I didn’t know I had lost him until the rustle of his hooves in the grass tapered from a hum to a buzz to an absence signaled by chirping crickets. My too-big cowboy hat was hung low over my eyes, but it didn’t matter because my hair had grown to the end of my nose. I couldn’t see the tips of my boots anymore, but maybe that was because the gritty sand of the Arizona desert had worn them down to softened stubs. Losing the darted points of my boots was bad enough, but my horse, too? The cattle wouldn’t respect a man who couldn’t keep his horse around. Why would they stay? They’d glare at one another, eyes as big as sunflowers and as wild as poison ivy. They’d stomp their fat hind legs and start the stampede, pummeling the ground with each fearful stride towards freedom. The flies in their eyes made them fools. Killing each other. Killing my brother. And now I had lost my horse.
A low growl in my stomach dropped until it echoed between the dried blades of grass beneath my feet. Of course, you probably think an Indian stole my horse. Well, if they did, it would probably be deserved. Technically, we had stolen an entire country from them. If someone took my nation, I would steal more than just a horse. I’d take a whole goddamn herd of horses. Flock? I might even take a whole goddamn state, if the rough, jagged edges of its border fit neatly in my moth-eaten pocket. Thinking about it, there had been a dark-faced man following me as I passed by the last saloon–not the one with the good, burning gin, but the one with the watery beer and flat-chested dancers. But I think the eye-watering smell of booze had licked him gently into the bar.
I did miss him, though. Levi. At first I thought, “Well, fuck it, I can be a true lone ranger now.” But lone rangers don’t get very far in the Arizona desert without a trusty horse to bounce them around with each jump over a boulder or a smaller animal carcass. It humbles you. Holding the reins of an animal, slapping it when it needs to pick up the pace and stroking its mane when it needs a little pep in its step. I guess I could’ve been nicer to him; now I miss his stupid eyes and the eyelashes that could’ve been strands of my hair except they had the tired Wednesday stuck to them all the way until Tuesday. Where are Levi’s parents? Did his absence awaken some maternal instinct in the mother’s womb? Did I feel anything in my pelvis? Stomach? No, I felt fine.
We don’t actually travel alone. I know you think each of us agreed to lifelong solitary, only passing by when the fringe of our chaps and vests brush one another as we down full glasses of moonshine and hit the road again. Down a curly path of dust tornadoes and dropped feathers, lost or deserted, shed or pulled. Brooding until some woman in a snow petticoat drops her eyelids to the floor and lifts them as if they were heavier than bricks. How would a set of eyes save us when our dollar a day can’t even save our memory, our limbs, our horses. You know we don’t shoot guns, either? We aren’t skilled marksmen. We can’t nail an Indian in the head from a hundred feet away. My lariat is the skeleton that holds innards in my shaking hand.
My real name is vaquero, not cowboy. I’m not from Texas, so I can’t take credit for stealing that one. But, again, if I had stolen the identity of an original cowboy, the original cowboy, I would probably be angry enough to steal a horse. Maybe the Mexicans and Indians banded together, going cross-country to steal every horse biting a bit and refine an army. An infantry of Thoroughbreds and Andalusians and Friesians and Mustangs, maybe a Suffolk Punch? Maybe they were going to ride us like the horses, make us chomp on the bit this time, instituting a sweet little hell on Earth. Maybe. Or maybe my horse had seen the black line of the horizon and wondered if he could make it on his own out there, in the saguaro cacti, a lone ranger of a new breed.