another stolen character story – comanche joe – the only talking dog in the west.
The winter when it came, came hard, icy winds, snow, blizzards straight from Siberia blew in from the prairie.
The denizens of Falling Pines dug in for a long cold spell and looked about for diversions and entertainment.
At first the cow pokes, wranglers, miners, good time gals and assorted n’er do wells stuck to what they knew, hard drinking, gambling and of course the pleasures of the sisters of swing down at the saloon.
The townsfolk, drawing up their collective skirts of moral outrage, crossed the road and prayed for a thaw, but as the days went on and the winds blew and the snow still fell even they felt touched by a terrible sense of boredom, even perhaps ennui and wondered how they could best fill the lengthening evenings.
Comanche Joe, nursing a hangover, a combination of too much rot gut and an ignominious scrabble defeat – the misery of a Q and no U still hanging heavy – lay curled nose to tail in the hay barn of the livery yard wondering how he could face another day.
The silence was broken, as it was every day, by the duet of Iman Mohammed Jamal calling the faithful to prayer and the sombre tolling of the Lutheran bell tower.
Islam and the arrival of the Iman had come as somewhat of a surprise, the result of an unfortunate combination of imprecise directions and an impatient stage coach driver, but the townsfolk, after some early suspicion had decided that the call to prayers was both more reliable and more easy on the ears than the hoarse crowing of the cockerel from the Dew Drop Inn café and grill.
A number of the townswomen decided that the burkha made a sensible outfit for heavy cleaning days and adopted a perky gingham version in place of their everyday pinnys.
The bachelor farmers from the outlying homesteads were, for a while, optimistic that polygamy, as endorsed by the Prophet, might become popular and a few diehards still clung to this hope.
Comanche stretched and now fully, if unwillingly, awake, padded down a deserted main street looking for something to fill the emptiness inside.
To his surprise, the saloon was packed, but strangely quiet. A delicate smell filled his nostrils, Ylang, Ylang, Rose and Patchouli, the aroma therapist was working on something to raise the spirits of the snow bound cowboys. At every table, wranglers, drovers, cow pokes were reading, occasionally murmuring as they shared particularly pithy sentiments with their neighbours.
Comanche recognised the titles from the new section in the drug store and soda fountain (chi tea and crystal healing by appointment) – the library of self help journals.
“Women are from Venus, Men are from Wyoming”
“Men who love(their mustangs) too much and the women who wait for them”
“Homesteading for beginners”
“Getting in touch with your inner cow girl”
By lunchtime the atmosphere was heavy with both the scent of lingering ylang ylang and more poisonously, the toxic stench of self-diagnosed neuroses, personality flaws and incipient mental illness.
A terrible gloom fell over the cowboys which even the good time gals were unable to lift.
Joe himself, seated in his usual chair, close to the wood burner and with a good view of the swinging saloon doors, sighed and stared morosely at the untouched glass of red eye in front of him.
Could it be true that being a middle litter puppy was the explanation?
He and 27 other cow pokes sighed heavily.
It was then that Slim Pickens, cowboy, film fan and current chair of the experimental fiction reading group stood up. He spat onto the sawdust floor, doffed his hat, always a sign of something momentous
“I reckon what we need here is professional input”
There are nods and murmurs of agreement from all around the saloon
“This self-help” he continued “Well, I figger it aint worth a hill of beans”
There is a pause while everyone mentally runs through the list of possible candidates;
And then Slim, knowing that he speaks for everyone, names the only professional in town to be trusted in any situation of physical or mental collapse
“Best get the vetinarian then”
The cow hands and wranglers are not anti-progress, they host a vibrant chapter of the Sceptics organisation and have been in the forefront of a campaign to bring faster broad band to the Lazy Z, Lazy Y and half-hearted X ranches, still stuck in dial up hell, but some habits die hard and they like so many others choose the horse doctor for their own healing.
Butch, lead mule guy at the Lazy X, articulated the common feeling at an Iron John drumming workshop,
“Vet medicine is more than book learning and their patients can’t say where it hurts or when they last had a satisfactory bowel movement”
The whole saloon lets out a collective sigh of relief and Butch and Slim are charged with bringing the vetinarian back to raise the miasma of self-help gloom which hangs like a cloud over the whole town.
Halfway down Main Street at Faithful Friends vet practise, Scott Brewster is comforting a weeping miner as he slumps over the examination table, cupped tenderly in the miners’ enormous and coal dust encrusted hands is a beige hamster
“let it out man” Scott is exhorting the distraught man mountain “ let your grief out”
Finally, the miner nods and tenderly, carefully, hands the tiny mammal over and then shoulders bowed he shuffles towards the door with one final backward glance at the shoebox on the table.
Left alone, Scott takes a moment to centre himself before preparing for the next client, but before he can call in Monty – teeth descale and claw trim, the consulting room door opens & Butch & Slim burst in.
Quickly they explain the problem, a combination of snow- bound ennui and overly critical self-diagnosis and Scott realises that his moment has come.
Stopping only to don a black polo neck jumper and a corduroy jacket, he and the worried cowboys head back to the saloon.
And this is how, 2 hours later, having reached the head of the queue, Comanche Joe finds himself staring at Scott Brewster, vetinarian and self-actualisation therapist. Comanche has been very quiet all afternoon, the weight of the depression, his personal black, well something has been almost too much for him and he pads happily, enthusiastically into the little side room that the good time gals have vacated for the duration of the emotional emergency besetting the town.
Two steps into the room, Comanche is brought up short, Scott is sitting upright on a neat, inoffensive wooden chair next to a chaise longue more normally found in Miss Lillys’ room.
Scott pats the couch encouragingly and after a moment’s hesitation, Comanche jumps up onto the furniture
“Tell me about your childhood” says Scott
Comanche turns slowly to face him
“Puppyhood” he says slowly “Puppyhood”,
And then, sadly, regretfully, he jumps down from the couch and leaves the room.