--> Cowboy Buck wiped icing onto his socks as inconspicuously as he could. The RSVP’d kids had gone to a hockey game instead, but Buck had been paid for the full afternoon and the horse trailer wouldn’t be back until four. The birthday boy’s dad and Buck talked housing prices and factory closures and ate birthday cake in the living room while the kid sulked in the den and while the cat watched Buck’s horse Buttermilk stand and blink in the backyard.
The cat joined the men in the foyer, but the kid didn’t come when called to come say goodbye to Buck. “Tell him to hang in there for me,” Buck told the dad. “Nine more years and he can get drunk about it.”
A squeaking noise came out of the cat. And then another, raspier report. The cat tried to back away from what it was choking on but Buck corralled it. With one hand he forced its mouth open and with the other pinched down into its throat. Out came a wet elastic from an unused birthday hat.
“Here,” Buck said, handing the elastic over to the dad like it belonged to him.