The Fiction of Owen Thomas

Signs of Passing

Winchester County   —an excerpt

Tyler guessed that he and Pillsbury were friends, even though they only saw each other at Dolly Madison Elementary, and even then Pillsbury was shy and didn’t talk much unless Tyler really worked on him.  But Pillsbury would talk to Tyler more than he talked to the others, and Winchester County was Pillsbury’s favorite show too, so Tyler guessed that made them friends; maybe even best friends since Tyler really did not have any other friends to speak of.  He was about as popular as Pillsbury, so maybe that was another reason they were friends.  On the other hand, Pillsbury had just turned nine and even though Tyler was only a year older, there was a great big difference between nine and ten.

Winchester County was a show about a sheriff named Henry Winchester, only everyone either called him Hank or Sheriff Winchester or lots of times just plain Sheriff.  No one ever called him Henry.  Hank’s family owned the town, which only had four long dirt streets that came together into one busy intersection, where there was a bank and a general store and the jail, which is where Hank worked, and a saloon.  The Winchesters owned the whole town because they had lots of money from punching cows, which was another way – a really dumb way, in Tyler’s view—of saying ranching.  In all his years of watching Winchester County, Tyler had never seen anyone, let alone Evangeline Winchester or Miss Kitty or Papa John or Hank Winchester or anyone else in the family actually punch a cow.  Not even Sam the deputy, who wasn’t real smart sometimes and couldn’t shoot much more than one guy off a roof in any one show—not even Sam ever punched a cow. 

The show started the same way each time, with a real close up view of a wagon wheel, spinning, spinning, spinning really fast and tight like a top, only you knew the wagon wheel was upright and rolling, not sideways and spinning, and then there was a gunshot and music would start that sounded kind of like galloping, and if Tyler stared at the spinning wagon wheel hard enough sometimes it made him a just a little dizzy. Sometimes he laid on his side, placing his head directly on the cushion of the green couch that was almost worn through from so much sitting – the couch his father liked to strut about; I got the couch, be goddamned, I got the couch. She didn’t get that! They wont be doin’ it on the couch!— and with the worn green couch cushion on one side of his head and one of the ratty blue pillows on the other side of his head, Tyler could block out everything in the room except that spinning wagon wheel and he would enjoy feeling a little dizzy with it all. 

Then there was the gunshot and you could tell it was Hank Winchester’s rifle because it had a special sound.  Pillsbury says it’s because Hank Winchester had the truest shot.  He never missed.  Pillsbury was right about that.  Hank Winchester never missed.  Unlike Deputy Sam.

After the gunshot, the music started and the wagon wheel slowly got smaller and you could see that it was really the front wheel of a stage coach and that the stage coach was being pulled by four horses running full out – or huckledy-buck as Pillsbury liked to say—and clouds of dust spitting out from behind and Hank Winchester standing up on the coachman’s seat with the reins twisted tight in one hand and his rifle in the other, shooting off into the distance as pine trees as big as mountains flew past in the background.