Western Short Story
Tyler Grant had a secret love for the Lone Star flag raised on high, learned from his father’s long evening talks about “the old days,” back before Texas became a state in the Union in 1845, when folks lived by their wits, their skills, their experience and talent with weapons as they carved a way in the vast wilderness. The old gent lavished praise on the early and spirited souls who fought off every kind of trouble bent on them from gangs, rustlers, thieves, and Indians, and you name them and they came along too frequently.
Grant loved to see the Lone Star flag flying in a breeze, denoting endurance, spark, vitality, and dreams of the old crew, some eventually crawling off to nowhere at the end of all things, as the flag meant them to be known and remembered fondly, proudly, for coming centuries, never mind decades.
And the day he found a flag fouled and trampled and covered with mud and dirt and soil from the precincts of Hell, in his hometown of Porterfield, Texas, mind you, the fuse in him was lit.
Tyler Grant went looking for the perpetrator.
First, to the Broken Wagon Saloon to get his first lead of the despoiler of the Lone Star, flag of flags.
It leaped at him from the bar, a raucous voice blistering law, state or territory, and country all the way to Washington via their own capital city of Austin; a big, ornery-looking gent, wild beard, head of hair like a veritable jungle, voice like Doom itself on the loose from Hell, words burning with hatred: “They hate us common folk, they despise us, would dump fire on us if they could handle it without getting torched themselves, all those money-eating slobs at every level of politics, in every party screaming the be-Jesus they are for us instead of against us at the same time, in the same voice, as if flames belong to them to disperse among us common folk. I tell you the truth, from the High Reign, from the real overhead above us, that rats feed on our bones and muscles, on our brains, on our wits, like they don’t mean a damned thing in this rotten world sitting under that stupid star on a stupid flag I just rolled in the mud where it belongs, and if anybody in this room has got anything to say about it, why, let me know right now or keep your mouth shut from now until we bury you, the damned lot of you by the dozens.”
Tyler Grant shot him right there, right where he stood, first against the bar, then half-way down the bar, then on the floor of the saloon, and nobody made a move, a sound, did anything at all, but nodded in a kind of silent appreciation of a quick death for a big mouth of a man, silence being the lone star at that moment.
The sheriff of Porterfield, at a card table in a far corner of the saloon, hadn’t moved, hadn’t said a word, and turned his back on death as soon as he saw it happen, wanting nothing to do with it, loving the flag himself, a forty-year fighter against the wrong side of the law from the day he got deputized on the run, taking the load on himself, all the way down to his feet encased in rider’s boots.
Then, and only then, the slow grumbling started in the crowded room, one man speaking from his most immediate feelings, stirring from his sense of justice, “Ain’t you going to do something, Sheriff? A man’s been killed because he rolled our flag in muck. It’s been in worse places, in worse hands. Sometimes it was taken care of right then, and sometimes a slinky eye winked at the deed, let it go, it being nothing worth killing over, though thousands have died and been celebrated to help raise it up, make it twirl in the breezes, long before we came along to hear these arguments.”
He slammed his empty glass on the bar top, threatened to pull his pistol from its holster, stopped mid-way in the movement, ceased; “A flag’s a piece of cloth, touchable, gets dirtied, ripped, torn, abused a hundred ways, but never the heart of its matter, its being, for we all know, its secret message, stays forever in place.”
The sheriff saw all the moves, the feint moves, the false moves, saw folks unable to voice one word of opinion, and knew them instantly, like Texas itself was in the saddle, on display, not the flag but the idea of it, two or three ways at once. A sudden joy came upon him, seeing beyond what was seen, studied, come alive for a flash of a second, him in the saddle, plain old Texas underfoot all the while.
Nothing like it! He was Texas! It ran in his blood, ran through all his brain and all his body parts, Texas like an open map. He was overwhelmed by the situation; wanted to jump up, pull his weapon, start shooting, but couldn’t move that feeling into his gunner’s hands.
He’d been caught that way before, in a sort of vise where his feeling got twisted in his whole torso, and him unable to move, to obey even himself. Texas was bigger than him and his gutsy feelings; Texas had swallowed him up, lock, stock and barrel, right where he stood every time a weapon seemed to be the first call in any situation, a usual and normal reaction to things out of counter. Hell, didn’t Texas send off that gleam from his tin star, from his soul’s decoration tacked on his chest from the first moment: He was Texas, all the way through, down through his boots as Texas kicked back at him when not in his saddle. Texas made him breathe, grasp chunks of Texas air on the fly, turn him one way and then another way. Texas itself talking to him the way nobody else ever heard it, in a crowd, on a chase, for him alone.
Or, so he thought.