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Authors: Stanley Gordon West

Blind Your Ponies

BOOK: Blind Your Ponies
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BLIND YOUR POINES

Also by Stanley Gordon West

Sweet Shattered Dreams

Growing an Inch

Amos: To Ride a Dead Horse

Until They Bring the Streetcars Back

Finding Laura Buggs

BLIND YOUR PONIES

a novel by

STANLEY GORDON WEST

Published by
A
LGONQUIN
B
OOKS OF
C
HAPEL
H
ILL
Post Office Box 2225
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2225

a division of
W
ORKMAN
P
UBLISHING
225 Varick Street
New York, New York 10014

© 2011 by Stanley Gordon West.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
Published simultaneously in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son Limited.
Design by Anne Winslow.

This is a work of fiction. While, as in all fiction, the literary perceptions and insights are based on experience, all names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Quotations from
Man of La Mancha
used with permission of Dale Wasserman © 1966.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

West, Stanley Gordon, [date]

Blind your ponies: a novel / by Stanley Gordon West.—1st ed.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-56512-984-91.

Basketball coaches—Fiction. 2. High school boys—Fiction. 3. City and town life—Montana—Fiction. 4. Willow Creek (Mont.)—Fiction. 5. Basketball stories. I. Title.

PS3573.E8255B58 2011

813'.54—dc22              2010038087

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

For my father and mother

How did they keep a fire going
with the few scraps of wood they were given?

ALDONZA
: You spoke of a dream. And about the Quest!

DON QUIXOTE
: Quest?

ALDONZA
: How you must fight and it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose if only you follow the Quest!

DON QUIXOTE
: The words. Tell me the words!

ALDONZA
: (
speaking to music
)
“To dream the impossible dream …”
But they’re your own words!

—from
Man of La Mancha

BLIND YOUR POINES

BOOK I
CHAPTER 1

Looking back, Sam Pickett knew the trouble began that day at the state fair, when the madness winked at him. Even as a ten-year-old, he had a sneaking suspicion that, somewhere in that shrouded realm where fates are sealed, his life had been irrevocably jinxed.

O
N A LATE
A
UGUST
afternoon, while students still enjoyed summer vacation, Sam hunched over his desk, polishing details on a lesson plan for November.

Use movie version of
Man of La Mancha
for section on Cervantes’s novel
Don Quixote
… first half of movie this period with time for discussion. Assignment: Read first 18 pages on life of Cervantes. Introduce theme:
The problem of appearance and reality.

Sam glanced up from his dog-eared lesson plans. The sun had worked its way around and sunlight slanted in through the large, west-facing windows of his classroom, signaling the passing of another day. He was still surprised at the strangeness of his life, teaching high school in the fly-over town of Willow Creek, Montana.

A rattletrap farm truck hauling hay bales backfired as it chugged past the school, startling him. That damned muffled discharge! The feeling came over him with a choking sensation, and he fought for breath. He stared at the blackboard where the sun, coming through cottonwood leaves, left a dappled pattern.

He thought back to that day, to that Friday afternoon. He’d picked up Amy at the school where she taught. They were both high-spirited and happy, looking forward to the weekend together.

He pulled into the long line waiting for drive-up service. Amy said she could get the French fries faster at the counter, so she blew him a kiss and hurried into the building. It was a race to see who’d get the food first, and
he hoped she’d win just so he could see the enchanting expression on her face and be rewarded by her childlike laughter. He felt a rush of happiness when he thought of the games they often played, like hide-and-seek in their apartment, in the dark, naked.

From the car, he heard the muffled sound, and then it came again, and again. A backfire? Not inside a building! He ran from the car and collided with terrified people stampeding out the door, fleeing the Burger King. Inside, it was bedlam, a madhouse in which people screamed, crawled under tables, and dove over counters. He frantically searched for her face, and then he saw her. With the bag of French fries still clutched in one hand, she had been hurled onto the tile floor, but not all of her. Parts of her were spattered on the wall, shrapnel from her head, small bits of brain and bone, skin and hair, sailing down the stainless steel on a sea of gore.

He knelt beside her and gently pulled her long black hair over the mutilation, as if that might heal her shattered skull. He took her hand in his, the hand that clung to the French fries she had playfully insisted on getting for him. Amid the chaos a white-haired man knelt beside him.

“She didn’t appear to be afraid,” the man said, slowly shaking his head. “She looked right at him and said, ‘No, please.’ Then he pulled the trigger.”

Sam looked into the man’s watery blue eyes as if asking for understanding.

“Was she your wife?” the man kneeling in her blood said.

Sam nodded. He couldn’t breathe, the room was spinning. Five minutes ago his life was full of joy and anticipation. “Oh God, oh God,” he moaned.

The man put his hand on Sam’s shoulder.

“Why did I turn on Elliot? We could have gone another way, stopped some place else.”

It was as if Amy had been drawn to the shotgun blast by some irresistible fate, and he had been helpless to prevent it. He stared at the grisly scene, the blood, the bits of flesh and bone.

The chaos continued, but he stayed beside her on the floor. He felt no fear, hoping the maniac would return and with one more pull of the trigger send him off to be with her. He heard the words from somewhere deep inside,
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
Was it God who nudged him to take a different route home? Was it God who stoked Sam’s impatience with the heavy traffic? If God had any hand in this, then life was a slaughterhouse.

When the sadness erupted over his happy life, the abyss opened beneath him and he fell. In this headlong plunge he instinctively reached out and grabbed hold of something, he didn’t know who or what. He hung there, trying to catch his breath, trying to restore his heartbeat, dangling over the darkness.

The city he loved turned gray: green trees, the waterfront, his classroom, friends, the concerts and plays, the lovely boulevards and buildings, all gray. The sadness overwhelmed him. He left everything and fled.

At present, he was hanging on, but he knew he had to identify what it was he clung to, and he knew he had to find some reason to continue to hang on or he would give in to it, let go, and fall into the great dark void and be lost.

“Pickett!”

The voice startled him, jolting him from the trance. Truly Osborn stood in the doorway. Sam caught his breath.

“Hard at it I see,” Truly said, as he stepped smartly to Sam’s desk.

“Yes,” Sam responded, standing, slightly unbalanced.

“I wish a few of the other teachers were as conscientious. When I was running the school in Great Falls, well, things were different, I’ll tell you.”

Truly glanced at the walls Sam had cluttered with quotations and posters depicting films and books and musical plays.

“Had seventy-six teachers under me, seventy-six. Could account for every paper clip. Can’t expect discipline in this outpost.”

He twitched his nose as was his habit.

“Is all this necessary?” he said, waving a hand at the wall. “It’s so … unorganized.”

Without allowing a moment for a response, he turned his gaze on Sam, who had settled back into his chair, his heart still racing. He swallowed and tried to pay attention to his superintendent.

“Now then, the other night the school board nearly did away with the basketball program. John English expressed the frustration and embarrassment we all feel because of the team, but due to the persistence of that foolhardy Wainwright and his lackey Ray Collins, they decided to go one more year. Can you imagine?”

Sam glanced down at his lesson plan and his eyes focused on
The problem
of appearance and reality.
He was lost. Somehow, Amy’s voice came softly and calmly.

Truly continued to talk, and finally his words penetrated.

“… However, they realize how hard it has been for you to coach these past five years, the time and travel for what, heaven knows, is little extra money. We’re prepared to assign the task to Mr. Grant, our new math teacher. Hopefully it will only be for one more year. Might as well pass the misery around.”

Sam wanted to protest, wanted to volunteer for another year. If nothing else, the basketball program filled many hours during the winter months, and he didn’t know how he’d handle that much unscheduled time.

“Oh, and the board asked me to convey their gratitude for the way you’ve stuck to it, even though you never did manage to win a game.”

Sam caught the not-so-subtle sarcasm. The superintendent twitched his nose like a rabbit.

“They appreciate your … fortitude. Mr. Grant can carry on the ridiculous comedy with the boys.”

He slung a hand toward the classroom wall.

“See if you can’t neaten this up a bit.”

Then he turned and scurried from the room.

Pompous ass,
Sam thought.

He stood, teetering slightly, still finding it hard to breathe. He pulled the shade, darkening the room. Truly’s cruel reference to the team’s efforts as “comic” had made him wince, and he admitted that deep inside he had wanted to win just one game, for the boys, for the town. Though the furthest he’d gone with basketball was playing on his high school team, Sam believed he was a capable English teacher. As a basketball coach he was 0–87. Wasn’t that some kind of a world’s record, a
Guiness Book
oddity? And even better, the team was 0–93, having lost its last six the season before Sam arrived. It would be exceedingly difficult to lose ninety-three in a row without some law of nature kicking in to bring the odds back into balance, something like an entire opposing team coming down with trichinosis in the middle of the third quarter or their eyes going crossed for all of the second half.

What Truly viewed as a ridiculous comedy actually had taught Sam something about heroism. Heroism wasn’t playing hard with a chance to win, a chance to receive the acclaim and praise of victory. True heroism was refusing to quit when there was no chance to win. True heroism was giving your all in the face of absolute defeat. He thought that these boys, who were pitied by some, were learning life’s lesson sooner than most, learning that life is a series of losses.

Sam gathered several folders off his desk and worried about how he would fill this new block of free time. He regarded the lesson plans for a moment, then dropped them on the desktop. He picked up his tattered copy of
Don Quixote
and left the room. He’d read the eight hundred and some pages again; that should occupy him for several days at least.

He raced down the hall and a flight of stairs, then ducked out the front door. The basketball court in front of the school stood empty in the late afternoon heat. The mountains shimmered to the west and the sweet aroma of freshly-cut alfalfa filled his nostrils as he headed toward his rental house. The town stretched along the road for about eight blocks, with the school situated on the south end, and Sam’s one-story home—for which he paid two hundred dollars a month in rent—in the middle.

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