Western Short Story
The Dove and Mr. McCall
John Duncklee


Western Short Story

As he did every morning for the past six years, Jack McCall sat in his old, tattered, wicker rocking chair on the front porch of his old adobe ranch house in the foothills of the craggy, desert mountains. And, like every morning, he was reminiscing to himself about his life as he waited for Kate to bring his mug full of steaming coffee, and set it on the old nail keg he used for a table. She would always say, “Mornin’ you old rascal. What are you dreamin’ about this mornin’?”

Always McCall would reply, “Nothin’ much, just thinkin’ about how it used to be.”

Kate would then retort, “Used to be’s won’t come back, Mr. McCall.”
Then she’d return to the kitchen to make her husband of fifty eight years
his usual breakfast of eggs over easy, crisp bacon and a slice of toasted
home-made bread with a big dollop of butter melting on top.
Just as McCall was thinking about how he used to ride out every
morning to check his cows and calves on the grassy foothills that now
were dotted with houses, driveways and swimming pools, a mourning dove
flew in and landed on the nail keg.

“Well, well, little dove, you’re a brave one.”

The dove jumped from the nail keg to McCall’s right knee. Suddenly
McCall’s ears began ringing. The bird looked straight at McCall until in a
minute the ringing subsided.

“Your ears were being prepared to understand dove talk, Mr. McCall,”
the bird said, cocking its head to the right.

“What do you mean understand dove talk?” McCall asked.

“We have lots to talk about, and there not much use for us to talk if
we can’t understand each other.”

“What in tarnation do you have to say to an old cowboy like me?”

“I‘ll start by asking if you remember the time at school that you,
Harry Jones and Mike Wheeler untied George Rawlin’s horse and chased it
off? George had a long walk home.”

“I remember that. It was Harry’s idea because George always got
good marks. Afterwards, I was kind of sorry we did that. It wasn’t
George’s fault that he was smarter than Harry and the rest of us.”

“Do you still feel sorry, Mr. McCall?”

“I reckon I do.”

“And, remember when you were nineteen, you put the burr under Mike
Wheeler’s saddle because Mike was dancing with Kate at the Christmas
party? The horse bucked Mike off into a cholla cactus.”

“Yep, I remember helpin’ pull all those cholla spines out of Mike’s
backside. I reckon I felt pretty bad about that, especially when Kate told
me she wanted to be my steady girl.”

“That bay horse you tried to break to ride. The horse turned out to be
an outlaw. Then, you sold him through the auction so you wouldn’t have to
say anything about him being an outlaw.”

“Sure I did. I bought that knothead through the auction too, and
nobody told me about him bein’ outlawed.”

“You figure that a turnabout’s fair play, Mr. McCall?”

“Horse tradin’s an art. If I had told everyone at the auction that the
horse was an outlaw he would have been sold by the pound to make the
doggies run.”

“I guess I can forgive you that one,” the dove said. “But, there is the
time after you and Kate were married. Your calves didn’t weigh much
during the drought and the price the buyer gave you put you in the hole
with the bank. You didn’t go back to the ranch for three days.”

“Please, don’t remind me of that. I went out and stayed drunk with a
bunch of my ranching friends. When I got back to the ranch Kate wouldn’t
have much to do with me for nearly a week. Hell’s fire, she wouldn’t even
talk to me for two days, and made me sleep on the couch.”

“Did you feel sorry for doing that to Kate?”

“I was plumb ashamed. She was real worried about what might have
been happening to me. She didn’t have a way to town. I never did that
again.”

“Speaking of the drought, remember that old cow that couldn’t feed
her calf?”

“I wish I could forget that old gal. She calved a little heifer calf and
was so poor she wasn’t makin’ milk. I managed to get another cow to adopt
the heifer, but I took the old one to the auction. She was so poor she barely
made it over the scales. Six dollars and twenty cents was all I got for her.
After the auction I went back through the corrals and found her dead. I
should have left her to die on her desert.”

“It sounds to me like you felt sorry about that.”

“Hell’s fire, I cried when I saw her lyin’ there in that corral. I
walked plumb around the outside of the sale yards so nobody would see my
tears before I got to my pickup.”

“What about six years ago when Kate advised you not to try to break
that sorrel gelding?”

“I reckon I should have listened to Kate. That sorrel did fine until I
took him out of the corral. All of a sudden he plumb broke in two buckin’. I
went flyin’ over his head onto the ground. That’s how I boogered up my
hip.”

“That’s why you sit in this rocking chair all day?”

“I reckon sittin’ here is better than tryin’ to break horses at seventy
eight years old. I do get up once in a while to walk around and get the
kinks out. You seem to know everything else about me. How come you don’t
notice I walk around some?”

“There’s one more matter that needs to be clarified, Mr. McCall.”

“Now what?”

“It’s about the time five years ago when the Forest Service cut your
permit on the mountain ranch. You bought ten pounds of roofing nails and
tossed them all in the gravel of the Forest Service motor pool driveway.
All those fellows had flat tires for months.”

“Now, I don’t feel a bit bad about that. They cut my mountain permit
from two-hundred eighty-five head down to forty-six. My grandpa had that
permit since the Forest Service began meddlin’ in the cowman’s business.
I went in and asked the supervisor why all of a sudden he was cuttin’ my
permit and puttin’ me out of the cow business. Hell’s Fire, my grandpa and
pa and now me have taken care of that land for over a hundred years. We
took good care of it and it took good care of us. Now some whipper snapper
comes in from the city and knows all about my country. Hell’s Fire, what’s
it all comin’ to?”

“What did he tell you. Mr. McCall?”

“He said that some environmental outfit was sayin’ that my cows
were killin’ off some darned fooled minnow. Then I asked him why they
didn’t blame the elk. That supervisor didn’t budge a bit. I finally told him
that it seemed to me that if he was cuttin’ my cow numbers down so low,
the Forest Service must have been mismanagin’’ my permit since 1906.”

“What did the supervisor say to that, Mr. McCall?”

“Nothin’. Absolutely nothin’, so I walked out, went down town and
bought those roofin’ nails.”

“Tossing those roofing nails out there where you did just caused the
Forest Service employees to spend unnecessary time with the flat tires.”

“I know that. I figured if they spent time on the flat tires they
would have less time to be figurin’ ways to puttin’ us cowmen out of
business. Me and my friends worked hard for many years just stayin’ in the
cow business.”

“The way you explain all this certainly helps to see your side of the
situation, Mr. McCall.”

“Why are you askin’ me all these questions if you know all the
answers?”

“I just have to hear it all from you, Mr. McCall.”

“What do you mean?”

“All told, there have been fifteen of us assigned to you over the
years. Some got shot. Bobcats got two, and the rest died natural deaths. I
have been with you for two years.”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“I know that. But, you will. Now it is time for you to spread your
wings and fly.”

“Now you’re talkin’ foolish. I don’t have any wings.”

“If you will get up from that wicker rocking chair, you will discover
that indeed you do have wings.”

Wondering if it could be possibly be that easy, Jack McCall got up
from the chair without the help of his old catclaw root cane. He looked
around and saw white wings sprouting from his shoulders.

“All right, Mr. McCall,” the dove said from the branch of the
mesquite tree where it had flown. “Step off the porch and start flapping
your wings. You’ll get used to it quickly.”

McCall stepped off the porch. Realizing that indeed he did know how,
he flapped the wings as hard as he could, and was soon flying, following
the little mourning dove.

Kate came out of the doorway, put the cup of hot steaming coffee on
the nail keg, and said, “Mornin’ you old rascal. What are you dreamin’ about
this mornin’?”

She was halfway back to the door before she realized that her
husband had not answered.


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