Rodeo Clown - I See You
Short Story from "Out Of The Chute" by A.R.Donenfeld-Vernoux available on Amazon.com
Rodeo Clown – I See You
The sun beats down with unforgiving summer power. Squinting against it I see you cross the swirling dust, running into the arena full tilt.
I’ve sipped a beer with you and other friends, old cowboys. Rodeo pals. Heard your stories a time or two. I know your old bones ache. Too often mended, they cry in pain when you move. Been almost thirty years now, ‘goin’ down the road’ to every rodeo town along the Interstates. San Luis Obisbo. Salinas. Oakdale. Visalia. Chowchilla. Temecula. Turlock. Never made it to Vegas for the National Finals.
Every year more rodeos canceled. Animal rights activists don’t understand what you do is older than memory. The bulls and horses have their pride. Same as you. So, you still load your dogs and costume rags into a third-hand truck. You joke about driving those trucks “‘til you need to shoot ‘em to put ‘em out of their misery.” The dogs sleep next to you in the truck-bed when it’s warm, in the cab, curled uncomfortable around you on the seat, when it’s cold or rains. An empty gun rack holds your least dirty shirts. Your gravel voice accompanies 8-track wobbly versions of Waylon, Willy, Loretta and Kristofferson. Sometimes late into the night.
Today, I see you face the bull, standing tall in front of deadly horns, poised to leap. You’ve got to ride the power of a drug you can’t kick. The dust blows across the arena. I can smell man and animal sweat mixed with popcorn, and cotton candy. There’s the snort and whinny of a horse. Dogs howl and snarl somewhere out back.
The cowboy lies limp and broken only one second short of the magic seven to glory. Dust chokes his mouth and blinds his eyes. Hooves menace him. A beast wants to smash him. But I see you take command. The crowd is tense, only the sibilant intake of breath mars the quiet expectation of death. They can’t believe a scarecrow, a joker, sprints alone to rescue. Can this idiot save the hero?
Your two dogs scamper beside you. They bark and pivot as trained, drawing the attention of the bull away while you make your play. Your ragged pants, wig of neon orange, candy-apple red suspenders, painted face mocking a smile of joy, and a solitary teardrop on your cheek, all mark you for the fool.
I see you near the broken boy; shoo the dogs toward the bull as you run to draw the angered mass of flesh, bone, and horns to you. Your job is to save by distraction; to lead sure death away. Men with a stretcher will save his life.
The bull turns. It sees you with undivided attention. Horns lower, hooves paw the ground. You see muscles bunch in more than a half-ton of raging power. You hold your ground. You must stay the time it takes to load the boy on the stretcher. Move him behind the barrier to safety. He, the hero to be saved. You’re just a clown. There’s no magic seven seconds for you.
Your motley blows in the wind. No one sees the tape and bandages holding you together. The dust stirs in small whirls behind the yapping and dancing dogs. I see you. Ready. The avalanche of vengeance begins. Your eyes slide to the side and catch sight of the men and stretcher. Almost safe. Just a few more seconds.
Cut off jeans over red and white striped stockings cover your legs, ropey muscled as they prance in the dust. You jump up and down, shout, feint, and wave red rags. Just to attract the beast. It launches towards you. I see you, eyes narrowed against the sun. You’re ready. It’s your time. Do you live one more day? Like the toreadors, you face death in the afternoon. But you are sword-less. You have no cape. No picadors standing by with lances. You don’t face a novice bull. No. You face a bull wise in the tricks of one like you. This ain’t his first rodeo.
The dust rises, clouds the rushing form. The smell of fear mixes with hay and beer. You estimate the time of action. Careful. Careful now. Too soon is death, trampled by a loose train of meat. Too late brings the horns, through the groin, the abdomen, or finally, the heart. Some of that you already know, stitched and broken as you are. But one last time. One last time to feel the power, the surge, the adrenalin rush, the high you crave. Just one more time. Please.
The charge begins. Do you feel sour breath on your outstretched hand? Do you look in the wide wild eye? Do you ask if this is your last time in the dust?
I see you. Your leap is clean. You grab the horns and vault to stand for that second of triumph on the back of the bull, arms held high in victory. I see you hurdle over the tail and off. To safety. Like the ancient bull leapers of Minos, you’ve survived again.
The dogs are ecstatic. Their work is done. Tails wag in frenzy as they bound after you. You and the dogs pause in front of the safety barrier, just for a second. You take a swift bow. The dogs twirl on their hind legs. The crowd roars with approval.
The bull stands in the center, alone, snorting over a missed target. No dust swirling. There’s no applause for it. Another time will come. It is sure.
Later, I see you. Scarecrow hat replaced by battered and dusty black Stetson, you lean against a stable door smoking an unfiltered Camel. You hold a Coors in crooked fingers, talk with other clowns, some cowboys. Only they know the real hero. You know you’ve earned the beers they buy you.
The dogs sleep in the dust under a bench. Out of the sun.
Maybe, just one more rodeo.
Word Count: 993
About the author
Alice Donenfeld, entertainment attorney, TV producer, international TV distributor, former VP Marvel Comics & Executive VP of Filmation Studios. Now retired, three published novels on Amazon, and runs Baja Wordsmiths creative writing group.