J. ALAN NELSON
Re Matter of the Longhorn Skull and One Ball Buck
Just after Buck lost his longtime bartending job with the Hard Luck Lounge on the Eastside, he bought the longhorn skull. It was that time when the Trump madness clutched the nation and feelings were raw and violent.
Buck didn’t carry a phone so he couldn’t keep a girlfriend. A customer who sipped whiskey told him a few years ago that not carrying a phone added centuries to the perception of time. Buck tried that idea and found it to be true. He owned a phone, but left it by his bed on a charger with the ringer silenced. It continually played a recording of the wind in the Texas Panhandle on SoundCloud.
Buck had bought one of those used Texas tiny houses and put it on a vacant lot he rented a block away. Basically, it was a 170-square-foot one-bedroom, one-bath house. He built a tiny porch around its perimeter with shipping pallets. He made a tiny backyard fence out of more shipping pallets. He fixed the siding with old wood from a grocery that had closed decades ago and the roof fallen in. He made the floor from the wood of that old stable from a farm that had been swallowed up by Austin and forgotten about. Then, he installed a skylight over his bed that showed the stars and, for a few nights a month, the moon. He was not much of a handyman. The siding was crooked. The floor was uneven. The skylight had a spiderweb crack and gobs of caulk along the seams. But unlike most residents of Austin, he didn’t owe any money for his place and thus could swing the increasing property taxes each year without much stress.
Fernanda Coral was a writer that used the Hard Luck Lounge for a spot to write copy for social media short videos to subtly sell sponsors products. She also was working on a screenplay about her rescue dog named Squiffy surviving among the uncertainties of civilization, though most of the time she was looking at her phone. She gave Buck a hard time about hardly ever having his phone at work. Most of the time, he left it plugged in on the nightstand by his bed where it played a recording of the wind way up in the Texas Panhandle, where Buck grew up.
A band called Saber Tooth Hipsters played on the tiny stage. The music was better than average except Buck hated their lyrics. The lead vocalist now moved into the chorus:
Ecstasy is the knowledge of Star fire
That electrifies us with the frequencies of quantum soup.
Love is the driver of insight and the cosmos moves
To the tipping point
The tipping point
We must awaken the people . . .
“Oh god,” Buck said, rubbing his temple. “No wonder they’re wasting their time in a shit bar
like this. That’s terrible.”
“What did you think about my latest draft?”
“Did you REALLY just change the entire historical period your screenplay is set in, from the
Great Depression to World War II, just so your characters can drink Rolling Rock?”
“Yes,” she said. “Rolling Rock didn’t exist until 1939. And I’m having to move the initial scene from Austin to Western Pennsylvania. Where you could get it then.”
“Rolling Rock beer is essential to the plot?”
“No. I just like Rolling Rock.”
“I think your ad job is influencing your creative drive.”
“They’re not ads,” she said. “They’re works of art. And if they sell products that’s a bonus."
Buck looked at her.
“Look,” she said. “ Maybe we shouldn’t go out.”
“No no I like Rolling Rock too,” he said. “Yeah, we sell Shiner and St Arnold’s and all this other Texas beer, but look here . . .”
He opened a bottle of Rolling Rock for her and opened another for himself. And that was that. They were hooking up, hanging out, friends with benefit. Fuckmates.
But the Hard Luck Lounge closed. Now, a few minutes after he had toasted the owner and the two waitresses and the dishwasher with a shot of whiskey and closed the bar, he stood in his tiny house. It felt, for the first time, cramped. Closed. Claustrophobic. He gasped for air in the tiny house, and almost fell. He felt his entire life of careless inaction smothering him. He had to get away. He had to go somewhere that wasn’t being ground up and eaten by a booming population. Where the streets were not always under reconstruction. He drove seven hours to Panhandle, Texas.
He saw the longhorn cow skull with complete horns at Lariat Basterd’s Thrift Store on Main Street in Panhandle. It hung low on the pegboard wall. Buck traced the long jaw bone, the jigsaw lines of the suture joints and touched the tip of one of the horns. The sharpness surprised him.
Buck wanted that longhorn skull. More than anything he had wanted in a long time. He thought about impulse control and consumerism. Then he could hear his poor mother.
“You need that like you need a blue-footed booby,” she said in his head as though she hadn’t been dead ten years.
He bought it on sale for $79. He noted that the name of the store was actually spelled Basterd, and the owner of the store produced his Texas driver’s license. His name was Lariat Basterd.
“Spelled with an A and an E,” Basterd said. “I’m a proud Basterd.”
Buck agreed. He loaded the longhorn skull in his Buick Encore. He had to leave one of the
back door windows open with a horn sticking out during the eight-hour drive because it was wider than the interior of his car. When he arrived home, Buck nailed the longhorn skull on the wall above the headboard of his bed.
She asked why he got the longhorn skull. She wondered if it was for Día de Muertos. A weird type of calavera.
“Day of the Dead. Everyone decorates with skeletons and dresses as a skeleton.
“Yeah yeah I know what Day of the Dead is. My mom used to make these sugar skulls. What’s
the word calavera?”
“That’s the skeleton for Day of the Dead.”
“Well, it seems like some of weird fertility symbol. Is that why you put it over the bed.”
“You just put it there because you thought it looked cool, right?”
Fernanda pulled out her phone, did a dance pose and made a selfie of her and the longhorn skull.
Halloween came. They went to a Halloween party. Buck dressed as a Zombie Trump with bits of the bloody nation hanging out his mouth. She dressed as Jessica Rabbit.
They spent All Saints Day sleeping off hangovers.
Then, on Day of the Dead, they dressed as skeletons and went to the Day of the Dead parade in Austin. Along the route marked by bright red candles they danced and drank. Off altars covered with marigolds they ate the chocolate skulls and sugar skulls and Bread of the Dead tinged with that orange glaze. Children dashed through the crowd with their little skeletons and big skulls. Some of the skeletons carried elaborate carved wooden coffins as they jigged with the beat.
Buck and Fernanda danced in the rising death music played by other brightly colored skeletons in the street. They lost and found each other several times among the white satin angels and crimson devils holding tree-of-life candelabras and jack-o'-lanterns. In the darkness of these lucent colors, Buck saw himself multiplied as columns of bony doppelgängers danced the Danza De Diablos with devils as the skeletal mariachis played harmonicas, donkey jaws and tigreras. Somehow they had entered the land of the dead. Among the sounds and roars Buck felt he might faint . . . or shout . . . or die . . . or go into some sort of ecstatic seizure. He stared at a pink neon skeleton dancing haphazard and swore he heard his dead mother’s laugh come from it as if they were having a family reunion. Disoriented, he completely forgot he was Buck the bartender. He completely forgot about everything except the souls and skeletons that weaved around him and with him. He danced as the rickety stack of bones he was. He chuckled, then snickered, and then laughed a raucous skeleton’s cackle as he moved and dissolved into the parade of the dead.
“We’re in a better place now,” he chortled in the din. “We were not alive before we lived, and we’re dead much longer than we live. Muertos. Muertos. Muertos.”
A slight skeleton grasped his hand and gently led him out of the throng. He found himself sitting at a table with two chairs on the sidewalk watching the parade slowly weave away. The smaller skeleton drank from a bottle. He thought she might have a name. Fernanda. That was her name. And he remembered he was Buck.
“I’m changing the name to Blotto,” she said.
“I’m changing Squiffy’s name to Blotto. It’s more in keeping with World War II history.”
Buck realized she was talking about her screenplay. He saw he was holding a bottle of Rolling
Rock. Why Rolling Rock and not Dos Equis, he wondered. He took a swallow.
“Why do people dress in skeletons on Day of the Dead?”
“To remind us of our mortality,” she said. “And the glimpse of death makes you horny.”
“Yes,” he said. “The glimpse of death to come makes one a bit horny. Let’s go under the
They came back to Buck’s little house. They undressed. Fernanda pulled of the spandex one-piece body stocking with the skeleton printed on it and flipped it over one of the longhorns. Buck’s skeleton outfit was more like a two-piece pajama outfit. He draped it over the other horn. Fernanda, nude, lifted her skull mask slightly, popped in a small sugar skull to eat, and slid the
mask back on.
“Fuck me with your skull on,” she said. She danced with the skull mask on. Her body coiled
and undulated and her pelvis and ribs rose and fell in sharp relief. She laughed through the skull.
He slid the painted molded-resin cosplay skull mask back on his face. Two real skeletons in
bodies in bed. They started slow as she liked. She had tutored him in edging, surfing to the brink of orgasm. The moon shined the skylight and cast the longhorn skull’s shadow over their writhing forms. They were surfing, pushing to the edge of orgasm. The bed bounced and bounced, the iron headboard hitting the wall in the mutual pounding of lust.
They heard the drywall crack and give way. They flailed and tried to slip out of the path of whatever fell while in full orgasm. They miscalculated and the longhorn skull swung down and impaled them.
They would learn in the next few hours the right horn gored Buck through his scrotum and left testicle into the left outer labial fold of her vulva and into her thigh, nicking the femoral artery.
The bizarre impact paralyzed them for several seconds. Then the very air appeared to scream in pain as they realized his balls were impaled into her cunt and leg. They were covered in drywall dust and blood.
“You didn’t nail the horns into a stud,” she screamed. “You stupid dick.”
He tried to control himself in the agony and the writhing screams of Fernanda underneath him to reach around and put the horn out. The pain rocketed so that he had no sense of anything but extreme torment. The screams of Fernanda deafened him.
After an eternity of pain, Buck heard the wind of his childhood. The wind of the Texas Panhandle, playing on his iPhone.
“Hey Siri,” he screamed. “Call 9-1-1.” Nothing but the wind.
He finally reached his iPhone on the bed stand and dialed 911 and screamed “Ambulance” at the dispatch operator. They did a trace. By the time firefighters, cops and EMTs arrived, Buck tried to reach for a sheet, a costume . . . anything to cover the weeping Fernanda and himself. But each grasp brought a new wave of tortured to the impaled lovers.
“What happened!” the EMT guy asked as they rolled Buck and Fernanda and the longhorn skull skewering then on the gurney toward the ambulance. Their feet dangled at strange angles from the sheet taped over them and the longhorn skull.
“Gored by a longhorn,” he said. “Calavera.”
“Why are you wearing skull masks?” the EMT said. “Was this some sort of Satanic ritual?”
Only then Buck realized that he and Fernanda, though fully nude, still wore the calvera
masks. Somehow, the resin had pinched into their own skulls from the thrashing about.
“No, he said. “We were in the Day of the Dead parade.”
“Day of the dead?” the EMT gasped. “That’s blasphemous. Sounds satanic to me.”
“Don’t worry about him,” said the woman EMT. “He’s new.”
The ride to the hospital was hellish with extreme waves of agony with each bump and turn.
At the ER, a blood transfusion was immediately started on Fernanda. After Buck and Fernanda were doped with painkiller and the remnants of the skeleton masks were gently pried off, the longhorn that riveted them together in a weird copulation was gently extracted. Then Fernanda and he were separated. Fernanda was immediately rolled away for surgical repair of the femoral artery. Then, they started on Buck.
When he woke up, he was in a hospital room. A barrier was erected between him and his crotch to prevent an accidental yanking at his wounds. A police officer was staring at him. A doctor came in, accompanied by students from the Dell Medical School. Buck realized since he didn’t have insurance, he was going to be a teaching spectacle. The doctor asked each student in turn to read the chart, and then assess his condition. That’s when Buck realized he lost a ball. He tried to reach to feel what was left but was prevented by the barrier. The doctor spoke to him calmly as if dealing with a trapped puppy.
“You and your girlfriend will waddle a bit for a few weeks, but we expect a full recovery.”
“What’s left?” Buck asked. “Is it gone? Is it gone?”
“Oh. Yes. You still have your penis and one functioning testicle,” the doctor said. “With the
prosthetic testicle, no one will be able to tell you don’t have two testicles. Though the scar may be a point of interest.”
The policeman interrupted the session, asking where the bull was.
“We need to get it secured and to animal control before it gores someone else.”
“There’s no bull.”
“A cow gored two people?”
“No. It’s a longhorn skull that fell off the wall.”
A silence fell. Then the officer laughed and laughed. The students and doctor joined in. A nurse peeked in, grinned and shook her head.
Buck heard that night from a former Hard Luck bartender the news had spread. She came into the hospital room and showed him the Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Instagram memes on her phone. It was a photo of them, with their faces blurred, with the skull impaling them. The memes were variations of “When Fucking Gets In The Way of Being Horny.” Buck wondered if the cops, firefighters or EMTs shot the photo.
“Should I tell Fernanda?”
Buck, doped up, shrugged his shoulders.
Early the next morning, he was woken by Fernanda shrieking at him.
“That’s what I get from fucking a man named Buck from Texas in Texas,” she said. “If there’s
anything in my obituary about that longhorn skull causing my death while fucking you, I’ll come from Hell and haunt your ass to suicide. You get that off the web. You get that off the web.”
Nurses came and gently escorted Fernanda, still screaming, from the room.
A day later he made his way to her room.
“I’ll try to get it off the net,” he said. “I don’t know much about the net, but I’ll try.”
She stared at him. Her skull was visible beneath her anguished face. Her eyes appeared to be
too big. She closed her eyes.
“Shit,” she whispered. “It’s too late. It’s on the net. There’s already memes. Machines never
To add to the notoriety, the Saber Tooth Hipsters wrote a song called Matter of the Longhorn
Skull that got a few million hits.
They went dancing on the day of the dead
I can still recall that purple skeletons they wore.
They went back to Buck’s place
for some lovin’ under the longhorn skull.
She asked him to jump her bones
under the longhorn skull
and when their bones started buckin’ and rattlin,
The longhorn skull fell off the wall.
though they were gored in their passion,
she said she still loved Buck,
though now he was missing a ball,
She still loved him though missin’ a ball,
She loved that one ball Buck.
Later, there was an article in a medical journal under “Emergency Clinic Problem Solving.” It talked about two people presented with injuries from being gored accidentally by a longhorn skull while in coitus. The male lost a testicle and the female, while escaping damage to her urinary tract, had a nicked femoral artery and a labial fold repaired.
Buck and Fernanda lived together in his little house for a few months after they recovered. The scrotal sack with the silicone implant seemed to hang a little lower than his original ball.
Then Fernanda sold a memoir that hit it big. Without any remorse, she made Buck take Blotto her rescue dog.
“Take care of Blotto,” was the last thing she said to him before she left for New York. Buck never heard from her again. Almost as soon as her Volvo disappeared from sight, Buck fed the elderly scarred dog in his tiny back yard.
“You’re going back to your old name,” he told the dog. “Squiffy.”
Then he went to a small plastic storage shed he’d bought from a garage sale a block over. He extricated a large package wrapped carefully in a tarp inside the tiny house. He carefully unwrapped the tarp and and examined the longhorn skull. Blood was dried on the right horn with blood spatter on the skull. He touched the spatters of his and Fernanda’s blood, and then the jigsaw sutures of the skull. He raised the calavera carefully and nailed the horns on the wall of his bedroom solidly into a wooden stud.
He placed a purple candle on nightstand by the remains of his resin skull. He pulled a lighter from his jacket, hesitated, lit it. He contemplated the flame for a few moments. The he cupped flame and put it out.
Buck took a bartending job that paid better on Sixth Street. He knew he got the job because of his notoriety as One-Ball Buck, but he found he didn’t care. He just tended bar, listened to his customers and took his tips. The bands were much better. Both Google and Apple employees frequented the bar, thus tips were significantly better. Bar down the street had invested in a robot bar that automatically made customer drinks. Buck had checked it out. The cocktails were good. There was a graphic of a 19th century bartender covered with qubit symbols. Buck wondered how much longer it would be before he was replaced by a robot bartender.
A year passed. Squiffy died peacefully in his sleep. Buck dug a small grave by the shed. He took Fernanda’s old resin cosplay skull and mounted it on a small post over Squiffy’s grave.
At Buck’s new bar, a woman started coming by to see him. She wrote copy for a social media business on her iPad while drinking white sangrias. She looked at her phone a bit too much, but so did most customers. After a few days, she left a New York Times in which she’s written her phone number. He placed it under the bar and after closing picked it up and entered the number into his phone. He realized he’d been carrying his phone since being gored by the longhorn. He studied it carefully. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people used to call and text this same phone number via several different cell phones over the past decade. A Blackberry, a Razor, flip phones and iPhones, transporting contacts and texts and messages from one product to the next. He realized there were unread texts and unviewed photos and videos from Fernanda on this phone. Still retrievable.
He poured himself a shot of True Blue whiskey and sipped it slowly. He studied the number written in thick pink ink on the newsprint. He double checked the entry into contacts. He almost called, then saw a photo of a face he knew under the fold of the paper. It was Fernanda Coral. There was an article on her new book, just under a review of the latest mystery novel by Laura Lippman.
The writer Fernanda Coral has built a huge following among cynical readers for her memoir, “Gored in the Pussy By A Dead Longhorn.” But her new novel, Buck One-Ball,” is somehow more personal and gripping. It follows a Texas bartender named Buck in Austin who lost a testicle in a bizarre accident. The masterwork shines a light on people coping with secret injuries that never have been shown before. While some believe that to get something in this reality you must lose something, hapless Buck shows that many times, you just lose something, and lose more, and lose more without reward.
Buck read it again, then studied Fernanda’s photo. He picked up a pen, turned the newspaper sideways, and wrote in the margin. “Things I Want To Do Before I Die.” He numbered one through ten. Then he paused. He sipped and thought. The possibilities appeared infinite, an immense crowd in a panicked rush, a stampede of dust and sound.
Buck put the newspaper down, then slid the phone in his pocket. The probabilities began to skitter away. He wrote “Already done” down the list. Time began to expand, unfold in a vast eternity. He tossed the New York Times in the recycle can.
He poured another shot. The light from the bar clarified into brilliance in the whiskey in the shot glass. A full moon and clear sky were predicted for tonight. That morning, he had buffed the skylight in his tiny house to a crystal sharpness.
Buck examined the gleam of his drink, sipped it slowly and smiled.
Copyright © June 2021 J. Alan Nelson
J. Alan Nelson is a writer, poet and actor. He has photos, essays, stories, screenplays and poetry published or forthcoming in numerous journals including New York Quarterly, The Stand, Acumen, Pampelmousse, Main Street Rag, Texas Observer, California Quarterly, Connecticut River Review, Adirondack Review, Red Cedar Review, Wisconsin Review, and South Carolina Review. He played the lead in viral video “Does This Cake Make Me Look Gay?” and the verbose “Silent Al” in the Emmy-winning SXSWestworld feature.” His IMDB link: http://m.imdb.com/name/nm6394406/