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Whatnots by
Kyle Hemmings
Illumination by Peter Knoll

'undone again'  2008 Peter Schwartz
'undone again' by Peter Schwartz
Un-glued Cowgirl

She was so mad after her stepfather refused her that she smashed his favorite figurine of a cowgirl on horseback. It was a cowgirl waving one hand triumphantly in the air, the break occurring above the knees covered by a gold and white-rimmed dress ending right above the leather boots. The boots were engraved with designs of cactus and yew trees. He had told her she wasn't ready to break in a mustang, throw a saddle, Western or Italian, across its back, and bark orders. It just wouldn't happen that way. He didn't mean never, he said, but not now. Not for awhile.

She felt guilty later, about telling him, the way she'd feel if she shot a newborn calf, or bound the feet of reservation Lakota girls. In her mother's room, the woman dead, bucked off a frightened horse, she tried to glue the pieces together, turning the cowgirl over and over--the porcelain edges couldn't hold.

When she told her stepfather what she did and why she did it, he shook, slapped her with the brute force of a hurricane. She ran crying to her room, threw herself on the bed, and later, he entered without knocking.

He disrobed, exposing his bronze and sun-swept flesh, his silky cries. He lay down next to her, buried his head in her chest. She thought of tumbleweed and the edge of prairies that never really end. He was still sobbing.

She smoothed, counted the number of white hairs on his head as if tracking stray cattle, or the number of albino women still left in town. He lifted his face, reddened, bleary-eyed, and said he didn't understand what he felt; it was like trying to explain the land, the barren winters, the joy of pulling a sow's ear.

Not that it mattered anymore. Not that it was something that could last. Not that you'd want to start something you couldn't finish. Not that you could mend fences by destroying others.

And as if feeling the rush of pony express riders to her head, she now could conjure what the cowgirl would look like if glued back together.

He pressed his lips against hers, the years imprinted on his face like cleats on hard soil. Exploring the small gap between her rabbit front teeth, he tried to French kiss her. She shoved a palm under his jaw, told him she couldn't stand weak men, the kind her mother always seemed to attract.

Then, imagining if tumbleweed could cry, could cry the way she was doing that moment, she began to punch him, hitting him square on the nose, until he bled onto her, until they both collapsed under the afternoon's dying rays filtering through the side window. Until it was no longer the sound of cowgirls breaking.

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last update: February 29, 2008