My father was a small man. I was ten when I inherited his cowboy boots, picked up years before on a business trip to Dallas and still new because he was not a cowboy and could never bring himself to wear them.
A whole Saturday I walked back and forth across our slick garage floor to hear those magnificent heels clop. I mouthed the word gambol over and over, mouthed it with each wide step, until eventually saying it aloud. “Gambol” was what the cowpoke had done as a child in the Louis L’Amour book, something I gathered roughneck orphans and runaways did. Gambol was not gamble but it was close, like junior gambling. My stride grew increasingly bowlegged and bandy, and the left side of my mouth stretched wider and wider around the word as around an accreting tumble of chaw. As the hours yawned I began to look and sound drunk, which I suppose I was, and I still had on the boots Sunday morning despite blisters, my cereal bowl sitting untouched while the garage filled up with more of that dogged clopping and muttering. I was four laps in when my father collared me into the car and drove to Blowing Rock, two hours away, just for the hell of it, or because he was tired of the noise.
I pressed my temple against the window as the road cut through canyons of lead-rock mountain, striped from what he called explosive charges. When I said I’d like to climb one of these walls, my father pulled over, cut the engine, and said it might be a fine way to break in the boots—deferring to me as he would to a sensible old hunting buddy. I stood there in the highway weeds, a bit drowsy and stupefied by my burger earlier in Cherokee and nearly whipped off my feet by rushing traffic, and had only to walk up close to the wall and grope its massive stillness and raise my knee and skid a boot-tip down the poly-planed convections and grit to know I wasn’t climbing anywhere—a sad realization of physics and weight that stunned me out of the moment with a boulder-drop of bonafide depression.
My father crossed his arms and waited like a father letting me teach myself a lesson. Or possibly he believed, as I had, that the wall before us was indeed climbable, and climbable in cowboy boots no less, and this a standard method toward breaking them in, or breaking me in for that matter, he as senseless and giddy about the physics of fatherhood as I, in my shorts and boots, about those of mountaineering. “I got to talk to you, bud,” he said back in the car, but couldn’t.
Later we tossed a cellophane Ritz wrapper off Blowing Rock and were blinded by crumbs, and the day pretty much dried up. Our gambols in general pretty much dried up, as did that wine-leather luster of the boots on the drive home. I grew bored of them, and certainly they of me.
Jacob White’s fiction has appeared in many journals, including “The Georgia Review,” “Quick Fiction,” “Third Coast,” and “The Sewanee Review,” from whom he received the Andrew Lytle Prize. His nonfiction and interviews have appeared in “New York Tyrant,” “Gulf Coast,” and elsewhere. Jacob currently serve as Fiction Editor for “Green Mountains Review” at Johnson State College in Vermont, where he also teaches creative writing and literature.