cowboy night at the Red Willow Tavern. He had a nice red and white checkered shirt with triangle-shaped flaps and pearl clips and buttons. He gave me worn Lee jeans he claimed were purchased in 1984 in Long Mott, Texas. They were 33 by 33 and I had just eaten two helpings of cabbage stew so the fit was tight in all the wrong places. He also offered navy blue chaps but I turned them down. I asked him why he had chaps and he had no good reason.
He used to watch a TV-recorded version of Shane with my father. They let me put the tape in the VCR but told me to leave, claimed I always asked too many questions during dialogue that mattered most. I peeked over the Dutch door in the kitchen but had to stand on my toes. I missed so much, because I couldn’t stand very long at a stretch that way and I had to save my strength for the ending. I’m sure that Shane survived. He dressed his wounds while leaning against a tombstone and then rode off. He didn’t come back because his job was done there. I don’t care what my brother said.
Halfway down Custard Street I realized I only had a dollar in my pocket. I couldn’t be beholden any further to my brother, and my parents had already extended their home to me beyond the age of 20, so I was screwed. I kept on walking, the jeans pinching me with each long stride.
A Chicano girl with too many teeth worked at the door. She wasn’t nearly 16, let alone 21, so I wondered with what authority she checked my driver’s license. She handed me a blurry flyer that listed theme events for the night: lassoing contest, line dance class and competition, bottle shooting in the back, sand on the dance floor.
Sand already crunched beneath my boots but I was only an inch inside. These boots were mine. I bought them at Jenkins Trade-Ins. I traded an Atari system with a copy of Badlands and I still had to pay ninety bucks. They were dark brown roper boots, and I had to use hooks to get them on because the arches were like granite. It took me at least fifteen minutes for each boot, and my brother watched the whole thing, sipping loudly from his mug of hot chocolate and playing with his junk. He looked me over and said no cowboy would be caught dead in a get-up like that. Not even one in flicks. He said I was too old for dress-up and asked where I hid the Atari.
It was nearly midnight and the tavern was full. Colb, a kid I knew from high school, wrapped his fat arm around my neck and nearly pinched a nerve. “The beer’s almost gone.” He ordered me a Coors. That was one free beer, so I accepted. Hopefully he was drunk enough to offer another.
“What’s up with the sand?”
“They fucked up. There was a pyramid of sand on the dance floor and it looked stupid so now it’s spread throughout the bar. People are slipping with their metal tips.”
I looked down at my boots. All leather. I wasn’t going anywhere.
“I just came back from shooting outside,” Colb continued. “One chick hit every bottle.”
“What did you hit?”
Some ass was talking with the P.A. system too close to his mouth. It was the line dance instructor. He thanked everybody for coming out, for shaking their stuff and learning new steps, and he was now going to hand over the dance floor to jukebox requests.
Colb bought me another Coors before drifting to the floor. I was the only sober person in the bar and, most likely, the only one not driving home. I opened my wallet back up and looked at the lone dollar bill. It was crisp and comfortable, but it wasn’t nearly enough to get me wheeled.
I leaned my back against the bar and this bearded guy with hair even spiking from his eyelids tossed a twenty on the counter. He walked away, an enormous woman in his arms, and I peeked at the bartender. He was arm-wrestling somebody at the other end of the bar. I swiped the twenty and called him down.
This is what I remember between midnight and two in the morning: an errant bottle-shot crashed through a bar window and impaled the statue of Freckles Brown; a sheriff’s deputy fined the owner for the shooting contest and called off the lassoing contest and said the sand was probably in violation of the health code; Colb slipped in the corner and busted his ear on a stool; and some asshole played Tex Ritter for two straight hours. That had to stop. So I nudged him aside and popped quarters in for “Rock and Roll Fantasy.” The dance floor was nearly empty except for two redhead sisters dancing together but I turned and bucked on the sand like I was on stage. The guy who was in love with Tex Ritter tapped my shoulder and started talking.
“Shut up. I’m trying to listen to Paul Rodgers.”
The guy was bigger than I thought. Not muscular big, just big in terms of space. I cooled down a bit and moved my dance closer to the sisters.
“Give me one song, man, and then I’m gone.” I said.
He pulled the plug on the jukebox and smacked the cord on the ground. He called me a tight-jeaned queer. When he bent over to pick the cord back up I kicked him in the ass. I meant it to be playful, to get a laugh from the girls, but I was still getting used to the size of the boots and I put too much hip behind the kick. The big guy rammed into the jukebox and crumpled to the ground. When I rolled him over his face looked like a smashed crabapple.
He tried to grab my legs when I ran away but I broke free and busted out of the bar. In the parking lot a kid was dropping bottle glass shards into the dumpster and a few couples were necking on the benches. I was hobbling like an idiot in the boots and tried to take them off but that wasn’t happening without a boot jack. I was about to puke from the effort and turned to see the big guy stumble out of the doors and shake the kid down. The kid pointed my way.
After I ducked down an alley, crossed a backyard, and slipped into a shed, snow began to fall. An inch coated the ground before I opened the shed doors. I had no idea where I was and I hadn’t looked back to see if the big guy had followed me. He wasn’t in sight so I walked to the edge of the lawn and pissed on the shrubs. It was long and I watched flakes tumble from the sky. At the moment I zipped back up somebody heavy tackled me into the ground. Snow stuffed into my throat. I squirmed, threw short punches, but my arms weren’t free enough to land any. The big guy was holding me down by the neck, and his grip wasn’t tight enough to choke but enough to force me still. I thought about screaming but knew that would bring more trouble, so I decided to plead. I said I was sorry for busting on Tex. He tightened the grip after that and told me to look at his face. It wasn’t as bad as I thought: only his bottom lip was busted. I said I was sorry again and he said that wasn’t enough. He let go of my neck and stood. He palmed snow, pulled up the bottom of my jeans, and worked the snow into my boots. He slipped them off and set them in the snow. Then he took off my socks and tossed them. One landed on a branch. He unzipped his pants and I backpedaled but he said no, I ain’t queer like you, tight-crotch. He pissed in the boots, pinched a night’s worth of beer into them, and then told me to stand. I looked at the house and wondered why nobody was helping me. All the windows were dark but the porch light was on. I couldn’t go out like this. I hadn’t even made a dent in the night.
I stood and stepped into the boots and the piss was warm as hell. He thumped one good punch into my stomach and I keeled over. I waited for the next one. I swore I was ready for it. Ready to take it and keep on going and maybe, if I could catch a moment, get him back. I’d seen this done before. After a minute I looked up and the saw the big guy sprint into the woods. He leapt over a fallen trunk and was gone in the dark. Red and blue lights warmed my face and I spread in the snow. I didn’t try to take off my boots. Those were mine. Whatever else I’d experience that night would be handled in those boots.