He leans behind the bike and out of view, and resurfaces with somethin’ in his hand. Walks back to Cairine and holds it out to her. There’s a snake in his fist and it’s danglin’ between them, clamped in his fingers. “For you, miss.” She stares at his offering but makes no move to take it. The burning sun cooks the ground. The wind blows and lifts dust Carl stands with the snake swaying from his extended arm. Cairine stands with her hands at her sides. Big-Boots waits for Cairine to take it, but she doesn’t. Big-Boots Snakeskin Bone-Crushing Carl drops the snake. It falls between them, coiled in an awkward death pose. It’s tongue is forked and it’s pokin’ out one side. You can almost see the X’s on its eyes. Cairine breathes in quick an’ looks at the snake. Big Boots doesn’t look down. His arm’s still straight out. “Good. For. Nothing.” He spits the words. They look at each other; this time, Cairine has eyes like I’m Sorry!, or Why Would You?, or How Did This Happen? Snakeskin has eyes like I’m Real, or I’m Serious, or Get Out of Here Before I Shoot You. “I will give you one last chance to get on the back of that bike, Cairine, or you’re doomed forever.” Cairine looks at him and starts to cry. “Three.” She puts her hands over her mouth. “Two.” He cracks his neck and fingers his gun. 26
“One.” Someone in the bar is laughing at something and it rolls across the open lot. “Too bad, little missy,” says Carl, staring and not blinking. He struts toward his bike, spits on the ground, and gets on. The engine tremors and he twists his right hand to rev it. He pulls up to the bar, between Cairine and the front door. He’s straddling the bike but he’s leaning with his foot like a kick-stand to Cairine’s side. He’s got spurs on his boots. Big-Boots takes out his pistol and shoots the sky. “You’re scared a’ me!” he yells to the bar. He does three donuts in the lot, stirrin’ up a small sandstorm, and he drives out, to the East, without looking back. No, no, no. Wait. He drives the other way. He drives away from where he came. The sun is still burning but it’s lower in the sky and he drives toward it, to the looow-lying mountains far away that’re home to the coyotes and the lions and the rattlesnakes. Still waiting for that bullet to hit, that one that went straight into the sky. Cairine stands in the lot, where the bike tracks are fresh and the dust hasn’t settled. She hears another laugh coming from inside the tavern, but she can’t look away from the road. The bike is a black splotch now and the sun is blinding orange and it’s crawling lower, lower down the horizon. She fingers the cross on her chest. “Big-Boots Snakeskin Bone-Crushing Carl.”
The fourth and final issue of Steps for the 2010-2011 academic year.