Little Neddy stood at the door to the kindergarten classroom, one hand on his plastic gun, waiting for the jeering to start from the boys with the sensible jumpers. He knew he could lasso any one of these pansy-ass fools any time he wanted to. He just didn’t want to yet. They seemed to be distracted this morning though. Prolly looking at one of their towny-ass skate-board magazines, thought Little Neddy. He sneered to show his disdain for their Postman Pat lunchboxes and slouched epicly past the reading corner not caring one way or the other whether Karen-Pam MacQuorqhodale at the red table was watching.
Noticing in the the window’s reflection that she didn’t appear to be following his nonchalant, bouncy-kneed progress to his seat at the blue table, Little Neddy frowned a little. He spun on his red gen-yoo-ine leather boot-heel, inadvertently clocking Karan-Pam’s best friend Monica on the head with his holster.
“Hey!” she cried. “That hurt!”
But Little Neddy had no use for her squawling. Did she think that was sore? Hah! He’d been to Sore and back and laughed at head-clonking the way dusty heroes laugh at the comforts of a reasonably-priced hotel.
Still, he thought, Karen-Pam didn’t like it when he wounded her friends. He pulled up a plastic chair put his foot on it, leaning his weight over the raised leg with the assurance of a fellow who knows his pants, though form-fitting, won’t rip. From his pocket he pulled out a yellow, cornstalk-like straw and chewed it manfully.
“Beggin’ your pardon, little lady. Forgive my rough and clumsy ways.” Little Neddy tipped his hat and turned to her cuter friend.
“Sure are looking purdy today, Miss Karen-Pam, if you’ll pardon my sayin’ so,” he drawled. Then with fingers crossed behind his back, continued with his well-rehearsed speech. “Looks like there’s rain a-comin’ in from over Loch Seaforth way, this day. You want I should walk you home later, holding a large tarpaulin over your head?”
“Stop being so weird, Little Neddy,” said Karen-Pam, lovelier than ever in a dress of yellow roses. “Where would you find a large tarpaulin anyway?” How he loved the way she pretended to despise him!
“Mysterious guns-for-hire always carry tarpaulins” explained Little Neddy allowing himself a knowing chuckle. He’d been hoping she’d ask him this. That was why he’d spent the hour before sun-up this morning wrestling the one he’d spent all his pocket-money on into a Boots’ plastic bag, cursing at his misfortune in not having a jolly but less-handsome side-kick to do these things for him.
“Yessiree, a man can sure find a lot of uses for a tarpaulin out on the lonesome trail. It comes in mighty handy as a blanket and, when the need arises I should have to construct a rude shelter? Well, right about then a tarpaulin’s worth more than all the Transformers in the world.” He paused to look beyond the blackboard.
“Gotta travel light, see. A man never knows when he’s gonna have to skip town fast leaving nothing but sore jaws and broken hearts to remember him by.” Little Neddy gave a deep chortle, as if, dangit, he were remembering all those times.
“Little Neddy, just go and sit down, will you?” said Karen-Pam. “The mangy old rabbit pelt on your belt gives me hives when it’s gangling in my face like this. My mother’s already spoken to your mother about that.”
“Yeah, I reckon my rough, country ways prolly do offend you, Miss, and for that I’m truly sorry… but…” said Little Neddy, looking past the Santa collages on the rain-streaked window, past the Sherwood Forest play structure, to the high rocky places where men were made and flinty characters hewn, to the supermarket building site on the hill…
“…but, I calls ’em like I sees ’em, ma’am, and them’s the only ways I know how. I wudn’t brang up to talk fancy like you townsfolks. My language is the old gnarly language of the trail, of the coyote and the rattler, and of a burning soul-thirst that can never be quenched.”
“What the flip are you on about, Little Neddy?” cried Monica scornfully, rubbing the back of her head. “You’re dad’s a quantity-surveyer and your mum’s the headmistress. The only burning soul-thirst you have is to be allowed out to play after tea-time on school nights.”
There was some snickering from the other table and annoyance flickered in Little Ned’s piercing blue eyes. He loathed snickerers and, outside of emergencies, never snickered at all himself if he could help it. He looked down at Monica doing the best sneery lip-curl he could manage.”
“Hey Little Neddy!” called a fool boy, Seorais MacSween, from across the room, “How much of the lonesome trail did you drive in the back of your mammy’s Nissan Sunny today?” The snickering became intolerable sniggering.
“That’s just the sort of dumb-ass question I’d expect from someone that sits at the yellow table,” spat Little Neddy turning to face his new tormentor.
Just then, Mrs. Jamieson came into he classroom.
“Why aren’t you in your chair, Little Neddy? Sit down there’s a good boy. Oh and before I forget, well done on your extraordinary picture of a coyote ripping out the throat of a bunny. The art teacher said she’s never seen such an anatomically correct rendition of a trachea from someone so young. Now if you’d only pay that much attention to Reading Module 3 you could be learning all the more about bunny’s throats, wouldn’t you?” She smiled fondly at him.
Little Neddy, never comfortable with praise, pulled his 3-gallon hat down low over his nose. He slouched off to his seat and waited for the morning of cruel teasing about his hat and eraser-throwing behind the teacher’s back to begin as usual.
But what did he care?! he sneered inwardly. These boys were jackasses, just aimin’ to make him look like a fool in front of Karen-Pam. – But one day he would take Karen-Pam by the hand, he would! And they would step out and go a-walkin’ together. And he would tell her the ways of the old cowboys; share with her beans straight from the tin and the complicated pistol-twiddles he’d perfected in the holidays. And then, if things were going well, then maybe he would take her to the hidden place near the disused end of the quarry; the little cave with the songs of love for her he’d scored on the wall, and the 17 dead cats hanging across the entrance to keep strangers away.
The morning dragged on. The rain poured on the storm-darkened school-yard outside.
At last it was play-time. As soon as the bell rang, stung with flung erasers and cruel jibes, Little Neddy ran out of the classroom to the far side of the school-yard, climbed up onto the highest limb of the old oak tree and, with tears running down his cheeks, he sneered, he sneered at them all – such sneery, curly-lipped sneers of cold contempt as no rugged cowboy has ever sneered before!
And so it was begun, in the foothills of the great Harris mountains, that a new tv minor-character-actor, whose real dream it was to direct, set out on his very own trail of tears.