By Gene Hult
During a commercial starring a rugged guy in a ten-gallon hat playing harmonica beside cows in tutus, Michael remembers his cowboy.
In his closet, on tip-toe atop a stepstool, he locates a shoe box. Inside is the cowboy among crayons, dice, and jigsaw shapes.
Michael stares into the cowboy's squinty eyes. The dude is two fists tall. Originally, Michael bought him at a garage sale. The cowboy wears a tan jumpsuit, black boots, and a black plastic vest with fringe. He once had a hat. The cowboy is old-fashioned – his limbs swivel at shoulders and hips but don’t bend at elbows or knees. He cost twenty cents.
After tucking the man under his sweatshirt, Michael sneaks into the hall bathroom. He presses the button to lock the door. Michael lowers the toilet lid and sits in the gray dusk.
The cowboy’s stern face has tight lips.
Michael removes the vest, fringe clicking on his fingers. He pops off each boot with a sigh of suction. The jumpsuit neck stretches to free muscular arms. Michael tugs leggings over stiff feet. He places the clothing on the sink.
Naked, the cowboy looks forlorn. The bumps of hair that dot the legs feel like a cat’s tongue. The man has no nipples, and where the penis should be is a rounded mound. The butt curve is topped with a Y.
Michael spreads the legs to reveal an opening into the torso. Inside, a rubber band connects hooks between limbs and head.
The open crescent beside the mound makes Michael shiver. His arms stipple like the legs. He grips the cowboy, fixed on that dark sliver of hole.
Michael glances at the door. It's locked. Then he’s drawn back to that hollow between the hairy thigh and the mound.
Hands trembling, Michael twists a leg backward. It sticks out, awkward; the toe points at the head. He twists the leg more, and a full turn around. He rotates it again. He keeps twisting. The cowboy's arms raise higher from its body as Michael winds the leg, the rubber band tightening inside.
The elastic snaps. The toy recoils from Michael's hands, limbs flinging. Snagged on a hook, the tattered rubber band trails an arm. Pieces ricochet against the corner. The legs clatter against tile while the head bobbles under the radiator shield. The torso lands stomach down by the plunger.
Michael stares at the scattered limbs, rubbing his knees with slick hands. He pouches the segments in his sweatshirt as he collects them, then he smuggles the remains to his room.
He dumps the jumbled cowboy into the shoe box. The body parts and crumpled clothing look violent. The head wobbles beside a red die and K and X Scrabble tiles.
Michael shuts the lid. He hides the box deep in the closet bottom behind his winter boots, and covers it with a clown lampshade nobody wants.
Gene Hult is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Navajo Technical University in Chinle, AZ. He has written more than 125 books published for young readers, mostly under his children’s pseudonym J. E. Bright (jebright.com). His books of poetry from Brighten Press include Render, Catfish and After, and the forthcoming Ades Fidielis. Please visit genehult.com, or follow Gene on Twitter and Instagram.