Save the date. Go Down Looking launch party.
Wednesday May 9, 5 to 8 P. M. @A&M-Commerce Alumni Center
Here’s an excerpt:
On Friday night, Jake Rivers stood on the warped two-by-eight boards that served as a walkway behind the bucking chutes at the Kow Bell Rodeo in Honey Grove, Texas. Although the bareback rigging under his arm was well used, Jake knew it sent the wrong message.
He had already compared himself to the real cowboys and knew he came up short. He felt fresh off his mother’s breast, as shiny and unused as a new nickel when he sought advice from the wizened, teeth-missing, scarred-up twenty-somethings that were his competitors.
He had located his horse and was waiting patiently for his turn to rig her up. Her name was Eagle’s Nest, and she looked almost pitiful in the chute—a long-legged, ribs-showing mare with a dull coat and tangled mane. Something drained from both cloudy eyes and flies worked feverishly at whatever it was.
As was his practice, Jake did not seek information about her pattern of bucking. Thinking about getting thrown will cause you to get thrown, he figured.
As Jake dropped to his knees to pull the cinch tight and tie off the latigo strap, he felt a spur rowel against his thigh.
He looked over at a seen-better-days pair of cowhide boots encrusted with manure. The sole stitching had long since worn through or disintegrated from cattle manure and urine, leaving only several wraps of adhesive tape to hold the soles and vamps together.
The tops, black with red piping, were short and had deep scallops made deeper with a dull pocket knife. The legs of a pair of frayed Levi’s dropped partially inside the boot tops.
“Rooster” had been carved into the widest set of spur straps Jake had ever seen. Buckles that had once been shiny and baling wire under tall, slanted heels kept the spurs from slipping, but allowed just enough room for the jingle bobs to jingle.
The boots and spurs belonged to an older cowboy sunk way down in his worn-out hat. A four inch brim with tattered edges shaded a face that had already seen too much sun and a narrow nose that seemed out of sync with the rest of the face.
One clear blue eye and one unfocused eye with a scar under it stared at Jake. “You draw Eagle’s Nest?”
Jake turned back to the latigo before answering. “Yep.”
“Wanna know what she’s gonna do?”
“Nope.” Jake’s answer was soft and under his breath. He knew the cowboy would see him as downright stupid for such an attitude.
“She’ll go right when they open the gate. Buck two, maybe three friendly jumps, then go over in that corner right over there.”
Jake straightened and turned. It was too late to avoid the advice now. “Then what?”
The cowboy was already walking back along the planks. He turned only his head. His smile revealed two missing teeth. “Then you’ll find out why they call her Eagle’s Nest.”
Jake found a good seat and snuggled his right hand deep in the rigging handle. A hang-up and dragging at a buckout had spooked Jake, so he had cut back on the glove and handle resin. He didn’t want things too sticky.
As he raised his left hand and leaned back, he pulled his right hand out of the handle just enough to get it out in case of an emergency, then nodded for the gate.
He marked her out good, holding spurs to shoulders through the first jump. He felt good and loose as she made two more. Pretty easy to keep his spurring in rhythm.
But he went tight as a fiddle string when he found himself in the corner. He had little experience with bucking horses, but had to think that what happened next was somewhat abnormal, especially for a scrawny, sickly horse.
The horse reared almost straight up and came down bone-jarring hard on her front feet. Jake was thrown forward and almost turned upside down on the horse’s side. But the bronc- riding angels seemed to be with him as his hand stayed in the handle and the old mare bucked just the right amount to return him to his seat.
Jake managed to lean back and dig in the spurs for the next jump. An eternity-second passed as the horse seemed to give up. When she squatted, Jake thought she was going to fall over and die. He raked the spurs across her shoulder and all four of her legs came off the ground at about the six second mark.
She went higher than seemed normal for a horse to jump, fishtailed, kicked out both legs, and broke in two. That’s when he wished he had left his hand deep in the rigging.
When it came out, he felt as if he were flying, flopping in the air like a wounded duck. He worried about hitting the horse on his way down.
But Eagle’s Nest had done this before. She stepped out of the way with the grace of a ballet dancer. She passively watched her defeated cowboy come down beside her. Jake’s landing was clear, smooth, flat and hard.
Eagle’s nest stared at him for a second of two before calmly walking toward the open gate that beckoned her and the good supper that waited.
He saw his father for a few seconds just after landing, maybe a second or two in the air, about the time that the eight second buzzer sounded. A translucent vision of Rance stood over him as he lay on the ground and asked, “How’s this bronc-riding working out for you, Jake?”
When the vision disappeared, Jake’s first thought was that his back might be broken. He felt numb. His second thought was about the laughter as he flailed through the air.
A grinning rodeo clown bent over him. “Damn, boy, she sure sent you flyin’. Anything broke?”
Jake took the clown’s hand and stood up, checking his back and legs. The applause was less than the pain, and there was almost no pain. He had been lucky and knew it. But it would take him almost two weeks to earn back that entry fee.
Jake was disgusted with himself, and getting away from that rodeo was suddenly important. He retrieved his borrowed rigging and kept his head down as he walked toward his car. He had been carrying the rigging around in the back seat like some sort of trophy of his manhood, a symbol of his cowboy dreams, for most of the summer.
Tonight, he threw it in the trunk.