Horseshoes in the Rain by Jeff Weddle

Of Shadows and Souls

Of Shadows and Souls

Photo by Anjumon Sahin


‘Horseshoes in the Rain’ by Jeff Weddle


Paul had never beaten Monroe in horseshoes, though they had played at least two or three times a week all summer.  The horseshoe pits were in Paul’s yard and Monroe would come over and they’d drink beer and toss shoes.  Paul’s wife Betty played sometimes, but usually it was just the guys, and Monroe always won.

On this particular Saturday they weren’t playing because it was raining.  They sat inside Paul’s house and drank beer and listened to the rain.  Betty was visiting her mother.

“Fuck this,” Paul said.  “I’m going to kick your ass, and I’m going to do it right now.  Let’s toss some shoes.”

“Did you happen to notice the rain?”

“Don’t be a pussy.”

Paul was already up and heading for the door.  The rain was coming down hard and lightning split the sky at least once every couple of minutes.  “I’m going to toss some shoes,” he said.  “You do whatever you want.”  He walked outside and was at once soaked to the skin.  Paul took his time walking to the pit, then he picked up the silver horseshoes and threw one down to the opposite post.  It was a ringer.  He threw up his arms and spun around.

“Did you hear that?” he yelled.  “Better come out here.  That is, if you have any balls.”  He threw the other shoe and missed wide to the left.  “And bring the beer.”

Monroe grabbed the remains of the case and went out the door.  “You’re an incredible asshole,” he said.

“Fuck yes, I am”

Paul walked to the far pit and got his horseshoes.  Betty had been gone since before noon.  They’d fought about money the night before and things had been tense until she left.  Betty wanted to spend all their extra cash on antiques and toys for the cat.  Paul liked to have a little change in his pocket to go down to Spanky’s and drink a few.  He liked to go down there and shoot pool and drink a few beers with Monroe and the other guys, flirt with the college girls.

Betty didn’t drink any more and she didn’t see why Paul had to, either.  She quit after that business with the baby.  Four years into their marriage, after they’d given up hope, Betty became pregnant.  Paul was tickled, and hoping for a boy.  He got his wish, but the baby came out malformed, his head a size too big and minus a right leg.  They named him Arthur, after Paul’s father, and he lived twenty-one days.  That was about a year ago and Betty still had all the weight she’d gained during the pregnancy, and some more she’d picked up since.  Two things she wouldn’t talk about, not even with Paul, were Arthur and her weight.

The last time she drank anything was when she was seven months pregnant.  It was vodka and she got goaded into flashing her breasts, enlarged and tender, in front of Monroe and his girlfriend, Lou Ann.  Paul was there, too, but he didn’t say anything.  He just got real quiet and drank more vodka.  For a while after that he acted funny whenever Betty and Monroe were together anywhere.

“Hand me a beer, man.”  Monroe pulled one out and gave it to Paul.  The rain was blinding.  It was almost impossible to see the opposite post.  Even through their shirts it felt like they were being pummeled.  Monroe got himself a beer and popped the top.

“If there’s gonna be any ass kicking here today, I’d better start warming up my boot.  Come on, let’s lag for break.”  They always said they were going to lag for break.  It sounded cool, like they understood things other people didn’t.  Monroe tossed one of his gold horseshoes and hit three feet away from the post.  Paul’s was closer by almost a foot.

“Ha!” he said.  Paul reared back his head and let loose with a howl.

“Go for it,” said Monroe.

What with the rain and all, they agreed to only play to eleven.  After five tosses, up and back, Monroe led by a point, two to one.  He was sighting for a throw when out of the corner of his eye he saw something move in the field beside Paul’s house.  He stopped and peered into the rain and saw it was a woman and she was running toward them.  Before she got there he could see that it was Gracie, the younger sister of Betty’s best friend.  Gracie tended bar four nights a week at Spanky’s and sometimes she came over to Paul and Betty’s house to visit, usually with her sister.  Gracie had on white shorts and a white cotton shirt and she was soaked.

“Are you guys crazy?” she said.

“Yes,” said Paul.  “Have a beer.”  He grabbed a can and handed it to her, then he held both of his arms toward the sky and spun around on his heels.

“Where’s Betty?” Gracie said.

“Visiting her mother.  Hey, man, are you going to throw or what?”

“Hold your water.”  Monroe sighted up and threw.  It was his second shoe and like the first it missed by a mile.

“Don’t you know how dangerous this is?  What about lightning?”  Gracie’s hair was plastered to her head and her bra was clearly visible though her shirt.  The pink tone of her skin showed through where the fabric held to her body.

“We don’t care about lightning,” said Paul.  He held both of his horseshoes above his head and shook them. “I’ve never beaten this son of a bitch, but I will today.”

Monroe sloshed over to the beer and got a fresh one.  He was thinking that Gracie was a fox.  Both she and her sister were foxes.  One night a few months back Monroe was walking home drunk and knocked on the sister’s door.  The sister’s name was Stephanie.  She lived right next door to a fast food restaurant that specialized in roast beef sandwiches and he had bought six of them.  He tried to coax her into an evening of fast food and romance.  She sent him off, telling him she was a vegetarian.

“When do you think Betty will be back?” asked Gracie.

“Don’t know.  Maybe never.”

“Yeah, right.”  She took a drink of beer.

Paul tossed his shoes and made a ringer and a leaner.  “Praise Jesus,” he said.  He was up six to two.

“Yippee!” said Gracie.  Lightning flashed and seconds later came a huge thunderclap. Gracie jumped and smacked her hands together.

“Nice toss,” said Monroe.  He took a big drink from his can.  “This stuff tastes like water,” he said.

“Drink faster.”  Paul finished off his beer in one drink and crushed the can.  Then he threw it at Monroe.

“Watch it,” said Monroe.  He finished off what was left in his can and took his turn.  He landed each shot close enough for a point.  Paul threw his first shoe and got another ringer, negating Monroe’s two points.  His second throw missed, but the score was nine to two.

“Yippee,” said Gracie.

“Hey,” said Monroe.  No fair taking sides.”

“You make a ringer and I’ll yell just as loud,” she said.

Paul threw again and was wide to the left with both shoes.  Monroe got a leaner on his second shoe.

“All right!” said Gracie.  She bounced a little.

“Sorry I couldn’t get you a ringer,” said Monroe.

“You did the very best you could,” said Paul.  They threw the next round and Paul scored a leaner.  The game ended with Paul winning eleven to four.

“Ha!” said Paul.

“Ha, yourself,” Monroe said.

Gracie walked over and hugged Paul.  She pulled him tight and held him like that for a second, until he pulled back.

“Congratulations,” she said, frowning.  Paul took two steps back and bowed from the waist, then he took her hand and kissed it.

“No consolation prize?” Monroe said.

“Sorry, I only hug winners.”

Monroe thought about saying he’d won the last twenty matches, but he kept his trap shut.  After that squeeze, he wondered if Paul wanted him to leave so he could be alone with Gracie.  He wondered if Paul had already been alone with her.  Paul was always flirting with Gracie when she was behind the bar at Spanky’s, and Gracie was always smiling and giggling.  Hell, they could’ve been going at it like rabbits for months, for all he knew.  If they hadn’t, now looked like a good time to start.  Betty could come home at any time, so it would be risky, but probably worth it.

Monroe had thought a lot about Betty since the time she flashed him and Lou Ann. That had truly pissed Lou Ann off.  Lou Ann had little titties anyway, and with Betty even bigger than normal, it was plain that Lou Ann was jealous for a couple of reasons.  Betty was fat, but looked like she might be good for a tumble.  That might be worth the risk, too.  Monroe figured she probably wanted it, or else why would she show her boobs?

They were still standing in the rain and it didn’t look like it was about to let up.  Monroe decided he’d have one more beer and watch Gracie in her wet clothes.  If Paul wanted him to leave, he’d let him know.  Besides, Paul was being an asshole.

“Want to go inside?”  said Paul.

“No!  This is crazy, said Gracie.

“Crazy,” said Monroe.  He opened another beer and took a drink.  Gracie grabbed the gold horseshoes and held them above her head.

“Don’t do that,” said Paul.

“Want to play?” she shot back.

“Hey, look at the time,” Monroe said under his breath.  Then louder, “I’ve got to be going.”  He stood and swallowed the dregs from his can.  Before he could finish his goodbyes, Betty’s red ‘82 Grenada turned into the driveway.  Betty got out of the car, all smiles.  The rain slicked her clothes against her body and made her look even fatter than usual.  Monroe took a good look and nodded his head.

“What in the world?” she said.

“I just kicked Monroe’s ass,” said Paul.

“I hope it didn’t hurt too bad,” Betty said.  “You don’t look much worse for the wear.”

Monroe smiled.

“Hi Betty,” said Gracie.  “I came over to talk to you and these guys made me watch them, of all things, play horseshoes.”

“Well, honey, let’s you and me go inside and dry off.  These idiots can stay out her and catch pneumonia.”  The women dashed into the house.  Betty shot Paul a hard look as she went inside.

“Ah hell, stay for another beer,” Paul said.

“There isn’t any more.  How about a rematch?”

“No, my luck’s gone.  You’d kick my ass.” The sky spit lightning and thunder rolled across the hills.  From inside the house came a shriek of laughter.  Paul picked up the gold horseshoes and held them over his head.  He looked up into the storm and banged the shoes together twice, impatient, then let out a howl.  Paul spun around and the rain kept falling and lightning flashed, but it was far away and therefore useless.


Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below



Jeff Weddle
Jeff Weddle grew up in Prestonsburg, a small town in the hill country of Eastern Kentucky. He has worked as a public library director, disc jockey, newspaper reporter, Tae Kwon Do teacher, and fry cook, among other things. His first book, Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), won the Eudora Welty Prize and helped inspire Wayne Ewing’s documentary, The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press (Wayne Ewing Films, 2007). His work has appeared in many  venues, including Port Cities Review, Chiron Review, Beat Scene, Midday Moon, Hawaii Review, Journal of Kentucky Studies, Publishing History, and the anthologies Mondo Barbie (St. Martin’s Press, 1993) and Stovepiper Book One (Stovepiper Books, 1994).  Weddle is the author of a poetry collection, Betray the Invisible (OEOCO, 2010), a limited-edition, fine press book handcrafted by master book artist Mary Ann Sampson, and a chapbook of Barbie poems, Not Another Blonde Joke (Implosion Press, 1991). With Beth Ashmore and Jill E. Grogg, he is co-author of The Librarian’s Guide to Negotiation: Winning Strategies for the Digital Age (Information Today, 2012). Weddle is an associate professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama.

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8 Responses to Horseshoes in the Rain by Jeff Weddle

  1. Michael Mann

    A great opening. I see this story spinning off in many directions and love the interaction and group dynamics between the characters. BTW, I have played horseshoes in the rain, but I’ve never been flashed.

    • Michael, both have their own, unique thrill, I would guess. ;-)

  2. EJ

    Jeff, help me out here. I don’t play horseshoes – LOL! Did Paul want to get laid for sure and cheat on his failing marriage? Did the storm excite and empower his game? I’m lost in the meanings. Wonderfully written!

    • EJ, I hope this doesn’t seem like a cop out, but I’m not sure I can answer your questions definitively. I wrote from Monroe’s point of view, and the best I can offer is his interpretation of the events. I think Paul and Gracie might already be having an affair, but that’s about as far as I can go. But here’s a little cheat, the only one I will allow myself now, because I allowed it to myself when I wrote the story: Paul is desperately unhappy and is all but begging for his horseshoes to attract lightning and relieve him of his misery. Monroe doesn’t necessarily understand this, but I do. And now, so do you. :-)

  3. Michael, many thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked the story.

  4. Good work Jeff – you got a lot of backstory and rounded characters in there in a short space of time. I liked the tension between friends, too. Everyone can relate to that, over playing horseshoes or something else…

  5. Cathy

    Deep emotional imagery. Roland loved the ending. More red wine, more stories, almost like you are right here with us.

    • Thanks, Cathy! I really appreciate you guys reading these stories and, even better, posting your thoughts. I’m delighted that you like “Horseshoes,” and that GRC digs the ending. ;-)

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