My schedule for the weekend looked – or would have looked, were I the sort that kept schedules at weekends – like Tetris. A proposed pub jaunt, a phone catch-up with mum, shaving a hairy list of e-mails: all were straight, square, and skew tetrominoes to be shuffled and shoved into their appropriate nooks, clearing some space to play Red Dead Redemption 2.
When I booted the game, Arthur’s face was flecked with mud; a brawl the other night had left him caked in clay, which the sun had baked to a dry crust. It wouldn’t do. I couldn’t dig into Arthur’s story looking so grubby. It just wasn’t canon – my Arthur is a dapper dan man! I marched for my horse – Brunswick – and thought it best to head into Valentine, the nearest town, for a bath, a shave, a haircut, and some clean clothes. If the untamed bramble of old America was being swept aside in favour of the modern and the clean, why not get ahead of the wave with spiffy tailoring?
But before civilisation there must come toil. I make it ten paces in Brunswick’s direction before Miss Grimshaw – my camp’s den mother, lines of caring carved on her face – suggests I do my chores. I may be an outlaw, but nobody likes an unkempt camp. I heave sacks grain over to Pearson’s caravan; I chop enough wood to make it through an ice age; I slosh buckets over to different basins (and pine for the plumbing that civilisation will bring); and I toss bales of hay toward the horses.
Finally, I saddled Brunswick and beat a path toward the town. Cleanliness and fashionability was within reach – In my head, I pictured Kurt Russell’s dress sense in Tombstone. As Brunswick spirited me along, something stirred on the breeze – a discomfiting call. I whirled round and tracked the disturbance to its source: a woman lay squalling, pinned beneath her horse. I may be a bastard, but I’m not inhuman. A model of equine-imity, I prized her free from the panic and gave her a ride into Valentine. It wasn’t too much of a distraction; after all, I was headed that direction.
At last, I was in town and ready for a sprucing, but before I took a single step toward the nearest hotel, for my bath, a jolly clamour piped up. A rotund war veteran, minus an arm, was chirping off to one side, slumped against the boardwalk. Not this guy again – he was a lovely chap and all, but needy and demanding of hugs. My good nature, I’m sorry to say, has its limits. But he bustled, beaming, toward me and asked for a dollar. Fair enough to him; he fought in the war, and he wants a drink. A brief encounter and I was on my way.
‘Hey, that’s the fella there,’ someone hollered. Oh for Christ’s sake, I thought, what now? But my frustrations were premature, for fortune had worn an irritating guise. A weaselly chap with a blonde bowl cut was talking to a friend of his about my gallant heroics. Outlaw or no, I’m not impervious to flattery. As it happened, I had happened across him out in the brush; he had been chewed on by a snake, and his flesh was on the turn. I gave him a bottle of antidote and sent him hobbling toward a homestead on the horizon. As it happened, our man, despite his down at heel appearance, had a line of credit at the local gun emporium, which he extended to me for a single dream purchase. No good deed, eh?
In fact, this would do nicely – a flashy pistol to go with my flashy couture. What good are the tools of death at the burnt edges of modernity if you can’t order them with ivory handles? I redeemed this good will and came away with a volcanic pistol; this, I thought, was a sublime manifestation of good karma – good killing! I walked out of the shop and down the street, toward the hotel, for my bath. I felt a crackle of nervousness descend. People were looking at me funny, shifting in their seats and backing warily away from my person. What was going on?
A comment from a bystander alerted me to the problem: I hadn’t holstered my gun. Classic. I quickly jammed it into my gun belt and went about assuaging the fears of the townsfolk. I wasn’t the mean gunslinger they might think, just a man in need of a bath. I went to defuse the tension with a chipper greeting, but something awful happened. A momentary lapse in coordination had me squeezing the wrong trigger, and what began as an attempt at friendship ended with a bullet in some poor bastard’s belly.
The street became a chicken coop – innocent townsfolk reduced to a squawking mass, as if I were the farmer approaching with an axe. I had to get away; the lawmen were dispatched to deal with me. Christ, if only they knew my commitment to couture; I was on a mission of sophistication! I dove to one side, into the wet mud to avoid the gunfire, and I whistled for my horse. Brunswick bore me to safety, and I arrived back at camp as the sun was setting. I went to sleep, freshly covered in filth, and planned to go to the post office in the morning, pay off my bounty, and get a bath. Yes. Tomorrow. Tomorrow would be the day I would get things done…