By Sara Solberg
This wasn’t how Billy imagined his life would go. Had someone approached him at age twenty—gambler hat wrung in their clammy hands, head bowed and steps wary—to tell him this was where he’d end up, he’d have laughed in their face. He could picture it now, the scene unfolding like grainy film projected against the interior walls of his skull: a more youthful version of himself, legs propped on a saloon’s round poker table, gazing up at the stranger come to deliver the terrible news. His right hand would settle over his holstered revolver, left over the Winchester leaning against his chair. “What’d you say?” he’d ask, grin dropping like a noosed outlaw through a gallows’ trap door. The room would still, tack piano fading as drunk ranchers turned to watch. Then with one swift, familiar flick of his wrist, he’d shoot that poor bastard through the heart, straighten the bandana knotted around his neck, and return to his pint. The barman, busy polishing a glass behind the counter, wouldn’t have blinked.
But that was then. Back when he could still call himself the Kid and mean it.
“Billy,” a familiar voice called from a distant room. It was swallowed by a baby’s colicky cries. “Did you fix that cabinet door yet?”
Billy sighed, jiggling the screwdriver against the kitchen cabinet’s uncooperative hinge. His days of gun fights—smoky saloons, the satisfying thunk of a body hitting the planked floor—were over. No more cattle rustled from an Apache reservation beneath the light of a horseshoe moon. No more desperate gallops through a New Mexican desert, groin throbbing with each bounce of the saddle, posse trailing loosely behind, bounty hunters black specks on a sunset horizon. Gone were the bloody elbows from scaling a jailhouse chimney, the sore thumbs from handcuffs lying useless in a dead sheriff’s cell. Gone was all pride at the sight of posters declaring the five hundred dollar reward on his head. Dead or alive.
That was then, and this was now: a box of Mac and Cheese noodles boiling over on the stove, crusty dishes spewing from the sink, four unanswered voicemails, a mound of unpaid bills, taxes due next week. And shit—he’d signed up to make brownies for tomorrow’s bake sale, hadn’t he?
Billy slumped. A hungry glaze settling across his eyes, he peered over his shoulder.
There it was. Hanging on the coat rack between a pink jacket and toddler-sized mittens, shrouded in a thin layer of dust. His empty gun belt.
“And can you take out the trash,” the voice ordered.
Billy allowed himself one more longing stare, then turned to do just that.
Sara Solberg is an emerging writer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She’s an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University, where she reads for Passages North. She can usually be found trekking through the woods surrounding her home, procrastinating on the work she should be doing. Sara’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y, Hippocampus, Emerge, The Other Journal, and elsewhere.