Breaking Barker: Buffalo Bill’s Heart, All Shot Up

By: Alex Barker

Fan fiction based off the play “Indians” by Arthur Lee Kopit.

I remember one night particularly well. Years and years have passed, but the lesson has stayed, and I have just-a got to tell you. It all started that night when I glanced down at my buttoned-up shirt, watched the buttons dance over my chest, and wondered who was so good at playing the drums in there. My heart rocked back and forth, like an Indian too high on the spirits to be calmed. I had wished I was high on the spirits, or one with the spirits, or whatever. I would have given anything to be in an altered state of mind. It seemed like, back then, the drunker I got, the more like myself I felt. The drunker I got, the less I had to look, feel, and sound like Buffalo Bill. Often times I would think about my real name: Cody. The name my father had passed down to me, the name I despised. I would look at myself and wonder if maybe I hadn’t been as bad off if I was just that: “good ol’ Cody.” I’d have just been a normal fella, not a whole lot of somethin’, but not too little either.

Looking up again, the curtain still drawn, like so much spilled blood pouring between me and the audience, I could not contain the onslaught of guilt ripping from between my ears. This is when I always thought the most about my life, or as I called it in front of paying customers, “my adventures and conquerin’s.” My heart felt, not like one of a great many stampeding buffalos’, like so many had speculated after shows at the bar, but, instead like the old, ragged pads of a redman’s feet. With a quick tug at my buffalo necklace, the one given to me by my friend, Spotted Tail, made from the hoof of a buffalo, my chin rose up. For a moment, my eyes gleamed so shrilly with reflected light that I could almost feel a bullet going through them. I held my breath, then, plunged into that curtain. I forged my way through that blood.

The crowd was noisy. Some dusty old faces in the audience had already seen the Wild West Show. I could tell because they were hootin’ and hollarin’ while pointing at me on stage, patting their ol’ buddies’ dusty, checkered shoulders with a big “told jah so” grin. They clapped, they yelled, they got ready for the best show on earth.

The occasional lady would smile and wink up at me on stage, almost beckoning me down to them. Their cleavage was alluring, their hair all done up. But Cody, “Buffalo Bill”, had a show do, I told myself. In my mind the place was empty and quiet. In my mind, I was not about to make light of the lives I had adored, not about to taunt and make fun of the friends I had grown close to over the years. In my mind, I was not about to stab the people who had always assumed the best of me, treated me as a partner on land that was so incredibly theirs, and taught me the finest ways of living. Oh, how I wished sometimes, that I had met them sooner, when I wasn’t already on my way to fame. Sometimes I thought that they could have taught me to be true to whom I was on the inside, not suck the juice out of every bit of attention I had gotten for killing buffalo like it was my life brew. I was not about to make a joke of them, and a hero of myself. That’s what I told myself.

In the moment before I put on the greatest show on earth, I was not there at all, not in my mind. No, I was standing at dusk with a gun in my arms, holding it the same way a skilled carpenter holds a board to see if it’s been warped. Only, in my mind, I was not about to construct anything, I was about to deconstruct. I was about to clear the way. I felt my breath rise up and down in my diaphragm as I said words I did not feel. I plastered a smile on my face that was half-hearted at best. In my mind, I felt the brush of tall, yellow grass on the shins of my chaps. The sky was colored like a glazed doughnut, orange in all the right places with wisps of white glaze strung up all over the side of the sunset I was looking at. I was eyeing at a beast, one I admitted to myself, “seemed awfully lonesome,” and that needed to be moved out of the way for the sake of the American people. I had to, for the sake of a land where kids can one day have an easier life than I had growing up. “Can’ have these rugs gettin’ hit with a train and going through all tha’ pain and sufferin’” Could I? After all, the president himself had told me to go out and clean up the plains: to use my God-given gift to tear apart some of the last little bit of wall left between west and east.

I remember I shuffled left and then right, swung my arms this way and that, my fellow cast sung or proclaimed the devastation that Indians had and were going to create. I looked through foggy eyes and saw Indians dancing. It was a dance I wished I knew more about, but this dance was just a preview to the real dance this crowd would see later in the show, the actual ceremonial dance of my friends. I remember cringing then. I glanced to see my partners and their grins, their pumping arms, their excitement. The show had been a barn-burner, but that was what I had come to expect. I no longer got a thrill from the standing ovations. I no longer felt the serum of adrenaline pump through my veins every time I shouted a line and it received only the most genuine of laughs from each and every person in the crowd.

In fact, sometimes I had even been offended. I went through my entire life the exact person that I had been on stage that night, and I rarely got others to laugh, or at least I hadn’t been able to get whole rooms full of people to laugh. I hadn’t been able to get everyone’s attention, and yet, because of all the killing I had done, because of my coincidental place in-between the white men and the men of the land, I had sky-rocketed in popularity. I had become so likeable, I literally made a living of it. The whole stadium always seemed smoky to me when I performed, like I was not actually doing the show, but watching a nightmare instead. Those brief moments that I had been conscious of what I was doing in the show were few and far between. When I was being myself, and was thinking about the show, I couldn’t bear the thought of what I was doing, and like an emergency procedure prompted by my brain, I’d be washed back out to my spot in the plains.

My hair pushed back by the wind, I had been so calm. That is, after how I’d learned to track, catch, and kill so many buffalo. After finding an open field, I would wait for dusk before traveling out through the waving grass with a lantern and my gun. I would stand there, down-wind from the field I knew would fill up with buffalo at night, and wait again. Occasionally I would whisper to a partner, if I brought one, to hold the lantern up, but even then, would only whisper if the wind was blowing and the deep growl of my voice could be drowned out by the air moving quickly behind me. Once the powerful creatures had come out from the trees to graze, I would turn up the lamp to where it gradually shed more light. As the clouds parted and the stars came out, I would strike, taking down buffalo after buffalo by shooting the reflections in their eyes. My work was masterful, I had spent a lifetime perfecting it, and like the Indians had taught me, I was perfectly calm, giving away no angry, white man vibes that would drive the creatures off and away, out of their natural habitat.

Coming back to reality, I had been rushed off stage. This was the part that really got the crowd every time. The blood, the gore, the savagery! As I exited stage left, I saw many Indians come dancing out into view of all who were present, the gentle taps of their feet making almost no noise on the stage, but the loud pounding of the drums and the dancing giving away the rage that I had known they felt as a people. How could it be that the only way they could perform their ceremonies, their spiritual necessities, was in front of paying white people for jest anymore? Least that’s what I had been sure the Indians were thinking as they took the stage and started to just beat the dust into the air. With grave passion, my friend John Grass danced. I had always wondered how someone as intelligent and loyal to his people could perform in an act of such disgrace. He surely was keener than the other Indians. John Grass, a man who was wise beyond the measures of his possessions, was surely quick enough to know when he was being humiliated.

In a flash of horror I watched as my friend of so long, pierced his chest with the hooks, and blood cascaded to the ground. None of the other Indians stopped dancing. I wretched to the left of where I stood as I watched. The other Indians had been in on this plan the whole time. The ceremony was met with thunderous applause. As the stage dimmed, I ran out to hear my friend’s dying gasps of air, a sick smile on his face.

Don’tcha see where had I gone so, so wrong, kid? I was living in a world where every friend is a pawn, only to be used by me for my own personal gain. It had become the Wild Waste Show. With my peers clamoring for more, I remember sobbing off stage that night.

The reason I’ve told you this story, in the back of this old saloon, boy, and you are a boy… is that you didn’t get a chance to learn from the same great people I did. And that is why I won’t let you get famous. That is why I won’t let you tear yourself to shreds. That is why I won’t let you shoot yourself in the eyes.

Do you go through withdrawals between episodes of Breaking Barker? First of all, you’re not alone. Get yourself the medicine you need, follow @alexbarker763 on Twitter for daily insights and updates on the absorbing life of Alex Barker.

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