|Hooping in a pinafore.|
Finding Old Roy
I was ten years old and wanted to do something different. “Nah, I don’t want to do that,” I answered Warren. “All we ever do is roll hoops. It’s getting too hot anyway.”
The town was dusty but blessed with an itinerant cloud shadow. Nothing was going on but an occasional rider or buggy passing by in the dirt of the main street.
Warren acted like he warn’t too upset ‘cause he never made a move to git up. We were at the end of the boardwalk. The only building in town past us was Jones’, the blacksmith who usually supplied the wheel hoops we played with. Warren kept right on throwing pebbles at a pile of horse apples, trying to knock the top one off. “Well, what then Noah?”
Good-looking Jessie Beauchamp came up with the idea that turned on our imaginations. Jessie, whose mom tried to pass her off as a genteel little lady by using a hot curling iron to put springy curls in Jessie’s hair and tucking her in starched white pinafores to keep her dresses clean. The Jessie that Warren, Elijah, and I all secretly loved.
She said it. “I heard my daddy mention that Old Roy would tell anybody a story for a drink.”
“That’s probably true.” Elijah nodded in agreement because he always agreed with everything.
“How come it’s true?” Warren poked a finger at Elijah roping him into the middle of attention.
That was a ritual in our group. Elijah agreed, and Warren tried to make him justify why.
Eli cast about, looking for someone to help him and finally come through on his own. “Have you ever seen Old Roy at the water barrel? I bet he’s plumb thirsty.”
I thought about that and figured Eli had it. You’d see Old Roy here or there, but no one ever saw him move. He just was in his place. Or somewhere else. I ruminated on it while they watched me. Them and Cora, Eli’s little sister. For some reason, I seemed to be our leader, so I had to think it through.
I made a decision. “Cora, fetch a pint jar. We’ll go see.”
She ran to the blacksmith’s and returned with a stained jar that smelled like turpentine, but it was empty. Warren filled it at the horse trough, and we marched off to find Old Roy because he wasn’t behind the smithy’s, one of his usual abiding spots.
We reconnoitered him reclined on a bench in front of the cooper store on the shady side of the street. Old Roy had his hat pulled over his eyes, his hands tucked under his round belly that reminded me of lump jaw settled onto his stomach, and his fatigued boots crossed at his ankles. That wasn’t no problem because Old Roy didn’t wear spurs. Couldn’t use ‘em if he did. No one saw him walking, much less riding.
We arrived at the same time Mrs. Lambert stopped to admonish Old Roy. She tapped him across his knees with her parasol until he moved his hat back, uncovering his bearded face. She drew herself up, arms akimbo, and demanded to know, “Why are you lying there like that?”
Old Roy brought her into focus and in his dark whiskey voice rumbled, “So we can look into each other’s noses. I can see tadpole jerky in yours. What do you see in mine?”
Mrs. Lambert went cherry, with the seed jerked out the way her lips puckered. She placed her hand in front of her face and took off, pumping her laced-up city shoes against the boardwalk like hail on the roof.
I felt kinda bad for her since she always made sure we got some cookies when she baked, but jiminy whillikers, it was funny.
Old Roy took our measure while wiping the rheum out of his eyes with the backs of his thumbs. “What do you kids want?”
Mrs. Lambert once shooed Warren out of the way so he may have been feeling some kinship with Old Roy. He held out the jar. “Here’s a drink. How about telling us a story?”
Old Roy squinted at him. “Got a chaw?”
Warren’s face said he had something of value he didn’t want us to know. He pulled out a half-inch length of black twist and held it to Old Roy. “Got this licorice,” he offered.
Old Roy waved it away. “Ain’t got the teeth to eat that and it don’t soak up like a good chaw,” he said.
Warren popped it into his mouth before any of us could say a thing. Old Roy dug around in his shirt pocket and found a small plug of tobacco that he set to half-chewing, half-gumming. He took the drink, threw out the water, and spit in the jar.
“Well,” he said, “there is the matter of Ragtail and Lark.”
Who or what are Ragtail and Lark? Come back next Wednesday and Old Roy will begin his story.
How do you think it will go? Leave a comment.
Writing Fiction is published Wednesdays.
Thank a veteran.