The pale winter sun weakly wormed it’s not so warming way through the dingy snow mused windows of the Hold-up Saloon. Music plays languidly in the background as if from a scratchy record where nobody wants to turn the Victrolla up to hear how bad it had become; as if any of the serious dangerous cowboys were paying much attention to the Victrolla that day anyway. As the snow continues to play “h” “e” double toothpicks with the radio reception from the station in Buffalo.
The sawdust curled tightly about the toes of the No Holster Cowboy, much like a wool carpet of other days. The dangerous looking much favored straw sombrero was pitched on the backside of the cowboy’s head to keep the lines of sight clear in case there were any desperados or other bad guys lurking in the or around the saloon. With right hand itchy, the fingers clinched and unclenched as if by their own free volition to grab the pistol and start blazing with a bad gang.
The cough started with a low rumble in the shallow chest, and worked up to become a distraction from keeping an eye on all of the hombres. There is no harder job in a saloon, then hombre watching, when you would rather be out on the range shooting cattle rustlers, or rounding up wild mustangs out on the range and away for the indoors. Anything that was outside; away from just floating from room to room.
The cowboy stumbles to the deep overstuffed chair and collapses as a deep coughing jag racks the small body and brings the worried saloon keeper rushing in from the kitchen area. Her name is really Sal but everyone in the saloon calls her ma. Occasionally in the evenings her bo stops in for the night after work and calls her “sweets”, but the day crowd, today, all call her “ma”. She rests a probing worried hand onto the cowboy’s forehead as the racking juicy cough slowly loses its momentum. The fever is lower today, maybe some soup would help, but the hot towel body-wrap won’t be necessary today like it was last week and the months before. After 4 months, she has become an expert judge at monitoring the ups and downs of a debilitating possible killer, and as a good saloon keeper, she has her tricks to make the cowboy comfortable if not happier.
Large lazy dinner sized flakes of frozen water slowly, almost silently but for the white noise of static in the air drift down to blanket the range around the saloon window. The birds have all flown south and therefore there is no other sound to disturb the drooped head with the askew straw hat and the small chest with the little six-shooter rests hung on a lanyard string about the tiny neck as air wheezes struggling to move in and out and keep life in the little body that doesn’t grow but shrinks day after day consumed by an evil hombre from inside as the cowboy stands a quiet watch checks the inside of her eyelids for pinholes.
The range is softly silent as the comforter of frozen down wraps the world in a white of stillness, the hesitation of a hummingbird at the throat of two flowers. The usual noise of other cowboys, Indians, police, bad guys, or just other children is schooled away until night fall as the school year continues without the No Holster Cowboy. The school marm stops by each week bringing work that will help keep the cowboy abreast of the teachings, if only the energy was left to attend to the reading and paperwork. But the watching over the saloon and securing the perimeter is about all the energy the cowboy can muster in the small shrinking body.
Sal, the gal known as “ma” silently walks through the bar with a deft hand moving a stack of magazines, adjusting a slightly askew doily, a pillow repositioned here a rug edge kicked flat there, the room is restored to order as the cowboy sleeps in the large chair. The ever present back of the hand finds the little forehead. The butterfly floating lands for a telling moment then is once again adjusting and dusting and moving the world, satisfied that the soup has done its job once again. The soft whistle of the incoming noon train two hours late signals the saloon keeper that the tea water is ready for her afternoon respite from the duties of a nurse.
As she walks past the window, she languidly is aware of the new inch of snow in the yard. In the next window is the tiniest swelling of the naked branch tip. And in the little iron cased leaded glass ornamental window with the big purple irises under attack by dragonflies and lady bugs, through the wavy glass that never shows the world in whole truth, she sees a tiny spot of light blue in the snow. She stops to stare, the blue is there. It’s not a piece of the window. She backs up a bit to the window before and looks. A small tender smile chases a couple of worried wrinkles away from her eyes.
The quiet is being attacked and she removes the kettle and pours the hot water into the bone china tea pot and replaces the tiny lid. As she sets down the kettle, her off hand turns off the flame and the only sound is the slow solemn ticking of the grandfather clock in the entry hall. She winds her hands in the towel at her apron strings as she sits down at the chrome edged light green Formica kitchen table.
“The crocuses are starting” she smiles “soon the daffodils and then the warming sun”. The warmth and sunshine will be good for the little cowboy. Spring is a bearer of good.