Friday, February 12, 2010

Eulogy for a Lost Cowboy

Please note: The following piece is my first-ever attempt at writing humorous short fiction. I submitted it to my agent for consideration for a collection of humorous short stories, but she felt it was "too dark". I welcome your gentle.

What can I share about our dear Harry, here? Well, it goes without saying he didn’t make it, or we wouldn’t all be here this morning. Heaven knows we’d never risk such close proximity unless Grim Death drew up the guest list. Not after the last family reunion, anyway. Speaking of which, is Uncle Norm with us today? Where? Oh, there you are. Funny thing—just the other day, I bet my Mary you were dead as Harry.

I have to tell you, Norm, those skin grafts stuck like a charm. Reminds me of how one edge of the cling wrap insists on marrying the other. We all learned a valuable lesson about silly string and Zippos that day, though, didn’t we? You more than most. Still, aside from a stray crevice here and there—oh, and that big lump next to your ear—it seems the worst of Black Saturday’s behind you.

Oh, that’s Aunt Lucy? Well, of course it is—there’s Norm right next to her. Welcome. Well, you both look just super. A heck of a lot better than Harry, am I right? Thank goodness for sturdy casket lids.

I suppose the silver lining for Harry, no pun intended, is that he shipped off to eternity with all his teeth and most of his hair. Well, certainly more hair than Norm. And a great deal more than Grandpa. Now that’s silly—Gramps had to be at least forty years older. The Harry I knew… Ma’am, there’s a space right there on the end, next to that energetic young man. Son, could you stop swinging the Good Book for just a moment, or at least flap it in another direction, so our late arrival won’t leave with elbib yloh stamped into her forehead? Good lad. Our friend Harry never liked to be kept waiting, you know. He sure as heck showed up early today.

Harry also arrived early the first summer he spent with us. We didn’t expect him for weeks, but there he was, in my bedroom, two weeks before school let out. Once I got over hating him for slobbering off the bottom bunk while I trudged off to Mrs. Hanrahan’s chamber of horrors—my God, the stench of lavender on that ghoul—I actually grew rather fond of Harry. A good thing, too. Harry stuck around for four straight years, not enough to be a real brother but enough to be the best sort of friend.

As I recall, Mom said Harry’s parents were having “differences”. We were too little then to understand the sticking point was the ten-spots Uncle Mark liked to tuck into g-strings at the Twin Nuggets, especially since it’s no secret among this group that Auntie Marcia was a bit of a cold fish. Groan if you must, but you’ll fool nobody. Hell, I bit my lip until it bled the time I overheard Dad chuckle about how Mark watched angels dance before kneeling before the Almighty Cod. Dad almost never joked about fishing, so that was something. Uncle Mark was humorless, I guess, and that’s why we found ourselves at Marcia’s wake and Mark’s sendoff to Pine Ridge Correctional in the space of a single week.

The Harry I knew loved to live on the edge. I remember when we were no taller than this. We practically lived in that ancient willow in my parent’s yard. Roots so ample you couldn’t get a lawnmower close without sealing the deal on a rush trip to Doctor Bedard’s. We imagined that old tree as a huge beanstalk with a giant and a spry cartoon mouse doing battle above us. Uneasy, we stayed closer to earth. Harry was no coward, but he was no fan of mice.

“Light the alcohol burner, Dan,” he’d said to me, and I did. I flicked the lighter over and over before I realized the flame was invisible. We danced around our signal fire, and around the tree, until the gods demanded a sacrifice of root beer and Slim Jims. And we’d dance again, with cautious steps.

Harry loved Cowboys and Indians. I despised the game. Harry always insisted I play the Indian, because I tanned darker. In those days, the Indians always died in a hail of lead and a “You’ve bested me, kemo sabe.” Today, if you’re one of those bleeding-heart types, you’d insist the cowboy lose at least half the time. Nonsense. Harry would tell you that, too, if he could.

So I was more than a little surprised this particular afternoon. I was ready to don my gull’s feather when Harry whooped and yelled, danced and hopped, just as you’d expect of bloodthirsty savages scouting fresh scalps. More surprise followed as I watched a lick of blue flame sweep up his leg. Still, Harry knew how to put on a show, so I waited for the fire to die down before I stepped in. Skin dripped off his kneecap like syrup from a flapjack. I was sure that was about as bad as it could get for a lucky guy like Harry. That ice cream truck sure made a liar of me.

Until last week, Harry really was a fortunate sort. His first love became my first love unrequited, and that didn’t sit well with me, because Harry knew how to attract the prettiest girls. Even the dogs—I count both homely girls and Miss Collin’s lhasa aspo—cut me a wide berth. I did all the things boys did to win a girl’s affections—I penned love notes on gum wrappers, I carved a whole damned forest, and I didn’t cry when Annie (the Angel) dug her thumbnail deep into the flesh inside my elbow. Love works in mysterious ways, I thought. These ways differed for Harry. He took Annie to see Star Wars in Trenton, smuggled in the bottle of cherry brandy she asked for, and came back smiling. He looked like a man.

I can still hear just what he said, in that mellow voice of his; he said, “Dan, smell my fingers.” And I'll tell you, there are porterhouse steaks that don't smell as nice as...

I’m sorry? Oh, dear, I forgot kids came to these things. Let’s just say envy consumed me, and we’ll leave it at that. I loved Harry too much not to forgive him.

Harry never went to college, and he never left Calder’s Mill. His Daddy died up in Pine Ridge the very day Harry turned eighteen. The papers claimed “suspicious circumstances”. The handcrafted ice pick in his ribcage agreed, I’d say. I’d never seen Harry cry, and he held it in then, a roughshod cowboy through and through.

To honor his father’s legacy, Harry sold his Dad’s double-wide and bought the Twin Nuggets for a few notes less than a song. I’d drop in from time to time—just to catch up on current events, you understand—and I have to say Harry ran a clean operation. You’ve never seen a nicer shower, I promise. Harry always knew how to make a girl feel special.

Harry’s first wife Juggs—I only recall her stage name—didn’t last long, and Harry was okay with that. She ran off with the first guy to peddle a vacuum on her front porch. When Harry asked, “Didn’t I tell you she was a hosebag”, I didn’t know whether to laugh or just nod. He fared little better with Tammy Tots, Jane of the Apes or Molly McGee—let me just say that girl was a contortionist. As Harry warned, “Never fall for a showgirl, no matter how you can bend her. They lack stick-to-it-tiveness.” Since I see no latex in the room, I presume none have come to pay respects. As he was so often, Harry was right.

The last time I saw my dear friend, he was as vibrant as ever, radiant sunshine in size 11 loafers. Nothing in this world—not even losing the Nugget for unpaid liquor taxes, or those rumors about the girls doing more than dance—could rattle him. I was pretty sure he was immortal, and not in a vampire or zombie sort of way. We planned lunch for just next week, at Bosoms’.

As I’ve said, Harry lived on the edge. It’s almost ironic, then, that Tuesday found my best friend standing at the rim of Nelson’s Quarry, the best vantage point to map his next great adventure. I wonder what great dream took shape as Jimmy—you know, from Jimmy’s Treats—took the corner too tight and lost control of his truck. As Jimmy nudged poor Harry into a whole new journey, did that scream of tires sound to our Harry like the screech of a great eagle? I like to think at the last second Harry knew he won yet again. Thanks for being here, Jim—it can’t be easy. Watch your back on the way out. I kid you, of course.

Dear friends, I ask you now to bow your heads in a moment of prayer. Pray not with sadness, because frowns ran headlong from Harry. Somewhere, he’s still that precocious lad he always was. Not unlike you, son, but now’s not the time to fling the sacramental wafers around the chapel. Sit down.

So, Harry, my friend and almost-brother, safe journeys. I, for one, will miss you always.



  1. I'm bowing my head for Harry, in thoughtful prayer but I'm shaking my head in disbelief that your agent considered this story to be too dark.

    It was humorous, crazy and not dark at all to me.

    Take care and stop by whenever.

  2. Has your agent never read David Sedaris? He is dark and hilarious. Nothing wrong with a little dark humor. This reminded me of a Sedaris short story about an illegitimate Vietnamese daughter, a teenage mother with her hoodlum boyfriend, an infant killed in a dryer, all told in the voice of a family Christmas newsletter. Julia Sweeney does a hilarious reading of it. Thanks for sharing your short story!

  3. Well done. This is a well crafted story and I liked it a lot.

  4. Dark? They thought this was dark? No - not it's not.

    I loved this. I spent most a fair bit of time giggling as I read it. Perhaps I have a weird sense of humour.

    This is anything but dark. But then, I suppose some of us have come to the point where laughing is so much better than crying.


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