Slim Chance and Dwight Easten, wrangler and ranch hand respectively at the Lazy Z are making careful progress up Main Street, the February rains have turned the usually dusty thoroughfare into a quagmire, where with one unconsidered step, a cowboy can lose his footing, his boot and his dignity.
They are brought up short by a new display in the drugstore and soda counter window – large red hearts, chocolates, perfumes, mysterious female undergarments are piled up in an explosion of red,pink and silver and right in the middle of this celebration of femininity is a sign written in Ms Mae’s most careful and exquisite copper plate hand
” Don’t forget your best gal this Valentines’ Day”
There is a palpable pause in their companionable silence while both men absorb what is in front of them.
Dwight, a recent convert to freeganism feels an immediate conflict, he knows that he should instantly reject this shabby display of mass produced consumerism, but, oh and but, this is his chance to finally tell the school teacher of his deep, but ideologically sound, yearnings for her, yearnings, that despite attending both the book group and the creative writing class that she facilitates, he has never been able to articulate.
There is another pause and then he speaks
“I’m fixing to write me a Valentines’ card”
Slim smiles, teeth white against his weather beaten skin and the two men enter the store.
It’s busy, Ms Mae and her life partner and ex Sister of Swing, Ms Lilly have put together a careful collection of cards and gifts and are at hand to guide the lovelorn cowboys, ranch hands and roustabouts in these unfamiliar purchases.
The girls have abandoned their many alternative therapy services – Hot Stone Massage, Reiki, Aura Cleansing and Clairvoyance [ by appointment only] to play cupid.
Dwight considers all the cards carefully and finally makes his choice but not before, with a feeling of deep self loathing, Slim falls off the sugar free wagon and downs two sasparilla sodas.
They leave the store, Dwight holding the delicate decoupage card with the very tips of his fingers and Slim, yet again, cursing his need to sabotage his self improvement programmes. He resolves to take this issue to the next Mens’ Group.
They need no discussion to know that their next destination will be the Lazy Z bunkhouse, where they will be able to rely on a supportive and non-judgmental environment to help Dwight write the all important message within his card.
It is several hours later that Comanche Joe, shaking mud from his back legs, pushes the door of the drug store open with his nose.
It is quieter now, many of the cowboys have made their purchases and have taken themselves away to quiet corners where stubs of pencils have been dug out of saddle bags and blanket rolls, cigarettes have been made, bottles of rot gut opened and taciturn men have gone to struggle with the rhyming structures of romantic couplets.
Their is only one possible recipient for Comanches’ card and purchase made, he carries it carefully towards the welcoming lights of the bunkhouse.
A sense of quiet desperation fill the bunkhouse, Thesauruses, Dictionaries – rhyming and otherwise fly from hand to hand, men with furrowed brows mutter, groan and drink more of the inky coffee from the pot which has been brewed continuously for 12 hours now.
Joe finds a quiet corner under the nearest bunk and considers the object of his desire, his adoration.
Her warm brown eyes, athletic figure, her glossy coat, breeding, he sighs in remembered pleasure of the sight of her on the big screen
“Lassie” he breaths and then goes off to borrow a pencil.
With great care and much concentration, pencil gripped tightly between his teeth, he draws a
X and then a shakey love heart.
He hopes, needs to believe that she will read all that is unwritten, unsaid and then he trots back into town and drops his card into the mail bag that awaits the midnight stage.