Rocking Horse Ranch has been our family home for over a century. My rancher boy died, and my other boy is tied tight to his big city life. My wife, Betty, died 15 years ago. I made a promise to Betty a long time ago that I'd build her a real ranch house worthy of the finest rancher's wife in the Gila. We used to have picnics under that ponderosa over there across the meadow. Well, the tree fell over a couple years ago, but you can still see it. And that lump poking up is what's left of the table Betty built all by herself. Dad said town girls can't do ranch work, but he sure had to eat his words on that one.
Betty died of cancer 15 years ago. And our rancher boy, Jess, died a couple years later. Aids is what they called it—some new thing I don't understand. Jess had to see what all the fuss was about in San Francisco. He promised to come back to work the ranch with me. But he didn't make it. Our older boy, Ral, lives in Dallas with his family. And he's made it pretty clear he's not ever coming back to live on Rocking Horse again.
But I decided I had to build Betty's dream house anyhow. I started it right after she was gone. And using her own plans. It was guilt that pushed me. Guilt about how Betty died. And it's a good thing I had that house to hold on to when our Jess died. Our rancher Jess. I had all the ranch work to do alone, with the help of our great neighbors, of course. But without Betty's dream house to fill every minute of every day, I'd of just fallen apart—even more than I have.
As it is, my arthritis and emphysema are making it tough to finish Rocking Horse West. That's the name Betty put on the house plans. But I'm real close to finishing it now. I'm going to get the last details of the stairway done by Christmas. If I can last that long with this angina that knocks me down all the time. But Christmas is the deadline. That's when I'm going to give West to Betty. That's another promise I made to her under that ponderosa. West would be a Christmas present to her. And I don't think I've got any more Christmases left in me.
Here comes the most worthless cow pony there ever was. Hobbling like he's got four broken shoes. He's in worse shape than I am. And he never even smoked. "George, you knock me down again, and I'll take a rock to that sorry-ass head of yours." He just looks at me. I expect to see him go down any day now. George wasn't always worthless, but he's just skin and bones now. We did a lot of hard cow-boying—back when we could cowboy together.
Got to get back to work on West. The clock is running.
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About the Author
I was a research physicist long before I turned to writing. But I’ve written five novels and am presently working on numbers six through twenty-seven. My first was an autobiography, MY LIFE AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN — a memoir for readers who find memoirs disagreeable and reality tedious, inspired by my lifelong obsession with Don Quixote and his ingenious view of reality. It took first place in the 2002 Independent E-book Awards - Humor Division. THE MEDIA CANDIDATE is a near-future, speculative science-fiction thriller inspired by watching too much TV. PRIONA is a multi-cultural, multi-generational story of love, poetry, music, and the dividing waters of race, set in the Jemez Pueblo of northern New Mexico. LAMB OF GOD is a psychological drama of how a young boy, surrounded by the racial and commercial tensions of the Arsenal of Democracy, Detroit during World War II, deals with the guilt of being too weak to save his twin from tragedy. It won second place in the 2003 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards in a field of 370 entries. Finally, HORSE CAMP WEST is a modern western drama set on a dying ranch in the highlands of southern New Mexico. It was a 2002 EPPIE Award finalist. These books should be available at Smashwords later in 2016, but for the time being, you can get a taste of them at my website fictionQ.com. If you would like me to notify you when my next books hit the ground at Smashwords, drop me a line at editor at fictionQ. I have spent forty years as a physicist in Ohio, New Mexico, and California. Some of those years I did basic physics research at The University of Dayton in the areas of ionizing radiation detectors, shock waves in solids, and infrared measurements. This stuff probably doesn’t excite very many of you, but it has been breathtaking for me. Call me a nerd, but I love science. I spent some years at a beltway bandit* doing a funny thing they called system studies. Then I evolved into a mid-level manager for a big defense hardware company. I learned pretty quickly that upper management is really, really hungry. That's why middle management has to run so fast. Now I have become an even higher lifeform. I work off and on for an itsy bitsy company right in the bosom of Silicon Valley. My business card has a blank under my name so I can be anything I want. And I haven't needed a security clearance for the last twenty years. I’m a firm believer in second careers. When I was doing physics research, I had to do mostly what other people wanted me to do. That was still great because it was such exciting stuff. But now I can write whatever I want to. Maybe that’s just as good, in a way. I think every writer should write as a second career, not as a first. It gives my writing roots and a unique point-of-view beyond writer. I married Marilyn where we met at the University of Dayton. We moved to Alburquerque** where our two daughters grew up; and now we all live in the San Francisco Bay Area. FOOTNOTES: * Beltway Bandit — For those not conversant in Government Speak, a Beltway Bandit is one of the companies clustered around the Washington, DC Beltway that sells “professional services,” which is stuff the Government could do itself if they had any idea what they wanted done or if they weren’t fighting among themselves about who should do it. ** Alburquerque — Most of you traditionally educated readers are probably under the mistaken opinion that the dusty little town in central New Mexico is Albuquerque, not Alburquerque. It was, however, named after Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva Enriquez, Duke of Alburquerque, Spain, and Viceroy of New Spain in 1706. About a hundred years later, it was misspelled to its present form. I, in the spirit of Don Quixote de la Mancha, have taken up the cause to redress the evil of misspelling the name of one so highly born.