Zest Lit Issue 2, October 2013 - Page 47

— Grumps takes all the neighborhood kids seriously. That’s what they like most about him.

‘Nah, you weren’t never young like me,’ Cowboy says. ‘Never, ever, never, ever,’ he taunts and digs his boot heels and sparkling spurs into the dry ground. He watches old westerns on late night cable and thinks that’s pure American. He shoots up all the storefronts with his fingers—bam, bam, bam. He wears an old cowboy hat found on the curb outside El Nuevo Rodeo. The Mexicans line up outside its doors every summer night, waiting to get in, all wearing clean white cowboy hats with rhinestones that glitter in the streetlights. The boy’s hat is dirty and bare threads hang where rhinestones used to sparkle. It’s his treasure. He saunters up and down the bone-dry Lake Street and his real metal spurs scrape the buckling sidewalks. After his father walked to the Poodle Club for a beer and never came back, Cowboy’s mom bought those jangling spurs at the Cash N’ Pawn. They filled the silence.

‘This boy, right here, is me. That’s my dog Stump. There’s my old radio flyer. Can’t find them anymore, can you? And see, there’s the same tree.’ Grumps taps the photo, then stabs the air, out towards a basswood that stopped growing leaves years ago.

Cowboy drops from the front porch banister and curls his fingers around the chair’s arm. The skin on Grumps’ face hangs loose from every socket, nostril, and lobe. He’s pasty like an old woman, and through his thin shirt is the outline of a wife beater. He doesn’t look anything like that dog-snuggling boy.

‘That’s not you. You’re lying.’ Cowboy’s breath is cold and reeks of raspberry Popsickles and Tootsie Rolls and stolen cigarettes.