Here in my grandfather’s basement, behind the stocked bar, is a photo card of a young and smiling Roy Rogers. Framed and hung next to it is a photograph of a more serious, older-looking Roy Rogers standing with my grandfather and a third, nameless man. There is also a circular cut of leather on the wall, a token from a special event signed “Roy Rogers” and “Trigger”. My grandfather shot alongside Roy in the 1969 Two Shot Celebrity Goose Hunt in Lamar, Colorado.
He tells it like this, “I outshot The King of the Cowboys that day. While everyone had fancy guns, mine was old and useless-looking─but it had always worked just fine. There were forty competitors in the shoot-out, and I won every competition.”
Listening to the story, I buzz with pride. Then my bones warm with rum and prickle with some indistinct connection buried in the marrow there. I wish he was my real grandfather.
There are geese and ducks just about everywhere in this basement, even on the plastic tissue box cover in the bathroom. Fowl hunting magazines. Cowboy magazines. There is pride of the western frontier down here. I look for this famous gun from my grandfather’s story, mounted to a wall maybe, but it's not down here. Must still work.
I pick up one of the magazines and flip to the article I know is there about The King of the Cowboys. I love that Roy Rogers and other performing cowboys like him, Gene Autry for example, had no fear of stripes or fuchsia satin. Double-headed arrows embroidered below the shoulders, a trail of blossoms all the way down the sleeves to the guitar. Ivory hats and silver spurs flashing like they’d never had a speck of dirt on them.
Sing, my dear fancy cowboys, sing me a merciful tune of desert dust and vultures flying overhead so that I’ll forget about the dead duck by the cast iron stove. My eyes climb over the tops of the glossy, magazine pages. I can't help but look at the kill. Its green feathers are perfect, glass eyes deep and still. It is standing. How is it made to stand there? Must be weighted. I look at something else: the teapot on the stove is pretty and always cold. But no matter where I look, I think about the duck and wonder where the gun is.
Sarah Shields is an alumna of Colorado State University where she studied Psychology. She mothers, writes, and illustrates in San Diego, California, and is currently working on her first middle grade novel, a macabre and humorous Western. She is an active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Her work has appeared in Underneath the Juniper Tree.