“Piano Bench” by Holly Sheidenberger
The rope left his hand, twirled expertly through the air, and tightened around its target.
The neck of a baby calf.
Dean slowed his horse to a stop.
His brother rushed the animal. He pressed the hot iron into its brawny rump, permeating the air with the stench of burned hair.
Proudly marked with the family’s brand.
His father nodded approval from atop his horse.
Calf after calf until the sun set.
Grimy and sweaty, Dean finally retired to his most cherished spot in the ranch house.
The piano bench.
His cracked and callused fingers attacked the keys, lofty melodies quenching his melancholy.
The music flew him to faraway lands, places where animals roamed free on the prairie.
Where men ran free from duty, obligation, and the burden of family legacy.
Next day at dawn, after a plate of eggs and potatoes, Dean tied his kerchief and mounted his horse for another day of roping.