Windowsill Cowboy – Short Story

Here’s a short story I wrote in about 15 minutes at a drink-and-write event that Willona Sloan held at last year’s Reykjavik Literature Festival.

This is what 7 years of writing practice gets you.

Enjoy.

Windowsill Cowboy

Thomas sat on his favorite windowsill in the living room and looked out at the sun set over the cornfields. Daddy and Augusta would be giving the last of the feed to the cows now, and soon the thump thump of Daddy’s boots would sound on the porch.

Thomas watched as a stray wind, lost and alone in the Oklahoma autumn, tossed up a slice of dust and was gone. He picked up the book he had been reading, a science fiction novel about men conquering faraway planets, opened it and continued reading as he waited. The smell of dinner wafted upstairs, bourbon-soaked pork, and he realized his hunger.

He put the book down and looked out again and thought of the horses. His days were spent waiting; waiting to be helped out of bed after he woke up, waiting to be carried to a windowsill after breakfast. Waiting for help with the bathroom. But today was different, special, and Thomas couldn’t concentrate.

Daddy, on the rare occasions he spoke to Thomas, would ask him mostly about the books he was reading. Thomas had found that the more outrageous the story the more interest Daddy paid him. So he read about the spacemen and giant spiders invading New York. Mermaids that stole one-eyed sailors and forced them into an undersea marriage. He would much rather read about cowboys, but Daddy would scoff.

“You can see cowboys out the window, anytime. Why would you read about them?”

Thomas really didn’t see why it had to matter. He could sit on a horse just as he could sit on the sill. It was all he wanted to do. His father had laughed the one time he had dared to ask, a laughter that stung and left a scar. Daddy’s laughter hadn’t just dismissed the notion of Thomas riding a horse, but had dismissed Thomas himself entirely. It wasn’t the idea of Thomas wanting to ride a horse that was funny to him, but Thomas wanting anything at all.

What Daddy didn’t know, however, was that Augusta had promised to get him on a horse today.

“Now, Daddy will beat me if he finds out, so we have to do it when he ain’t at home. Momma can’t know either, she’ll tell Daddy as quick as she can.”

Daddy was going to the city after dinner. He went about three times a year, “for business” but they had gotten wind of what it was he was really doing.

###

That night in the stable, poorly lit by a small oil lamp, Augusta is helping Thomas onto a horse, one of the smaller ones. As she lifts him up she thinks how heavy he’s getting, and that soon she won’t be able to help him, will need to leave him to Daddy.

The look in Thomas’ eyes right now makes this easy, though. Makes him lighter. Makes her sad for time she won’t be able to lift him anymore.

She holds him against the horse, pins him against the saddle, feet dangling useless in the stirrups.

“Let go,” he says. His voice is soft, flying already. “Let go.”

“No,” she says. He’ll fall, she knows this. He’ll fall and get hurt, Mommy will hear them, and then Daddy will know.

But there is a look in Thomas’ eyes.

“Let go,” he says again and before she knows it she has, she’s let go of the reins and let go of Thomas.

The horse trots on, a few slow steps and then picks up the pace, curious as to why it’s been let out, ignoring the frail human on its back. The hooves tap tap on the dusty soil and a scatter of sand rises in a cloud behind them. The horse runs, just a few steps but enough for Thomas to smile, a true smile of happiness and freedom just before he falls.

“No!” he calls, confusing the horse, which stops and turns. Steps on Thomas.

Augusta runs, shoos the horse away and looks down to Thomas. He is laughing, euphoric. His leg is broken, bent at an odd angle but Thomas doesn’t feel it. Can’t feel it.

“Augusta, I did it. Did you see? Did you see me?”

She wipes her cheeks and smiles at him.

“Yeah, Thomas. I did.”

###

Thomas sits in the windowsill and looks out as a wind, full of mischief, tosses up dust and runs off. Daddy wasn’t mad when he found out what they’d done, not like Thomas thought he would be, just disappointed in their recklessness. He carries Thomas between rooms whenever he can now, even when Augusta is around to do it. It’s like their midnight horse-ride awakened in him a respect for his crippled son. The fall off the horse broke a useless leg but it repaired a broken love as well.

Thomas, sitting on the windowsill, closes his eyes and thinks back to those seconds when he was free, when he was flying. And he smiles.

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