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Dallas Wiebe

Home on the Range


A man with long silver hair and a long silver beard is crawling through the high grass near the Solomon River. He is crawling slowly through the dusk of late April toward a great, dark buffalo bull that is grazing near a wallow. The bull is off by himself. The herd is in a slough near the river where the grass is deep and there is a little water in a hole. The man with the silver hair and silver beard has a silver buckle on his belt. The nails in his boots are silver, and the rifle he pushes out in front of him is made of silver. In the tall grass, the man crawls on. There is no noise as he crawls up to kill the great bull in order to feed the men building the railroad.

As he crawls, the moon rises. It shines into the tall grass and onto the silver-haired hunter. Buffalo Bill is outlined by his silver trappings, his silver locks and the silver bullets stuck into his belt. He wants the big bull dead. Now. He wants that great hump for his din-din. He wants the splendid hide for his hanky-panky winter. He wants the tongue and the eyes for his flea-flicking dogs. He wants him dead. Now. He wants to clear the plains of his kind so that the railroad can go choo-choo. When he gets close enough he will raise his rifle, with the beams around and upon it, to his shoulder, pull back the hammer, squeeze the hairy trigger and go bang-bang until the great, dark buffalo bull falls willy-nilly to his fuddy-duddy knees, bleeding from his tum-tum.

Buffalo B stops. He thinks he hears a voice. He is right. The big bull hears it, too. He raises his head and shuffles his rump around so that his dark, bulbous left eye is looking right at two silver eyebrows. The bull backs sideways away and then jogs down to the herd where he muscles and butts away. Buffalo B is so pissed he can't stand it. He's tracked that bull for hours. First he got downwind, dropped to his hands and knees. Then he crawled through snakes, mosquitoes and kangaroo rats. He came silent through the high grass. He readied to cock without sound. He readied to aim, noiseless in the silver light. Then came the voice. Then went the bull. "Dagnabbit," he says as he stands up in the chin-high grass, "who made that noise anyhow?" When he turns around to go back to his plump horse, he sees a brick house with white trim. A light is shining from one of the back windows. Buffalo B crosses the street, goes down a driveway and sidles up to the sash. He looks in the window. He sees a kitchen, and there is a skinny lady leaning against a white gas stove. Her hand is over her mouth, and she is talking. It is she scaring the bull away. It is she talking and making all that blasted noise as she tells something to the man who is sitting on a tall stool by a breakfast bar. He is quiet as he sips his Budweiser. Buffalo Bill, silver and all, stares into the window and listens. He can't decide whether to plug her or not. Let the dogs gnaw on her, maybe. He stares at her gut as the voice rattles off his silver eyeballs.

"I was so proud of myself. And so was Fischbein. God, he was proud of me, because I figured it out all by myself. I talked and talked and answered and answered until I found it myself. There I sat in that big black chair and, one day, said it on my own."

"I don't understand all this. What the hell are you trying to tell me?"

"Trying to tell you? I went to a psychiatrist, that's what I'm trying to tell you. You don't know how hard it is for me to say all this. You don't know. But tonight I made up my mind I was going to tell you. I sat there in the Busy Beet, had a few smart drinky-poos and decided I was going to come straight over here and tell you all about it. I just decided right there."

"So what's such a big deal about going to a psychiatrist? You told me you'd been there before."

"No, no, dear heart. This was last fall and last winter when you and I weren't seeing each other. The whole thing cost three thousand dollars and Herman is still paying for it. He thinks I was just depressed. He doesn't know it had anything to do with you. I just had to do something. I just couldn't understand why we couldn't get along. My roommate kept patting me on the back and saying, `There, there,' and now, God, is he ever paying for it."

"Hell, Thelma, I can or could have told you why we couldn't get along. And for a hell of a lot less money. You treated me like shit. For Christ's sake, you attacked me constantly. You belittled me. You ridiculed me publicly. You slandered me. You denigrated me. You cursed me. You accused me of everything you could think of. You threw shit in my face whenever we got together. You threatened to castrate me. Why in all hell should I take all that? I did the only thing I could. I just went away."

"You know, you hurt me. You hurt me going away. And I just had to know why. You know I can't stand not knowing why things happen like they do.

"And do you know how exhausting it is to go to a psychiatrist twice a week? One hour twice a week. And was Fischbein unrelenting. He kept after me and kept after me. After our sessions I'd be completely exhausted. Do you know how tiring all that is?"

"No, I don't. I've never been to a psychiatrist. I think they're a bunch of shit. And overpriced, too. My God, Thel, I'm around those creeps all the time. I know what they are. I wouldn't tell them the length of my turds."

Unblinking silver eyes at the window.

"They've done me a lot of good. I told you I had such bad nightmares once. I'd wake up screaming. Terrible. A psychiatrist got me out of that."

"What'd he say? What'd he say?"

"My mother."

Silver lips open.

Thelma turns her back and snivels into her right palm. She bends her left knee. Her right buttock drops a few inches down the pant leg of her red and white striped hip huggers. Flared and washed too often, faded and flaking, they sag at the crotch. Her oily sandals coil around her toes as she lifts her left foot. Her star-spangled blouse crawls out further from under her black, hairy belt. She bumps against one of the gas handles on the stove. Tom hears it click on and smells the gas rise. He gets up, turns it off and goes back to his stool by the breakfast counter. Thelma moves to the sink, looks in, her back to the other one.

Buffalo Bill spits on the asphalt driveway. "Gawdamighty," he says to his red horse. "Look at that one."

"O.K. So you went last fall and winter to a psychiatrist. It cost your husband three thousand dollars and he's still trying to pay it off. And all this had something to do with me, Professor Thomas Jackson Turner, Ph.D., historian, philanderer. Like what?"

"Like what what?"

"What'd it all have to do with me?"

"I didn't know who you were or are."

"Holy shit, Thelma, we've rubbed bellies hundreds of times. We've licked, sucked, fingered, talked, stroked, bit, everything. We've been as intimate as any two people can be, and you don't know who I was? Or who I am?"

Buffalo Bill slips a quivering silver bullet into his silver rifle.

"That's right. I didn't know who you were. You see, Tom, it's all up here." She points to her head, her creepy right index finger pointing like a limp pistol toward her right temple. Tom looks up. He looks along her flat butt, along her tired waist, up her crooked spine, up her freckled nape and into the straight wires of hair pointing straight down all the way around. And he feels a little tickle in his upper right temple and a little tickle in the upper left temple. His back aches from slumping off the stool by the breakfast bar.

Buffalo Bill scratches his silver ass with his silver left hand. The night air and the insects are making him raunchy. Randy bullets tingle in his belt.

"There were some light moments when I was there. We both saw M*A*S*H, and we talked about that. I told him once that you wouldn't even speak to me, and he laughed and said, `Well, would you speak to anyone who'd treated you the way you treated him?' I had to agree, and we laughed about that a little. But mostly it was all seriousness. I told him all about you. Everything I knew. And Fischbein was very interested in your background and how we met. He knows all about you. Maybe even more than you know about yourself."

Turner's back feels as if it were swelling. Sharp spines seem to be groping off the backbone by his chest. He feels the spines pushing out and up. He wants to hit her in the mouth.

Buffalo Bill looks away from the window. Fireflies and bats fly by night. The moon gleams on his upright rifle.

Instead. Instead of charging and hitting, Turner to Thelma. "I hate to ask this, but I guess it's what you want. Who was I?"

Thelma snivels into both palms. Walks to the gas handles. Keeps her back to the man. "Oh God, Tom, you just don't know how humiliating this is."

"For whom?"

"For me, of course. Don't make fun of me. You don't know how difficult this is."

"For whom?"

"For me! Goddamn it. For me."

"All right, then. Why don't you just cut out the soap opera and say what you came to say. This is getting silly. Who was I?"

Thelma throws herself against the wall and buries her face in her arms and sobs out, "You were my stepfather."

Buffalo Bill wets his left index finger and holds it up to see which way the wind is blowing. He is downwind and knows what to do.

The tickling in Turner's temples changes to something else. A discomfort, like when pimples swell. A constant, necessary pressure from the inside. Tom feels for the lumps. His back hurts from his waist to his head. He wants to run. The spines are getting bigger and longer. His hair lies back on his neck. His shoulders itch. His nose begins to swell between his eyes.

The grass waves to Buffalo Bill. It is good carpet for his work. The great plains must go. His silver eyes glint in the moonlight.

"Why me? Why me, for God's sake? What'd I ever do to deserve that? I'm not your stepfather. I'm me, Dr. Thomas Jackson Turner, assistant professor of history. I was born November 1, 1940, in Celina, Ohio. Legitimate. My parents now are both dead and buried, but I do have a birth certificate. No brothers or sisters. One arthritic aunt, mother's side. My inoculation record is up-to-date. I have a complete physical examination once a year. A.B. at the University of Cincinnati. M.A. at Columbia. Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Doctoral dissertation on Wild West circuses. Vita sheet and bibliography available without cost and immediately. Dossier in order and ready. Why me? Is that why you were so nasty all the time? Well, it figures. Some things do fall into place. But why me? Why'd you select me to be your stepfather? Did you have a love affair with him after your mother died, or something?"

"Oh no, no."

"Why me? Do I look like him?"

"You're built like him."

"You mean that just because I happen to be built like your stepfather that made me him?"

"I don't know. You don't understand. It's all up here." Again the finger to the temple. Turner's temples throb with pressure. His back and neck bend under it. He thinks of wallowing in dirt and mud in order to cleanse himself, to relieve the pain.

Buffalo Bill wipes off his boots with his silver left hand. Nails shine in the night. Silver beams illuminate the heavy dew.

"Listen. Enough already. Did it work?"

"Did what work?"

"The psychiatry. You said you were proud of yourself and that Fischbein was proud of you. Sounds like something happened. You did quit going, I take it."

"Oh yes. I quit sometime in January."

"That was when you went to bed with me again."

"Right. That's right."

"Well, I guess then that if everything ended up all right it was worth the money."

"Tom, I love you so much and I just had to know what was happening."

"Are you saying that I'm not your stepfather anymore?"

"Yes. And I know who you are."

Buffalo Bill drops to his hands and knees and crawls toward the front door of the house. Tulips and daffodils tickle his nose.

Turner's temples ache to break open. His back swells to let him lean lower over the counter. The spiny tendrils reach out and make his back into a paralyzed lump. The swelling forehead and nose make it difficult to focus his eyes. He stares out of his deep brown eyes at the back strap, visible through the stars and blue, of Thelma's white brassiere. He wants to bathe and shave. He wants to run into the mountains, but he says instead, "I don't know who I am or what I am. I never have. And I doubt that anyone understands himself or others. The psychiatrists get you to accept their clichés, their silly simplifications, and you think you've achieved understanding and are therefore cured. Jesus, it's shit. Don't you know, Thel, the mystery of man? We're all very complicated. We don't even know the physiology of the brain very well, much less consciousness and dreams. We're full of paradoxes and contradictions. We play games with others and with ourselves and all that often not even knowing that we're doing it. We deceive ourselves and others with the best of intentions. That's what all our study is about. What the hell is man, anyway? If the psychiatrists had the answer, we could all quit and go drinking. Sorry. I was preaching. But, pray tell me, since you know, who am I?"

Her back is still turned. She looks up, puts her hands on her flat hips. She turns around under the light. She is smiling. She walks around Tom, puts her arms around his chest from behind. Her breasts straddle the lump on his back. She lays her weary head on his right shoulder.

Buffalo Bill crawls through the grass and the small trees in front of the house. He crawls through mice, ants, rats and dog turds that grease him on his way.

"Oh, Tom," Thelma says, "I was so proud of myself and Fischbein was so proud of me when I realized it myself. He didn't have to tell me. I discovered it myself. All by myself, sitting there, exhausted, in that big, black leather chair. All by my smart self I figured it out, and we both knew I was right."


"Yes, love."

Buffalo Bill opens the front door and crawls in, quiet. The kitchen light outlines the hunched man on the stool and the creature on his back. He sees the splayed feet on the rung, the oily sandals on the floor.

Tom lowers his head, turns sideways, looks out of his right eye at her and snorts, "Who am I?"

Thelma cuddles tight. Raises her mouth to his right ear, pushes aside the thick, brown hair and says, "Why, you're you."

Behind Turner, Buffalo Bill's silver eyes roll up from the tired thighs of Thelma to the scalp of the plain man who slumps over his beer. Buffalo Bill raises his silver rifle and cocks it. He aims quietly. He fires a dandy silver bullet right between the teeny-weeny horns of that dark head.


The buffalo man first appeared in Cincinnati at the Carthage Fair along with the alligator lady, the fat lady, the skinny man, the Siamese twins, the sword-swallower, the fire-eater and the inside-out girl. Out on the wooden stage in front of the tent, the announcer called them off, promised thrills and genuine live exhibits of what some people are like. Promised unforgettable sights. Promised more than anyone could expect for fifty cents. He promised to show them, for the first time in the tristate area, a man who grew buffalo horns and a real hump on his back. A man who grew shaggy black hair on top of his head and down over his shoulders. A man who grew a buffalo beard. A man whose hands and feet hardened and split, whose shoulders lifted, whose rump dropped, whose tail grew, whose eyes turned deep brown and grew a four-pointed black star in each one. For fifty cents, it was all promised. And it was guaranteed that those who were skeptical, those who thought it all makeup, those who scoffed at mysteries could, if they wished, or if they dared, touch the horns, stroke the rump, feel the wet, wide nose and see the buffalo man run his tongue up each nostril. Guaranteed that the buffalo man would recite one of his own poems to show how much he was still human.

The first night, ten curious women entered the tent and touched the horns. The second night fifty anxious women came, and the word was out. The third night a mob came to find the magic. Three hundred pushing, angry women came to see, to pay fifty cents, to enter, to crowd up and touch the real horns that grew from the head of the buffalo man. The fourth night there was a riot, and the police were called in to control the mob. Many of the women in the crowd were back a second and third time because the buffalo man was real and more. The word came to them. The word went out that there was the sign of the horns, the hump, the hoofs—but human as he sat on his chair and recited poetry.

On the fifth and last day of the fair, Thelma came with a lunch, a six-pack of Budweiser and a buddy to be first in line. That was at six p.m., even though the first show didn't start until seven-thirty, because she didn't want to stand in line behind all those other tacky women and then have to fight her way up to the main attraction. More important, she wanted to be the first to see and report in Cincinnati bars what was to be seen and that it was all a fake. With police controls of the crowd, she figured that if she was first in line she'd be out by seven thirty-five and could get in a good long evening of drinking in the Busy Beet. She figured that if she ran out of beer while standing in line she could always send her buddy Folsom out for more. He could hold the lunch and she'd hold the conversation. She could tell him all about her troubles while he'd giggle, caress, finger. She figured her buddy would entertain her until she could laugh off the dummies who got taken in by freak shows.

So when the spiels for the other freaks ended, she was first in line to see the buffalo man who sat up on a platform in a blue wooden chair behind a curtain. The alligator lady, the fat lady, the skinny man, the Siamese twins, the sword swallower, the fire-eater and the inside-out girl all retreated to their hidden lives. Having been seen for only five to ten minutes a day, they fled to their trailers where, in solitude, they were no longer freaks, where their normality was the only one present. They didn't stay around to hear the barker call out the last of the freaks.

The red burlap curtain opened. The buffalo man turned his right eye to the crowd, looked down to see the long line of ladies winding around and around the tent and out the door. He looked down to see the ladies quarreling over places in line. He looked down to see guards with clubs, mace, and pistols. He heard the sighing and griping. He heard the squabbling for position. He turned his left eye to the mob. He smelled the hot sweat, the sawdust, the cheap perfumes. He licked the spittle from his lips and tasted the spermy palms of yesterday. He looked from his left eye to see a thin lady, first in line, dressed in red and white striped hip huggers that flared over her greasy sandals. He looked down to see her blue blouse covered in white stars covering her drooping shoulders. He looked down to see her burning brown eyes, her hairy nostrils, her black hair belt, her rubbery waist. Her red face. Her black hair short and pointing straight down all around. Her corkscrew fingers covering her mouth. Behind her stood a thin man with an open empty brown bag in his hands.

The buffalo man sat in a sky blue wooden chair. The chair was covered with little silver moons. Over his head, a large yellow globe of light turned slowly. On it were painted the signs of the zodiac. Behind him was a large black curtain. On the curtain, painted in gold, and running in all directions, even crisscrossing each other, were the sayings of the buffalo man. Gilded graffiti that he could bellow or snort to the quivering ladies in the small towns of Ohio. "The joint connects two things." "Anything that has a beginning and an end is not infinite." "Kick sleeping dogs until they move out of the way." "When the turtle blinks, unbind your body." "Lambs have the grace to suck kneeling." "Cleanliness is next to nothing." "Thalarctos maritimus!" "A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back." "The more flesh the more worms." "For when men get their horns again, they will delight to go uncovered." "For the shaving of the beard was an invention of the people of Sodom to make men look more like women." "To revile a man you don't need a preliminary draft." "Eros is where it is." "Dasypus novemcinctus." Other sayings disappeared around the edges of the curtain or disappeared into the jumble of golden words on the curtain.

The buffalo man sat in his wooden chair, his hoofed forelimbs resting on the arms of the chair. His hind legs spread apart to display his male genitalia, the prick that ran up his belly to a hairy tip, the massive scrotum dangling over the front edge of the chair. His tail was bent out to his right side. His winter coat was beginning to form and a heavy mantle of thick, brown-black hair covered the top of his head, his neck, his shoulders, and his forelimbs and ran to his waist. His ears were barely visible in the matted coat. His curved horns glistened in the turning yellow light. His eyes glowed out of the hair. His mandarin beard waggled as he turned his head from side to side to see the crowd.

He turned his head to the right and looked out of his left eye. His head, sunk beneath his shoulders, lowered even more. He pointed his mouth toward the crowd and, while sticky saliva yo-yoed down from his mouth and beard, he recited his poem:

Final Mad

Black cherries are the food

Of the chocolate bird

That sings in the wood

Around the world.

His song is long and wide.

He sings maladies

And flies on his side

To the ladies.

If you listen to the moon

And touch the sun,

He'll tell you his name.

He'll cry up one.

If you pluck his tail,

He'll wobble along

With joy into his fall,

Into his dying.

Black cherries are the food

Of the dead bird.

Eat them with blood.

Spit pits on the earth.

The charmed ladies watched the little webs of slobber, silver in the light, shining and mobile, as they slowly stretched toward the floor. The chilled ladies crossed their arms and held their breasts. The chaste ladies shuffled against each other and the guards watched for trouble. Folsom remarked over Thelma's shoulder that he didn't understand a word of it. "What'd he say anyway?" Thelma stared at the split bones of the buffalo's hands and said, "I wasn't listening. I'm not interested in his verse."

The buffalo man dropped from his chair onto his four legs. He clambered down the steps, his shoulders, the heavy forequarters, lifting high, his back legs and thin hindquarters missing the steps and clacking against boards and planks of the platform. He plodded across the sawdust-covered grass to the wooden counter in front of the line of women. Before he lifted his head and laid it on the boards, he pointed his nose up as far as he could and gave a long, plangent bellow. The women shivered. Hugged themselves tighter and lifted their nipples higher. The tent was all silence. When the buffalo man put his head on the counter, the master of ceremonies signaled by raising his cane that the touching could begin.

Thelma tossed her last Budweiser can onto the sod floor of the tent, stepped forward and took hold of both horns. She rocked the head from side to side as if to loosen the short, upcurved spikes. When she stopped, she was afraid of something. The buffalo man snorted as if asking for more. His breath smelled like rising dough. He raised his eyes to look at her. She ran her hands up and down the horns, slowly. She gripped them and polished their tips with her thumbs. She looked back to his eyes. They were a dense, muddy brown. Deep inside each eye Thelma saw a black, four-pointed star. She stared into the brown depths. The buffalo man ran his tongue up his right nostril and licked it out. He ran the tongue into the left nostril and cleaned it out. Saliva oozed from the sides of his mouth and hung dreamily along his teeth. Drops of it spangled the short hairs around his lips. Thelma released the horns, ran her right hand over the hairy lump between his horns, petted the bulging skull between the eyes, felt the sandpaper flesh of his brown, flat nose. Then she stepped back and sneered, "Oh, that's awful. Feels like one of those tacky spades. Let's get out of here and find some nice smart bar." Folsom closed the brown bag and said, "Miss T, I'm with you. It's me and you against the world." They walked away and the next woman grabbed the horns. As Thelma and Folsom left, she took a handkerchief from her purse and wiped her hands. She put it back into her purse. Inside her yellow Thunderbird, she touched her shivering thighs on the insides. She put her right hand into her crotch to stop the itching.


The next morning, Thelma woke with a hangover and a pain in her right shoulder. She thought it a cramp until the hangover went away and the pain remained. That night she drank again until she was puking drunk. The next morning the pain was worse than the hangover. She vomited on the floor and on her rugs. Her husband cleaned it up. She took aspirin. She drank three cans of Budweiser. Within a week, she acknowledged the small lump under her right shoulder blade. When she went to see a doctor, he told her that she had a lump under her right shoulder blade and that that's what was causing her pain. He gave her some painkillers and told her to call him again if the pain didn't go away. It didn't. She called. He examined her and told her that a lot of women were developing those lumps. The pain got worse each day. The lump got larger. Her doctor refused surgery because surgery to remove the lumps had already caused the deaths of ten women. She became anemic. Blood transfusions followed. She got paler and paler. The lump grew until it was a foot long, six inches wide and six inches high. It protruded from her shoulder down, a mound of raw skin on the right side of her back.

Thelma became unconscious and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital nine months after the Carthage Fair. In the post-mortem, it was discovered that the lump was filled with velvet curtains of blood-soaked skin, long shanks of bloody black hair around the skin and thirty-two teeth, also bloody, in a circle. The black hair and skin ran down from the circle of the teeth. Each tooth, long and canine, sank deep into the chest, sank through the muscles, through the ribs and lungs, sank into the large veins that ran into the heart. Blood had flowed out of the punctures and soaked into the hump until it was saturated.

Before leaving his office to wait for his next case, Jack Macies filed a report in which he stated, under oath, that Thelma Graybone deceased due to internal hemorrhage from unknown causes. Then he washed his hands. He put on his jacket. He cleaned his glasses. He smiled a little to himself. He told his secretary that the corpse was just like those other ones that had been coming in for the last few days. Sally stretched. She leaned back in her chair and remarked that she'd gotten another complaint from the Winchester Funeral Home. "They're all complaining. They can't get the bodies embalmed right. Worse, they can't lay the bodies out flat because of the humps, and the families are having a hissy because the dearly beloved look so silly lying on their sides in all that satin." Jack giggled and said that the nitty-gritty was their problem and not his or hers. As Jack headed for the door, Sally asked him where he was going. "Oh," he said, "I guess I'll trot on over to the old watering hole. My car is sick so I'll be gone longer than usual. I'm going to get a couple of shots in the tum-tum and then have some din-din, a bleeding steak and maybe a touch of asparagus. A few smart scotchies afterwards for the bod. If Annie Oakley calls, tell that ding-a-ling that I have her pink orchid for tonight's bash and not to worry about my roommate. She's in Chicago for her own hanky-panky. Miss Annie's not too swift sometimes. Oh, and if more of those tacky stiffs come in, get me on the horn. I'll be right over at the Busy Beet, running my mouth with Buffalo Bill."

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