I finished off the Clanton Gang just before teatime. Ike was the last of them -- a dastardly devil if ever there was one. Him and me shot it out on a dog day afternoon on Tombstone's deserted Main Street. Ike was first to go for his gun but I beat him to the draw. I only needed one bullet. Shot him clean through the heart. He was dead before he hit the ground.
We buried him on Boot Hill beside his brothers and the rest of the gang. Afterwards the townsfolk gathered around and the mayor thanked me for making the state of Arizona safe for decent, law-abiding, God-fearing folks.
Then I ran home for my tea.
Our front door was open like it always was. I hung my Stetson and my gun and holster on the hat rack just inside the door, just like Adam, Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright did when they came home to their house on the Ponderosa. Ben, their pa, never let them wear guns in the house; it was a sign of respect, he said, and I reckoned I agreed with him.
I moseyed on into the kitchen.
My ma and da were in there. They were at the sink. Together. They both had their backs to me. His head was bent into her hair and he looked like he was eating her neck.
"What are you doing?" I said.
I surprised them. My ma jumped and bucked backwards with her bum, shoving my da away from her. He was laughing. She had a dish cloth in her hand and she flicked it at him. My da just grinned at her, and then at me. "Howya," he said.
"Is the tea ready?" I said.
He turned his head to Ma. There was mischief in his eye. "Is the tea ready?" he asked her.
Ma turned away to face the wall. She polished the sink with the dish cloth. "Twenty minutes," she said. "I'm making an apple tart. I'll call you."
Da winked at me. "Come on out the back and help me with the garden."
We went out the back.
There was a concrete path running down the middle of the garden, dividing it in two. On one side Da had his vegetables -- potatoes, turnips, cabbages, carrots and cauliflower. On the other side he had grass. Today he'd been mowing the lawn and he'd raked all the cut grass into a heap in the middle of the garden.
"I'm doing the weeding now," he said.
We prowled around the lawn in search of offending weeds.
"So, what did you do with yourself today?" he said.
"I wasted the Clantons."
He whistled and his eyes went wide. "Jasus. The Clantons! All of them?"
"Fair play to you son. They were a wild bunch. Even Wyatt Earp couldn't tame that lot"
Ma came out. "The tart is in the oven," she said.
"Grand," said Da.
Then my ma did the unbelievable. She knelt down on the grass. I couldn't believe it. Ma hated dirt of any conjugation. She never did anything but sunbathe in the garden. That was Da's turf. He even had to wash the earth off the vegetables when he picked them before he handed them over to Ma. She was meticulous about dirt; she didn't trust it. She always wore rubber gloves when she was washing dishes or scrubbing the floor and she always gave a chair a good wipe before she sat on it. Now here she was plopping her bare knees down onto Da's freshly mown grass. She spotted a weed and as she moved towards it I saw bits of grass and clay already stuck to the skin of her knees. This was a first.
It was a phenomenon.
It was like overhearing your teacher utter a curse in conversation with another adult. Or catching a glimpse of an old woman's knickers going upstairs on a bus. Or smelling a priest's fart in the confession box.
Da reached into the pile of freshly mown grass, grabbed a handful and threw it at Ma. He got her right on the front of her head and the grass splashed all over her -- on her shoulders, in her hair, on her nose, in her mouth. Da, I reckoned, was pushing his luck. I waited for all hell to break loose.
Instead, my ma thrust both her arms up to her elbows into the pile of grass and shoveled a load of it all over him. She quickly followed it with another load and then another and Da was starting to resemble a scarecrow by the time I overcame my shock at Ma's unprecedented licentious behavior. I entered into the spirit of things. I waded into the quickly diminishing pile of grass and scooped piles of it at both of them.
Then they teamed up together and jumped me and the three of us landed on the lawn, grass all over us, rolling, kicking, tickling and laughing. We all ran out of breath together and we lay there on our backs.
I was lying across the pair of them, most of my body on Da's chest and my feet entangled with my ma's. They were holding hands, I noticed. I saw Ma draw Da's hand to her mouth and kiss it. She closed her eyes while she was doing it. Da held my chin in a light grip and Ma found my right hand and held it with her free hand. We lay there like that and the day went quiet. The sun came out from behind a cloud and washed its warm rays over us.
It was massive.
Da galloped through his tea.
"You must have been starving," said Ma. There was a twinkle in her eye. It had been there for a while. I'd first spotted it while we were playing in the garden.
"I was famished," said Da. "Must've been all that fresh air." He winked. The wink landed about halfway between Ma and me and I wasn't sure who it was meant for, but he tapped me on the shoulder and nodded his head at the door. "Come here."
I followed him into the hall and he fished a fiver out of his pocket. "Do you want a comic?" he said.
He handed me the fiver. "Okay. And get yourself some crisps as well. And Maltesers for me and a large Toblerone for your ma. Understood?"
It was treat night. I loved Tayto Crisps, Maltesers were Da's favorite sweet and Ma had a fondness for Toblerone. She had very expensive tastes, Da said.
"And I want you to go to Mister Fagan's for them," he said.
Fagan's was half a mile away. We always bought our comics and sweets from Mister Head's grocery shop, which was just around the corner from our house. "Why can't I go to Head's?" I said.
"Because Fagan's Maltesers taste better. Now go on and don't be asking any more questions."
I shrugged. I tucked the fiver into my pocket and I donned my Stetson and my six-gun. I hit the trail.
It was a long and dusty ride and I was glad I'd brought a full canteen and watered Scout, my horse, before starting off, 'cos the desert was littered with skeletons of buffaloes and horses and some bones that looked like they could have once been human. There was some Comanchero sign along the trail and I made sure my six-gun was loaded and smooth in the holster. I spotted smoke signals rising from a mountain range yonder in the distance. Reading the signals, I saw that it was just an Apache hunting party. I reckoned Cochise was sticking to the peace treaty I'd negotiated with him some four or five moons ago. Cochise was a man of his word.
At Fagan's I saw that there were four new comics out: two Dells, The Lost Tribe, featuring Range Rider and The Treasure Hole with Bat Masterson; a DC Green Lantern episode called Crisis At The Corps; and The Flying Clowns Affair, a Gold Key Man From UNCLE adventure.
Despite the fact that, courtesy of the children's page of the Evening Herald, I was an agent for the Propaganda and Finance Department of the official Man From UNCLE Club, I was a true-blue Dell man -- Dell published all the cowboys. But I was in a bit of a quandary with having to decide between Bat Masterson and Range Rider. I finally opted for Bat Masterson because there was an extra bit in it called Landmarks Of The Old West, about Apache Pass, where the Indians attacked a pioneer wagon train and killed everyone except a young girl named Helen, who escaped by climbing a sheer cone of rock that came to be called Helen's Dome in her honor.
I bought the comic, a packet of Tayto's, Da's Maltesers and a large Toblerone for Ma. Then I went to the horse trough outside the Long Branch Saloon and I let Scout drink his fill. I also topped up the water in my canteen. It was none too hygienic but it sure beat dying crazed with thirst in the desert. I high-tailed it out for the homestead.
I was halfway home and passing the Hanging Tree in Rustler's Gully when a rattler darted out from under a rock at Scout's foreleg. Scout spooked and threw me. I hit the dust and drew my gun at the same time, knowing as I landed that I'd only have time for one shot, rattlers being wickedly fast with their venom. One shot was enough, though, and I dispatched the reptile to join the souls of his fellow sidewinders in the Great Snakepit in the Sky.
Scout, however, had sprained an ankle. I couldn't ride him in that state and there was nothing for it but to walk the rest of the way. It took us two days and a night to make the journey. I had to lay up for three hours in a cave just west of Dry Gulch Creek while a war party of Commancheros rode by. Commancheros are a nasty lot -- they'd cut your throat as soon as look at you. All along the long trail home I thanked my lucky stars for my caution in refilling my canteen at the outset of my journey. Without a full canteen I'd have been vittles for the vultures.
The day was starting to get dark when I reached home. The front door was locked. That was strange. We never locked the front door until everyone was indoors and ready to go to bed. I knocked. No joy. I had to knock twice again before I heard Da come trampling down the stairs. When he opened the door he was tucking his shirt into his pants. He was in his bare feet and his hair was tossed. "Howya," he said.
"The door was locked."
"Was it? I don't know how that happened. Did you get everything?"
I went into the sitting room. The sun was going down fast and the room was almost dark. I turned on the light. "Where's Ma?"
"She's upstairs. Show us what you got."
"What's she doing upstairs? Is she sick?"
"No. She's just making the beds. Show me your comic."
"She always makes the beds in the morning."
"Well, she's making them again. Now shut up like a good boy and show me what comic you got."
He turned on the telly and just that moment Ma came downstairs. She looked different than usual. It was nothing I could put my finger on -- more the way she moved and held herself. Usually she had a purpose about her; she went from one thing to another like clockwork, as if everything about her was planned. Now she looked as if she was just floating along. She smiled at the two of us and glided on into the kitchen. She ran the tap and I reckoned she was washing the tea things. Da put the sweets on the table and the two of us sat on the sofa in front of the telly. I showed him my comic.
"Bat Masterson," he said with approval. "Great. Did you know that his granda was Irish?"
I looked at him. Sometimes I didn't know whether to believe him not. He was a messer.
After a while The Late Late Show came on and Ma came in from the kitchen. She picked up the sweets and sat down beside me on the sofa. This was another first. Ma never sat on the sofa and Da rarely did. They had their own armchairs, one on each side of the fireplace. I usually had the sofa to myself. She handed me my crisps and Da his Maltesers.
"Thanks, love," he said.
She broke off a pyramid of Toblerone and offered it to him. He shook his head. She gave it to me and told me to save my crisps for later. She put her arm around my shoulders. So did he and we were all tangled up together again, like we had been earlier in the garden.
It was massive.
Like that, we ate our sweets and watched The Late Late Show.