Western Short Story
Shadow of a Turtle Too
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

“Can’t get any closer to Mother Earth than this, the shadow of a turtle,” said Job Withers holding forth from the bar at The Gold Crown Saloon in Silver City, Illinois, celebrating his part at the end of a cattle drive about two month long over a thousand miles. He was as dramatic as an old stage hand at perennial practice.

The barkeep, no stranger to strangers arriving after a long haul with cattle, had heard all the stories, probably every last one of them brought right to his bar along with a sidewinder’s thirst.

But the cowpoke now holding forth at the bar had a classy approach and delivery that made him entertaining, and more dramatic than any of the others; he didn’t dwell on himself or his ‘harrowing’ escapades, but brought a worldly temperance with him, a grasp at the natural world which by its very self says a whole lot about a man in not so many words, if fingerless you can grasp that.

Job Withers had finally got the speaker’s name, being the one and only Tip Sullivan, once of Ireland and merry other places and lately off the long trail that leaves men dry, thirsty, looking for female company, and a yen to tell their own tall tale of the trail.

But when Tip Sullivan said, “The shadow of a turtle,” he brought with him an announcement from a different breed of story teller, that Job Withers thought he should mark the date into stone if he could get his hands on a chisel and a suitable stone to etch upon.

The phrase had perked up the barkeep’s ears, found its delivery to be a touch of the dramatic and natural world of wonders. Nobody ever spoke like that in the bar, in front of Withers, or brought ideas springing loose in the barkeep’s mind. Privately, the bartender was a reader, a man holding deep respect for language, the gathering of words that made language move whole worlds and ideas into one’s mind.

And when it tussles with an oxymoron, that glory be of deviltry, it brings quiet explosions with it, such as this smallest of worldly spaces with it, a brainy measurement of a place on Earth, a near impossible gap with less than little comparison with it, a place one could only slip out a lone black ace of spades, the digger of doubts and digits and the immeasurability of rulers.

Cowboys don’t do that! Cowboys don’t do that in bars or saloons! Cowboys don’t do that at trailside campfires! Cowboys don’t do that ever! They are not so clothed with such finery, cannot cotton to it, nor wear such apparel.

Job Withers didn’t know what to say, so he said, “My man, that’s a moufful of nothing,” using his own poke at the inordinate idea of self-created oxymorons to carry the weightless idea of phrase for the effort. “You’re lucky to measure a deck of cards in that space, like it almost doesn’t exist, like it’s something but isn’t.”

“What else have you got not to say, Tip, my boy, of which you are not but ought to be. I could celebrate that not being so just by thinking of the nonsense of its being. Damned be it, man, you bring this sour and dead room back to a given life in all its dead spots. Tell me when you are next coming here. And I’ll raise a proper banner even though I’m not a flag waver par usual. Hail, to be.