Excerpt: A Man Down

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The smell of the cows was what done me in. 

   Ever since I was a little cowboy, watchin my pa drive other men’s herds, the best smell in the world to me, was beef. On the hoof or on my plate, it don’t matter. Their hides, their dung, their breath even, floating on a big sky wind. You see, cows mean money. And I meant to get me some.

   I left home on my 16th birthday, couldn’t wait no longer to start buildin my fortune, and I didn’t listen to nothin my folks said. I was determined to be more than a hired hand. I tried cards first, cause I always beat my pa and his friend Tom but after a night at the tables, I knew it wudn’t for me. I played fair. No way I could win without cheatin and I couldn’t shoot, didn’t even have a gun.

   Next, I tried hirin out to the farms and I made some fast cash from that one but their eyes called me a saddle-tramp despite my only being 17 and I turned to things that made me feel bigger. Like breakin horses. For some reason now, my love of beef don’t extend to those tall, jittery animals and I only stayed for a couple days before walkin back to town, rubbin my behind. Somethin they don’t tell ya about filly’s is that they like to bite after they throw ya off. I came away from that job with no money, bleeding, and a future scar on my shoulder. Coulda been worse, though. I think that buckskin mare was goin for my throat.

   After that, I spent time working on the raillroad the town was helpin to build. That was the hardest work I ever done and after three weeks, I’d had enough. The pay was real good but the work was drainin. I didn’t even have the energy to visit the saloon no more.

   Then, one of the dancehall girls suggested I try to be an apprentice, the railroad money lasted a while, and I convinced the blacksmithy to take me on. After the fire, I tried the general store and then the inn but I just coudn’t do it. Things fell from my hands and mouth without me knowin they was goin to and I moved on quick, before they could tell me to. From there, I hired out to the saloon on weekends, then the newspaper opened up and I gave that a shot too but I couldn’t get those tiny letters to line up straight enough and after I broke a finished edition, the owner himself asked me to leave. It just seemed like there weren’t nothin I could do.

   I wudn’t givin up though and I stayed in town, mostly sleeping in the stables in exchange for helpin to clean ’em. I ate what I hunted and cooked in the woods. It weren’t no easy life but it weren’t bad neither and I reckon I could have went on strugglin through other jobs till I found somethin I could settle down and try to be good at. Except for those cows. They was my undoin…

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