On a warm morning in the early ’90s, I was dreaming a Technicolor scene of a little boy in his backyard near a window. He wore a red cowboy outfit and hat, with white fringes on the shirt and white piping around the hat that tied under his chin and fit his head as though one size too small. A shiny radio on the windowsill played a bright 1950s song, Gene Autry I think, as the boy gazed into the distance toward the sound of horses hooves approaching. His mother was inside the kitchen calling his name, but he was transfixed.
As I dreamed this, the four year-old boy from down the block, Bobby, was on my front lawn, calling up to my window. I was always sorry that Bobby’s family let him roam the neighborhood at such a young age, so after the day he knocked on my door so I could peel an orange for him, I took it upon myself to keep an eye out and listen for him whenever I knew he was out. I tried to teach him not to trust strangers, and I told him that I was a stranger. The broad smile that bloomed across his face told me he would have none of that. He had already decided we were friends.
On that warm morning, Bobby wanted me to watch him go around in a circle while lying in the grass. Whatever my dream had wanted to be was cut short, but I was left with a short scene that felt blissful and comfortably old-fashioned like the fifties of crisp clean situation comedies about families with very small problems — funny mountains made from molehills. I watched Bobby for a moment, praised his new talent and asked if anyone knew where he was so early in the morning. He promised to go home and come out later when other kids were out.
I began to write Cowboy Heaven.
This story has been on one of my pages for a while. I revisited it a couple of days ago and realized how much I’ve learned in the past year, because there were parts of it that made me wonder why I thought it was done. For those of you who’ve read it before and decided to be kind, I thought I’d let you know that I’ve re-edited it over the last two days. For those who haven’t seen it, I sigh, “Thank goodness.” Of course, now I wonder how I’ll feel about it next year.
How do you feel about your old stories?