No One Dare To Cherish

Submitted into Contest #182 in response to: Start your story with a home alarm system going off.... view prompt

7 comments

Contemporary American Drama

Shooting a horse is something a man should never do. But sometimes you're shooting at a person and the horse is in the way. The alarm in the house goes off after I've already broken in, and when I see the man outside running towards me, I shoot in his direction. I miss him and hit his horse instead. When I leave the county jail, the officer tells me I should consider making it up to the man whose horse I've maimed. I don't know how he expects me to make it up to him. I'm charged with breaking and entering, possession of an unregistered firearm, and trespass to chattels. Trespass to chattels is an ancient law. I hope that if I ever have to apply for a job, the employer won't know what it means. I think the first thing I should do now that I’m out is get the money from Ram who owes me a good $600. $600 seemed like nothing two months ago, but it's a great deal now. The county jail is far from town and I don’t have a ride. They don't give you a bus ticket home like they used to.

I come to the railroad crossing. The train is coming and the barrier lowers and the alarm blares. It seems absurd to blare like that out in the middle of nowhere. When the train passes, the barrier raises and I walk across the track. I can still feel the heat shooting from the rail irons on my standard-issue shoes. There's no way I can get home walking the whole way in my standard-issue shoes, but I don't have much choice. I come to an abandoned gas station. Everything's covered in rust. Even the ground is covered in rust. As I stand here, a man drives up in an old model Mustang. He must have seen me watching because when he gets out of the car, he walks right up to me. "You need a ride?" he asks. I tell him I do. He has a pompadour with a part on the left-hand side. He drives fast and we get to town in half the time. He drops me 100 feet off from Ram's store because I don't want Ram to ask me why I need the money if I can afford a car. It's not my car, but I don't want Ram to ask.

Ram's standing by the window watching my approach, but he walks away from the window as I enter. He starts chatting with a customer who's inspecting a saddle. The front door doesn't close on its own after I walk in. There's a back door that blows open and the circulating wind keeps both doors open at once. I walk up to a set of used cameras that Ram is selling for god-knows-what. Used Mamiyas. I pick up one of the Mamiyas and walk over to Ram who's still chatting with the man. They’re by the register. They've walked to the register so the man can pay. Ram's the son of a big-time rancher, but his father had to sell out like everyone else around here. There's not any money in it anymore. So now Ram rents a pawn shop. I tell Ram he'd better give me the $600 he owes me. He says: "What do you need with $600?" It's none of his business and I tell him so. Money owed is money owed. And I tell him to throw in the Mamiya too. Ram finishes with the man who's buying a saddle. Ram sells mostly saddles since he knows them well. Then when the register dings open, he gives me my $600. I don't have to count it as I know it's all there.

"And take this to Ilse," Ram shouts as I walk out.

I turn around at the door and catch the thing that Ram’s thrown at me. A holster. Intricate carving and gold studs. That means I have to go to Ilse's on the edge of town. Her house used to be a flop house until one day a crazy person came through and shot up all the transients. Ilse's door is open. I walk in and she's standing in a circle of several men. She wears a lace dress that comes down to the floor and she seems to covet the attention. One of the men says something with the air of finality like: "We'll give you a call when the next train comes in." Then all the men walk out. Ilse won't tell me what the train business is about. It's none of my business. I think Ilse will say: "Oh, you're out" or "It ain’t right what happened to you." Instead, she says: "Jesus Christ, hand me the holster." I hand it to her politely because I'm just out of county and don't want to get off on the wrong foot with her.

"All you have to do is add water," Ilse mutters to herself.

She tells me she's been waiting for that holster for a month. She'd seen it one day and had asked Ram to give that to her instead of the saddle he owed her. I follow Ilse up the stairs to the walk-in closet of her bedroom. She says she has something she wants me to drop off with a neighbor. I don't want to get caught up in this cycle of running errands for people because when you do that you lose a part of yourself and become just an appendage for another person's desires, but I don't want to piss Ilse off.

"You should’ve asked Ram to pick you up," Ilse says. "There wasn't anyone to pick you up from detention."

"I was embarrassed," I tell her.

"But he owed you money," says Ilse.

"It's fine. I started to walk home, but then a man gave me a ride."

"Who?"

"I met a man at a gas station. That abandoned gas station. He just drove his two-seater Mustang up and asked me if I needed a ride."

"That was the devil," Ilse says. "Everyone around here knows that story. James Weymouth drag raced a guy out there sixty years ago and he won. But his Mustang engine caught on fire and he drove into a row of houses where there used to be a town. Set the whole town on fire. That's why there's nothing out there anymore. So the devil took possession of James's body as castigation. It wasn't James's fault but the devil took his body anyway."

Then Ilse turns to look at me. She had been searching through dresses on a rack.

"I need you to do something for me," she says.

"You want me to go with Curzon."

"Yes. The worker I had quit so I want you to go out with Curzon tomorrow. He's just driving the herd up into the hills. You've done it before."

"Not with your herd."

"No, but you've done it before."

I use some of the $600 to book a motel room in town. I hear the transients making Campbell's soup on hot plates. I open the door to let fresh air into the room. It's one of those motels where all the rooms open to the outside. Those are the cheapest, most unpleasant kind of motels. I don't want to spend all the money I got from Ram because I've decided I want to buy a horse to give back to the man who's horse I maimed. I wonder what Ram will think of that. He'll probably think it's senseless. I remember when we were young and times were different. His family still had their ranch and I still had my parents and everything was new. My mother ran off with a man and moved to Australia. In Australia everything would be new to her. I picture Ram sitting in the living room with his family, plotting how he'll turn things around. Buy back the family ranch. But he might find that it's not the same as before. As I'm standing there outside the motel room, a man walks up and asks me if he can use the motel phone please. He says: "Do you mind if I use your motel phone please?"

I wake before dawn to beat Curzon to Ilse's, but Curzon's already there. I go with him and the herd to where the land runs up to a river. We ride horses that Ilse bought cheap from the Bureau of Land Management. We drive the herd across the river, which the cattle are accustomed to doing. We see another herd at the foot of mountain, and Curzon drives our herd toward it. He's handsome, but his eyes are close together and they have a look to them that tells me he's already forgotten what it means to be good. He's careless. Careless even with his own life. He tells me that he's driving Ilse's herd into the far-flung herd. He says: "Those boys over there are like you. They're young. Stupid. They don't know what's coming." We'd drive our herd into theirs, the herds would get mixed up, and we would leave with more cattle than we'd started with. It happens all the time when you're driving large herds like these.

Curzon turns to glance at me as I don't say anything to this herd mixing business. "Don't look at me like that," he says. Curzon's not much older than me. He says he wants to go into business buying Bureau of Land Management horses, changing their brands, and then selling them as home-bred pintos. He has a plan. That's what he calls a plan. He drives Ilse’s herd into the herd from the foot of the mountain. After the herds separate, he has at least four more cattle than he'd started with. The other boys are laughing and wishing us happy travels because they're stupid like Curzon said. It occurs to me that Curzon and Ilse have probably been doing this for a long time.

I wonder if Curzon and Ilse are sleeping together. After I return with Curzon and the herd to Ilse's, Ilse invites us to stay for supper. She serves supper early, which is customary around here. Curzon says he won't stay for supper and I say I won't stay either. Curzon walks slowly out of Ilse's house. He walks in such a way as to make the clack from his bootheels as loud and drawn out as possible. I wonder how Ilse feels about that. If it titillates her. That's what he wants. I decide to follow him out of the house. I run after him. "Curzon, Curzon, hold up!" I shout. He doesn't hear me. When Curzon realizes I'm behind him, he turns around and grins at me.

Then I go to town where there's a man who keeps a propane gas shop but also sells horses. He leaves the horses grazing in a pen behind his store. The horses have stubby legs, but they're still horses. I take the most elegant horse the man has for sale by the bit. It's a pinto mare with a white splash across its face. The mare's legs aren't as stubby as the other horses are. The man says he'll sell it to me for $550, but when I take out the cash and start counting it, he changes his mind. "$800," he says. I buy the horse anyhow, telling him I'll give him the remaining $250 in two weeks. I ride the horse to the house of the man whose horse I'd shot. He isn't surprised. He takes the horse's reins and is entirely Stoic about it.

I return to Ilse's. She's sitting in the living room watching television. She tells me to follow her up to her bedroom because she wants to talk to me. She doesn’t turn the television off. When I get to her bedroom, she leans against the dresser like she's upset. She brushes away a strand of hair that's fallen across her face. L'Oreal #5CB Medium Chestnut Brown reads the box on her dresser. That's the hair dye she colors her hair with. If she doesn't dye it, her beautiful curly hair will be all gray.

She says: "I heard you had an eventful day with Curzon."

"No different than any other day around here, Ma'am," I say.

"No, it was different," says Ilse. "And I trust you not to say anything."

I tell her that I'll never say anything.

Ilse stands up straight and begins pacing the room. Frenetic. Her bedroom is filled with things no one would expect. A young girl's ballet slippers. A framed frontispiece from Anne of Green Gables. A teddy bear almost six feet high. An Easy-Bake Oven from 1962. Stuck to the side of the Easy-Bake Oven is an advertisement which reads: "REALISTIC! IMPECCABLY-STYLED! IT'S FAST AND OH SO EASY! All you have to do is add water to bake these yummy snacks. It takes 5 to 15 minutes to bake them. The Easy-Bake Oven Cookbook shows you how. YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED IN YOUR EASY-BAKE OVEN COOKING KIT. If you run out of the included baking pans, you can return to the store where you purchased your Easy-Bake Oven for more Easy-Bake Oven baking refills or see if Mom will permit you to borrow some of her ingredients."

Ilse can't find what she's looking for and in a fit of anger she pushes over the Easy-Bake Oven and it shatters to pieces. It's absurd to keep an Easy-Bake Oven to recall a time in your life that's perilously far away now. It's absurd to care about anything when the devil can tempt you into a drag race with John Bolognese or into becoming a cattle hustler and then take possession of your body after he's already ruined you. I wonder if Ilse thinks Curzon is handsomer than I am.

Ilse says: "Curzon is out of control. He just talks and talks and doesn't shut up. It's only a matter of time before he tells someone about this cattle mixing business. I've got to do something. I think I'll have to shoot him." She walks to the end table near the bed. She rummages through the drawers because she can't remember where she's put her .45.

January 24, 2023 19:49

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7 comments

Wendy Kaminski
19:24 Jan 25, 2023

Speaking of value-adding word choices...! :) I particularly enjoyed that you chose words and scenarios that are somewhat archaic, in this. It gave it a particularly layered feeling, especially when mixed with remnants of modern-era touches, such as that the Easy Bake was a throw-back to earlier times, and of course Mamiya has only been around since the middle of last century, so one in a pawn shop wouldn't be as old as this "Wild West" flavored piece. Alexey, I just really enjoyed this! I'm going to have to revisit some of your back catalogu...

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Alexey Williams
20:38 Jan 25, 2023

Thank you, Wendy. Those darned transients and their canned soup. Always up to no good. I really appreciate that you read this story and left feedback. :)

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Wendy Kaminski
20:47 Jan 25, 2023

Absolutely my pleasure! Did you have a favorite line in this? I forgot to ask, but I always love the answer to that question from the authors viewpoint. :)

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Alexey Williams
21:25 Jan 25, 2023

For me this story is sort of one long idea, almost an interminably long sentence, but there were some fun details in there. I thought the sentences beginning with "It's absurd..." sort of cast elements that were in the background into the foreground.

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Hannah K
21:32 Jan 26, 2023

Wow! What a shocking ending. I didn't see that coming. I really feel like I'm being transported to the Wild West here. The horses, the shoot outs, the cattle herding, losing ranches, stealing cattle, shooting horses - so many things completely foreign to me in my suburban, southeastern way of life. Yet you transport me to a new place and culture with your writing. That's the magic of literature. It's also interesting, as Wendy pointed out in her comment, that some of the props in the story place it at a later date than it initially seems...

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Alexey Williams
22:40 Jan 26, 2023

Thank you, Hannah. I've also enjoyed reading your writing. And let's hope Ilse never finds her gun...

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Hannah K
01:39 Jan 27, 2023

😀

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