by Elaine Faber
I live in Dead Bush, a small town in the center of Texas. Our town sports three saloons, a general store, the bank, one church without a steeple, a blacksmith shop and another motley establishment such as nice folks don’t talk about in mixed company. Modern wooden slat sidewalks were added this spring in deference to the request of those specific ladies who didn’t want to get their shoes muddy.
On Founder’s Day, the local farmer’s wives bake pies and hams and sweet potatoes for a giant banquet and sponsor a dance out behind the Blacksmith’s shop. Bright and early this morning, neighboring farmers trickled into town with planks and sawhorses for the long tables needed for the annual banquet.
Long about 10:00 a.m., several soldiers still wearing raggedy Civil War uniforms, rode into Dead Bush on horses that looked like they’d been rode hard and put away wet. The soldiers commenced to drink and gamble and ordered steak dinners at the Dry Spell Saloon where such entertainment and libation is encouraged.
I’ve made my home in the back of the saloon and sleep on a stack of burlap sacks, ever since the town sheriff found me, the lone survivor of a wagon train massacred by a tribe of wild Indians. Shorty, the barkeep saves left-overs for me from the day’s leavings. That, added to my hunting prowess, fares me well in the eats department. According to the regulars at the bar, who sort of adopted me as a mascot, I’m a fine figure of a kitty, though somewhat on the portly side. The compliment is validated by the roaming tomcat that comes through town every spring. Up until now, I haven’t given him a tumble, but I’m thinking that next spring might be a fine time to start a family.
Cats are almighty scarce and valuable in this neck of the woods. A number of local farmers have offered Shorty big bucks for me, beings as cats are powerful good hunters and can keep a barnyard free of vermin. Those from the big cities who haul cats in their saddlebags to small farming towns are assured of a quick sale and a $20 gold piece.
Well, seems these soldiers what came to town with their long rifles and powder horns shaped like cornucopias, sat and drank well past noon. I wandered through the saloon and as usual, caused quite a stir amongst the patrons. One of the soldiers took a notion to buy me, having heard about big money being paid for cats up the river a piece. Shorty said I couldn’t be sold since I was a free spirit and didn’t belong to nobody.
I sat near the fire, preening my whiskers and warming my backside, somewhat amused by the stupidity of these humans what thought they could buy and sell another living creature. Didn’t the Civil War just prove the invalidity of that notion? The scent of barbecued chicken wafting through the open door caught my attention and I thought I’d leave these fools to their folly.
I ambled out the door and down the sidewalk, past the wooden painted cigar Indian in front of the general store and rounded the nearest banquet table laden with food. The oldest six of Mrs. Barnwhistle’s nine children cornered me straight away and near strangled the life out of me with their stroking and clutching, shifting me from child to child, chucking under my chin and the like. I’ve learned to put up with children and their nonsense, as long as they don’t pull my tail or pinch my ears, as it puts their mothers in a fair mood when you allow the personal intrusion. They get such a kick out of seeing their children all jollified, they usually smile and offer me a pinch of chicken or slice of bread and butter. If things get out of hand, I can always get away from a child and find a quiet place to lick off the sticky jam or mud clinging to my fur after such a juvenile mauling.
Raucous laughter poured from the saloon and I thought it prudent to check on the doings, as it seemed that the turn of the cards was to determine my future. Whether I would continue as mascot at the Dry Spell Saloon was at stake. Four players hunched over the poker table, cards fanned out in their hands, splashes of liquor pooling on the table, empty glasses lined up in front of each man. Shorty, one of the participants, looked unhappy as it appeared his chips were considerably fewer than the other three. Holding on to the Dry Spell Saloon mascot much longer didn’t look too promising.
The height of Shorty’s chips rose and fell as the afternoon wore on. I sat on a nearby table, commiserating with Mr. Casper, a grey-haired old codger who operated a small gold claim in a nearby river. Shorty ended up with most of any gold Mr. Casper found, in exchange for liquor. The old man was a fool but he didn’t smell quite as bad as some of the other miners, as being tipsy most of the time, Mr. Casper fell in the river more often than most, washing away some of his natural man-stink.
In the late afternoon, the ladies announced that dinner was served for any who cared to partake and celebrate Founders Day. The saloon emptied except for the four men at the table, who found it harder and harder to sit straight in their chairs. Heads lolled and cards tumbled from their hands. When they poured from a whiskey bottle, more liquor landed on the floor than in their glasses. Never in the history of Dead Bush had such a game gone on for so long or the stakes so roundly coveted. Apparently I was, indeed, a prize worthy of much value and consternation.
Eventually, Smitty Rosenblatt passed out. George Waddlebaker went broke. Shorty hung in there, determined to fight for his mouser with his remaining few chips.
As the sun set, the Founders Day revelers broke up and headed for the dance. Shorty was nearly out of chips with blurry eyes and slumped shoulders. He looked ready to throw in the towel.
Seeing the inevitable handwriting on the wall, I slipped out the front door and headed out onto the prairie intending on being absent from town for the next four or five days. An occasional trip away from home is always good for one’s health. No sense being around when Shorty’s card game was called and the soldier attempted to claim his prize. I had no intention of ending up in a burlap sack strung to the back of a saddle while the old soldier searched for a farmer with a barn full of rats and a $20 gold piece. After all, a cat is a free spirit and don’t belong to nobody. As the only cat in Dead Bush, highly prized, I intend to keep it that way. At least until next spring, when Tom comes back to town.