It was sundown on the prairie. I placed a hand above my brow and squinted toward the western horizon. The dying rays of the fireball made long shadows accompany the cow pokes strolling down Main Street. I sighed and wiped my hands on my apron for the hundredth time.
Where is that kid the folks call Willie, I wondered aloud. He said that he'd return long before the Harvest Moon peeped over Twobucks Ridge. I'd been watching and waiting for half an hour but there was nary a sign of that man-child. Just as I turned to head back into the saloon, a cloud of dust appeared among the cacti occupying the desert on the outskirts of town.
Then, I heard ole One-Boot Kevin yell at the top of his lungs, "He's coming! The Kid is back!"
The sheriff fired his pistol into the air six times. It could have been a warning but then again; maybe he was just excited about his new gun. Either way, folks grabbed their younguns and headed indoors in a hurry. I, too, deserted the dusty road. Not that I was afraid of Willie, but that half-blind horse of his was a bit unpredictable.
I was behind the bar fixing a sarsaparilla when The Kid strolled through the flapping doors. He paused, and looked around the room. The piano grew quiet and everyone froze. In the corner, the drifter known as Nobody, let out an eerie whistle and retreated beneath his pancho like a turtle in a stampede. Somebody Jones laughed but he hasn't been right since that horse kicked him in the ear last year. The rest of us kept our eyes on The Kid.
The kid looked at me and tipped his hat. Then he blinked his right eye three times and said, "Evening, Ma."
"Evening, Kid," I replied. "I'll have your supper right out."
He made his way to the back of the room and sat down at the table with his brother, Sillie. Sillie grunted but didn't speak.
Safe for now, everyone resumed their conversations and card games. The piano man played a happy tune. A breeze came through the door bringing the odor of horse flesh and cow patties. All was well.
I came out of the kitchen carrying two plates. I placed one in front of The Kid and one in front of Sillie. They bowed their heads briefly and then Sillie picked up his fork.
"Wait!" shouted The Kid.
Once again, everyone froze.
The Kid reached for his holster and we gasped in unison. I started trembling as he slowly withdrew his - ruler. He measured Sillie's piece of Texas toast and then he measured his own toast. Mercifully, they were the same dimensions. Then he pulled out a meat scale from his boot and weighed the wieners. All was equal. But then, he began to count the beans.
"No, son, don't do it," I pleaded. "You're just gonna make yourself upset. I promise you, it's all evenly distributed. Besides, all those beans together don't amount to a hill. Please, Kid, just eat. Why torture yourself like this?"
"It's the principle of the thing, Mama," he said. "You say that you love us the same but you always give my brother a little more food than me. He gets the biggest cookie. He gets a larger slice of cake. Last week, he had half an ounce more water than me in his bubble bath."
"But Kid, he's two years older than you and sixty pounds heavier! Come on Kid, you're not a bean counter. Stop the madness. You know that I love you boy."
But the Kid just kept counting those beans. In the corner, some ranch hands were placing bets on the outcome of our family feud. I couldn't stand by and see my family torn apart over something so trivial.
Finally, in desperation, I said, "Kid, if you love me. You'll stop this nonsense and eat your supper."
The Kid put down his magnifying glass and glared at his brother. Then he picked up his fork and started to eat those cold beans.
I looked up and thanked my lucky stars. We'd survived another close one on the range.
Copyright 2009 Monica F. Anderson. All rights reserved.