Cowboy Poker invites the bravest of men, or the dumbest, to sit down and play. No one else need apply. Foster Blume qualified.
Swatting his white Resistol hat against his thigh, being careful not to crush the Eagle feather lodged in the Concho-studded hat band, Foster pointed it at Charlene seating front-row grandstand. After snuggling it down tight over his red hair he scooted his plastic chair through the sand and got his long legs under the card table. The cards had been dealt. Aces and eights (dead-man’s hand).
Burly Tom Dantly sat across from him, the top edge of a protective flack-jacket peeking above his red shirt collar and black curly neck hair. To Foster’s right a leathery-looking old cowboy called Rover was swiping imaginary dirt off his green-striped shirt sleeves; Leroy, on his left, idly twisted the tips of his handle-barred mustache, the only sign of nervousness a twitching right eyelid.
“Okay Ladies and Gentlemen and all the rest of you,” the rodeo announcer commenced. “The orneriest bull alive, Banjo Bully, is about to be turned into the arena. He’s strung tighter than a banjo temperamentally and he’s sure enough a bully. He don’t like cowboys not even a little bit.
“The cowboy that stays seated the longest wins $4,000. The other players get $500 to help on their medical bills. Cheer ‘em on folks, we’re turning the Banjo loose.”
Behind the opening chute gate a huge black headed bull with a powerful gray body sprang out. Black splattered spots dappled his sides, looking like someone had slung out their paint brush on him after painting his lower legs solid black. Massive sawed-off horns punched outward. He rammed the moving gate against the fence, snorting and pawing dirt heavenward. Wheeling, he saw the cowboys sitting in the middle of the arena.
Bellowing rage he charged the players with his nose skimming the dirt, imitating a monstrous snow plow on steroids.
The next day, when Foster regained consciousness in Sisters of Mercy Hospital, the sun was streaming through the window. His right leg was in a cast, held immobile in traction. He felt lousy.
Charlene’s boot heels echoed on the tile advertising her approach. “Well Cowboy, you ought ‘tuh be real proud of yourself.” Jerking the engagement ring from her finger she slapped it down on the bedside table, sloshing water out of a glass onto the Gideon Bible lying there. “If you think I’m gon’na marry a yeller …”
“Charlene, I ain’t in no mood for this. We agreed we could get married sooner if I won the prize money. I did, didn’t I?”
His fiancé, once removed, glared at him. “You embarrassed me no end. I ain’t marrying no yeller chicken. You didn’t win the pot, you idiot.”
“Huh?” Foster gingerly touched the swollen knot on his forehead. “I remember …”
“Tom and Leroy and Rover split the money. They are down the hall is worse shape than you are. The judges called it a tie.”
“But I … that bull didn’t … I remember…”
“You left your chair and ran like a Dominicker chicken chasing a grasshopper. You flew over the fence and hoofed it down the aisle in front of God and everybody.”
“How did I get this?” Foster pointed to his leg and touched his purple brow. “I thought…”
“You tripped over Mrs. Addison’s walking stick. Then you wiped out a kid selling pink cotton candy and nose-dived down the grandstand steps. Really classy, Foster.”
“I’m sorry Charlene. I guess Banjo wasn’t a good idea. I can make it up in calf roping, though. I’ll make enough real quick to pay that Cowboy Church preacher for a good wedding.”
“Forget it Foster. Take a good look at your leg. About all you’ll be doing at rodeos is selling tickets. But a yeller chicken might not be a good thing for a rodeo to put out front.”
“Now, listen here Charlene. I’m not…”
“Whatever, we’re done. Luck to you cowboy.” Charlene wheeled and charged out the door. Her footsteps faded away down the hall, his future now history.
Taking a sip of ice water Foster swirled it about in his mouth and swallowed. It had a good feel. He lay back on the bed thinking, trying to decide which minute of time in his life was the best and which was the worst?
One took place yesterday with Banjo Bully. The other just took place with Charlene.
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