2, No. 1 February 1985
New Year, New Problems
How he did it has me stumped, but the editor who stole my column last issue came close to telling the truth for once. Must have been something he ate. Why, even the words were spelled right, most of them. As for the "projection" about me battling the bloodhounds, that was so near to being on target I had to check to cover to make sure it wasn’t Atlantic Monthly or some other high-toned publication I had picked up by mistake.
Anyway, there I was in a bad way, being half froze to death and surrounded by what, to these frost-nibbled ears, sounded like demons straight out of Hell. Worst part of it was, the whole mess came about because I had mentioned that piddling little duel in Springhouse three issues ago. (Quick to censor when I’m writing wholesome, which is most of the time, the editors are 100% "hands off" when they see Rawhide stumbling toward prose-quicksand. That’s a heck of a way to run a magazine if you ask me.)
With fangs in the forecast, and nowhere to escape them but down, down, down, I somehow got to studying on the fingernails of Barb Wyre. WHAM! Three hammers and a crowbar couldn’t have more scrambled my thoughts waves, for already I had fallen, only not over the edge soon to mingle lifeblood with the lowly lichen, but in love with a woman’s fingernails. Blame it on my long-suffering. Or maybe the stars.
Came changing just then the biggest, blackest hound dog ever I laid eyes on since my own dog, Gorgeous George, turned up missing three years ago. Goodbye, cruel world, wherever you are. Holy Thunder! Holy Lightning! Holy hailstones and raindrops slanting bullet-like above my graying and uncombed eyebrows! Was it possible? Could it be? Were these old eyes playing tricks now that the sands of time were down to a grain and a half? Yes, no doubt about it, my all time favorite coon dog, the one and only Gorgeous George was slobbering icicles to get back to Master for a petting three years overdue. Close behind came a pack of various breeds, including the deputy. Seeing George fraternizing with the fugitive (me), the lawman kicked that good hound so hard he went sailing into a hickory. That’s when I saw a red so red it made regular red look like pink lemonade. Like a bobcat I pounded on that deputized varmint; I clawed and pounded him near senseless, and would have done better if the sheriff and the other deputies not clubbed me—Orion, Big Dipper, Milky Way—into unconsciousness.
Coming to, those ashen face should I see through the bars but that of fellow jailbird, the once dapper E. Andrew Andrews, Esq. My suffering seemed the only ray of gladness in his otherwise joyless existence.
You see, soon as the adulation of the other prisoners had worn off—even card tricks get old—he figured it was time to go home. Problem was, however, nobody was willing to bail him out. Now degrading as it was, being held in jail with cutthroats and other rowdies, being a defendant in court was even worse, or so E. Andrew told the judge, among other things. Normally an easygoing sort, his honor was not pleased to hear the courtroom called a dungeon out of the dark ages, and himself a time-battered old reprobate more fit to swat flies than pass judgement on tax payers, let alone an Andrews, Esq! Down came the gavel with a bang times three.
"Contempt of court, the judge snapped, before ordering the frayed aristocrat back to the slammer, there to feast on bread and water "till Gabriel blows his horn." The spectators applauded the outburst, or so I’m told. Of course, once he simmered down the man in the black robe reduced the waiting period to thirty days, but for a prisoner of Andrews’ stripe even that seemed a lifetime. Far better to be a beggar with tin cup rattling than a would-be king on the bad side of a judge.
When it came my time to appear before his honor I smiled till my cheeks hurt. No more of this bucking authority for Rawhide, at least not till freedom rang. Everything I said had a "yes sir" and "no sir" tacked on it. On account of the hardship I had endured the judge said he would dismiss the dueling charge, adding if ever he heard of me issuing another challenge it was life without parole. Next he dropped the other charges with the exception the one connected with my striking an officer of the law—big time stuff. Fearing the worst I said, "But your honor, sir, the man had kicked my dog, sir, and…"
"He WHAT" snapped the symbol of justice in ________ County. While he glared at the deputy, who was already busy turning various colors, I repeated the accusation, not forgetting to mention the look in Gorgeous" eye the moment he slammed into the hickory tree.
"Case dismissed," cried the judge, his face red as a beet at sunset. In triumph I watched as the deputy, muttering vengeance, hobbled down the aisle
Here I was, a free man at last. Free, yes; carefree, never, thanks to Miss Barbara’s lovely nails. What do you tell a woman when you’re up to your earlobes in love with her fingernails and only moderately interested in the rest? Effen Wynne would know. Perennial optimist and dispenser of folk wisdom for us locals, Effen is the one to see when you have problems other than fence-jumping calves or mice that chase cats. Never mind that only weeks before he and I had been on opposite sides of the dueling green, or that at least one of the eggs, intended for Andrews. Esq., had decorated Wynne’s round self. Never one to hold grudges, he invited me in. It happened to be suppertime.
After hearing my narrative part way through, he wiped the grease on the gray shirt draping his paunch, belched, then said in his slow, reflective way, "I see." He next resumed gnawing the pork chop, only to lay it half eaten on the table cloth the moment I finished talking. His brown eyes shown like tea cups in candlelight. Beyond a doubt the only thing more delicious than pork to Effen is listening to himself explain the world to bruised and suffering mortals such as I.
"When I married Sara," he said, "the first thing she asked was for me to proclaim her my sun, moon, stars and all that, and I couldn’t do it. Also, she wanted me to love her for her inmost being and not just for outward charms. I couldn’t do that either. Said I: "Listen, sweetheart, I married a woman, not some mystical concept." Being young, black-haired, and handsome, I accepted her tears as fitting tribute to my dashing self."
Listening to him was easy, and for several minutes, I didn’t say a word.
"For twenty years she was a faithful helpmate, rarely complaining while I laid out drunk, or got lost in vast, as yet unpublished literary projects. Other wives with ordinary husbands got new clothes for Christmas and compliments throughout the year. Mine got stooped shoulders, wrinkles, and long silences followed by temperamental outbursts. Such treatment on my part was the price she paid for living with a genius.
"Of course, she wasn’t the only one who changed. Thanks to my sitting at the typewriter hours at a stretch, I , too, underwent a metamorphosis, becoming, at last, an overfed philosopher for the hill folks. From Apollo to neighborhood wise man takes but a few years, lots of pork and potatoes, and a trunk full of yellowing manuscripts.
"What about Sara, you ask? Well, one frosty morning I noticed she was dead. Died in her sleep. Looking at her, as much a statue as human being, I wanted to say, ‘ Sara, I love you for your inmost self, always have but was too embarrassed to say it.’ And I wanted like hell to say, ‘Sara, you’re the moon, the stars, and all the galaxies spinning way up there beyond our wildest dreams.’ But most of all I wanted to say, "Sara, wake up.’
"So, I say to you now, Hezekiah Rawhide, loving a woman for her fingernails IS pretty silly but not nearly as silly as not loving her at all. Don’t interrupt. I further say, your problems are greater than you know, and if care isn’t taken disaster will be the result."
He studied the pork chop for a moment. "Still," he continued, looking at me straight in the eye, "your disasters are richly entertaining for the rest of us."
NEXT ISSUE: Attempting to solve his most pressing problem, Hezekiah Rawhide very nearly crosses the borderline that separates the "good guys" from the "bad guys." Don’t miss it.
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