Eight Second Eternity

I separate myself, as best I can, from the commotion.  Above me, an unseen announcer welcomes the crowd.  His inane drivel magnified by cone-shaped speakers is intermittently mixed with old country songs played too loud.  Around me, there is a confusion of alleys, pens, and box like chutes.  The maze is made of two by eight boards and one inch piping.  Dozens of men and a few women, all wearing hats and boots hustle back and forth past me in the confined space.  I keep my feet clear.  I sit on the ground, in the shade of the announcing stand, to buckle and then tie with leather strips the spurs to my boots.  My boots slit up the front and the back, are dyed red, white, and blue.  They are my lucky boots.  The leather strips hold the spurs to the boots, and my boots to my feet.

I stand, squat, and stand again, as I determine if the boots are tight, but don’t pinch.  My stomach churns with anticipation.  I discover my breathing is shallow and I tell myself it’s not fear, just trying to keep the dust out of my nose.  I squat and stand again.

From a dirty and beat up duffel, my war bag, I take my chaps.  Full length, leather, buckle in the back, out of the way.  The main color is white, trimmed with red and blue.  Hey, I’m nothing if not coordinated.  Along the length of the legs, run fringes colored bright red.  It’s not a sign of patriotism, I intend to catch and hold the eyes of the judges.  They must see the placement of my boots and the action of my spurring.  It’s the only way to get a good score; a winning score, even a placing score would be gratefully received.

Again, to my war bag, where I remove my riding rigging, and my rosin bag, an old sock partially filled with the sticky, dry powder and tied closed at the tube end.  I tug a leather glove onto my left hand.  The calfskin colored protection is stained almost black through the palm and along the knuckles.

I smile to myself.  This ain’t my first rodeo.

I powder the handhold of the rigging, an over-sized suitcase handle made of leather and rawhide, and massage the “stick-um” in.  As the rosin heats, it grabs my gloved hand.  It tries to lock the glove in place, just the way I like it.  I remove the glove, roll it to keep dirt from the palm and stick it in my pants at the belt-line.

My stomach is sour; I wished I hadn’t eaten the hot dog.  I should have known better.  I’m queasy and I turn and spit into the fine dust.  A small explosion puffs where the spittle lands.  I don’t feel any better.

I stand, close my eyes, and sway as I try to imagine the ride.  I’ve drawn this horse before.  I know he breaks fast, clears by two jumps, and sucks to the right.  I’ve tried three times to ride this horse and each time, we’ve parted company when he sucked back to the right.  Not tonight.  Not this time, I will be ready for him.

A stream of horses trot past me, and gates are closed behind them.  They stamp their feet, snort, and look through the boards to study the men who will soon be trying to make money by riding them for eight seconds.

My draw is colored dirty buckskin and we stare at each other through the boards.  He snorts and shakes his head.  “Not tonight,” he’s telling me.

“The hell I won’t,” I respond.

The men who run the chutes help me put my rigging in place.  Once it’s secured, I put on my glove, climb over the top of the box-like pen, and slide a leg along each side of the horse.  He snorts at me again.  My jitters have left me and the pump that runs through me makes me feel strong and powerful, strong enough to ride this horse holding on with one hand for eight seconds.

Doesn’t sound like much does it?

I work my hand deep into the handle, the “stick-um” requiring some effort.  I place my hand and close it around the handle.  My grip is solid and I pound it into place with my off hand.  I lower myself and scoot forward, lean back, pull my hat tight onto my head, and watch the buckskin’s ears.  When they face forward, I call for him.

The chute man opens the gate and the world explodes under me.  My feet are placed correctly; “marking” it’s called, though no marks are left.  My left hand secure, my right arm waves for balance and my spurring is in time with the lunges of the horse.  I got myself a ride.

One jump, two jumps, I’m ready for his suck back.  I anticipate and force a small lean to the right.  He goes left.  My hand is ripped from the handle.  My spurring kicks seem as if they are wasted efforts trying to fly.  I hit, hard; it takes my breath.  I bounce, roll, and I’m on my behind, and my legs are spread before me.  The buckskin is still kicking and showing me his belly.  He runs once around the arena, a victory lap, I think and he shakes his head as he passes me in a, “I told you so” manner.  He flicks his tail and heads to his pen for supper.  His workday, all four seconds of it, is over.  He’ll get two days off.

I get to my feet, dust off my butt, and hear the announcer ask the crowd to give me applause.  “All that cowboy gets tonight is what you give him,” he intones.  I find my hat, shake dust from it, and want to glare at the announcer.  Instead, I wave at the crowd.

I walk back to the chutes and wonder, “Where am I going to find gas money?”

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