Western Short Story
Costas Coattails Known as Coot
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

He came into Winter Hills, in northern Colorado, saying his name at the Skid Rock Saloon as Costas Coattails, which the bartender, known for creating new names or just plain changing names for the good of the town, or for the good of the man, began immediately calling him Coot. The name stuck. He answered from then on as Coot. Coot he was and Coot he is to this day. There was no curiosity or humor caught in the mix, for Winter Hills folks did not laugh at any name cast by the barkeep; if one got renamed, it was for the man’s good or for the barkeep’s keeping at his namely reputation, either side of the equation having rights in the matter.

Coot’s only problem was being a lefty in a town with all righties, causing somewhat of a confusion or imbalance when a challenge or a taunt was cast about, generally for on-lookers gathered about an oft-repeated scene in the middle of a dusty road in the middle of a dusty town. Those moments amounted to a memorial of a kind for Coot, never one to let his name fall into forgetful pits. Be put aside by the unwary, the ignorant, the non-readers or believers in the Hereafter no matter where it was, in the Heavens above or Hell below him, where he might have last stood as a man.

Coot relished those moments, those nerves of his at a jangle, but offering an edge in comfort as he believed the hardest part of dying would be loneliness, all the way lonely, often not resulting in a ground plaque or a small cross made of dead branches of a tree or one’s name scribed in any fashion or hand on or at some enduring edge for the coming years, the coming ages, though all lives are lost aside the great mountain in front of each of us.

Stories and trail tales of these men often are told to keep them alive or keep them dead, especially if a man had planted such a corpse in Mother Earth because of nothing but a yawn, a curse, or a reaction to a funny name, like Coot was often the prize at a bar lined by men of the drink and the laugh.

From the site of the Alamo to Deadwood and No-Name-City in the middle of a desert, to any cow ranch in the West where news or laughs are chief topics, Coot came as a marker for names of gun-wielding cowboys that had an extra notch in their belts, a second concern for favor in search of a laugh, a side-splitter of any rate.

Coot, as you might suppose, was grouped with Bugs, Bunny, Bingles, Bo-Jango, and By-the-Watch, tongue twirlers enjoying each one to the extreme, which often came from drawn guns over useless points of view, except a laugh has only humor as its cause, not hysteria between gun-packers who always seem to be on a trail to nowhere, or have gone past a lovely nest for life and not realized what they had missed on their way elsewhere or further on the trail they find themselves on, a campfire drawing them closer, the odor of coffee in the air as bright as red steel, or a woman caught in the sunlight or moonlight at the perfect angle of sight, at least for a man hungry for loving.

All of them get amended one way or another, to a man on a saddle for the longest spell.

Coot moved like all cowboys, with the beef, with the trail, with the memory of one town atop another town, each one boasting significance of diet or daring where a girl felt herself like a caught-star stolen from the heavens. They were kept from a true deep sleep no matter how deep they dreamed; the classic case of more than less, or squaring things up with loss, one way or the other. Appetite easily becomes a master in survival, sweet hungers, aversions when necessary, and not-so-accidental accidents.

Even such men as Coot and those thousands of others like him, no matter their circumstances, could stand in awe to the surroundings that the open West provided with a ready glimpse at the natural beauty of landscape in all directions. No places excluded themselves from the reaction to a mountain ridge carved in place by History itself, or an arroyo bursting with sudden flowers so yellow they were as blinding as a straight-up look into the noon sun, or a river whose banks fed the lands around them with the real stuff of life, the pale blue water of a stream rushing over fish seemingly caught in the still-life of a painting hung on the wall behind a bar in a hundred towns the West over..

They would, to a man, if their eyes had been open, talk about such views with a host of words and phrases that leaped from their spirits by what they assumed was a surprise find for them, for any man on a saddle popping over the least rise or the harshest climb for their animal at the start of a new day or for its end.

Coot, like any cowboy, had his way with his surroundings seen from the high vantage of a saddle in motion. There was nothing like it, nor back where he had been, nor where he was going, until he got there. On the move made up the difference, right from the tie rail at a saloon, from a tree limb in the brush, clasped under a placed stone in rocky country, each area offering up their beauties and their harsh abidance to any man mounted on a horse or looking for one he might have lost in the great wide-open.

As matters stood, it didn’t make any difference where a man stood for what his name was, or what kind of reaction his name caused among other cowpokes, that played out for them. The West was a man-maker for the lot of them, a bracer, a teacher, a ruler of the do’s and don’t’s among all contacts in a life quick to change by a new mount, an old visit coming to mind, hearing the sounds of the earth actually singing for their personal pleasures.

Costas Coot Coattails moved on and on, carrying his name every-which-way, not letting a single letter of it being disturbed or re-branded by other men on the same trails he rode.

Unto his utter oblivion.