Fiction by Sabrina Hicks
I saw the ghost of you riding the fence line of our old ranch, your sad eyes under a cowboy hat, lips set like a half-bent fishing line, same as when you told me you wanted to become a bronc rider in the rodeo—eight seconds with one hand wedged between hide and rope, the other waving in the air like that old blue ribbon tied to your truck. You looked the same as every picture of your childhood, head bent so low all anyone could see of you was a cowboy on a half-broke horse, moving cattle to the pasture with the tallest grass and highest water tank, where the land wasn’t so parched, waiting on a rain that passed as quickly as it came before that whiskey sun poured thick over the mesas, painting an uneven sky. The thing is Dad always needed you—some old maverick got stuck in a knot of manzanitas, a mountain lion gutted a calf, a horse broke its leg in barbed wire, and off you’d go and home I stayed because that’s what girls did then—we stayed—and the day you didn’t come back, I rode out to our favorite spot, the cliff overlooking a stretch of land so far and wide you could forget you were becoming our old man, and I was becoming a girl set on leaving. And while not one ranch-hand could find you, I found your horse saddled, eating sage, you at the bottom of the ravine with your neck snapped, and my God, how I hated you for leaving me, for dying in such a foolish way, wondering what you were doing along that mountain road alone, riding the cliff’s edge when you’d been having more and more seizures. Don’t tell anyone, you made me promise, knowing we had a mother who only believed in the power of prayer and a father who’d never give his boy the eight seconds of feeling his heart rise in his chest and take flight. I wish you could have seen me ride out and never look back. I wish you could have come with. I wish you knew I’d give it all up for you to have your eight seconds with your head held high drinking in that whiskey sun.