Montana was every cowboy movie he’d ever seen. This was first time he’d been outside the forest of Ontario and he had no idea that space like this existed, with yawning parcels of seemingly infinite land and a sky that was as large as outer space, with a blue so bright it seemed to be shouting. Then the suddenness of the mountains that seemed to appear out of nowhere like a magician’s trick. He loved these sharp pieces of infant formations that jutted from the ground proud and confident. And stored within the small valleys were isolated storms that were small enough that a person could drive through them like nature’s car wash.
He pulled his car over to the shoulder to stretch and maybe take a few pictures with the cheap disposable camera he bought at a gas station. The store was full of families buying slurpees and overpriced t-shirts; the lights were harsh and felt soul depleting. The noise from the makeshift arcade in a half-closed-off room at the back was almost annoying enough to induce some nervous twitching. He felt panicked as he ran the gauntlet of parents and kiddies decked out in fanny packs and wraparound sunglasses.
He took a few pictures of the rolling hills that were set ablaze by the dipping sun. Here and there smoother, reddish rocks peeked out from the earth like the callouses on a farmer’s hand. He wanted the pictures to be the tangible evidence that he was actually right here, at this place, in this time. He could believe that none of this was real, but if he had some sort of record then maybe he could come to terms with the part of him in denial.
That’s when he saw the man on a horse. He was riding fast, kicking up a trail of dust, and the stiff rope attached to his saddle jerked up and down in time with the horse’s gallop. His face was lean and symmetrical and he wore a leather work coat and a denim shirt accented with a red bandana that hung loose around his neck. The traveller knew that this was the Marlboro Man. He was every billboard and magazine ad he’d ever seen.
Marlboro Man drew up close to him. Each man was silent for a while staring at the other, neither sure who was the anthropologist and who was the untouched tribe. Finally the cowboy spoke. “Hey there.”
“Hey,” Traveller replied. “Nice horse.”
“Thanks.” Traveller reached out and petted the horse, and the cowboy smiled as he rubbed the steed’s neck. The horse was a beautiful shade of chestnut.
“What’s its name?” asked Traveller.
“Her name is Chestnut.” He shrugged. “I was going to name her something like Diaspora or Simulacra, thinking I was clever, but I was just drunk and when I sobered up I thought Chestnut was a far less pretentious name to give the best friend I ever had. The only friend really.” The reflection of the sun winked off the gun in his holster as Chestnut shuffled a bit.
“You don’t have any friends? Human friends? Why?” Traveller held up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun.
The cowboy smiled sadly. “You’re passing through here, right?”
“Yeah. I’m not too sure where I’m going but I sure as shit know I ain’t going back.”
“Then you’re a lucky son-of-a-bitch.” He looked off into that endless horizon. “I have to go now. You drive ten more miles west and you’ll come to shitty little roadside dive called The Rhizome. Go take a piss and you’ll learn everything about me you need to know.” He turned Chestnut around and rode off into the sunset.
Traveller did as he was told. The parking lot of the bar was filled with Harley Davidsons and pickup trucks with gun racks in the cab and animal horns mounted on the hoods. He could hear ZZ Top pounding out through the door. Traveller thought to himself: Jesus, I’m in shit-kicker heaven. I hope I leave this place with my pecker intact.
But as he made his way to the bathroom he was greeted with friendly nods and a few smiles. Traveller took a piss and as he was washing his hands he saw written on the side of bathroom mirror in black marker:
I Hate This Part of Texas.
This struck Traveller as funny. He laughed. He felt good. He dried his hands and took out his camera from his back pocket and laid it gently on the sink, leaving it behind. He walked lightly back to his car and drove west. All the way to the ocean.