Larry Burns

It Happened in Texas

She could hear the truck grind its way up the drive. The crunch of eighteen wheels spitting gravel, the painful moan of gears, and the death rattle of empty cattle containers reverberating against the worn-out trailers and collapsing fences that lined the track. Sylvia humped to her task. Those cattle containers won’t be empty for long, she swore to herself. Seventy-two cows to load up, even though the Asshole said there were ninety. Why he thought that, she had no idea, but he demanded payment for the extra eighteen cows – worth about that many thousand dollars – and even though he was delusional, psychopathic, and fucking crazy, unfortunately for her, he wasn’t stupid. His tractor was blocking the main gate.

Sylvia grunted and sweated. She was short, but broad-shouldered, compact, and strong; she knew how to work, and took a perverse pleasure in getting a difficult job done. But that didn’t prevent her from cursing the Asshole both mentally and verbally with each rock and stone she threw into the mud and mire of the driveway to the lower gate. There were times, she considered, when a person cursed merely for the sheer release and satisfaction in doing so: but not her – not today anyway; she hoped he’d burn in hell. Or die like a dog in the road. That thought made her smile, lifting her spirits just a bit.

She also wished the cowboy would show up. How the hell was she going to get seventy-two cows into a corral that only held forty? How else was she going to sort them out so the mommas and their babies would stay together?

The big truck stopped; the noise of its struggle up the muddy hill faded, and then was lost in the barren expanse of the central Texas plain. A death-like silence fell. Sylvia heard only the throb of her heart and the slow deep inhale and exhale of her breath. She paused in her task to listen. Sweat slid down her brow, back, armpits, and legs; it dripped off her body to join the puddles in the old truck tracks – off her body and into the soil that was no longer to be hers forever.

She heard the big truck door open and slam shut. Sylvia abandoned her task of trying to build a path for the truck to the lower corral, and strode up the road. With each step her boot prints made pools of yellow muddy water.

Tony, as if unaccustomed to such an arduous and humbling task, walked heavily toward her. He scrunched his face in sweaty assertion. “Can’t do it. Not today.”

Sylvia halted. She’d known all along. Even before she’d heard the truck’s brakes and the finality of its door slamming shut. Too wet. Why risk getting an eighteen-wheeler stuck on a miserable back road when within a week it’d be as dry as a bone, dusty, and hotter than hell? But now she’d be stuck here at least another week, trapped in the roasting fucking trailer with the twelve dogs, all the while wondering when the Asshole would reappear, barging into her trailer, all the while screaming at her.

Tony smiled sympathetically. He knew some of the story. Not all of it. Everybody around here knew at least part of it. Enough to feel bad for Sylvia; she was getting screwed. Enough to know better than to mess with the Asshole – he was scary; she was leaving – but he’d be around for a while. Besides, Wayne had guns. This is Texas – everybody has guns, but the Asshole had lots of them, and he was known to spend hours in the shooting range; you didn’t want to end up being one of his victims.

Tony could imagine the Wayne’s next door neighbor musing to the media afterwards, ‘He seemed like such as nice guy. I never suspected he’d be the type to shoot twelve people to death.’ Not that Wayne fit the nice guy description, Tony reflected. Not to memtion, he was on military disability for mental health problems. Who would be in their right mind after having half their skin surface burnt in a tank fire while in Iraq? No, Tony had his own family to think about – better not to cross Wayne.

The cowboy meanwhile, had pulled his truck and horse trailer up behind the cattle truck. With an air of decision, he hitched up his jeans, then closed his truck door, stepped around the puddles, and joined Sylvia and Tony at the gate. He lit a cigarette and viewed pasture appraisingly, and cracked a smile. “Well, I ain’t riding around in that shit,” he offered.

Tony looked at Sylvia with a mixture of admiration and pity, “Next week, huh?”

Sylvia nodded wearily. She wiped her muddy hands on her jeans, “OK, I’ll give you guys a call.” She drew out a pack of cigarettes, tapped it, and held it out to Tony. The three stood for a moment, smoking, saying nothing.

Tony squinted and gazed across the pasture as if searching for something in the distance, then he cast his eyes down toward the creek, and out to clouds that still hovered threateningly and said, “I guess Wayne even has the weather on his side.”

Sylvia, following his gaze, barely nodded, “Yes, I guess God must have a soft spot for assholes.” She tossed the butt of her cigarette sizzling into a puddle and walked away. She wasn’t beaten yet.

Larry Burns writes stories strongly based on the geography of specific locations and the characters who inhabit them.