The Perfect Ride
The Perfect Ride
by Rocky Rutherford
I've just hit town not a penny in my jeans
I been livin' on fig bars, coffee and beans.
I been out on the road the better part of a year
And what I been doin' just ain't no longer clear.
John Travis Lendingseed had never been a top a rodeo hand. He barely made enough to stay alive, living on fig bars, coffee and beans. He went from rodeo to rodeo in an old hanging down, ready to die F100 pickup truck. In good weather he slept in its bed, in bad he slept under it.
As he rattled into the fair grounds in Central City, he wondered why he did what he did. It sounded alright when he was 19 but here he was between 35 and 40, worn out, busted flatter than a tire. Where did all those years go? Why, just yesterday he left the Army after his tour in the Nam with intentions of going to school on the GI bill. But what did he do? Went straight home, stayed drunk for a month, spent most of his money on whores and the rest on this old truck. Went straight back to one night rodeos. What the hell, he had no idea what to study. Besides he felt out of place with all them college kids. Thought about going back in the Army but that wouldn’t work, he didn’t like being told what to do. Being free is what he liked; rodeoing is being free.
This afternoon he’d make enough to go on to Yakima…if his luck changed. Luck has a lot to do with it. You gotta be lucky in drawing the right bull. Some of the cowboys had all the luck, especially the top hands because they always seemed to draw just the right bull, a rank one that suited their riding style. Well, John Travis Lendingseed, what is your style? He didn’t know and didn’t have the energy to think about it. Thinking made his head hurt.
“Hey, Seed, good to see you back,” said the stoned faced lady in a cockeyed cowboy hat at the entry table in the shade of an old live oak. “Whatcha ridin’ in cowboy?”
“Thank you, Miss Louise, good to see you too. I reckon bull riding is about all I can afford.” He forced a hand inside a front pocket and fingered around until he found the wadded limp bills. He smoothed them and laid them in front of her. She rolled it without counting and put it in her tin box and popped it shut. They always have just the right amount she thought as the cowboy gimped off toward the pens.
“Good luck, cowboy,” she called after him, shaking her head.
“Thankee, Miss Louise,” he mumbled back over his shoulder.
After dropping off his gear, he sat down on a splintered bench and pulled off his right boot, took out the hidden ten dollar bill then stomped the boot back on, Reckon he’d head on down to the Palace and have a cool one.
Big Sal, the Rodeo Gal, had mounted the bar and was surrounded by cowboys sousing down beer and munching on peanuts, assuaging their empty bellies. The juke box blared out a song about a sad cowboy song. Back in a darker corner the perpetual poker game cranked up.
Ah, this ain't so bad a life, John Travis Lendingseed reckoned. Everybody's happy, free. Just one big party after another. Just look at all the places he's been. Reckon he's what they call a world traveler. The beer went down cool and smooth, truly a cool one. He figured he'd keep on doing this rodeo. Why not? Nothing else he knew how to do. With four finger flicks of his slender right hand he built himself a smoke. Cheaper than tailormades these rollyaowns. Maybe later on he'd hook on a number he kept stashed in his left boot.
The more beer he drank the better Big Sal looked; the more beer he drank the better he thought he was at bull riding; the more beer he drank the better the world looked. But he also knew he had to get some rest if he was going to show in the afternoon ride. He had just enough sense to force himself back to the truck.
There, he couldn't sleep, something was wrong in his back and kept him flopping around . So he rolled out, groaning and cussing and hungrier than a preacher at Sunday dinner. He wished he'd eaten more peanuts. He knew Bill's Place was about a mile down the road toward Central City but he'd walk anyway, save his gas. The noon sun was hot so he thought about other things to keep cool while he scuffed along in his rolled over boots. If he won today he was going to buy him a nice pair of Tony Lamas.
Bill's 90 Cent Breakfast Any Time Special, laid heavy on his chest a minute after he ate it. Greasy bacon, greasy eggs, greasy grits, even greasy coffee. He was just starting his second cup when Cleatus Coggins came in. Cleatus, a loser, drifted from rodeo to rodeo making just enough to stay alive and drunk. He stunk bad.
"Jesus," John Travis Lendingseed said, "you smell like a brewery."
"Nuthin new, huh, Seed?"
"You really don't give a shit do you, Cleatus?"
"Nah, Seed, no use pretending. Want me to move to another table?"
"Hell, look who's talkin'. I damn sure ain't nuthin' to write home about."
They snickered, drank the greasy black mess, smoked Bull Durham, and swapped bull riding lies. A half-drunk cowboy hung over the juke box trying to sing along with a sad cowboy song.
"Damn," John Travis Lendingseed said, "that's bad."
"That cowboy sings like I ride," said Cleatus. Finally, a big bellied man in baggy ass
levis came from the back somewhere, snatched up the wannabee Hank Williams and threw him out into the parking lot.
Quietly they drank free coffee until trade picked up and big belly said he was sorry but they needed the table space.
Behind the chutes John Travis Lendingseed hung his gear then perched his skinny ass on a top rail to watch the show. The catch in his back kept aggravating him. Seems like the older he got the more funny aches and pains he got. Man, that Cleatus stunk, he thought, sniffing himself. As soon as he got his ride in he was going to find a creek and take a bath. Right now he needed to relax, get his mind right for a good ride, get his mind in the middle. He wouldn't tell nobody but poetry relaxed him. Well, what he called poetry. Real poets would call it drivel, he was sure, but he just liked the sound of his own words as they chased visions inside his head. Like this one he had been working on:
Cowboys called him the Iron Man back in his day
'Cause he'd rode in 'em all, Calgary to the San Francisco Bay
If he could just finish it maybe he could sell it to a magazine or make a song out of it. How about:
Top notch buckles, bucks and ladies he's had 'em by the score
He's the all around blue bell wrangler cowboy nineteen seventy four.
He shook his head and tried to remember the words but they faded and he was back to the first line. Shit, he wasn't no poet no way. He was a bull rider. Piss on this. He was aware of the sun burning his back.
Out of chute number one ridin' Dyn-o-mite, the Silver Valley Kid is a ridin' hard tonight. The speakers trembled and roared, cacophonous in the dusty hot afternoon. Cowboy after cowboy busted out of the chutes on slobbering, snot slinging, shit splattered bulls, some spinning, some blowing, all straining to get the crazy bastards off their backs..
"Man's got to be an idiot to ride one of them bulls," an old hand behind the chutes said to nobody in particular.
Out of chute number one ridin' Dy-no-mite, the Silver Valley Kid is a ridin' hard tonight.
John Travis Lendingseed, you ready, cowboy? John Travis Lendingseed busted ass to chute number one, his head plumb cleared of anything but riding Old Lightening Rod. Stay in the middle he kept telling himself as he made his wrap and honkered down for the ride, stay in the middle.
"Bullshit," his daddy said on the other end of the line. "There ain't never been no one hundred point ride. You drunk again, boy?"
"I'm telling you, Pop, I just did it. Not mor'n a hour ago. Right here in Central City.
Two judges, one on each side of the arena. I don't even know who they are. I knowed I had a good ride from the git go. All I was hopin' for was traveling money. Pop, it's a perfect ride."
It got quiet on the other end. "Pop? You there?"
"We'll talk about it when you git home, John Travis" Click.
How do you believe you are the first person in history to do something? Rodeo is two, three hundred years old, and he, John Travis Lendingseed, five foot five, one hundred twenty pounds just rode Old Lightening Rod, World Champion, unrode, two thousand pound rankest bull in the whole world for a perfect 100 score...a perfect ride. But something didn't fit: try and try, he could not remember the ride. A dream, it was over before it started.
They partied all night until the Sunday morning sun found the Palace littered with drunk, sick, puking cowboys, buckle bunnies, and busted heads. John Travis Lendingseed stepped over and around the mess and tottered into head splitting sun. In his back pocket his just won buckle pressed cool against his skinny butt. In his front pocket he had one hundred and twenty dollars, what was left of last night's purse. But he could not remember the ride. The perfect ride and he couldn't remember it.
And maybe just maybe I can look up Patsy Jean
She said she loved me, she said she'd wait.
But, Lord, my thinkin' sure is gittin' kinda lean
'Cause I ain't seen Patsy Jean since nineteen sixty eight.
He sand crabbed to his pickup, rolled under the bed, and slept in drunkenness. When he woke he rolled a smoke more to cut the taste than satisfy a nicotine urge. On his back he smoked and listened to the trucks pulling out, cowboys heading to another rodeo. He wondered if they would remember his perfect ride. Now, John Travis Lendingseed would be famous. And if a dude is famous he gets rich. In a few weeks, when the money came rolling in, he would buy the spread his Dad always wanted, a thousand acres, or more, with nothing but cattle and horses. No chickens and goats, none of that weak ass shit. They'd call it the 100 PRR, the 100 Perfect Ride Ranch. No more one night stands, broken down arenas, sleazy rooms, when you could afford them. No more sleeping in the bushes and in and under dying pickups. He would have time to write, to become a big time cowboy poet. After all he was the cowboy who made the perfect ride, he knew all about it.
Now when tomorrow gits the final whistle on me,
Western cut, sanforized, slim-fit and trim is what I'll be.
Lightening singed his eyes, thunder buffed his eardrums, even more when he tried to remember the ride. He could remember the words to a half ass poem, but he could not remember a perfect ride. How was the world going to remember it if he couldn't? Some of the poem poked through, something about fig bars, coffee and beans. But the perfect ride stayed where it happened.
From perfection everything went to shit city, twenty two straight buck offs, five broken ribs, a broken ankle, broken wrist, and torn ligaments all over. Not a penny made. The applause withered as fast as his money. No sponsors clamoring for his name, no products wanting his signature, no fan club raising money. Folks even began to question the ride, some didn't think it happened. Some cowboys took it personal, said it was a good ride but no way a hundred. No matter that it did happen, the rodeo world would not accept it. It's like saying the Ten Commandants ain't. The perfect ride ground John Travis Lendingseed into the dirt more than any 2000 pound rank bull he had ever ridden, stomped the life right out of him. Finally, he had to give it up, go home. The cowboy who rode the perfect ride, a loser, rode off into the sunset with forty seven dollars and fifty two cents.
Highway 287 into Dillon is the kind of highway you like to travel when you are in a hurry in the middle of the night. Nothing. Flat, black, desolate. You can open it up, put the pedal to the metal, let it all hang out, even in a pickup that is almost as old as you are. Shoot, if the moon's shinning you can save your battery by running without headlights. You can tank up on beer at Hank's Plank in Alden and drive all the way to Dillon shit faced in the moonlight and never see another car.
There is a picture of John Travis Lendingseed hanging next to the men's room in Hank's Plank. It shows a young cowboy at a junior rodeo holding his first bull riding buckle, A buck toothed smile beams from ear to ear. Just above the picture is tacked an aging newspaper clipping entitled "100 The Perfect Ride."
April that year was cool with some icy patches on 287 just outside Dillon where the road goes through a cut bank. A truck could hit the ice and shoot out the other end like a rank bronc trying to shed a saddle after a buckoff. John Travis Lendingseed hit that ice, some say at over a hundred, at least his F100 was wide open, lost traction and shot through the air upside down like old Dy No Mite coming out of chute number one. After landing on its top and sliding for a thousand yards straight down the yellow stripe it hit the dirt, caught traction and rolled up into a ball of smoking hot scrap.
About daylight a rancher, Flip Woosley, came upon the mess while checking his fences. Smoke still rose from the blackened ball. He drove home and called the cops then went back and sat in his truck and watched over the wreck. Wasn't no use in looking inside it, nothing could live in that, not even a piss ant. A while later they came with a wrecker and hauled the whole thing to Dillon. By this time several cowboys had heard about it and they figured it was John Travis Lendingseed, old Seed.. A couple of them cried as the mess jangled away.
"They'll have to cut ol' Seed,out when they git to Dillon," a cowboy said.
"I swear," said another, shaking his head.
"The Perfect Ride," said another, wiping his eyes, "What good did it do him?"
Some time later an old cowboy hung a handwritten poem next to John Travis Lendinseed's picture at Hank's Plank. It wasn't much but it was the least he could do:
Now when tomorrow gits the final whistle on him
He'll still be Western cut, sanforized, slim, fit and trim,
He's the blue bell wrangler cowboy in his brass butted jeans,
Blue bell wrangler cowboy livin' on blue bell memories.
SouthernReader.com is a fantastic quarterly short story magazine that I have not only followed for years, but am very proud to have been published in! The stories are great and the illustrations are out of this world! Please take a few moments to check it out and share it with your friends.
Not a review but a shout out for a book that quite a few of you might want to grab for the summer pool/beach time. Thought I would share with the readers. EXCERPT BELOW!
As teenagers in the seventies, Tully Hart and Kate Mularky were inseparable. Tully, with her make-up and her halter tops, was the coolest girl in school. Kate, with her glasses and her high water jeans, was the geeky outsider. But chance and circumstance brought them together and through the decades they were devoted to each other. This was the story of Tully and Kate which began on a quiet street called Firefly Lane. Best friends forever.
But sometimes stories end, and we have to find a way to begin again.
Now, years later, Tully is a woman trying to deal with the loss of her best friend. She wants to fulfill her promise to Kate—to be there for Kate’s children, but it’s a promise she has no idea how to carry out. What does brash, lonely, ambitious Tully know about being part of a family?
Kate's daughter, sixteen-year-old Marah Ryan, is as lost in her grief as Tully is...until she falls in love with a young man who makes her smile again and leads her into his dangerous, shadowy world.
Tully's mother, Dorothy Hart, is an unstable woman who abandoned her child too many times in the past and ultimately broke her heart. Now, when Tully is in danger of losing everything and is more vulnerable and alone than she’s been since she put those rough childhood years behind her, Dorothy returns once more, desperate for another chance to be a good mother. But can she be trusted this time? To help her daughter, Dorothy must face her darkest fears and reveal the terrible secret in her past—only then can she become the mother her wounded daughter needs.
In Fly Away, tragedy will bring these three women together and set them on a poignant, powerful journey of redemption. Each has lost her way and they will need each other—and maybe a miracle—to transform their lives…
September 2, 2010
She was sitting on a closed toilet seat in a restroom stall, slumped over, with tears drying on her cheeks. How long had she been here? She got slowly to her feet and left the bathroom, pushing her way through the theater's crowded lobby, ignoring the judgmental looks cast her way by the beautiful people drinking champagne beneath a glittering, nineteenth century chandelier. The movie must be over.
Outside, she kicked her ridiculous patent leather pumps into the shadows. In her expensive black nylons, she walked in the spitting rain down the dirty Seattle sidewalk toward home.
A bright pink Martini Bar sign caught her attention. A few people were clustered together outside the front door, smoking and talking beneath a protective overhang.
Even as she vowed to pass by, she found herself turning, reaching for the door, going inside. She slipped into the dark, crowded interior and headed straight for the long, mahogany bar.
"What can I get for you?" asked a thin, artsy-looking man with hair the color of a tangerine and more hardware on his face than Sears carried in the nuts and bolts aisle.
"Tequila straight shot," she said.
She drank the first shot and ordered another. The loud music comforted her. She drank another straight shot and swayed to the beat. All around her people were talking and laughing. It felt a little like she was part of all that activity.
A man in an expensive Italian suit sidled up beside her. He was tall and obviously fit, with blond hair that had been carefully cut and styled. Banker, probably, or corporate lawyer. Too young for her, of course. He couldn't be much past thirty-five. How long was he there, trolling for a date, looking for the best looking woman in the room? One drink, two?
Finally, he turned to her. She could tell by the look in his eyes that he knew who she was and that small recognition seduced her. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"I don't know. Can you?" Was she slurring her words? That wasn't good. And she couldn't think clearly.
His gaze moved from her face, down to her breasts, and then back to her face. It was a look that stripped past any pretense. "I'd say a drink at the very least."
"I don't usually pick up strangers," she lied. Lately, there were only strangers in her life. Everyone else, everyone who mattered, had forgotten about her. She could really feel that Xanax kicking in now, or was it the tequila?
He touched her chin, a jawline caress that made her shiver. The boldness of it, just touching her; no one did that anymore. "I'm Troy," he said.
She looked up into his blue eyes and felt the bone crushing weight of her loneliness. When was the last time a man had wanted her? She couldn't even remember.
"I'm Tully Hart," she said.
He kissed her. He tasted sweet, of some kind of liquor, and of cigarettes. Or maybe pot. She wanted to lose herself in pure physical sensation, to dissolve like a bit of candy.
She wanted to forget everything that had gone wrong with her life, and how it was that she'd ended up in a place like this, alone in a sea of strangers.
"Kiss me again," she said, hating the pathetic pleading she heard in her voice. It was how she'd sounded as a child, back when she'd been a little girl with her nose pressed to the window, waiting for her mother to return. What's wrong with me? that little girl had asked anyone who would listen, but there had never been an answer. Tully reached out for him, pulling him close, but even as he kissed her and pressed his body into hers, she felt herself starting to cry, and when her tears started, there was no way to hold them back.
Traffic made the pavement hum beneath her bare feet. She made her way down the slick sidewalk, a little unsteady on her feet. A man had kissed her - a stranger - and she'd started to cry.
Pathetic. No wonder he'd backed away.
Rain pelted her, almost overwhelmed her. She thought about stopping, tilting her head back and drinking it in until she drowned.
That would be good. Drowning.
It seemed to take hours to get home. At her condominium building, she pushed past the doorman without making eye contact.
In the elevator, she saw herself in the wall of mirrors.
She looked terrible. Her auburn hair - in need of coloring - was a bird's nest, mascara ran like war paint down her cheeks.
The elevator doors opened and she stepped out into the hallway. Her balance was so off it took four tries to get her key into the lock. By the time she opened the door, she was dizzy and her headache had roared back to life.
Somewhere between the dining room and the living room, she banged into a chrome side table and almost fell. Only a last minute Hail Mary grab for the sofa saved her. She sank onto the thick, down filled white cushion with a sigh. The table in front of her was piled high with mail. Bills and magazines. Junk mail.
She slumped back and closed her eyes, thinking what a mess her life had become.
"Damn you, Katie Ryan," she whispered to the best friend who wasn't there. This loneliness was unbearable. But her best friend was gone. Dead. That was what had started all of it. Losing Kate. How pitiful was that? Tully had begun to plummet at her best friend's death and she hadn't been able to pull out of the dive. "I need you." Then she screamed it: "I need you!"
She let her head fall forward. Did she fall asleep? Maybe...
When she opened her eyes again, she stared, bleary-eyed, at the pile of mail on her coffee table. A Star magazine lay on top - a small, business card size photograph of her was in the upper right corner. Beneath her name was a single, terrible word.
She reached forward, grabbed the magazine. It was a small story; not even a full page.
The Real Story behind the rumors.
The betrayal hurt so badly she couldn't breathe. She read the rest of the story and then let the magazine slide to the floor.
The pain she'd been holding at bay for months, years, roared to life, sucking her into the bleakest, loneliest place she'd ever been. For the first time, she couldn't even imagine crawling out of this pit.
She staggered to her feet, her vision blurred by tears, and reached for her car keys. She couldn't live like this anymore.
Copyright @ Kristin Hannah 2013
A Common Day At The Hospital