Rodeo Days

by James Robison



            She rolls up from the bed sheets for the radio dial, twisting off a cracker song about hard luck in a mobile home, tracking and tuning along a fine path of hisses and whoops while and Kyra goes Stop it, Joe and settles on Beethoveny music and we go to sleep.

     “Maybe today,” I say next morning while it's still pale blue because the sun isn't much, “we could do something.”

      Her smile's a white chip in the dim and she's like, “Do?”

      With nothing to do here in the wild west great plains we go to Becky's ranch, to the fish-smelling pond with the beige pigs felled around like tipped over barrels to meet Tico. In the house is a picture of god and we're sitting under that and looking at the metal desk with its wooden top on which is a coffee cup full of yellow pencils and passing the bottle.     

      I go, “That guy that raped everybody, remember?”

      “Boys or girls?” says Tico and I'm like, “Does that matter? Both! And babies and children and like he sawed off one's head.”

      Kyra says, “Don't get all self righteous at him, Tico didn't do it.”   

      “He destroyed a patrol car with only his hands and feet, seven thousand dollars damage they said and he's surely the one who took Elizabeth Carrie Lindquist plus Sherry Black Feather and they know he killed at least that Colorado girl. O.K.?”

      Kyra sees a radio and she has to turn it on and screw with its tuner. She gets the university station for a college and a blues artist named Slim Harpo is playing now and the sound is wires and she goes, “Pass the bottle. Don't let Tico get any, warning.”

    “Here,” I go.

    “What about the baby raper is my question,” says Tico.

    “Well,” I say, “they arrest him and try and convict him and then they're transporting him to this super-max thing, this prison in New Mexico? Or whatever but for some reason they take him to Nashville first and he escapes! From the prison van.” 

      “Who were the dumb fuckers who managed that?” Tico goes and I go, “I know.”

      “They're such totally dumb fuckers,” Kyra goes. “Pass the bottle again.”

      I do. I swig first and the bourbon is cedar varnish. “So he escapes and he's loose,” I say. “Somebody said they saw him in New Belfast is my point.”

      Did you ever get drunk abruptly with no build up or foreshadowing? I have to suddenly sit in the big green chair with the Navajo blanket. The windows are silver with morning. Raging hell-winds batter our tiny town with its two lucid rivers. It's raw, this life. Maniacal winds tear at the beet fields and corn fields and rivers. So monstrous is the wind up here near the border that we drink ourselves crazy or some build meth labs or we even ride in rodeos in cowshit smelling arenas.

      “Let's see if we can hunt down this baby raper,” I say.

      “But he's not even here, I thought. I thought they said he was in Texas or someplace,” Becky says.

      This is her room. This is her ranch. Sweet of face, with beautiful eyes, she has pillowy arms and fat legs in Addidas warm ups. She is Kyra's half-sister by Walter Koerner of Saddlehorn, Wyoming. Where Becky is fifty with salty lines in her hair, Kyra is twenty-four. Walter had a long career with women and in the rodeo ring as cowboy then clown. He's deceased.       

       I say, “What else have we got to do? Besides he might be here. Might.”

       Becky's granddaughter, Courtney, has a life-sized cut-out Frankenstein Monster on the storm door for Halloween. I zip up the leather jacket. The Copper Beeches and Aspens spangle goldenly against the steel-blue sky.

          “Oh look at what you did. You can call it what you want to,              I call it messin' with the kid,” sings Junior Wells on the radio.  

        Puck puck puck. About a billion chickens are raving. Brown cows are bawling Bwaam. Becky's dog Tulip is flowing like water in a dark gallop, chasing something fast. Kyra's windy hair is like tree shadows whipping around inflating and falling. Tico, in his boots with their long tongues lolling, has just bristles for hair. Becky's husband, Chicken Bob, has his Arctic Cat Panther 550 snowmobile black and glaring lime and up on a trailer behind a 2007 Ford Lariat LE Edition Super Duty Diesel Pickup.

       You can still hear the radio blues, now a woman singing, “Oh God above, bring back my love.” We go down to the grove where there are cherry trees and black willows and big crows and our motorcycles.

       “Let's ride around and hunt for this motherfucker.”

       “We find might fee—might hime heem.”

       “I'd like to find him just once, man, let's go, man—“

       We're saying such things, pulling on our gloves and zipping up and laying on our helmets.

        Mount the saddles, with Tico and I on classic British Speed Twins-he's got a Royal Enfeld and I have a 650 Bonnie from 1967, which I got at Hankshaw's Classic Motorcycles, in Liverpool, U.K., when I was over there and Kyra's in leather chaps on a Ariel Red Hunter 350cc which she located in Florida, using Hankshaw's address listings and we went down to Key West to buy it and on the way, that trip, I swam in a lagoon with a dolphin named Shiloh and two other boring dolphins for 99 dollars in a snorkel mask and fins.

       As for the bikes, we are poor but up here we will work and save and spend on something timeless and inspirational like Arctic Cats or motorcycles. I know a guy with a Bigfoot 4X4 monster truck and no place to sleep for example.        

      We're zipping up our sleeves and I'm reminded of the SCUBA class where I learned everything in the YMCA deep end pool and then after six weeks flew down to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico for the tests to take to become a certified diver who can rent air tanks, and I had to go down so deep for one test that you couldn't see anything. The sun was blinded out. It was scary and felt like death by suffocation, almost. And I still went down farther, until a mighty fist squeezed my chest and guts and temples, squeezing until I thought I might implode in the deep winter of dark.

       I was reaching around for a line that had my depth/pressure gauge, a nylon tube that waved tentacle-like attached to my vest. I pulled it down and thumbed the light button but I couldn't see from my facemask to the gauge, all I saw is a lit up flecky-brownish mess in the blackness and a smeared turquoise square, too smeared to see what was necessary just like the turquoise pool in the desert.

       This was intensity. My teeth ached in my jaws as if I had all cavities.

       I think the baby raper feels now this intensity. I think he is in a dark pressured place, wondering if he must go deeper yet. How far down? You cannot see where you are or what is upwards and there can be anything right behind you. You are running out of air and deep and I hope the escapee is loco with this intensity.

        We're shooting through the world. A yellow Case excavator with shovel claw poised sits beside a crater it's gouged in the black dirt. I'm boringly drunk. A British Speed Twin will chatter and buck on a corner with any ample acceleration so that you must put out your boot like a rudder to steady you on the tip while holding the shaking bars. You are putting down the boot with the steel bottom.

      The wind cuts through everything. I've got leathers and Kyra does and Tico has trashman's heavyweight Carhartt's, the big 100% canvas duck overalls and windproof mittens. Nevermore, summer.

     We're pacing one of the rivers here, tea-colored with a pintail duck on it and geese in a > up against the clouds and rocks and tumbleweed, everything looking obdurate.

      Down and around the hump to Mandano and the razor wire marking the rez, through Tyree and Cochise into New Belfast by the Great Northern tracks, the roundhouse, the foxtails, the rutted roads involving sticky oil-partly dirt.

      Yesterday but one, I think, at the Project Head Start School across from the apartments where Kyra lives with me but we aren't intimate anymore and she is looking for another boyfriend---

     even though she sleeps in our bed still, her heat and how like silk is

    her hair is a problem, a challenge plus with her supple sleeping thigh

    aligned with mine, by accident—

never mind, I saw kids about a yard high each in candy-colored parkas.  

      The grass was blond from autumn.

      The tree branches were orange leaves and black twisty lines with a royal blue sky the other day. Tattered tan leaves speckled the soccer field and blacktop. The beautiful children of the wild plains included here, in the early morning of their lives, Sioux and Apache, Thai and Irish and Russian and all babies really. There stood a monster man looking at them in a hunter's camouflage coat and blaze red hunter's hat and he froze my blood. But he was just a dad of one of them.

      I went, “Hey, man, can I help you?”

      And he was like, “I'm just the dad of one of those kids, but thanks for being wary, man.”

      And he goes, “See the one with Broncos hat? Richard? Hey, Richie!”

      And one of the kids swings around with his upper lip shiny with snot and red rough parts on his face which kids get for no reason I know in cold weather.

       And the hunter guy goes, “Which one is yours?”

       And I'm like, “Well, none of them. I just live over there basically and I was out here, you know?”

       “Doing what?”

       “I don't know.”

       And he goes, “So. You don't know what you're doing?”

       And I go, “Actually I don't.” But we laughed it off and we were glad somebody was looking out for these kids this morning at least.

       We three on motorcycles riding through Outpost, beside houses with shrubs and pumpkins to the Junior Community College of brick buildings, through the piney campus, past the Geology building and Stable Isotope Lab, where there is a brontosaurus, metal, life-sized, out front. Bordering the campus are railroad tracks with lines of cars saying Burlington Northern.

       The disadvantage of lightning speed today on the bikes though, is after eighty miles here we are in New Belfast and even if the baby-raper were here and taunting me and mooning me I'm too cold to do anything. These arms are fragile as glass and there is no hot blood left in me and I got the permanent jawface and am a shell that will shatter in pain.

       Throw the left leg off the bike. Make it into the brakeman's shed, which is a shingle-roofed tiny house, in which the union keeps a stone- finish cast iron wood stove with a coffee percolator on top with lava hot coffee smelling and Tico's brother, Juan “Tiger” Munoz, who has a 5,000 BTU Ruffneck unit heater also and four deep cushioned chairs, all broken, to fall into, and he's deep in one now.

        Tiger's asleep with the newspaper open to a page all orange and black for Halloween. There are sales on sacks of Snickers bars and Three Musketeers and Mars Bars and down the page cotton socks and garden spades and bubble gum and fish scale knives and deer skinning knives and mad bomber hats and packages of panties and cartons of Pepsi. All the products are pictured in orange or black half-tones.

       “Man, I could use some rum to warm fu-fucking up or teck-teck-tequila,” says Tico. He being shaken by unmerciful cold. He's saying yuh-yuh-yuh and then his teeth are teletyping tick tick tick together like in an old movie.

      “Tico, if you ever touch tequila again.”

       “I know, Kyra, it makes me nuts.”

       “It makes you out of control! You are completely out of control! You just go so totally berserk. You're a danger.”

       “I know, Kyra, it makes me do stuff.”

       I ask, “Rum too?”

       Kyra's like, “Not as bad but not good.”

       “Beer,” Tico goes and belches passionately. His brother is asleep like a dog in the warmth of the heaters. Bundled all around his brown face are mufflers. Tomorrow we might go back to Chicken Bob's and Becky's ranch again. We might go after the baby raper some more.

      Look. A sphinx moth still alive comes out of that bundle of red dresses where girlfriends of the Munoz boys left their clothes to go to Goodwill. Nothing to do, is our situation. The flatness and great wind. I learn a new word a day. Three weeks, maybe before the snow comes in and everything is:

        WIPE OUT.

        SHUT DOWN.

        We might then go to Orange, Texas, or someplace warm, where Kyra rides in rodeos with her Kevlar vest, purple hat.