Cowboys and Angels

Closure doesn’t need to mean certainty.
Photo: Matias Di Meglio
The Manhattan skyline highlighted by light and dark tones.

by Angie Mosher

A Cowboy walked into a bar.

He was late. He was always late. Being on time was embarrassing, being early—unthinkable. He didn’t like Manhattan. His contempt made him even later than usual. Tourists stopped him everywhere, took in his spurs and boots, his belt, his cow-hide jacket and asked, Can we take a picture with you? He never did. He pulled his hat down over his forehead and said, no can do. I ain’t from here neither. Sometimes they laughed. Other times they’d get angry. He would just walk away.

It was raining miserably. Water dripped from the brim of his hat, soaked the fringe of his coat. He took it off, gave it a shake, and put it back on. The Angel was already there, in the corner booth, perched on the velvet cushion, drinking a gin and tonic. She was aglow, as usual; the dim lighting of the bar was nothing compared to her. The Cowboy saw her at once. He went over to the bartender and ordered a bourbon, neat. When he turned to join Angel in her booth, she was there, on the stool beside him. He offered her a smile, tipping his hat to her in greeting.

“Do you remember when we met?” the Angel asked in her melodic voice.

“Couldn’t forget that, darlin’.”

He’d been bleeding out in a dirt patch of a ditch, in the dead nowhere of Wyoming. That had been a year ago.

“This is a better place, then,” the Angel said.

It sounded like a question, so he answered it like one.

“Maybe.”

She nodded at that and took a sip of her drink. The bartender returned and placed the bourbon in front of him. He picked it up and took a small sip.

He looked better in some ways and worse in others, she thought. His clothes were cleaner, his boots were shinier, but his shoulders sagged. His pistol was missing. The scar on his face divided him in two, a jagged line cutting from his left eyebrow, marring the eyelid, clouding the eye, sinking down through the bridge of his nose to settle just above the right corner of his lip. She had sewn the wound shut herself. He was still so beautiful. He was still hers.

“Been busy lately?” he asked, his voice gruff, deeper than it was when they first met.

She had been. She was busy in Manhattan. Hell’s Kitchen especially. Not so many angels out there. That’s why she’d left L.A. She stopped in Wyoming, not really sure where she was going. She stopped in small towns and found lost souls, hoping she’d find a place worth staying. Meeting people at the end of their lives was wearing on her. She had been losing her light for a long time. Then she found her Cowboy.

She was tired of helping souls to Heaven and he was tired of the Wild West. They fell in love, and fled together to the big city. He became a butcher in Brooklyn, and she stood on street corners and rooftops, saving souls. They shared a small apartment in the bottom of a brownstone. They didn’t see each other as much as they wanted to. He understood. She was important. Sometimes, he’d stand on street corners with her and play guitar. He worried about her in the city, by herself. Not everyone cared about angels. He knew she’d been hurt before. Sometimes a dark mood would take her, and there was nothing that he could do. He knew then she was remembering past lives and past pain, things that were beyond him. Sometimes she wouldn’t come home for days. He’d slice into raw flesh all day, only to come home to nobody, and wait for her all night. Sometimes, he’d pray and imagined she could hear him, wherever she was.

So they met in the same bar every Sunday. It was almost a date, a way to see each other outside of crawling into bed, or a quick kiss on the cheek before they left to go where they needed to be. He’d make his way over from Brooklyn and she would be there, glowing, waiting, her head bowed over a drink as if deep in prayer.

“What have you been doing?” she asked. He took another sip of his bourbon.

“Workin’. Walkin’. Not much else to do.”

“In a city like this?”

He nodded. She understood. He was a man of the land. Not concrete. Not trains and subways. Not for the first time, she felt guilty for bringing him there.

“You hate it here.”

He brought the glass of bourbon to his mouth and poured it back, slamming the glass down on the bar, harder than he’d meant to, so hard that the bottom of the glass splintered out with cracks. She didn’t flinch. She was used to his darker moods, too.

“You want to leave.” She said it simply. She’d known for a while. She’d been pressed down into the shape of a woman, for more than a few decades. Longer than he’d been alive, longer than she had cared to be. She’d known every kind of heartbreak. This one felt new.

“You want to leave the city. You want to leave me.”

He did not look at her. He stared into the cracks of his glass, like he could will the splintering into smoothness. She had always looked at him like he wasn’t a broken thing—not half a man, not a weak lover, like he was something whole. It was a sacred thing, but he could not help shattering under her holy gaze.

For a while, neither of them spoke. She finished her drink, he ordered another. He glowered; she glowed. After finishing his second bourbon, he found his voice.

“Why didn’t you leave me there? To die?”

Whatever she had been expecting him to say, it wasn’t that. He looked at her then, really looked at her. He sounded angry, resigned. He suddenly felt his age. It was hard to feel old in her spectral company, but he felt very old then. It occurred to him, when he took in the sad look upon her face, that she must have felt the same way.

“Why did you come with me? To this city?” Her voice rang out clear like a bell.

“It ain’t fair to answer a question with another question.”

“What is fair?”

He didn’t know. That day in the ditch, he thought that he’d known. He’d made his peace with dying, that had seemed fair. Then, there she was.

“I didn’t want to be alone anymore,” he said, finally. She stared up at him, waiting. He didn’t know what else to say. That was the simple truth of it. He’d decided that he’d met his fate and she had appeared and tore him away from it. When he first saw her, he understood what all the songs were about, why he’d said every prayer as a boy, bent on that wooden pew in the church his Ma had dragged him to. He squinted through the blood with his one good eye and saw her glistening face. She’d given him a reason to live. He loved her for it, but now, he thought maybe he hated her for it.

“Tell me. Why couldn’t you just let me die?”

She’d seen many men die. Greater men than him. She watched their eyes roll into the back of their heads, seen the snap of bones and heard the final beats of their hearts. She brought them from this world to the next. Not once had she intervened. Not once did she feel like she had to. But even God’s love left a lot to be desired. She wanted someone to love her because they chose to.

“I didn’t want to be alone anymore, either.”

“Well, shit.”

He wanted her to say that it was God’s Plan—that he hadn’t been meant to die and was destined for greater things. That was the only reason an angel would tear up the dirt road in a Silverado and stitch him back together in the back seat. No more ranching, no more fighting, no more shooting. God’s damn plan.

She sighed and waved the bartender down for another gin and tonic. He ordered another bourbon. She usually only had one drink. She never used to drink at all. She usually left men to their own devices. She usually didn’t take lovers. She had fallen in love with him. He had asked her once, when they were laying in bed, if she had done that often. She’d answered honestly, that she hadn’t, and couldn’t puzzle out if he was relieved or not. Her Cowboy was only a man. She wouldn’t ask him to be more.

“Remember when you taught me the two-step?”

He laughed. To his surprise, she was a terrible dancer. They were hiding out in a barn, still in Wyoming. Dolly Parton sang through the truck radio and he tried teaching her how to two-step. She had no rhythm, no sense of her feet or how to move them. He thought she could do anything, but watching her trip over herself made her seem just as human as he was. He teased her, what, they don’t teach you to dance in heaven? She laughed, radiating light and said, not like this. It was the first time he could remember being so happy, watching an angel fall over her own feet. When she gave up, they held each other and just swayed to whatever the radio played.

“That was the best night of my life,” he said, smiling at the memory. She smiled at him, and felt a wistful tug at her heart. Her eyes watered, but no tears fell.

“Mine, too.”

She never learned to use her feet like that, didn’t think she’d ever need to. Her Cowboy taught her a lot of new things that she didn’t think she’d ever do. Sometimes, he’d shock her with just how gentle he could be; the way he had held her that night, so tenderly with calloused hands. Her calm demeanour broke ever-so slightly.

“Where will you go?” she asked. He startled at that, breaking out of the reverie.

“Who said I’m goin’ anywhere?”

“You don’t have to say it. I’ve been a lot of things. I’ve never been a fool.” He sobered at that. He didn’t have the will to fight anymore, or to lie. If anything had died in the ditch, it was that.

“Back to Wyoming,” he said. She knew that, just needed him to say it. Needed to hear it. She might have begged him to stay, but they both had their pride. Just another thing she had learned from him.

“You’ll die there.” It wasn’t an ill-wish, she wasn’t a lover scorned. He didn’t seem shocked or scared by her statement, he only took another sip of his drink. It was expensive stuff, not the kind he was used to. Only she would pick a place like this to say goodbye. His eyes burned with tears, and for once, he didn’t fight them.

“Let me ask you one more thing. When I die, I’ll have loved you forever. Can you say the same?”

The Angel hung her head. Oh, her foolish cowboy. He didn’t know what forever was. That was how long it had been until she’d found him. That’s how long it would be without him. She watched as he stood and paid his tab. He turned to her, sitting on the stool, shining in her white light, weeping softly. She closed her eyes as he laid a gentle kiss on her golden head.

She let herself look at him one last time and thought of that night they danced together. He had loved her, and that was enough.

“I’ll always love you, Cowboy.”

He tipped his hat to her again and walked out the door.

Author Bio:

Angie Mosher is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. She’s originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and misses the ocean dearly. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College. She’s had her poetry published in the journal That’s What We Said, The Phoenix News and UBC’s Papershell Anthology. “Cowboys and Angels” is her first published short story. When she’s not writing, she’s probably at home with her cats, playing video games, or planning her next tattoo.

“Cowboys and Angels” will be featured in By the Fire: Tales from the Ashes, the upcoming fiction anthology to be published by Algonquin College Professional Writing students in spring 2024. Follow Spine Online on Facebook at facebook.com/ACprofessionalwritingprogram or Twitter/X @ourspineonline for updates on anthology launch dates and ordering information!

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