Authors: Joseph Monninger
“Did she say ‘rodeo’?” I asked Delores as I came up to join her by Speed’s head.
“She did indeed,” Delores said, smiling at me. “Find a rodeo, you find a cowboy.”
“That’s all we need.”
“When in Blue Earth,” she said, “flirt with cowboys. I say we check it out.”
“Rodeos are horrible to horses,” I said. “And you know it.”
“Not completely. Nothing is quite as black-and-white as you like to make it, Hattie.”
“They use gelding straps to make the horses buck. Bulls, too.”
“I’m not stupid,” she said. “I know that.”
“Then don’t support rodeos.”
“I’ve never been to a rodeo. How do I know what I think about them until I’ve visited one?”
“You know you don’t like raw potato sandwiches and you’ve never had one of those.”
“What in the world is a raw potato sandwich?”
“It’s a metaphor, you cheese bag.”
“Hattie, what are you getting all huffy for? I just want to see a rodeo. You can’t stay out here all night and hold Speed’s hand.”
“He doesn’t have hands,” I said, feeling feisty for no reason.
“Still,” she said.
We left it at that for the time being. We finished with Speed and then drove back around the motel until we spotted room 6 along the ground level. We parked in front of it. I noticed as we climbed out that we weren’t the only horse trailer in the parking lot. I counted six horse trailers and one large livestock trailer that said
BOB’S BIG BAD BOYS
across the side. Underneath the big sign a smaller script said
BUCKING BRAHMA BULLS
As soon as we swung open the door to the room, Delores ran in and fell onto the far bed.
“Mine!” she said.
“You can have it. I don’t care.”
“Does it feel good to be inside or what?”
“It feels good,” I admitted, “but don’t get too accustomed to it. We’ve got a ways to go.”
“We can make it in a day or two, you said,” Delores said, fluffing the pillows against the headboard. “Stop worrying. Our money situation is still good, isn’t it?”
“Once we leave Speed somewhere, we still have to make it home. Or whatever.”
“Maybe,” Delores said, “but meanwhile we have a town full of cowboys.”
She jumped up, grabbed the remote control, and shot the TV on.
“You take first shower,” she said to me. “You smell like a gopher.”
“Who’s lying in her bed smelling like a horse?”
Delores smooshed her shoulders around. She raised her top lip in a silly, mocking grin. She made a whinnying sound.
“I like horses,” she said, her attention on the television. “Oh, look, Oprah!”
I went out to the truck and grabbed my backpack. I fished out my toiletry bag and went back into the room and headed for the bathroom. It shocked me a little to see what I looked like. My hair stuck out in ten directions and my
eyes looked tired and punk. The bruises on my face had simmered down, but they still made me wince when I touched them. I stripped off my sweater, then my shirt, then my bra. I turned the water on in the shower to let it run hot. I piled my jeans on the other dirty clothes, stepped out of my underwear, then climbed into the shower. The water came too hot for a second, so I turned it down, but finally it hit me exactly right. It felt better than just about anything I could remember. I turned and let it run over me for a long time. After five or ten minutes, I shampooed my hair with Suave raspberry and conditioned it afterward. I grabbed my nail clippers out of my toiletry bag and spent a few minutes giving myself a pedicure. Then I did my fingernails. By the time I finished the water had turned lukewarm.
I tucked a towel around me and started to go out, but stopped when I heard voices.
I leaned my head out and saw Delores talking to someone at the front door.
“Delores?” I called.
She looked over her shoulder, raised her eyebrows to tell me to give her a second, then turned around again.
“Okay,” she said. “Thank you. See you in a little while.… Right. Okay.”
She closed the door.
“Cowboys,” she whispered. “Cute freaking cowboys.”
“Who?” I asked, stepping out of the bathroom.
I felt annoyed and wasn’t sure why.
“Two guys,” she said, “and they’re about our age. They saw us come in and they saw our license plates, and they have tickets to the rodeo tonight.”
She pronounced “rodeo” as ro-de-Ohhh.
“Geez,” I said, “you work fast. You are such a little slut.”
“I didn’t do anything!” she said, nearly squealing. “They just showed up. I thought it was the manager coming to see us about Speed.”
“So what did you say?”
“I said we’d love to go.”
She smiled at me. Then she started dancing. It was a dance I’d seen her do a thousand times. It was ridiculous, but I couldn’t help laughing. She ran over and grabbed my hands and made me dance too. She went spastic eventually, the way she always does, and she jumped from bed to bed like a maniac, nearly knocking herself out on the ceiling once. She chanted, “Cowboy nookie. We’re going to get some cowboy nookie.”
“What time?” I managed to ask when she’d calmed down.
She bounced down onto the bed and fell against the pillows.
“I want to do some laundry.”
“We don’t have anything to wear. Maybe we should go as SPAM twins, wear our new T-shirts. SPAM dates.”
“Sure, Delores, we need to dress up for two cowboys in Blue Earth.”
“They’re cute, I’m telling you.”
“What are their names?” I asked, stepping into a clean pair of underwear I grabbed from my bag.
“Drew was one of them, but I don’t remember which one. And I didn’t catch the other name.”
“This could be a bad idea.”
“We’re not nuns.”
“It just complicates things. Boys always do.”
“I could use a little complicating,” she said, and wiggled her eyebrows.
“I mean it, Delores. We’re a long way from home, and we have Speed to think about.”
I didn’t like how I sounded even as I said my piece, but I couldn’t help it. I saw Delores’s face cloud.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Hattie, quit being such an old woman. We’re not going to marry them. We’re just going to a rodeo with them. We’re women going west.”
“I’m doing some laundry,” I said, to get off the topic. “If you want to throw anything in, you better get hopping.”
“Okay, okay, Ms. Responsibility,” she said.
She stood and walked into the bathroom. A few seconds later she came out in a towel with her arms full of dirty clothes.
“Do you think they take their hats off when they kiss you?” she asked as she handed me the laundry. “They must, because otherwise it would poke you right in the forehead.”
HEY ARE TOTALLY HOT
ELORES SAID INTO HER CELL
phone, her eyes on the mirror in front of her.
She laughed. She swung the phone up so it looked like a rabbit ear next to her head, and interpreted Paulette’s conversation. She had on her Russian SPAM T-shirt, the one with the army marching around and around.
“Paulette says we should marry these guys and become ranch wives and live like prairie women. She says she is totally jealous. She says she has cowboy fantasies all the time. She says she might faint if she kissed a real cowboy at a rodeo.”
She swung the phone down again.
“Hattie is being a jerk-face,” she told Paulette. “She’s turning all Mother Superior on me. All she wants to do is watch some stupid home makeover program. It’s so lame.”
Phone back up.
“Paulette says you are a foolish, foolish girl. She says carpe cowboy.”
“They’re here,” Delores whispered. She ran in place for three steps.
Into the phone: “Okay, I’ll call. I will, I promise.… Yes. Okay. Not late.… I don’t know. Who knows? Okay, bye.”
Someone knocked again.
“Get the door,” Delores said to me.
“You get it.”
“Are you going to be like this? You really are?”
“Answer the door.”
She looked at herself one last time in the mirror, straightened something in her hair, then pulled open the door partway.
“Howdy,” she said, and quickly glanced back at me, cross-eyed.
I heard guys’ voices.
“Do we need a coat?” Delores asked. “Is it outside or inside? This is my friend Hattie.”
Delores pushed open the door.
Both guys touched the tips of their cowboy hats at the same time. They were as handsome as anything.
“This is Drew, right?” Delores said, pointing to the taller one. “And this is …?”
“I’m Drew,” the shorter one said. “And this is Punch. That’s what we call him. Well, what everyone calls him. His real name is David.”
I stood and went forward and shook their hands.
My eyes met Punch’s.
He had gray eyes and a tan cowboy hat. His hair looked brown, a little blond, and his sideburns came down to the bottom of his ears. A faded scar ran over his right eye, and his nose had broken sometime in the past and hadn’t healed straight. When his hand covered mine, it was large and strong, and he didn’t squeeze my hand so much as cup it and then let it go as he might free a bird. I felt my stomach roll and twist, and I couldn’t move my eyes away from his. Drew and Delores saw it, too. It felt like anyone in the world could have seen it.
“How did you all get tickets?” Delores asked, grabbing her jacket. “Are you in the rodeo business?”
“We’re with Bob’s Brahmas,” Drew said. “But the bull riding isn’t for another day, so we’re just spectators tonight.”
“Do you ride the bulls?” I asked.
“No one rides a bull,” Drew said, and smiled. “People just try to stay alive on a bull. But he rides a little.”
He pointed to Punch.
“And what’s the name Punch all about?” I asked.
“That’s how he broke his nose,” Drew said. “Tell them, Punch.”
“Maybe later,” Punch said, and his voice had a nice dusty sound to it. “We should go if we want to see the roping.”
I grabbed my barn jacket. Delores and I followed the guys out to an enormous pickup truck with double doors. Drew drove. I climbed into the back. Punch climbed in after me.
HE BACK OF
DECIDED, LOOKED LIKE A
clothes iron—pointed down by his neck and widening up into his skull. He talked more than Punch, and I realized, listening to him, that he had been the impetus behind the date. He explained they had been sitting out in front of their room, listening to one of the older guys talk about a bronco that got loose earlier in the morning, when we happened to pull into
the parking lot. They had noticed the New Hampshire plates first, and all of them speculated about the possibility of New Hampshire riders, and the old guy—his name was Herbert—said he didn’t know about New Hampshire, but he had gone with rodeos to Boston and it had always surprised him that Easterners seemed to like rodeos as much as the next person. They watched us climb out, and the older guy, Herbert, said that Drew and Punch ought to lasso themselves a pair of runaway fillies, which was meant to be a joke when Drew said it, but it was kind of corny, and no one laughed. When we came back from dropping off Speed, they decided to swing by and invite us, so here we were, all of us going to the rodeo. Drew said the tickets gave us the right to sit up close, and he had another friend, a clown for the bull riding, who could get us free food if we were hungry. He said all this speaking above the radio, which played country and twanged, and Delores nodded at everything, and for a fraction of a second I felt like a little kid again in the backseat of my parents’ car, way back before they divorced, and I remembered sitting and listening to my dad talk, all puffy the way Drew did, and the sound of the radio and heater mixing until it soothed me somehow.
Punch reached over and took my hand.
Just like that.
I didn’t look at him, but I didn’t move my hand from his. I felt such a commotion in my stomach and guts that I thought for a second I might have to put my head down between my knees and breathe steadily.
Delores said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I had no idea what she said, but when she turned around to catch my eye, she flashed down to our hands sitting between us, and she turned right back as though she had seen a snake. But I liked the way my hand felt in his, and I liked his hand. It felt as rough as rope, and dry and quiet. He didn’t flex his fingers, or do anything stupid, or try to send me secret messages. He simply held my hand, and it felt like the world had become less empty by his doing it. You wondered why people didn’t always hold hands, even if they had just met.
A minute or two later Drew pulled into the parking lot of the Qwest Center, a large, lighted pavilion. He stopped and talked to someone taking tickets, said he was with the bulls, flashed a pass at the guy, then drove forward and around the building. Delores turned again and peeked at our hands while pretending to say something else. Her lips moved, but the words didn’t penetrate my head.
“Here we are,” Drew said, turning off the engine. “Your first rodeo, ladies.”
“Yeehaw,” Delores said, and I wished she hadn’t.
Drew climbed out. Punch climbed out after Delores, and he let go of my hand, then reached back in and helped me out. I tried to judge what Delores thought of Drew, but I couldn’t tell. She and Drew walked ahead of us. I wanted Punch to take my hand again, but he didn’t.
“Do you still like the rodeo?” I asked Punch as we walked toward a wide garage door that served as an entrance for people with passes. “I mean, working for it and seeing it all the time.”
“Rodeos are pretty fun,” Punch said. “I don’t much like all the noise, though. I’m not crazy about crowds.”
“I always thought places like New Hampshire were pretty crowded,” he said. “Places back East.”
“The southern part of the state is a little crowded, but not up north. It’s cold, and employment can be tough, so people don’t want to live up there. That’s the part we’re from. I like it fine. It’s the prettiest state I’ve seen.”
“You ever seen Wyoming?”
I shook my head.