The Title Wouldn’t Be Mine, Either

Ryan F. Love

Short Fiction

All those pretty horses gallop away, running from the cities of the plain and into the expanse where I cannot see. Before they broke my hold I shepherded them as far as I could, or drove them—whatever the term is for horses. They want a land my borrowed words cannot paint.

I’m abandoned and flatfooted beside my faceless cowboy; he mumbles something about the heat and sage. He’s called McCallum, I think, either John or Billy. He’s real from boots to belt buckle but fades at his mannequin face. I got his clothes and existential doubt from Cormac McCarthy novels and his speech from my grandpap’s Zane Grey.

“Zane Grey” is a punchline in The Third Man, which is number 73 on the Sight and Sound great movie poll. Holly Martins is supposed to be lecturing on the modern novel but he doesn’t know who James Joyce is because he’s a dime novel author. When an Austrian asks him for his influences, Martins says Zane Grey. The stodgy Brit who arranged the literary salon tries to reassure the Austrian: “Mr. Martins is joking, of course. Zane Grey is a writer of American westerns.”

I don’t remember Grandpap watching any movies except Clint Eastwood ones; I don’t think he ever saw The Third Man or would have liked it, but then I don’t like the Zane Grey paperbacks I inherited, really. In that lecture scene, I’m the Austrian. I like to think Grandpap and I could have met each other in the Border Trilogy if we had read McCarthy together. When he was alive we didn’t talk about books, and I didn’t write them yet. We talked about his chicken coop and the Pirates’ World Series chances, and he’d catch my baseball barehanded. He had steelworker hands.

I gave JohnBilly McCallum those hands, callused and solid and giving. He can’t have my grandpap’s face because if I can write the horses back and write McCallum a face the cowboy will drive them to wherever and there’ll be a farmer who looks like Grandpap in the Navy in 1942. The cowboy will stay in the farmer’s house to recover from the injury to his idunno that he suffered when the noidea happened, and they’ll talk about the farmer’s childhood and what he wants from life and the burning prairie sun.

Ryan F. Love teaches high school English in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, where he earned a degree from Alfred University. He and his wife live in a Victorian with pairs of daughters, beagles, and guinea pigs. His fiction has appeared in The Blue Mountain Review, Sleet Magazine, and Blue Lake Review. He will be seeking representation for his novel The Ghosts on the Glass in summer 2022. Find him on Twitter @rlove327

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