it's nice to be brown.
the first woman i loved ended up shooting me in the face. Back in the 70's, there was still wild in the west and a boy could hitch himself to a 3rd-rate, brokeback rodeo in search of escape if he set his mind to it. There weren't a lot of questions asked back then, and if you could shovel shit or pack away a tent without too much wasting time ... it was easy enough to find yourself floating amongst the trailers and rough hands, watching the plains roll past as you drifted from town to town.
But i didn't shovel shit for too long, because there was a talent stumbled across when a woman found out i didn't flinch at gunshot. Rodeo life mirrors the hierarchies of the sit-down societies - there are those at the top who pick the prizes and there are those at the bottom who shine it up and serve it as best they can. It's the same story through every land and every time. I got no complaint with it.
This rodeo had a woman who could shoot better than davey crockett. She could drop a white pigeon out of a swirling flock of a hundred brown. She could eye an ace with only the mirror'd reflection from somebody's shakey hand to guide her. She could empty her six and reload before the recoil left your ringing ears.
she was magic with those gawdamn guns.
When you're quiet and watch everything ... shit still has a way of finding you sometimes. I was rolling out barrels with a guy named Stu. I don't know why i remember that guy's name ... he was nothing but dirt under fingernails to me. Weird the things you remember and those you forget.
Anyway, the barrels were light, plastic things that you filled up with dirt or water to weigh down for the shows. Water if you were lucky because it was easier than shoveling in dirt and then you could empty them out with a quick kick, watching the water spill and absorb into whatever dry speck of land the show pulled through that week.
I don't suppose she would have noticed me if i hadn't slipped and fell in front of that stupid barrel. Or, maybe she wouldn't have noticed if Stu hadn't laughed at me, a dumb man's laugh that was too loud and attempting to pass too much hurt through it.
But, she did notice and she yelled at me to go pick up the chew-tin she'd been shooting at. She was always shooting. Always. So, I ran over to where she pointed and picked up the tin. It was predictably empty, they always were when you found them around the shows. Some would be stained and dented, others would look like they were fresh off the mint. But they were always empty. This one was empty and had a hole punched right through the middle of it, looking like a wounded little toy soldier.
When Stu and i had started with the barrels, i had heard her shooting ... it was a shot, then a pause of a minute or so, then another shot, then the pause. I didn't pay much mind to it at the time because ... like i said, she was always shooting. But now, i saw that she was shooting alone and didn't have that man with her. He was a big, hairy beast of a man that I had never spoken a single word to and never did plan on it anyway. He was the one who set up her targets, or threw the plates up in the air for her to shoot. He scorned the use of those throwing machines because he said they were too predictable for the shooter and made you slow on watching.
Anyway, she yelled at me to get the chew tin and so i picked it up and wondered what she wanted me to do with it.
"Well, put it on the damn fence, boy" she yelled across the dust. She wore a white dress, kind of fluffy at the bottom and had on dark colored boots that kicked up dirt with every movement of her feet. Her hat was made of straw, but didn't look cheap or flimsy. She just looked ... natural. Except for the thin rifle hanging casually at her side. Well, to be honest, that looked pretty natural, too.
So, I put the tin on the fence with the hole facing her and took a step back.
She looked at me for awhile and I wondered if she wanted me to do something else. But, it had become my habit to wait and be quiet in situations where people expected something of you but didn't tell you what it was. It was usually safer that way. So, i waited.
Finally, she swung up her rifle and held it aimed at the tin for a moment. I figured this was her practice and so better try and be as still and soundless as i could so as not to distract her.
She looked at me again, then back at the tin and fired her gun.
The chew tin swung up into the air like somebody had put a string on it and yanked a quick one as you tried to reach for it. It flipped a couple times and bounced off the fence and i reached out and snatched it out of the air, just sort of instinctive, i guess.
And that's how i got out of shoveling shit - because i didn't flinch when a woman shot at me.