Years ago I was rolling through Graham, Texas at about lunchtime and stopped off at a Dairy Queen for a Hunger Buster, onion rings, a Dr. Pepper, and an ice cream. I’m really glad I don’t eat that crap anymore. I’d probably be dead by now.
I struck up a conversation with a lady at the next booth. She said she had four daughters and a son, but she felt the son was going to be special. She said her son told her half of this story, and a ghostlike figure named Shelby appeared to her one night and filled in the rest of the story. She asked if I wanted to hear the story.
I looked at my watch and said, “No.”
This is what she told me:
One day I was driving Billy to Fort Worth when he was just a kid. I don’t remember why he needed to go to Fort Worth, but it probably had something to do with sports. Billy always played every kind of sport, but he really, really liked chess and had tried out for the chess team. The day before the trip, he was informed that he didn’t make the chess team. He was really upset. I’d never seen him that upset for more than an hour or two.
All his life, Billy had always been the best at whatever he tried to do. He was always the first one picked. He had the prettiest girlfriends. He could make the Kessel run in less than four parsecs. He was an outstanding child. Every single thing he did was a success, until he tried to play chess.
He sat next to me in the truck and stared out the window the entire time. He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t even play with his Stretch Armstrong. Oh, how he loved to pull on that body.
Remember, that ghost named Shelby told me part of this story. That same day that poor Billy didn’t make the chess team, a coyote stepped on an old tin Miller High Life can not too far from our house. This coyote had been the best one of his litter. He was the first to walk. He was the biggest. He always got the best of his brothers and sisters during coyote play time. He went out on his own first. He had a healthy coat, which is unheard of from Coyotes in these parts. He was truly the king of the coyotes.
The coyote didn’t think much of his cut paw, but later that night he began to feel weak. The next day he could barely walk. He didn’t have the energy to hunt or scavenge for food. It took all of his strength to limp out from near the crick bottom and lie down next to the road. He spent his last day licking his infected paw and waiting to die. He wondered what went wrong. He had been the strongest coyote he had ever seen, but a can of beer turned him into an incoherent, dying sick animal.
The coyote watched a truck drive by. In the passenger seat was a boy who stared at the coyote as his mother drove him somewhere. I wish I was that boy, thought the coyote. I wouldn’t be dying here by the road.
Well, you guessed it. We were the ones driving down that road. We drove right by that coyote. I didn’t see it, but Billy sure did. Yes, he saw it. And you know what? He wished to God right then that he was a coyote. Coyotes have it easy, he thought. They don’t have to play chess. They just had to eat and make coyote love with other coyotes. Billy wished he was that coyote. Isn’t that sad? That animal was in a lot of pain because of beer cans, and Billy wished he was that coyote.
That ghost, Shelby, he told me that Billy will use the chess failure to his advantage, but that he might take it too far. Shelby told me that the promised land was his home, and one day it will be Billy’s home, too. Shelby, he told me to tell Billy to stay in the promised land, and to not try to go somewhere else where the people will hate and be even stupider.
I don’t know. Right now he’s at a junior college. I don’t where this promised land is, but I sure hope Shelby was right, and I’ll tell Billy what’s right and that he needs to stay put.
After she finished her story and took a sip of Dairy Queen coffee.
“That sure was an interesting story, miss,” I said. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
I took off from that Dairy Queen and vowed to live the rest of my life in the city, where you can just ignore insane people.