Western Short Story
Atten Attenosity
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

He came up out of Mexico, mostly on foot, not really slithering around but always looking for a horse loose from its rider or a mountable wild horse, both with diversions working on them. All the time he was also mumbling new phrases of the new language area he was walking into.

But he immediately mumbled a quick statement, “Los países no difieren mucho si se los ve de cerca.” And quickly hurried it into English, “Countries don’t differ much if you look close.”

“Got to use the language quicker,” he adjudged, as though he could taste in his mouth the words just spoken.

“Hurry up, speed it up, pronto,” all meant “move faster for your sake or my sake, we ain’t got time to diddle, supper’s waiting, or she’s lookin’ at you, stupid,” the tone of voice to be heard at the outset if possible, including the changing faces of speakers, the angle of their shoulders, warnings of body music in the waning, each one a dead giveaway to a listener, a watcher.

His own music started with, and stayed with, his name, right from the very beginning, when he was told how his father had laid down his guitar and said, “Your name will always be Atten Attenosity, and that means from this day forward, here and anywhere, I so declare.”

He added vocal elements of the names so declared, and they came with the music borne in them, and thus as law in the land all about him, the locals understanding the terms he was delivering, Mexico itself as pertinent as well as anywhere else where his son would tread.

The old man could have added, “puedo escuchar la música en ella,” “I hear the music in it.”

The humming came to his ears and his soul every opportunity, as when he sang “The cows run the valleys, the horses run the hills and when they run together the cowboys get their thrills,” coming from his throat as, "Las vacas corren por los valles, los caballos corren por las colinas y cuando corren juntos, los vaqueros se emocionan.”

It was soft, it was dreamy, the strings leading the way or coming along with him as he strummed them with sensitive fingers. Life, he knew, flowed from the smallest determination, the most secret declaration broadcast by a person.

He could have said, aloud for even the ghosts and the spirits to hear, “I want to be a cowboy,” plainly and simply as “Quiero ser un vaquero.”


When he was well across the border between Mexico and Texas of the new country, he met a trail boss who came to investigate the captivating music breaking up his random patrol at the beginning of a new day.

The trail boss’s eyes studied the young Mexican, how the guitar reacted to his fingers, his soft voice making the morning suddenly pleasant for a non-musical man who couldn’t find a note to put a brand on, never mind separating one from another by design or by demonstration. His father had said he was note blind, couldn’t carry a note in a saddle bag on the longest day of the year.

“That sounds nice, son. Where you headed? What’s your destination? You understand me and my language?”

“Yes, mister. I am Atten Attenosity, from Mexico down below and I want to be a vaquero, a cowboy, to play music when the day is done, when the fire is warm and the vaqueros want the songs of the day, for the day they have spent in the saddle.” He added, as if explanation was needed, “My father taught me much of your language.”

He flipped both hands in the air, which the trail boss, Burt Dikens, figured meant that all behind him was gone for him, his father and his father’s country. He understood the loneliness, the yearning, the future and all its implications.

“Well, he did a good job of it, Atten Attenosity. My name is Burt Dikens, not so musical as you but you have a damned special way with you and that music, and I can use some of that. What else can you do?”

“Oh, sir, besides wanting to be a vaquero, I can cook anything that gets knocked down out here by a bullet, like a cow, a horse, a deer, a rabbit, anything big or small, and some with wings not faster than the bullet that chases them.” His laughter was at his own images and the trail boss, his new employer, laughed with him.

The day had turned on itself already.

Atten Attenosity, the newcomer to the herd crew, had an initial hard time the very first day, name calling, inventory of nicknames, until that night when he picked up his guitar and began to play and sing some old western ballads every man of the lot knew. The session went hilariously well when he mixed in Spanish versions of those known melodies, and all of it a general acceptance on the part of the entire crew.

The second phase acceptance came in the morning after Dikens had introduced him as second cook in the crew and told him to get as busy as early as possible at his first shift at the fire, Atten already earlier at his first prepared meal on the job. He went into a whirling dervish as he spun about the fire with mostly on-hand canned supplies and some early found prairie eggs, a thick bread with a Mexican name, conchos, and the last of a cow ‘s beef allotment, also some salt pork stirred into beans and the found eggs. Coffee aroma filled the air.

The crew loved the new dash in the tasty meal, as one young cowboy in his early teens attested, “It’s got some giddy-up in it for sure and we ain’t had any of that Mex bread before, them there conchos. It’s better than those sad biscuits left off from yesterday that Cookie’s always threatening us with. No more of them. Besides, Atten hums them songs so good to hear about what kind of work us trail guys have to do, even before breakfast comes up. He knows us as good as we do ourselves, and somewhat better on this morning’s bite and last night’s singing.”

Atten knew him as a youngster who spoke his mind when he had some words to say that might tickle some of them or set them on edge, being a harmless comic at it. He asked for his name.

“Brittle it is, bent, battered and broken, long before the fire’s smokin’.”

“You have the music too, so we might end up with a cowboy chorus, un coro de vaqueros.”

The evening fire was lit before a match was struck, as it would be for more trail rides than he could count,

So, it is safe to say from this point, that the new cowboy was welcomed into a new country on his own talents and his musical name, and he arrived at trail’s end in such places as Abilene, Dodge City, Wichita, Ogallala, Cheyenne and Chicago once in a while in his long journeys as a vaquero.

More than once, his voice, his songs, his trail music, arrived ahead of him.



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