Barbwire Cowgirl

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic


Riding for a cattle ranch might be rough work for a man even these days, but saddling up as a woman and expecting the same respect on the job is even tougher.

Submitted: January 04, 2018

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Submitted: January 04, 2018

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The wire hung loose, all three strands of it. The fence posts appeared to be still solidly set in the ground so it was just a matter of tightening the barbwire back.  I swung down from the saddle and let the reins hang free knowing that Dimy, my horse, would not go anywhere. Digging into my saddlebag I extracted extra bailing wire and pliers. Hanging the loop of wire over the fence post I cut a long piece of bailing wire and spliced it with the broken end of the barbwire and then wrapping the new end around the post I carefully took hold of the bottom string, placing my hands between the barbs, and pulled it as tight as I could. Using the pliers I pulled it even tighter and then wrapped the wire around it self to hold it in place. I repeated the work on the other two strands and then stepped back to inspect my fifty-fourth fence repair of the day.

“What do you think?” I glanced back at Dimy, but all I got for a response was a twitch of his ears. I smiled nonetheless and plucked at the top strand liking the taunt sound it made as I let it go.  Putting my materials back in the saddle bag my eye caught the small pin prick of light that twinkled out across the miles of desert like a far away star. I knew it was the porch light of the ranch house turned on by Old Joe in preparation for the evening, but it also signified dinner time. 

As ancient as the dirt beneath his feet Old Joe believed he could still outwork every lazy boned cowboy within a hundred miles. Unfortunately, he could barely stand.  He was a fixture of the ranch; everyone knew that it wouldn’t be the same without Old Joe, without his stories of the olden days, without his gruff laugh, and even without his perpetual cup of chew that he spit into.  Smooth talking him into believing that he was the best cook between here and El Paso the Boss had been able to retire him to the safety of the kitchen without injuring the old man’s pride.

The light was slowly fading close to the ground and only in the sky was it still bright. The sun had disappeared behind the Sacramento Mountains leaving the  desert valley in shadow. Only the tips of the Guadalupe Mountains behind me were still bathed in light and even that was slowly rising off the peaks to disappear into the sky.   I could see my long and bulky shadow enveloping the dust in front of me, a stark contrast to how I knew I really appeared.  I was short and slight, without a single curve to my name.  There was nothing frilly or girly about me, I kept my long and wavy brown hair tied back in a simple pony tail and it was very hard to find me without my hat on.

I knew that I did not want to start heading back; it felt good to be lost among the greasewoods and to watch the colors fade from the tips of the clouds. I knew it would start as soon as I sat down with the rest of the hands, the underlying ribbing, the jokes, and the smirks. My jaw tensed, and I felt my face flush from the remembrance of why I was out here fixing the fence line. I was the only girl on the ranch.  This was a male world, working cattle, and it takes a long time to earn the respect needed to be accepted.  Every man I had known believed a girl could not work as hard, or get the job done right the way they could but it was the only job I knew and did well.  So the ranch foreman delegated all the menial and unwanted tasks of mucking out the stables, cleaning the tack, checking the watering holes and the repair of all the fence lines to me.  I tried to tell myself that at least it was a job, but I kept getting stuck on my own impulse to show everyone that I could do a man’s job. The only problem was I knew I couldn’t, but I continued to work myself hard in an unsuccessful attempt to show them I was good enough. The more they scoffed the harder I worked.

Lowering myself to the ground I sat with my back against Dimy’s front leg and took out my harmonica. Dimy lowered his head until his muzzle rested lightly on my shoulder; I brushed my fingertips over his nose, feeling the soft warmth.  Taking a breath I began to play on the harmonica, letting out notes that echoed the fading sunset and my melancholy mood.  Dimy suddenly lifted his head, his ears alert, and I stopped playing the harmonica instantly.  I could hear a horse approaching but I did not get up.  Dale Ray, one of the ranch hands, emerged from the maze of greasewoods and stopped several feet away.  He was on foot and leading Tanglefoot, his horse.  One hand was shoved into the pocket of his jeans while the other hung by his side, holding the trailing reins to his horse’s bridle.  He was medium height and stick-thin with a small bow in the legs from being in the saddle too long every day. 

I waited, wondering what he wanted, but he just stood there staring out towards the sunset.  Then in a slow and halting voice he spoke.  “That was a right pretty sound you were making.”

I blinked; I had never heard more than a one syllable word from Dale Ray, and he had never spoken directly to me before.  I had assumed that he felt the same about me as the other hands did, but as Dale Ray stood there, I came to the realization the only reason he might not have talked to me before was due to his being shy. 

“Thank you.” I stammered, not sure what to say, or how to say it. 

“You heading back?”  Dale Ray spoke the question in a tone that implied he already knew my answer.

“Not yet.”

He nodded turned to walk away but paused.  “I can’t quite place you.”

Looking up at him, I could barely make out his face but I knew what he meant, what he and probably all the rest were wondering about, the reason why I was doing a man’s job instead of something else.  My mind wandered to the question that I had wanted to ask myself for so long, the question to which I already knew the answer but was too scared to admit to, the question to why I kept traveling from town to town and ranch to ranch.  Because I hoped somewhere along the way I would find him, the dad who had accidentally forgotten me.

“I’m not too tough to figure out; my Dad taught me two things - how to ride and how to ride hard.”

Dale Ray gathered the reins and stepped into the saddle; Tanglefoot shifted his weight and then stood quiet, waiting for the command that would come.  Dimy let out a soft sigh, and I reached up to stroke his neck.

“I’ll see you at the house then.”  I could tell he was searching for something else to say, but whatever he might have come up with he kept to himself, for with that, he turned his horse towards the barn and left.

The barnyard was dark when Dimy and I finally rode through the gate, and I quickly stripped the saddle and blanket off, using the glow of light from inside the barn to guide me.  Picking up the currycomb, I moved the brush across Dimy’s back, making sure that the brush strokes matched the direction of his hair.  Brushing Dimy had always helped to relax me, and as I stood by the side of the barn in the dark, I could almost believe that I was alone.  The sounds of other cowhands washing up grew distant.  Using my fingers, I traced the lines left in Dimy’s hair by the brush, smoothing the furrows flat.  Dimy had his eyes closed, and he rested on three legs, letting his back left leg go slack.

“Hey Barbwire, don’t forget to feed the horses tonight.”  The taunting voice dripped with disdain and I tensed, frustrated anger built suddenly inside of me where a second before there had been none.  I closed my eyes and leaned my head against Dimy’s side, forcing myself not to respond; knowing that if I did, it would be in retaliation. 

A jingle of spurs followed the voice, announcing the approach of the ranch foreman, Pat McVey.  “Did you hear me?”

Without turning to face McVey I gave him a quick affirmative.  I didn't have to see the foreman’s expression to hear the smugness beneath his black handlebar mustache in his sour chuckle.  I had always thought the nickname they'd given me was almost fitting, but I never liked it when the foreman would use it with contemptuous belittling.

Leading Dimy through the gate into the horse pasture behind the barn, I took off his halter and watched him trot out to where the other horses where grazing.  Returning to the barn, I gathered the feed buckets and filled them with grain.  Heading back down the path and through the gate I could just make out the horses' darker shadows against the black background of the mountains.  I strained to watch them for a minute, and then leaning my head back, I whistled, long and clear.  All five heads came up as one and turned to look in my direction.  There was a second of recognition, and then the stampede started.  Dimy was in the lead with the others strung out behind him, all galloping at full speed.  They thundered past me and to the trough, where I had spread the grain out, hungrily snatching huge mouthfuls of the food.  Smiling I headed for the kitchen where I washed up and sat down at the table.  Nobody looked up at my arrival, and I honestly didn't want them to.   I felt better being ignored than being noticed.


© Copyright 2018 C.L. McCullough. All rights reserved.

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