A short story, “The Last Cowboy”, about the men who always stick up for other men.

I know men like you. For men like you, there is nothing your boys can do which isn’t fine. That’s the key, with men like you: above everything else, the code is loyalty to the penis. It doesn’t matter what bill one of your boys presents you with, he can call you up at two am telling you he’s in a bit of trouble with a woman, yet another crazy bitch, you know those ones, and you’ll hop from bed and into your car and drive, because that’s just the kind of friend you are.


The women who date your friend are always crazy. They never seem to be crazy when you first meet them in town with your boy, smiling at him over drinks and being polite as you invite them to dinner, but sooner or later they disintegrate. It normally takes a few months, the sly ones fool your boy for more than a year, but eventually they make their demands, they ask too much, and sooner or later your boy does what he has to do. He has to protect yourself, you know? It’s a war.


You always call it a war when you are dating women. You call yourselves soldiers even though there is never been a woman who has left you physically intimidated. You’ve never asked yourself why this is, and if you had then you’d realise that your enemy isn’t women but what you see as freedom. Freedom of the penis, freedom to fuck, freedom to roam like your dads did and your uncles did and your boy does.


You resent your boy. You love him publicly but privately you hate him. Your boy lives bravely, just like those guys in the films. He drives wherever he wants, drinks when he wants, always with a new girl, and to look at him you’d think women over a certain age didn’t exist. He’s always got that sneer when you see him, the look that says fuck you, I’m not waiting in playgrounds at home-time or helping some little fools with their homework, I’m not trapped like that, I’m here to fuck and I’m out.


That’s your boy. Women tell you to come get your boy, and in a way you do: you always come and get him, come and cover for him, whatever he goes. The rest of you have fallen, stuck in the suburbs with kids and women who are crazy but too clever for you, and he’s still out there galloping, the last cowboy. You love him, you fucking hate him. Your friendship is a bank from which he can draw endless credit. Your boy, you think fondly, even as he passes the ages of forty, fifty, sixty, while his girlfriends remain younger than the local speed limit.


Why is that guy your friend, asks your partner, the crazy one who never raises her voice but who somehow forced you into this mortgage and this suit and this routine. Why do you always stick up for him, protect him, you’re one of the good ones, he’s out there wild when you’re always at home. Why do you stick up for that man. She never calls him your boy, never uses his nickname, she says the full one that he hates as if she’s reading his name at the start of class. You’ve got a queen there, he tells you over again, and you’re too busy being hypnotised by your boy that you can’t tell that he resents you too.


You never answer your partner when she asks you why you always stick up for your boy. It’s something you’re sometimes scared to ask yourself. You do it because, in spirit, he is you. You live through him, he is your penis fucking all those girls with no condoms and then fleeing, he is the last outlaw of you all, you who retired and hung up your jackets in the hallway and now step over toys in the corridor and endlessly exhausted get up to make breakfast. He is the last cowboy and he cannot fall at any cost.


That’s why when he calls you that day, and you can tell from his voice that this time it went really bad, that this time she got a bit too crazy, she surprised me that she was going to have my fucking kid, what the hell else was I supposed to do, you don’t ask him what he did, you just ask if you can wire him some cash or if he needs a place to stay, you know a guy in a neighbouring town. You know how these crazy women can be, he says, and then you briefly realise that even he calls his partners women more than you do, that when it comes to your boy they are always girls, because that’s how you make this normal. You think of his smirk and you clutch your phone to your ear as he panics into the other end. It’s your friend again isn’t it, asks your partner through the gloom, her voice sleepy but her eyes alert.


You don’t answer her as you step into the hallway and try and find your shoes, your keys. Actually, you tell him, don’t worry, just tell me where you are, I’m coming to get you. At this, his voice regains strength, and though he thanks you his tone is that of a command. Coming to get your boy again, he laughs, and if you ever listened carefully you would hear a hint of mockery, but you never do. Coming to get your boy, you think proudly, and you walk through the darkness towards your car.

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