THE LAST COWBOY

Z

My father loves cowboys. Though I don’t believe he’s ever actually met a cowboy. He worked for an insurance company in an office in one of those towers downtown that have genuine flakes of gold in the glass so that when you look out you can see the whole world filtered through gold. He’d get up at seven, appear from the bathroom in a cloud of steam and sit at the table reading the paper, a cigarette clenched in the corner of his mouth and a cup of coffee making sporadic passages between the Arborite and his lips, while my siblings and I gulped down our cereal or, if we had been too long rolling out of bed, our Carnation Instant Breakfast, everybody arguing over whose turn it was for the shower, because we only had one bathroom and I had three older sisters and one younger brother and the only person who had a say over the bathroom was Dad. He wanted in, you got out.

He wore a blue suit. Never brown, never beige, never black. Always a blue suit.

So far as I know my father has never once in his life ridden a horse, but he did ride the subway to work every day. I remember riding with him once, and I looked up and saw this woman glaring down at my Dad because he was sitting, and I suppose she thought he should give up his seat to her. She wasn’t an old woman or anything. Just a young woman. Probably off to visit her grandmother in Mississauga. Slight moustache, perhaps evidence of too much testosterone. Enough makeup for two people, but not enough to cover up the moustache. Dad finally noticed her glaring, and he stood up and nodded at her with that silly subordinate smile I’d seen him use on everyone in his office when we visited him there, and he said, “Please, have a seat,” with his BBC British accent, clipping the vowels like dried twigs. You might have thought he was urging the Queen herself to take her rightful place upon the throne of England.

The woman sneered and sat down next to me and I heard her say, “Dumb Chink.”

I’ve never forgotten that moment. I’m sure the young woman had forgotten it an hour later, but when I’m an old woman with granddaughters who visit me sometimes–probably not often enough–that subway ride will still be repeating endlessly in some dark screening room at the centre of my brain. The train clattered on, shaking its familiar heartbeat rhythm, and squealing on the turns like fingernails down a blackboard. The lovely young Scarborough princess sat there glaring at my father’s belt buckle, and I watched an orange roll around under a seat across the car. That orange was alien and beautiful. I wanted to go over and pick it up from the floor and peel it and eat it section by elegant section. Instead, I breathed in the young woman’s sickly sweet perfume and felt that chemical smell entering my bloodstream.

There were never any cowboys on the subway.

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En Francais

“I’ve just finished The Last Cowboy…. I was absolutely gripped by long passages, didn’t want to put the book down [and] was as engaged as I’ve ever been.”
—Sharon Butala

“Gowan never wavers…the book simply flows. The Last Cowboy is an engaging book that is at once funny, poignant and a razor-sharp image of that most tender and terrible of entities: the family.”
The Globe and Mail

“It is when writing of southern Saskatchewan that Gowan, a Swift Current native, truly soars. He quite obviously knows and loves the turf, and he writes vividly of the switchbacks and the draws…His writing not only makes you want to visit the area, it convinces you that you have.”
The Globe and Mail (same review)

“An admirable quality in this novel is the way Gowan resists sentiment and simplicity….What The Last Cowboy does very well is restore the rural West’s complexity, which automatically reveals and mocks the cartoons that otherwise stand for truth.”
National Post

“There’s much to enjoy in Gowan’s writing and the intricacies of his story telling. His work should be savoured, not hurried.”
Star Phoenix

“Gowan’s sparse, unadorned prose speaks much between the lines. His characters are well-wrought, etched as with acid, and true. And The Last Cowboy continues — and ups the ante — in the newest vein of western CanLit.”
The Hamilton Spectator

The Last Cowboy flows as smoothly as the wide prairie, thanks to Gowan’s easy-going, almost drawl-like writing style.”
The Edmonton Journal

“Lee Gowan … puts a contemporary spin on the western novel …”
Winnipeg Free Press

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