A Friendship Ends
by Rocky Rutherford
On the bus to school McQueen and I talked about it.
"You got a poem ready, McQueen?"
"I reckon. You?"
"I reckon. What you got?" He just looked at me and rolled his blue eyes out the window at an old cowboy chasing a cow. If he wanted to answer, he would, if he didn't he wouldn't. I guess I should tell you about him, McQueen Hamilton Dillahey. We grew up together in West Texas at a dead spot in the road called Shallowwater. Without McQueen there wouldn't have been one spark in our town. A great but aggravting thing about him was he could do anything he set his mind to. And he had a special look about him, he knew where he was going and he knew what he was doing and he didn't give a damn one way or the other. He liked everybody but he didn't give a damn if you liked him or not. Three things you noticed about him right off: his flaming curly hair, a pair of Carolina blue eyes and a smile that could play any game he needed to play. He could do all the things I wished I could.
"How about roses are red, violets are blue, shit stinks and so do you?" He giggled then leveled his blues on me.
"That's just fine, Joedon, if you want to spend the next nine hundred Saturdays in the library."
"Well, McQueen, I need some help. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to pick out no favorite poem and explicate it, whatever that means."
"You ain't even picked one out, have you?"
I fumbled at the English book on my knees. "Well, kinda." I opened the book and handed it to him. "There, right there," I pointed.
Cocking his head like a robin looking at his lunch, he read with his lips. in less than a minute he closed the book on my hand, grunted, and looked out the window again, this time at the wind whipping over the cotton balls.
"Ain't gonna work, Joedon Billyray, ain't gonna work. She'll flunk you for sure. That's too much poem for a cowboy like you."
Now, that's what I hated about McQueen. He knew more than he should have.
"What you mean, McQ?"
"Well, for one thing, just look at that title Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood! Boy, you don't even know what that means, How you gonna tell them about something you don't even understand?" He shook his head, clucking like a chicken. "You got a little time before we get there so you'd better find another one real quick."
"Shoot I know as much about it as them eggheads." He just kept looking out the window as I blabbered on about what a good feller Bill Wordsworth was and even though I don't understand them big words I do know I like something when I read it. "Besides, McQ, the only part I was gonna talk about is where old Bill talks about splendor in the grass'. I know what he means 'cause I saw it in a movie. You know, the one with Natalie Wood we saw last summer at the Emporium up in Lubbock."
"Shut up, Joedon Billyray, just shut up!" I didn't expect that so I shut up. Sometimes he exploded like that for no reason at all. I reckon I made him mad again, something else I never understood about him. How come he got mad at me so quick? You'd think he understood or at least liked this poetry stuff.
By the time we got to Miss Krazert's class I wished I had listened to him and chosen another poem.
"Mac Q is it too late to change?" I said as I sat down behind him. He shook his head sadly between his red hot ears. During the time before it came our turn McQueen printed Trees by Joyce Kilmer on notebook paper and slipped it to me. I was glad because I had heard McQueen recite it for fun
and I liked the way he did it, cutting the fool and all. He added a post script under the poem: "Don't cut the fool, fool."
What I was really hoping for was the chance I wouldn't have to explicate at all. Since McQueen was just before me there was a good chance he would upset them so bad they'd plumb forget about me.
"Mister Dillahey." I caught my breath as Miss Kratzert stopped in front of McQueen. Give 'em hell, Mac Q, I thought.
He stood up, thanked her, then strutted to the blackboard, every female eye, including Miss Krazert's on his small, rounded butt moving gracefully under his freshly starched wranglers. Give 'em hell, Mac Q, give 'em hell.
He printed evenly and quickly:
To make a prairie it takes a clover
and one bee,-
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
by Emily Dickinson
He turned smartly and smiled at Miss Krazert and strutted back to his seat, clapping the chalk dust from his hands. The room got quieter than moon glow on a West Texas winter night. Some stared, eyes wide as bumper built belt buckles, some swallowed and gulped, all rolled their eyes to the teacher. One minute turned into one hour of silence. Finally, Wimpy Jefferson, in the back of the room, snickered because he thought he had figured it out.
"Well, Mister Dillahey, " Miss Krazert said, looking sideways at McQueen,
"Could we please have your explication and analysis?"
McQueen started off but she interrupted him by telling him to stand up. In front of the class. Stand up. What that lady didn't know was McQueen Hamilton Dillahey loved an audience. Nothing he liked better than strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. She played her right into his trap.
With the blackboard behind him he recited the poem by heart which he didn't have to do. And he smiled at Ms Krazert while he did it.
"To make a prairie it takes a clover...one clover..." He pointed an index finger to the ceiling and moved it back and forth, all the time eyeballing ever kid in the class..."One...mind you..one." He started pacing back and forth in front. Suddenly he stopped and pointed at Ellie Sue Blackwelter. "One clover and...one bee." He went on and stopped in front of Bertha Mae Doggett, looked in her eyes, then pointed over her head to the back of the room at Louise Martinez..."One clover, one bee and...revery." He strutted his stuff back to center stage.
"Now, ya'll all know what that means...don't ya'll?" By this time Ms Kratzert bugeyed the redheaded cowboy. She tried to tell him to shut up but the words got stuck.
"Now if we all know what a clover and a bee and a revery can do what makes anybody think Miss Dickenson didn't? She knew what a prairie was and she knew what it took to make one. That's all she's saying in the poem:
how to make a prairie."
"Yeah," grunted Wimpy Jefferson.
Ms Krazert froze. Mc Q went on "It's like the birds and the bees. We all know what that means, huh?"
"Oh, yeah!" howled Wimpy Jefferson. "Oh, yeah!"
"How about it, Mam?" McQueen said to Ms Krazert, "You know what it means?"
Mz Krazert tried to stand but her legs gave way and she sat down hard. Her mouth opened wide but no words came. Fear twisted her face as she grunted like a wounded bull.
"Goddamnit, man, that's enough. Can't you see she's about to have a heart attack?" The voice shook the room and when I looked everybody was looking at me. I had jumped up and grabbed McQueen by the shirt and was shaking the hell out of him. "Sit down before I knock you down," the voice said. McQueen pulled away and went to his seat.
On the bus home I tried to talk to him but he wanted nothing to do with me.
I had ruined his chance to really show old Kratzert up, show her for what she was, nothing but a big old blow hard pig who didn't like cowboys. I apologized even though I didn't think I should have. Shoot, McQueen was the best friend I had, the only friend I had.
"Ah, don't worry about it, cowboy, you did what you thought was right. And a man aught to do what he thinks is right."
"Yeah." But I could feel our friendship beginning to end.