Western Short Story
The Flavor's in the Cup or Small Talk Comes of Age
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Hitch Gregson uttered a “Whoa, horse,” and felt a surge of joy as he spotted the big sign carrying that one word in solid black letters, SALOON, leaning toward him as he tied his mount to the rail out front, in Stirrup City sitting practically on the edge of nowhere. The trip behind him, partway across Texas, had been a boring ride most of the way, hearing little said to him, saying little in return. On the trail, with herd or not, he spent no time with ordinary talk, fellow herders gave up on him as quick as he wanted. “Leave me be, small talk does nothing for me, doesn’t add a word to my vocabulary. Doesn’t provide any facts about the world all around us, as far as the eyes can see. So, take another look for yourselves.”

He wouldn’t dwell on the subject or the memories; he was almost home in the saloons, in the most comfort he knew anyplace in the territory, a place to spout off about anything coming into his mind, onto his lips, making folks listen to a trail-hard rider with something worthwhile to say, to get their day going in the right direction, or set cause for downright fear in some of the lesser folks.

He had a cause for being, it being easily said, to remind folks of important stuff, not small talk trying to ease the ride out on the trail often weeks-long aiming at the chosen market.

Hitch would bust into a saloon in his own way, often saying something like that just spoken, “Wait until you hear what I heard coming this way, Jimmy Boxler, gunner and knife-man, out of jail down in Talacosa after killing the sheriff and two deputies, shooting and stabbing all three of them before he headed out of town, and us here hoping he ain’t coming this way, not on a long shot.”

It was not pleasant news, of course, and some folks were already worrying that Jimmy Boxler, dread of dreads, was on his way right to this saloon, quiet until the Loudmouth broke it into pieces.

“I bet some of you are already thinking he’s headed right for this saloon, Hell-bent for the peace and quiet that’s sitting on top of us like a wet blanket, almost drowning the quiet itself. Don’t tell me I brung all the bad news ‘cause Harry Tarbox is coming, too, the best damned shooter in all Texas, and still wearing his badge of honor, a tin star right there on his chest.”

But he had come loaded for bear, all the way, having saved some gems for just such a crowd, the brim filled to the cup-top.

He backed off a bit, feeling they had a fill of news, perhaps all they deserved, but launched one more burst at them, for old-times sakes, and that Poulin guy down Rayco way gave me some ammo as he always does to make our days take a different twist on themselves, like (what the subject was) and (how he phrased it):(denture case)  (tooth booth)//(looking for spring)  (the crocus focus) (angry George)  (tamper temper)//(court reporters) (the bench press)// (Chiropractor) ( It’s a snap}//(farmgirl’s boyfriend) (hoe beau)//(huge male deer) (mega buck) //(cheese shop)  (Edam up or the cured nerd) //(hibernating bear) (original napster) and last but not least (American housewife) (maid in the USA).

He made some gents at the bar holler like crazy, while some kept shaking their heads with query, unrecoverable senses of humor trapped elsewhere, not believing a mere cowpoke just shooting off his mouth, by a whole bunch of business, person, place or things with suggested names, like: Neurosurgeon/a cut above the rest or take it from the top; disgruntled student, school bored member; Shakespeare, Bill of Writes; China assessment, two million people can’t be Wong; bakery, flour power; and Axes, chopsticks.  

He had piled up a hundred similar connections on those quiet days of his, mastering memory, the connections built upon themselves, on his own power, his own choice, these his own creations, the laughter building up inside him as he heard the deliveries before they occurred, at some saloon, the audience wrapped in his hands, in his imagination, his elated joy, being listened to after silence on the trail, his ears deaf to otherwise garbage, day after day after day.  

Time served him thusly with royal adulation.