SUNDAY MORNING AROUND lunchtime, Janie and I headed south out of Santa Fe in José’s brand-new ‘56 Desoto. The rodeo had pretty much wrapped up by noon—not much to see after that, except everybody leaving town, so we skipped lunch and hit the road. Fifteen minutes later, I was hungry, but Janie didn’t want to stop, so I pulled my new cowboy hat down over my face and laid back in the front seat with the idea of taking a little nap.
As soon as I’d closed my eyes, I heard Janie, yelling:
“Look, there he is, again!”
I came up quick to see what was going on. I said, “Who?”
Janie, at the wheel, was shouting: “It’s that same kid we passed on the way up—the weird, skinny kid with hair like a girl’s that sticks out in every direction!”
I squinted in the side view mirror at what looked like a stick in the distance, getting smaller and smaller.
Janie said, “I’m stopping!”
She hit the brake and the back end of the De Soto fishtailed as it left the highway and we came to a stop on the gravel shoulder.
I said, “Are you talking about that stupid guy who didn’t even have his thumb out?”
I said, “He’s too far back now. You didn’t stop soon enough. It’ll take him twenty minutes to get here.”
“No, it won’t,” she said, checking the rear view.
“Why do you want to pick him up?”
“He looks helpless and needy.”
A slap at me.
I said, “Aren’t I helpless and needy enough for you?”
“I have this thing for young boys.”
Another slap at me. Janie loves to tell the story of how, last year, when I was just a kid, she took me off the streets and nursed me back to life. It’s true—when I was fourteen, my mom was living in St. Louis with some guy, and my dad, who fought the Nazis in the war, was drinking himself stupid every night. I didn’t see any reason to stick around there anymore. So I took off on my own. I had my mind made up to go out West and find Roy Rogers. All my life, from when I was little, I’d wanted to be a cowboy, and ride around on horses, with cattle, and make campfires at night and sleep outside. That was the kind of work I wanted to get into.
I found out right away that there’s a lot people in this world who’ll try to do you in, for no reason at all. I had to learn how to defend myself. About this same time, I took up the habit of drinking, which made a lot of things easier to take. I got all the way to Albuquerque before I guttered out. That’s where Janie, who wasn’t much older than me, took charge of my stupid ass, and she’s not letting me forget it. She keeps reminding me that, in spite of my smart-alecky attitude, I’m only fifteen years old.
I kept watching the mirror—the guy was taking his time. Even after most people would’ve broken into a trot, he kept to his slow shuffle.
Janie said, “Here he comes—get in the back seat so he can sit in the front.”
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by DB Cox
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