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The friend who cut his throat

short story

By JackmamaPublished 2 years ago 13 min read

I was returning from a hunting trip and waiting for a southbound train in the small town of Los Biños, New Mexico. The train was delayed by an hour. I sat on the balcony of the Inn at the Top and chatted with the innkeeper, Tyler Maggs Hicks, about the meaning of life. I sat on the balcony of the "Vertex" inn and chatted with the owner, Tyler Maggs Hicks, about the meaning of life.

I found that his temperament is not hostile, not like a person who loves to fight, so I asked him what kind of wild beast has maimed his left ear. As a hunter, I think hunting is vulnerable to such unfortunate events.

"That ear," Hicks said, "is a reminder of a true friendship."

"An accident?" I pursued.

"How can a friendship be described as an accident?" Taylor Maggs asked rhetorically, which now stumped me.

"The only pair of close, sincere friends I know of," the innkeeper continued, "would have to be a Connecticut man and a monkey. The monkey climbed a coconut tree in Barranquilla, picked the coconut and threw it to the man. The man sawed the coconut into two pieces, made a water spoon, and sold each one for two reals, in exchange for money to sell wine. Coconut juice to the monkey to drink. They both sit on the land to share the spoils, each in their own way, like brothers, living in great harmony.

"In the case of humans, the situation is different; friendship is fickle and can be declared invalid at any time, without further notice. "I used to have a friend named Paisley Fish. Fish, I think my friendship with him is long-lasting, unbreakable. For seven years we dug mines, ranched, sold patented milk churns, herded sheep, photographed, drove stakes and pulled barbed wire, picked fruit as casual laborers, and did whatever came our way. I don't think anything can separate me from Paisley, whether it's murder, flattery, wealth, sophistry or old wine. Our friendship is so deep that you can hardly imagine. We were friends when we were doing business; when we were resting and playing, we also let this amicable character continue, adding a lot of fun to our lives. Day and night, we were inseparable, like Damon and Pythias.

"One summer, Paisley and I both dressed up and rode to this mountainous region of San Andrés with the intention of taking a month off to recuperate and amuse ourselves. We arrived in this little town of Los Biños, which is literally the rooftop garden of the world, the land of flowing condensed milk and honey. It had fresh air, a street or two, chickens to eat and inns to stay in; and that's all we needed. "It was getting late when we entered the town, so we decided to stop at this inn next to the railroad and try whatever it could supply. We had just sat down and used our knives to pry up the plates stuck to the red tarpaulin when the widow Jessup came in with freshly baked hot bread and fried liver. "Gee, this woman screams anchovies to look at.

She was not too fat, not too thin, not too tall, not too short; a kindly look that made her distinctly agreeable. Her rosy cheeks were a sign of her love of cooking and her warmth as a person, and her smile called for shamrocks to blossom in the cold winter months.

"The widow Jessup chatted with us in a very healthy manner about the weather, history, Tennyson, dried plums, and the difficulty of getting mutton, etc., before finally asking where we were from in the bush.

"'Spring Valley.' I replied."

"'Big Spring Valley.' Paisley, his mouth stuffed with potatoes and ham bones, suddenly interjected."

"I note that the occurrence of this event marked the end of my loyal friendship with Paisley . Fish's loyal friendship ended. He took the liberty of intervening, knowing that I hate talkative people, and made a few wording corrections and additions on my behalf. The name on the map is certainly Big Spring Valley; yet Paisley himself calls it Spring Valley, and I have heard it no less than a thousand times."

"We didn't talk much, and after supper we walked out of the inn and sat down on the railroad tracks. We had been partners too long to not know each other's moods."

"'I think you should always understand,' said Paisley, 'that I have made up my mind to make that widowed wife a major part of my real estate forever, in family, society, law, and so on, until death. '"

"'Of course,' said I, 'though you have only said one thing, and I have heard the string. But I think you ought to understand,' I said, 'that I am prepared to take steps to have that widow change her surname to Hicks, and I advise you to wait and write to the social news columns of the newspapers and ask if the groomsmen had camellias in their buttonholes and seamless stockings when the wedding took place!' "

"'You've got it all wrong as it is.' Paisley said, chewing on a piece of railroad sleeper shavings. 'When it comes to worldly matters,' he said, 'I can give in to almost anything, not this. A woman's smiling face,' Paisley continued, 'is a whirlpool of sea onions and iron-bearing springs, and the ship of friendship, strong as it is, often breaks up and sinks. I am as willing,' said Paisley, 'to fight for my life with the same bear that provoked you, to guarantee your IOUs, to rub your spine with soap and camphor; but I cannot be polite in this matter. In the matter of dealing with Mrs. Jessup, we have to do our own thing. I'll make it clear to you before I say anything.' "So I thought about it and came up with the following conclusion and by-law: "'Friendship between men,' I said, 'is an ancient, historic virtue. This virtue was instituted when men protected each other against lizards with tails eighty feet long and flying sea turtles. They have kept this habit to this day, supporting each other until the hotel bellhops came running to tell them that such animals did not actually exist. 'I've often heard it said,' I said, 'that fellowship between men breaks down when women get involved. Why should that be? I tell you what, Paisley, the presence of Mrs. Jessup and her hot bread seemed to make both our hearts pound. Let the better one of us win her. I'll deal with you fairly and never engage in shady little moves. When I pursue her, every move I make will be in your face, and then your chances will be equal. This arrangement, no matter which one wins, I think our friendship ship will never turn over in the potion-smelling whirlpool you said.' "'That's friend enough!' Paisley said, shaking my hand. 'I will do as I have done.' He said.' We went hand in hand, pursuing that wife at the same time, and not allowing the usual kind of falsehood and bloodshed to take place. Whether we succeed or fail, we shall remain friends.'"

"There was a bench under some trees by Mrs. Jessup's inn, where she sat to cool off after the passengers on the southbound train had spiked and left. After supper, Paisley and I assembled there and split up to court our intended. We pursued them in a very honorable and forward-looking way, and if one arrived first, we had to wait for the other to arrive as well before we started flirting."

"The first night after Mrs. Jessup found out about our arrangement, I got to the bench before Paisley. Dinner had just been served, and Mrs. Jessup had changed into a clean, pink dress to cool off there, and was cool enough to almost deal with."

"I sat down beside her and made some slight comments about the spirit of nature as expressed through close and distant views. It was indeed a typical setting that night. The moon rose to its rightful place in the sky to meet the scene, the trees cast their shadows on the ground according to scientific principles and natural laws, and the bushes were a cacophony of mosquito mother birds, golden warblers, long-eared rabbits and other feathered insects. The breeze from the mountains made a little harmonica-like sound as it swept over a pile of old ketchup cans next to the tracks."

"I felt something stirring to my left-just as the dough was fermenting in the tile jar by the fire. It turned out to be Mrs. Jessup coming closer."

"'Oh, Mr. Hicks,' she said, 'isn't it all the more dismal for a man who has no one to turn to, who is alone and lonely, to be on such a beautiful night?'"

"I hastened to rise from the bench."

"'I am sorry, madam,' said I, 'that I shall have to wait for Paisley's arrival before I can reply publicly to such a richly induced question.'"

"Then I explained to her that Paisley and I. Fisch and I are old friends, and years of sharing hardships, wanderings and complicity have made our friendship unbreakable; and now that we are in the tangled stage of our lives, we agreed not to take advantage of the impulse and proximity of each other. Mrs. Jessup, as if solemnly considering the matter for a while, suddenly laughed out loud, and the woods all around echoed. "In a few minutes, Paisley also came, he smeared bergamot oil on his head, sat down on the other side of Mrs. Jessup, and began to tell a tragic adventure: in 1895 Santa Rita Valley drought for nine months, the cattle died one by one, he and flat-faced Rumley race skinning hides, bet a silver-encrusted saddle. "I beat Paisley Fish at the beginning of that quest. Fisch, so that he was helpless. We each had a way of striking a chord in a woman's heart. Paisley's method was to tell some thrilling story that he had personally experienced, or had read in popular books, to scare women. I guess, he must have learned from Shakespeare's play that the idea of women to intimidate. The play is called 'Othello', I have seen it before, it is about a black man, put Ryder. Haggard, Lou. Dockstader and Dr. Parkhurst three people's words mixed up, told to a duke's daughter, to get her hand. But that kind of courtship doesn't work when you get off the stage. "Now, I'll tell you how I myself charmed a woman to the point of changing her name. You just have to know how to grab her hand and hold it, and she becomes yours. It is easy to talk about, but not easy to do. Some men pull the woman's hand as hard as if to reset the dislocated shoulder blade, simply so you can smell the smell of arnica tincture, hear the sound of tearing bandages. Some men hold a woman's hand like a burning horseshoe, and as the pharmacist poured the tincture of ferula into the bottle, straighten the arm, far apart. Most men hold a woman's hand and pull it under her eyes, like a child looking for a baseball in the grass, so that she does not forget that her hand grows on the armpit. All these ways are wrong."

"Let me tell you the right way. Have you ever seen a man sneak into the backyard, pick up a rock, and try to throw it at a male cat crouched on the fence staring straight at him? He pretends that he doesn't have anything in his hand, that the cat doesn't see him, and that he doesn't see the cat. That's all it was. Never pull her hand to where she can notice it herself. Although you know that she knows that you are holding her hand, but you have to pretend that nothing is wrong, do not show signs. That's my strategy. As for Pace's use of war and disaster stories to win her over, it was like reading the Sunday train schedule to her. The train that day had to stop even in places as small as Ossingrove, New Jersey."

"One night, I got to the bench first, a bag of cigarettes before Paisley. My friendship went awry for a moment, and I actually asked Mrs. Jessup if she thought the word 'Hee' should be spelled a little better than 'Jay'. Her head promptly crushed the clementine in my buttonhole, and I padded over - but I didn't do it."

"'If you don't care,' I said, standing up, 'let's wait for Paisley to come and finish this thing. So far I have not done anything that would be sorry for our friendship, and that is not very bright.'
" 'Mr. Hicks,' said Mrs. Jessup, looking at me in the darkness with a somewhat peculiar expression, 'I would have asked you to walk down the valley and never come to see me, if there had not been another reason.' "

"'What was the reason, may I ask, madam?' I asked."

"'As you are such a faithful friend, surely you can be a faithful husband,' she said."

"Five minutes later, Paisley was sitting next to Mrs. Jessup, too."

"'In the summer of 1898,' he began, 'I met Jim Bartholomew in Silver City. Bartholomew bit off a Chinese man's ear in the Blue Light Saloon over a plain cloth shirt with horizontal stripes-what was that noise?'"

"I re-did with Mrs. Jessup what I had just interrupted."

"'Mrs. Jessup has promised to change her surname to Hicks.' I said.' This is merely another confirmation.'"

"Paisley coiled both his legs on the foot of the bench and groaned."

"'Lem,' he said, 'we've been friends for seven years. Will you stop kissing Mrs. Jessup so loudly? And I promise not to be so loud in the future.'"

"'Well,' I said, 'a little lighter is all right.'"

"'This Chinese man,' Paisley continued, 'shot a man named Marin in the spring of 1897, and that was-' "

"Paisley interrupted his own story again."

"'Lem,' he said, 'if you were really a righteous friend, you shouldn't have held Mrs. Jessup so tight. I felt the whole bench shake just now. You understand, you said to me that as long as there was a chance, you would always be my equal.'"

"'You fellow,' said Mrs. Jessup, turning to Paisley, 'in twenty-five years' time, if you come to the silver wedding anniversary of Mr. Hicks and me, does your pumpkin brain still think you have any hope in the matter? It was only because you were Mr. Hicks's friend that I put up with it for a long time; but I think you ought to drop it now and go down the hill.'"

"'Mrs. Jessup,' said I, without, however, losing my position as a fiancé, 'Mr. Paisley is my friend, and I always deal with him fairly and with equal interest whenever I can.' "

"'Opportunity!' she said.' Well, let him think he has a chance; he saw it all on the side to-night, and I hope he won't think he's quite sure of it.'"

"A month later, Mrs. Jessup and I were married at the Methodist Church in Los Pinos; and the whole town came to see the ceremony."

"As we stood side by side at the front and the minister began to perform the ceremony for us, I scanned around and couldn't find Paisley. I asked the pastor to wait a moment.' Paisley's not here.' I said. 'We have to wait for Paisley. You have to make friends until you're old - Taylor Maggs. Hicks is that kind of man.' I said. Mrs. Jessup's eyes were a little on fire; but the priest, as I had commanded, did not immediately recite the Scriptures."

"After a few minutes, Paisley darted into the aisle, and while he did so, was planting a stiff cuff. He said the only store in town that sold clothing was closed for the wedding, and he couldn't get the basted shirt he liked, so he had to pry open the back window of the store and fetch one for himself. Then he went over to the bride's side and the wedding went on. I kept thinking that Paisley was waiting for one last chance, hoping that the priest would make a mistake and marry the widow for him."

"After the wedding, we had tea, antelope jerky and tinned apricots, and the townspeople dispersed. The last person I shook hands with was Paisley, who said I was an honorable man and that it would be good to be my friend."

"The Reverend had a little house down the street that he rented out; he let Mrs. Hicks and me occupy it until 10:40 the next morning, at which time we took the train to El Paso for our honeymoon. The parson's wife had dressed that house with marshmallows and poison ivy, and it looked cheerful and had the flavor of a gazebo."

"Around ten o'clock that night, I sat down in the doorway and took off my boots to cool off while Mrs. Hicks opened up the house. It wasn't long before the lights went out inside; and I was still sitting there, thinking back to the old times and scenes. I heard Mrs. Hicks greet, 'Will you just come in, Lem?'"

"'Ay, 'ay!' I said, as if awakened.' I was just waiting for old Paisley--'"

"But that's not the end of it," said Tyler Maggs. I felt as if someone had shot off my left ear with a four or five caliber pistol. Then I realized it was just Mrs. Hicks hitting it with a broom handle."


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