Everyone’s seen at least bits and pieces of a western. You’ve got gunslingers and bandits, train robberies and shootouts. I’m not a historian, so I couldn’t tell you what the real wild west was like, but I live in a place that people still take for the wild west. I was out doing some shopping last night and this thought hit me, it’s fictionalish, and I couldn’t quite turn it into flash fiction, but here it is:
It’s a little late in the evening, but I need to hit the grocery story for a beer and breakfast for the kids. On my way along the two-lane country road, a huge jacked up truck crawls right up to my bumper. I check my speed it’s fifty-five, a few above the speed limit. He blasts his horn and roars past belching black smoke. Back of the bed is adorned with a pair of flags, the confederate battle flag on one side and a yellow flag with a snake in the middle on the right hand side. I slow a bit so he doesn’t clip me as he rolls into my lane a little too soon. Then he brake-checks me. I dive to the right and slam on my brakes. He floors it, tearing off into the dark.
I’m alright, my heart rate is up a bit, but the car’s not hurt and I’m still on the road. It happens all the time. Driving along, minding my own business and someone takes it upon themselves to bully the guy driving the beat up minivan. There isn’t anyone to deter or check the behavior. Doesn’t matter how dangerous it is. The people here just won’t pay for police, so there aren’t any. The truth is, I know this guy though he doesn’t know me. He’ll keep doing it until he spins out of control on that little road. That truck will flip three times and roll over on to a sedan with a small family in it. Three people will be dead, including the driver of the truck. When the dust settles, all of his friends will talk about what a good person he was and all of the good things he did and what a terrible freak accident it was. There won’t be a word paid to the unacceptable behavior this young man and the absolute disregard he has for the health and safety of other people.
By the time I get to the store, I’m already ready to be home, but I can’t remember all of the things I’m supposed to get, I’m too stressed out. There’s an overweight man at the check out counter, he’s wearing a cowboy hat and a t-shirt that reads ‘You can have your hope and change, I’m keeping my guns and money.’ He’s sporting a tough expression and has a .45 strapped to his hip. Turns out I know this guy too, but he doesn’t know who I am. His gun may be conspicuous, but it’s a naive gesture at best. He’s never shot a living thing in his life, doesn’t have the stomach for it. What’s really going on is that he’s afraid, he’s bought into the fear that someone, who he’s helped to arm, will roll into his rural grocery store and start shooting people up. The irony is that the man isn’t involved in illegal activities, he’s cautious, he’ll never see a shootout, no, he’ll die of a heart attack. Something he’s always assumed won’t happen to him, he’s too tough for that sort of nonsense.
I move past the register by the customer service desk. The manager is standing there looking every bit the part of a zombie. Even though I make eye-contact, he doesn’t acknowledge my presence. He doesn’t know me, but it turns out I know him. He was the valedictorian of his class who had decided to take a year off to save up. In that year he broke his arm and had reconstructive surgery. All of the money he had saved up went to pay for his hand. Another year went by and more expenses came, there was no savings for college, then another and another, and he met a young woman, and decided to put it off. Some twenty years later, here he is, divorced twice and working a job he hates.
Finally, I remember what I came for, it was in the freezer section. The girl stocking back there looked up, and then turned away to go do something else. She’s cute, perhaps 19, lots of curves, but fit. I remember her from twenty years ago, just after high school. Tonight she’s going to go back to the apartment she shares with a couple of friends where she’ll drink too much. She’s going to have sex with one of those guys. Later, she’ll giggle uncomfortably as she explains to another girlfriend of hers that she accidentally had sex with a guy, and that she didn’t really want to. She’ll never call it for what it is, rape. Her friend won’t ever call it that either. After all, she’s a flirt, she must have been asking for it. Everyone believes that.
With breakfast in hand, I wander over to the liquor store, pick up my six pack and hit the check-out. The woman I’m staring at is wearing a grimace her acne is as bad as I’ve ever seen and she’s rail thin. She looks as though she’s pushing sixty, but no, she’s no older than I am. I’m staring at the woman, she has a familiar face. Then it hits me I knew her back when too, she doesn’t remember me though. She left home just after high-school and started experimenting with drugs. At first it was just pot, truth be told though she was doing enough of that back before graduation. She wanted more experiences, acid, coke, then meth, and now heroin. It’s left her as no more than a skeletal representation of what a person should look like.
When I leave the store, I drop the six pack in the back of the van with the little sack of groceries. I’ll retreat to my little house in the woods, lock my doors and hope that someone doesn’t break in in the middle of the night. This here, this is the wild west, it is and was, and it’s not good, and if this is how people want it, it’s not a place we can take much pride in.