In Real Life

Johnny was eleven years old. He was wearing his light gray cowboy hat and his toy six-shooter, slung low. He was angry and hurt, more of the former than the latter, as he strode along the sidewalk on his way to the center of town. The slam of the door he’d left behind him still echoed in his ears. His father had told him to “grow up”, and to stop pretending he was a hero. That was just after his father had come home complaining, as usual, about his over-demanding bosses. “What in the Hell do they think I am, a machine? Christ, everyone makes a mistake now and then.” As Johnny recalled, that was the third one this week, and it was only Thursday.

Johnny really didn’t pay his father much attention; his wide black eyes were full of love and admiration for Wyatt Earp, who was in the process of cleaning up the town, the town on the TV. Johnny loved Wyatt Earp’s cool confidence, the way he looked a man right in the eye and never feared anyone. When he went into that bar full of badmen standing and sitting all about, it was they who were afraid, afraid of a man they out-numbered ten to one. Then, just before the showdown, Johnny’s father had walked over, turned off the TV, and told Johnny to grow up. “There aren’t any heroes, not in real life. You’d better get that through your head or you’re not gonna have any friends. They’ll all think you’re too stuck up!”

Slam!

After a couple of blocks Johnny was feeling in better spirits as he looked at people getting in and out of their cars, and as he passed the grocery store he could see that the shopping carts were all in order, except for one stray, which he quickly spun around and shoved into place. An empty cardboard box was lying in the middle of the next street, and Johnny veered out of the crosswalk to give it a swift kick to the curb. The late afternoon sun was shining bright and Johnny’s shadow kept growing in front of him, and there was an unconscious smooth swagger in Johnny’s arms and shoulders. He didn’t know it, but he was happy.

All of a sudden there was a commotion of several people about a block ahead. A woman shouted, “Help! He stole my purse!” A thin, darkly dressed man, wildly swinging a woman’s purse, came racing—-straight at Johnny! Johnny’s hand was a blur as he drew as he drew out his six-shooter, flipped it, caught it by the barrel, and reared back and threw it with all his might straight at the purse-snatcher’s head!

The next day Johnny had a problem—-he had too many friends! But from that day on his father never again interrupted Wyatt Earp. Maybe, just maybe, he was growing up.

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