The Question

It was almost time. Hot shadows shortened on the dust outside the hotel, but time was dead in the hall, hiding with the sun behind the varnished doors, and timidly peering through cracks in shutters at the cowboy who faced the end of the hall, waiting. The hall was bare and the doors were shut. Slowly, he stared. He stood half-relaxed, leaning in his rough, six-foot vertical, and ready to draw his iron six, fingers twitching, with cold lead in the barrel of his intent. His stance had required years of tension, night-long and secret hours practicing alone in his room, poised and flashing his quick barrel into specific points. He was ready. He was true blue. His slow breath was measured carefully and evenly distributed in a perfect balance. Stainless steel thoughts whirred silently in his head. His gun-eyes were dark. His worry-plowed brow, matted above by his furrowed brown hair hid loosely with a ten-gallon hope, hung like a cliff over the ocean of his need. He leather stared. Outside all the shadows slowly disappeared and reassembled in the dark orbs of his heavy eyes. They filtered under the doors and settled like dust in the corners. It was time. The mirror was only twenty feet away. The cowboy tensed. The question was asked, and the air froze. Three months later, the cowboy was ready again.

9 January 1972