poems & stories of
JIM HAY

Black and White Movie

“Hey Tex, stay behind this har rock. Keep yer eyes peeled down the trail. We’ll know when he’s a comin’ and he cain’t see us.”

“Okay Michigan. How long will he be?”

“Few minutes, I reckon. He always comes through the pass nigh onto sunset. Keep yer haid down or you’ll get a hole blowed clean through that new Stetson.”

The two brave cowpokes keep a nervous watch. Many a cowboy has become boots and bones for getting in the way of this killer. Michigan looks over at Tex, tries to smile, a thin smile smothered in nerves. They stare down the trail, suddenly eyes wide. Clouds whirl up on the horizon, a mad tornado nips at the heels of a black horse. Tex turns to bolt, holds his ground, ducks deeper behind the rock. “Steady Tex, He’s gotta slow fer these rocks.” Tex nods, eyes round and scared. Michigan sees how young he is for this job and realizes he is only two years older himself.

 

The big gunslinger reins in the shining beast, lathered white from hard riding. The steaming animal lurches, eyes red with fury, clouds of white rise to envelop horse and rider in swirling madness. The rider slowly dismounts. He’s tall, wears a long black coat and dark hat pulled low over silver hair. A small red feather tucked into his hatband is a blatant flag of blood and death. He moves cautiously, looking back down the trail once more before coming around the rocks and into the shack.

The two young cowboys wait in frozen silence. The jingle of the killer’s spurs becomes a clanging orchestration of the devil. It screams through their ears, lifts the hair on their necks. Michigan signals Tex to hold steady for a few more seconds. The boots approach, a slow pounding of thunder in the endless silence, a strange percussion almost overpowered by the furious stampeding of their hearts. Two more seconds...one. “Hello dear. How was your day? Are the roads slippery?”

“MOM, what are you doing?” moans Henry, the cowboy accent suddenly gone. “We wanted to ambush him. We’ve been waiting by the office window.” Bob runs up to the tall man and wraps his little arms around his father’s long legs. His cowboy hat falls off his head kerplunk onto the kitchen linoleum as he gives him a big hug, “Hi Daddy.”

“Hello boys. Have you two been good today? It’s almost Christmas, you know, and Santa’s probably watching right now.” Both boys glance toward the dining room windows just in case, before Henry asks, “Do you think Santa will bring me a real horse this year? I’m getting tired of this broomstick for a horse.” He lets go of the stick and it falls to the floor. “I want a real one.”

“Me too, Dad. We’ve been good,” Bob chimes in...well, pretty good.” Both parents look around—the living room is a clutter of cowboy clothes, the office has spilled books everywhere from pushing chairs up to the window to be rocks, and the kitchen is now littered with one cowboy hat and one discarded horse.

“I don’t know about a real horse,” Dad answers as he hangs his topcoat on the clothes tree in the hall and places his hat carefully on top. “Might be too big to put in Santa’s sleigh. Right now, if you two can pick up your mess, We’ll go for a Christmas tree right after supper.”

Mother walks in from the kitchen, brushing some flour off her apron, “If everyone can wait a while to eat, why don’t you three men go for the tree and I’ll finish up here. I’m making an apple pie and it will take about an hour. Every tree is okay with me as long as it is a balsam fir.”

“You sound like old Henry Ford,” Dad chuckles. “Every color car as long as it is black.” He continues smiling as he pulls his topcoat sleeves back over his suitcoat. Mother, floury hands on hips, exclaims, “I don’t like those long needle pines. After a few days, they start falling and soon it’s ‘clink,clink, clink’. Sounds like it’s raining all over the Christmas presents.”

Henry and Bob finish a fast version of cleanup and pull on their coats, mittens and hats as they head for the black Chevy waiting on the snowy driveway. Their boots scrunch the snow and, as they climb in the front seat, they kick their feet together, knocking little snow shapes off the bottoms of their rubber boots. The Chevy snorts to life and they make their way onto ice covered Seven Mile Road.

Henry sits by the frosted window and breathes on the cloudy glass. He uses the thumb of his snow-crusted mitten to open a little hole to view the passing winter movie. Today the movie is all black and white like a cowboy movie on television except this scenery is shivering silhouettes of leafless trees standing alone in fields of tall grass smothered under a seamless blanket of snow. The houses, too, are covered in snow, becoming rows of men in barber chairs, white aprons up around their necks, each with head tilted back, chins lathered in a layer of white cream, ready for an upcoming shave.

The black car inches through the frozen night, exhaust billows and mixes with the flying snow. The little radio crackles in a green glow as strains of ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ lift from the dashboard and compete with the fan that attempts to warm the passengers’ feet. Henry sees the neon sign for the Winter Garden Bar, a snowman with scarf and tophat. He reigns supreme high up in the black granite sky, true king of winter and guardian of the corner of Seven Mile and Farmington Roads. Dad slows the trusty Chevy and pulls into an open field, now festooned with rows and rows of trees, soldiers marching a night vigil under the watchful eye of their snowman sergeant.

“Hi, Dal, hi boys,” comes a call from the tree man. The chilly night takes his voice and compresses it into an almost visible whisper. The boys make their way across the crusted terrain, stepping in the icy prints of earlier pilgrims in this annual ritual of buying a tree from the Goodfellows.

The trees are rows of fuzzy silhouettes standing at attention beneath dozens of bare lightbulbs. Each lightbulb becomes a dancer’s radiant oval face, virginal in its countenance and encircled in sparkling rainbow tiaras. Below the shining faces, patterns of light dance over the frozen ground becoming perfectly choreographed ballerinas in gowns of white crystal. Faces glow in the winter night as they reach slender arms toward the soldiers to invite them to become their suave escorts in a swaying dance of light and shadow.

The wind grows stronger, Henry and Bob turn up their collars to ward off its sting. They too are drawn into the dance, now faster as the wind conducts an allegro. The lightbulbs sway, their faces almost brushing the erect tree soldiers. The soldiers bow slightly and turn in and out of the shadows. Henry and Bob whirl up and down the rows of dancers, arms catching the wind, mittens weaving patterns through the musical air. Rubber boots screech and scrunch on the snow, puffs of white lift with their turns. The wind changes to a presto, the green epaulets on the sleeves of the trees flutter as they whirl in place. They almost lose their soldier’s composure in the rise and fall of the rushing wind. The dancers of light rise higher, heads look to the left, the right. Crystal gowns lift to reveal shimmering legs that spin in the night, pointed slippers barely missing the bowing heads of the synchronized soldiers. Henry and Bob rush down the rows, leap and turn at the corners, and somersault to the next row of dancers. Rushing on the tips of their boots between the dancing couples, they are lost in abandon to the magic of winter. The two young dancers spin, leap, and rush around the next corner, KERUMPH right into the solid wall of Dad’s black coat, “Hey boys, the wind is picking up. We better choose a tree and get home to your mother. That pie should be about ready. What do you think about this one?”

He holds a beautiful balsam fir, slowly turning it for their inspection. The branches are full and even and lift toward a single branch that stands above the others. Bob points to that branch and exclaims, “That will be perfect for the star.” Henry gives his approval, they pay the man, and carefully place the tree in the Chevy’s big trunk. Dad ties some rope around the trunk latch, pads the branches that stick out the back of the car with an old towel, and ties the trunk lid down to gently hold this precious cargo for the ride home. Everybody piles back into the car. The tires crunch across the snowy field and back onto the paved road. The radio plays ‘Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree’ as Henry wipes the frost from the window. He looks back to see the dancing trees and dancing lights. They are all waving to the tree in the trunk, heading for a new home and a joyous Christmas.

©1996 Henry James Hay
Tex and Michigan

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Last updated on 04 Jan, 2018