Thursday, 26 November 2015

Cowboy and the Angel.


The day that Bingo died was the day I decided to put on my walking boots and leave town.

Bingo had been like a brother to me, hell scratch that, he had been closer than a brother – if that’s even possible. We used to suck in the air at the same time, it was that close – no funny stuff – just brotherly love through and through. And then he goes and dies on me and you know how people say ‘I felt as if my right arm had been amputated’? Well that was how it felt. Honest to God, I felt like I had lost a limb right there and then.

It was his mother that came to the door to break the news and break my heart (the only one I’ve got). I walked back down the path on account that she didn’t invite me in. So as I’m walking down the path, I’m thinking that a few seconds earlier I had almost skipped up the path as I knew nothing about what was waiting on me behind that door. 

Boom! That was what happened. There was a kind of boom in my head and I could see his mother’s lips moving but I wasn’t sure what the old lady was telling me. I thought I heard her tell me that he was red and I’m thinking to myself that sure is a strange thing to say about someone. Then I realized she’d said he was dead and my whole insides disappeared and the blood in my legs shouted ‘so long’ and I felt like I was going to hit the floor.  Next thing I know she’s closed the door on me. I reckon she thinks it was all my fault. If he hadn’t met me, Bingo would still be alive. 

That just ain’t true. Bingo did what he wanted, always did – just then I was going to say that he always would but he won’t , not any longer ‘cause Bingo is well and truly dead. 

I met Bingo when he was in that zone where he’d been lost for a time and was just crawling back to where he should have been. I had already been to that place and I told him so. I ‘d just sat down on the big chair in Tubby Brown’s Bar when this kid, probably about 17, sits on Tubby’s chair and says ‘beer’, just like that. Well Tubby told him that was his goddamn chair and that he should get the hell out of it, then he asked the kid how old he was and he spat out ‘21’ right away, like he’d been rehearsing it and all. 

“Sure, you are kid, sure you are.” And Tubby must’ve taken a liking to the kid because he served him beer without another word. 

Seems that Bingo was ready for the world long before it had been ready for him which explains why he kept ending up in trouble more times than his goddamn mother was ready to admit. Bingo had strayed from the righteous long before we had clapped eyes on each other. 

Just at that particular time I had been running a small business over in Saturday County and I was in need of someone who’d work cheap and fast. When Bingo was sober he was the fastest I’d ever seen. The fastest, no kidding. 

Bingo got real drunk that night and painted a clown’s face on Mayor Atholl’s statue. Now there are some who might say that the statue never looked better but his widow wasn’t one of them. She went to the newspapers, then she went to the TV stations, she even went to a meeting of the Hell’s Angels to ask if anyone knew anything about the ‘perb’traitor’ – I ‘m spelling it like that ‘cause that’s the way she said it and it made me smile. 

One early morning in July, a beer truck - minus its driver - ran into the statue and broke it for good. There are some folks who say that Bingo was the one that started the truck rollin’ down Hickory Street in the first place but nothing was ever proved. 

So Bingo came to work for me and he did a job (and then some) but he was like a trapped desert cat and could never settle. You’d find him lookin’ out to the horizon and wondering what was over that next hill. 

Then one day – the day after his 18th birthday – he got up and left. He placed a note in the pocket of my jacket that just said ‘Thanks’. 

The next few years got swallowed up and wasted on living. I got married, became a father and then got divorced and nothing to show for it except empty pockets – well not quite empty, I kept Bingo’s note in one of them. No idea why, I guess I thought he might come back one of these days. My wife , strike that, I meant to say when my ex-wife and kid moved out to the boon docks, it meant I  rarely saw them and so the morning that Bingo turned up was the start of a really good day.

In all the years in between, Bingo had grown and become a man. There had been women here and there but not so you’d notice - he said.  The woman that stops Bingo in his tracks is going to be a mighty fine specimen when she does, at least that’s what he boasted. 

That day when Bingo met Angel, it was a balmy and thundery one. The kids on the street had opened the hydrant and the water was shooting up in the air in an arc. Bingo and I had been smoking and keeping our feet cool by sitting on the edge of the sidewalk and letting the river of street-water run over them. We talked about this and that but nothing real serious you understand. 

I couldn’t see Angel at first, the sun was behind the face and I was a little blinded. Angel sat on the sidewalk and smiled at Bingo and a sort of peace flooded over Bingo’s face. I’ve never seen that happen before or since – with anyone’s face. 

They called him Angel, not on account of any good works that he had done - no, they called him that because he had the face of one of those paintings you could see in a dusty old room. The ones with saints painted in blues and reds and who always pointing to Heaven - in that weird way that they did.  

It's a strange thing I gotta say but the kindest person in the world, with the biggest heart, could be looked on as sort of bad guy just 'cause his face was worn down by life and rotten genes, and the most evilest heart you could ever meet, might hide behind the face of an angel and people would think they were real good-natured. We folks really are shallow when it comes to reading faces.  Now I ain't sayin' that Angel was mean or that he was a saint and all - I ain't sayin' that. When I'm tellin' you is, that Angel was worth watchin'.

With those kind of looks, Angel could have cut off one of your little fingers and sold it back to you for a buck (and wrapped in your undying gratitude). You're thinkin' that I was jealous of Angel 'cause he shuffled into town and into folks lives without a bye or leave? That he took over almost everything, including Bingo's time and that didn't sit too well with me?

Well you might be right, in a way, but it wasn't the whole story. Whatever magic dust that Angel sprayed over ever soul he met, it didn't seem to work with me and that left me out in the cold. Let me tell you folks that it ain't a nice place to be. It's like being in a dance hall and everyone is swallowing Pastor Jones' hooch and you ain't allowed to drink on account of somethin' or other. Lonely as Hell, folks I tell you, lonely as Hell. 

Sometimes I would look at Bingo as he was laughin' so hard that I thought he might burst open right there and then, and I'd look at Angel and he was just dancin' and messin' with those folks' hearts and souls and I felt sorry for them  - I kid you not, I felt real sorry. 

They'd all look at me and I'd laugh so hard and loud, so as to make them think that I was in his power too, but I could see when Angel slyly looked over at me, that he knew. Oh yeah, he knew all right. I was taking none of the crap that was fallin' out of his face hole - none. 

I remember one night, the night of a harvest moon if I recollect, we were all walking back from Tubby's. Angel and Bingo were helpin' each other walk along the sidewalk, when Bingo turned off to go home and that left just me and Angel. I did my usual joshin' and laughin' as if I had too much of old Tubby's beer - and that was when Angel stopped and looked me straight in the face. Real serious like. 

"You ain't foolin' me, you never did have a drink of beer," he said. 
Now there was two ways I could go with this. Either I could act as if I didn't know what he was up to, or I could just come clean and tell him what I thought. I gotta tell you, I made an enemy that night. Not the kind that turns their back on you, oh no, this was the kind of enemy who runs silent and deep. An enemy who draws you in even closer, so as not to let the natives see what is really happening. 

Angel was real cute when it came to things like that. He'd mosey up to you and put an arm around your neck, like you were a long lost pal. But although the hold was just a little too tight, it was subtle enough that no one else saw. You could feel just enough burn to let you know he was there.  You knew that you were on his radar and that you weren't going to escape unless he said so. 

That night Angel asked me why I was called 'Cowboy', and then told me that it was a real stupid name anyhow. I could have said that 'Angel' weren't too much better, but I let it lie, instead I just said that it was on account that I shot a man. Killed him, stone dead. 

"What he do that upset you so much, 'cow....boy'?" Asked Angel. 

"On account that he asked one too many questions," I said. Now I could see that he wasn't sure if I was telling the truth or not - and quite frankly I didn't really care what he thought. Although if he was getting around to thinking that I was a cold-blooded killer, then that might not be so bad. 

He walked away, that's all he did that night, walked away. Stopped, spat on the ground, waved his arm as if I wasn't worth the bother and staggered off home. I knew that me and him were finished - that I had just declared war on Angel and that he might come to get me. 

I just didn't figure that the war was gonna start the very next morning at sun-up.I kid you not on that fact - but let me tell you good folks that I was ready for him. Oh yeah. Real ready. 

bobby stevenson 2015

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