Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Patience (08/21/08)
TITLE: Puttin' Up With Patience
By Betsy Markman
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It shouldn't be.
Her husband died three years ago. Folks say she wore him down to a frazzle until there wasn't any wear left in him. When you're married to a woman like Patience, sometimes dyin's the best thing you can do.
That's what folks say...but not when Patience is around. The only thing folks say around Patience is, "Yes, Ma'am."
This here's a tough town. Always has been, especially since Patience moved here. Halfway along the Chisolm Trail between the Red River and Abilene, it's a town that breathes dust, eats hardtack, and drinks rivers of whiskey. Its only music is the trumpet-shouts of cowhands, the tromboning of cattle, and the occasional percussion of gunfire. And of course the piano in the Set a Spell Saloon.
Patience's late husband, Eddie, used to run that saloon. Folks said it was fitting that a man married to Patience should want to surround himself with booze.
Everybody figured that Casper Hanover should buy the place. Normally he was happy to step in whenever businesses found themselves in need of ownership. But this time he wasn't nibblin'.
Folks kept pushin' at him for a while.
"Casper, you can't let the Set a Spell go under! What if the cattle drivers stopped comin' through?"
"I ain't got the funds," he'd say.
Everybody knew it was a lie. Casper had money. He owned the hardware store and the lumber mill. Besides, when Casper was lyin', he always wiped at his upper lip. It gave him away in poker, too.
The fellers playin' checkers on the front porch of the General Store had it all figured out. "He's scared to talk to Patience," they'd say, and then spit tobacco juice on the floor as an exclamation mark.
The saloon stayed open, with Patience tending bar. Business was slow at first, seein' as how saloons are for relaxin', and nobody could figure out how they'd relax with Patience glarin' at 'em. "It'd take a lot of good Scotch to make that happen," Ted Watley said once, summin' up what everybody thought. But after a while the business picked up again, because there wasn't anything better to drink in this town, and no better place to get it than the Set a Spell.
"Whadda you want?" Patience demanded of every patron.
"I'll have a whiskey," they'd reply. They might want a beer, but they wouldn't dare ask for one. Scotch sells at a better markup, and it was the only thing Patience thought any real man should ever drink anyway. She barely kept any of the other stuff.
The whole saloon would get quiet whenever strangers ordered beer, except maybe for Roy Fustin sayin', "Hoo, boy, here we go!" under his breath.
Patience would lean forward and get That Look in her eyes. I can't fully describe That Look, 'cause I'm afraid young'uns might be readin' this. Suffice it to say, when she gives you That Look, she plants her nose just an inch from yours, and you'd swear her eyes were gonna come out the back of your head. Her face turns as red as her hair used to be when she was younger. "You want a what?" Most likely she'll throw the nearest glass just to hear it shatter, before continuing in a hiss that would terrify a cobra. "I can't even call you a man! I got no time for you!" She gets louder with every word, so by now she's a thunderhead. "You'd better want a whiskey right now, or you'd better GET OUT!"
Some of the toughest fightin' men on the trail turn white in front of Patience. They don't leave, though. I guess by then they need the whiskey, even if they didn't when they walked in.
Then last Tuesday came around, and so did a newcomer. He looked like living leather. Tough. Raw material for a bullwhip. The kind of older feller that has life by the horns and knows how to throw and truss it without blinkin' an eye.
He asked for a beer.
Patience gave him The Look and the rant, but he didn't flinch. Then he stood up, as calm as could be, and put his nose right on Patience's nose. He leaned in, and Patience leaned backwards.
"I asked for a beer," he said quietly.
Patience got a bit pale.
And she got him a beer.
They were married yesterday.
The rest of us still haven't exhaled.
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