I was puking over a truck fender when I saw her. Four years later, she looked exactly the way I remembered, all tan legs and long blond hair. Alcohol and ex-girlfriends are matches and gasoline, but Coors Light trumped common sense and I called her name. She looked over right as I lost my grip on the truck and sprawled in grass slick with dew and vomit. I heard laughter. I grabbed a fistful of grass to anchor myself as the sky became a kaleidoscope of stars and my thoughts skittered and bounced before finally dropping into a slot on the roulette wheel of memory.
I want a horse like that, she said, someday when we move out west. The horse was a paint, its piebald haunches rippling muscle as the cowgirl spurred it on. It was the last night of the Benton Rodeo Days, her last shot at winning the barrel race. Gravel pinged off the steel fence as the paint’s hooves scrambled for purchase coming around the last barrel. She laughed and looked down at me from her perch on the top rail, back lit by the harsh arena floodlights. She was still smiling when the security guard came up and told us to get off the fence.
Look at those bugs, she said as we climbed the bleachers. I looked up at the clouds of insects swarming the floodlights, hurling their tiny bodies against the glass. Funny how they just keep trying. Her smile faded when the floodlights morphed into the morning sun, and I awoke in the bed of my truck to the echoes of the rodeo announcer— But even the best cowboys, ladies and gentlemen, must learn when to let go.
Alex Barbolish was born and raised in Nicholson, PA. His work has appeared in Gravel, Hippocampus, Mud Season Review, and Colere, among others. This particular piece was first published in The Plume, the literary journal of Keystone College in La Plume, PA.