An Imperial Western

2 Conversations

The sun rose slowly over the arid valley, casting feelers of light into the distant crevices of the red rock. A dust bowl place. A place where dramatically horned bovines came to die leaving suitably impressive sun bleached skeletons. Two figures slowly came into view. Shielding their eyes from the rays and making passing comments at the surprising amount of sun bleached bovine skeletons. There were a lot of them. It was getting ridiculous.

Firstly the small, plain looking one on the right, with the red hair and the sunburned...everything. The one shading his eyes with his hands and cursing the sun blue for blinding him. He was called Francis Flannery, AKA Seán Greavy, AKA "Mad Seanie" Flannery. However he quickly regretted cursing the sun. He was a deeply superstitious Irishman. That kind of thing gave you bad karma and he hated bad Karma, which in his time zone went by the rather less adventurous and new-age name of "Fortune"/"luck" or it can be found in the abstract phrase "Don't Piss in his shoes and then complain of your hat itching".

Perhaps in a silent acknowledgement to this phrase the other man on the other horse ran the tips of his roughened index finger and thumb along the brim of his stetson. He liked his hat, he knew his hat, his hat didn't try to kill him or bite him or poison him. Who was this man. Well firstly he was an Indian and looked like his picture should be next to the description "Noble Savage". His name was Sings-Softly. He was 6'4", good looking and could give a man a stare that immediately made him regret every bit of rubbish he had thrown on the ground throughout his entire lifetime. He looked wise and proud. Intelligent and Stern. Loyal and Powerful. He wasn't.

Sings was finishing up a diatribe.

'There is like, a hundred dead cows in this valley, I mean, how could that bull get here? How could it lift its head? I mean... look at the horns! It makes no sense! Surely it would die the minute its horns grew to the size of a small calf?'

'How far do you think is that there yonder town,' asked Seanie, mopping sweat from his brow and hoping to divert the frankly boring topic of conversation.

'I dunno, couple of miles. Maybe a three hour ride' replied Sings, nonchalantly.

Exactly six hours later, cause even dramatic landscape has a sense of humour, the two rode into the bustling town of Up Farneys Shirt. No one knew who Farney was and what exactly he had up his shirt, but they got along and beside it definitely wasn't the strangest name in the county. That went to Passing Waters. The towns people stared at the men who rode slowly into town. They weren't drawn to the two colt revolvers each had or even the large bore repeater the Indian had. This wasn't the part of the film when the townspeople all get off the street and get indoors and lock up the windows when the bad gunslingers came into town. No they stared at them for a different reason. Well specifically they stared at Seanie.

No man would ever call Seanie a Yankee, he had fought for the glorious Confederate and knew at least half the words to Dixie. Likewise no one would call him a Johnny Reb as he had also fought for the Union and had once worn a stove pipe hat for, like, a week! And it was at this attire of Confederate Greys and Union Blues that the people were staring. Seanie smiled a knowing smile. He wasn't knowing. Seanie made a point of carrying both uniforms in his saddle bags for depending on where he was in the country. However, at the moment he didn't know where he was and much like in the war itself, he had decided to hedge his bets.

As they trot past they heard snatches of conversation.

'Who... those two?'


'Filthy... cat... talk... hit him right in the slats!'

'Hi Nune!'

''Lo Tyde!'

The two dismounted outside the saloon and strolled into the general store. They were trying to walk the fine line of walking menacingly but also saying "we don't want no trouble". They were failing.

'Whats wrong with ye Misters? Ye got the constipating!?' Shouted one young little basta... ragamuffin, before running away.

Seanie cursed this land. He hated it. He hated the heat. He hated the desert. He wanted to go back to Ireland. Of course Seanie had a very selective memory and had conveniently forgotten the Rain, Fog, Tyrannical Church, Penal Laws, Evictions, Famines and general pestilence back on the Ol' Sod.

They entered the smokey and dusty general store. Four men sat on chairs in the centre of the store looking out through the large plate glass window on the town laid out in front of them. Every town, village and place of human habitation has four old men like these. They provide a sort of running commentary on the place that they live. They go by many names depending where you are. Sometimes they are called town Elders, Aosdanna, the Old Leaders, The Listeners or even The Lazy Feckers Who Have Nothing Else In The World But Each Other. These however were a particularly ancient assortment of old men. They look like Death had lost there phone numbers in his car and he couldn't find them even after he cleaned it out and even went through the hoover bag in case he hoovered them up by accident. Anyway, they were old.

'Excuse me gents, is this the general store?' enquired Seanie hesitantly.

Four ancient heads bobbed up and down slowly.

'Right,' affirmed Seanie, 'Can I have one peck of paraffin oil'

Suddenly four pairs of ancient eyes lit up. Finally a topic for conversation. There hadn't been anything interesting to talk about for two weeks. Since Fr Ó Maonlaí had accidentally christened Kitty Luzhins child Roblarb because he was flutered drunk. They were still waiting for a reply from the Arch Bishop to see what could be done for the poor child.

'You want a What?' Questioned Andrew, the oldest man and and shop keeper and therefore de facto leader of the group.

'Ah... A peck of Paraffin oil... please?'

'A peck?'


'A Peck?'


Silence enveloped the shop like a really, really quite thing. Like a credit card bill.

'Would Oil be a liquid measure?' Wondered Jerry Jack Jerry Con.

'... I would have to say so' Replied Hairy Dan Fitz.

'Is a peck a liquid measure?' Pondered Simon Plutz, the towns only Jewish man, whose house was called "The Jewish Quarter"... this is what passed for entertainment in those days.

'Of course not' Snapped Andrew, who turned his back to Sings and Seanie, effectively relegating them from the conversation.

'So they should be looking for a...', Hairy Dan screwed up his eyes, '... a Dram?'

'No that's Avoirdupois weight ya gombeen'

'I reckon that's pennyweights'

'Nonono, that's troy weights. twenty four grains in a pennyweight, 20 pennyweights in an ounce.'

'Whats a Bushel' enquired Simon

'four Pecks' responded the other three in unison.


'Is he looking for a Rood of Paraffin?' Asked Andrew.

'No, sure a Rood is Linear measurement!' responded Jerry Jack Jerry Con.

'Nonono a Rood is squared measure. Your thinking of a Rod.' Said Simon.

'Whats a Rod'

'five and a half yards of course'

'I thought that was a Pole...' Said Jerry Jack Jerry Con quietly.

'It is'


'You can call it a Rod or a Pole'

'But not a Rood?'


'Whats a Chain?'

'A hundred Links'

'Or four Poles'

'I thought a chain was twenty two yards'

'It is also'

'And ten Chains in a Furlong?'


'Is there a Squire?'

'Nonono You are thinking of a Quire.'

'Whats that then?'

'Ah... twenty four sheets of paper I think...'

'You are right. And twenty quires in a ream'

'A Gallon is liquid measure right?'

'Yes, buts its also dry measure as well'


'Well it goes up in Gills, Quarts, Pints, Gallons and Barrels in liquid and Gills, Quarts, Gallons, Pecks, Bushels, Quarters and Tons in dry goods.'

'Whats a Perch?'

Each of The Old Men had their own reaction. Hairy Dan started to inhale slowly making a weird high pitched whistling noise. Simon tapped his chin and made a not of polishing his glasses while counting slowly. Jerry Jack Jerry Con seemed to remember a man in a pub somewhere had told him that the width of a mans thumb was an inch, he was testing the theory on Hairy Dans beard. Andrew paused for a while before clearing his throat loudly. The noises of strenuous remembering faded away until there was silence and Andrew spoke.

'thirty and a quarter square yards I believe.'

'And forty Perches to the Rood?'

'I believe so'

Seanie politely tapped the Shopkeeper on the shoulder'

'Ah, never mind. Just tell us how far is the nearest town from here' stated Seanie with barely controlled frustration.

'How the hell are we supposed to know! You boys ever been to Percyville?'

Sings nodded his head causing his black stetson to fall jauntily over one eye.

'Well then Indian, how far is that in Indian measure? How long as the eagle flies?'

All eyes slowly turned towards Sings. He sighed somewhere deep inside and started to go into what he liked to call "Panto Mode", in which he would become a cliched ridden 'Injun', full of love of nature and animals and etc etc. But today. Today. Today he felt like not.

'I Don't Know About Any Damn Eagles!!!!'

'... Fine then... how many miles?,' tentatively asked Andrew,

Sings sighed again. He knew where this was going, he knew. It always went like this. He say it. They would give him a look. The Look. It always happened.

'I was born in Canada and raised by french monks...'

'So?,' asked Jerry Jack Jerry Con

'French monks... as in from France... as in Metric!!'

Every non-Indian eye in the building rolled to the roof and each passed knowing glances to each other... The Look.

Sings grabbed Seanie and pulled him towards the door.

'Oh! Metric,' laughed Andrew

Sings caught the door handle and almost ripped it off the door in his haste to get out.

'It will never catch on" called Hairy Dan at their retreating backs.

'Too confusing,' whispered Simon knowingly.

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