Dead Bush Poker

Readers seem to visit my posts about “cats’ more than any other, so  I’ll post a few short stories I’ve written about cats. Feel free to comment about your cat if you wish or send my story to a friend who might enjoy reading it.

DEAD BUSH POKER

Elaine Faber

I live in Dead Bush, a small town in Texas. I’m a fine figure of a feline, though some would say, somewhat on the portly side. It must be true, as there is a tomcat that returns to town every spring with a glint in his eye. I haven’t given him a tumble yet, but next spring might be a fine time to consider the offer. I’ve heard that a bit of romance can be revitalizing to one’s health.

Dead Bush sports three saloons, a general store, the bank, a church, a blacksmith shop and a hotel such as nice folks don’t mention in front of the kids. Modern slat sidewalks were added this spring at the suggestion of those specific ladies who live in the aforementioned establishment.

Today, being Founder’s Day, farmer’s wives prepare pies and BBQ sides of beef for a giant banquet and sponsor a square dance out behind the blacksmith’s shop. Bright and early, neighboring farmers trickled into town with planks and sawhorses for the long tables needed to feed the attendees.

Long about 10:00 AM this morning, several raggedy ex-Civil War soldiers rode into Dead Bush on horses that looked like they was rode hard and put away wet. They congregated at the Dry Spell Saloon where they acquired liquid libation and a commenced a serious poker game.

The regulars at the Dry Spell saloon have considered me their personal mascot, ever since the town sheriff found me, the lone survivor of a wagon train massacred by a tribe of renegade Indians. Shorty, the barkeep saves me left-overs from the day’s leavings. This, added to my hunting prowess, leads to my aforementioned portliness.

I’ve heard that cats are almighty scarce and considerable valuable these days. In fact, a number of local farmers have offered Shorty big bucks for me, beings as cats don’t eat much and can keep a barnyard free of rodents and such vermin.

Well, seems these aforementioned soldiers what came to town with their long rifles and powder horns sat and drank well past noon. It caused quite a stir amongst the gamblers when I chanced to wander through the saloon. There commenced talk of some cowpoke that had hauled a cat in burlap sack to a farm in the middle of nowhere, and sold it for a $20 gold piece. One of the soldiers reported big money being paid for cats further out west, and he sudden-like, took a notion to buy me. Shorty declined, saying I couldn’t be bought since I didn’t belong to nobody.

As the drinking commenced, the soldier cajoled Shorty into a poker game with me as the stakes! I sat near the potbelly stove, preening my whiskers, somewhat amused by the stupidity of those soldiers what thought they could buy and sell another living creature. Didn’t the Civil War, just fought, disprove the nation of that opinion?

The scent of barbequed chicken wafting through the open door caught my attention, and I left the fools to their folly. I ambled down the sidewalk, past the wooden cigar Indian in front of the general store, and rounded the nearest banquet table laden with food. The oldest six of Mrs. Barnwhistle’s nine children cornered me straight away and near strangled the life out of me with their stroking and clutching, chucking under my chin, and shifting me from child to child. I’ve learned to put up with such nonsense as long as they don’t pull my tail. It puts their mothers in a fair mood when you allow such nonsense and they get such a kick out of seeing their child all jollified, they’ll offer me a pinch of chicken or a slice of bread and butter. If things get too rowdy after such juvenile mauling, I can easily get away and lick off the sticky jam or mud clinging to my furs.

Raucous laughter from inside the saloon caught my attention. I felt it prudent to check on the doings, as my future as mascot at the Dry Spell Saloon seemed dependent on the turn of their cards.

Empty glasses were lined up in front of the four players hunched over the poker table, and splashes of liquor pooled on the table. Shorty’s chips were considerably fewer than the other three players. My whiskers drooped as chances of remaining the Dry Spell Saloon mascot began to wane.

Shorty’s chips rose and fell as the afternoon wore on. I sat on a nearby table, commiserating with Mr. Casper, a grey-haired old codger who operated a small gold claim in a nearby river. Whenever he came to town, he usually exchanged most of his gold for Shorty’s liquor. The old man was a fool, but he didn’t smell quite as bad as most miners, as being tipsy, Mr. Casper fell in the river more often than most, washing away some of his natural man-stink.

In the late afternoon, the ladies announced that supper was served for any who cared to partake. The saloon emptied except for the four poker players, who found it harder and harder to sit upright in their chairs. Heads lolled and cards tumbled from their hands. More whiskey ended up on the floor than in their glasses. Never in the history of Dead Bush had such a game been played or the stakes so coveted.

Eventually, Smitty Rosenblatt passed out. George Waddlebaker went broke. Shorty hung in there, though blurry-eyed and slump-shouldered, as he continued to fight for his meezer. Poor Shorty looked ready to throw in the towel. Seeing the inevitable handwriting on the wall, I slipped through the front door and headed out onto the prairie, intending on a stay of four or five days, considering how revitalizing was an extended trip also to one’s health.

Besides, there was no sense watching Shorty go broke and the winner attempting to claim his prize. Mostly, I had no intention of being strung to the back of a saddle in a burlap sack until the old soldier found a farmer with a rat-filled barn and a $20 gold piece.

Someday, when folks sit around spinning yarns, they’ll tell the tale of a Founder’s Day when a cat was the prize in the highest stakes ever passed hands in a poker game in Dead Bush. As for me, I’ll continuing as the Dry Spell Saloon mascot, and when I retire to the back room on my burlap sack, I’ll think about next spring when old Tom comes ’acallin.’