Buck Henry sat on the porch looking out at his garden, a few rows of carrots and a dying tomato bush. “Enough is enough,” he thought, “I’ve lived a good life, sometimes out of control, sometimes without hope, but me and Tiger always looked out for each other.” He fell asleep as the wind blowing through the trees gently caressed him. It was 1920 now, and Buck was in his 80’s. He never forgot Tiger, who disappeared one night in a shootout between him, Wild Bill Hickock and the Bowery gang. Tiger had jumped on his shoulders in the middle of the gunfight, causing a stray bullet to miss blowing Buck’s head off. The next morning, Buck searched for Tiger but there was no sign of him, no blood, no nothing. He had just disappeared. Buck was never the same after Tiger was gone, never again the happy go lucky, unemployed soap maker whose innocence and loyalty to his beloved cat had touched so many lives.
The wind stopped blowing, and Buck woke up. He felt something heavy on his lap. It was Tiger, purring contentedly and looking up at him. Buck could not believe it. He rubbed behind Tiger’s ears, like he used to love Buck to do, and Tiger twisted onto his back in Buck’s lap so Buck could stroke his white and yellow stomach.
“Well Tiger, where the heck have you been? I’ve been searching for you the last 40 years my dear friend!” Buck started recounting all that had happened from the time Tiger had disappeared, he told him about how Big Mike had finally passed away from consumption in 1899 in San Diego in the back room of his saloon, and that night before Big Mike died he kept saying that he could see Tiger just at the foot of his bed. Buck said Big Mike could feel Tiger laying across his legs, but Buck said that he could never see nothing but that old patchwork quilt that Big Mike used to keep his feet warm.
Buck told Tiger that they buried Big Mike the next day, and that he fixed the grave real nice for Big Mike in the little cemetery two blocks from the saloon. He told Tiger that the day he left San Diego, he came to say goodbye to Big Mike, and he saw paw prints in the soil near the headstone.
“Was that you Tiger?” The big cat began meowing, and trotted off towards a small stream that ran through Buck’s tiny plot of land. “Hold on Tiger, I can’t move that fast anymore, just hold on, please dear friend, I can’t lose you again!” Buck struggled down the two steps from his porch, his 84 years had slowed him down, as his cane just might break from too much use all of a sudden.
“Just a minute Tiger!” shouted Buck, who finally got down the steps and into the sun’s gentle rays of light. He looked down at his hands, expecting to see wrinkled, yellow skin, but his hands had changed, and Buck felt new strength rise up in him. He stood up straight, and looked again at his hands, and they were young and supple like they used to be. He grabbed the rickety cane that had supported him for the last ten years and broke it across his knee, sending splinters flying everywhere. “I’m coming Tiger!”
Tiger was on the other side of the stream, lapping up the pure, cold water that come down from snow capped mountains. “How’d you get across that stream, Tiger?” Wanting to join his beloved companion, Buck waded through the cold mountain water and sat down on a flat boulder that he hadn’t seen before. Tiger jumped back into his lap and started purring. He heard a familiar laugh behind him, and sure enough, it was Big Mike coming down the path!
“Well I’ll be, Big Mike! You’re here too? Must be dreaming, I was sure I buried you down in San Diego…sorry about that if you wasn’t dead yet, but you sure look good though, I mean, now you do, but what the heck my friend, what’s going on?” Big Mike smiled, “Come on Buck, we got places to go and things to do.” Buck stood up, holding Tiger in his arms. “Can Tiger come too?” Big Mike laughed that huge belly laugh he used to when he was alive, “Of course, my friend, that big yellow cat is the reason I’m here too!”
“Huh?” said Buck. “That don’t make no sense, Mike. I mean, maybe this ain’t real, maybe it’s wishful thinking?” Big Mike laid his massive hand on Buck’s shoulder and pointed across the creek to his old cabin. Sitting in the rocking chair was an old man in his 80’s, hands down at his sides, head flung backwards, mouth open and no longer breathing. “That’s me, ain’t it?” said Buck.
Big Mike nodded his head. “Then you is still in your grave two blocks from your saloon, ain’t yah?” His large friend nodded his head again. “Well then Mike, what’ll we do now?”
“Buck, we’ll just follow Tiger for a while…he’s been looking after us both for a long time. He came to me before I was sick, and after I passed, Tiger led me up to a small clearing in a real nice place where I recognized a lot of other folks we’d known. One day just flowed into another, like there wasn’t no time at all. Then Tiger led me down here to you, said it was time for us to collect you and bring you to the clearing, and here we are.” Big Mike pointed to a large patch of beautiful flowers waving in the breeze. There was Buck’s mamma, lost to him so long ago. There was everyone, standing there in the clearing, waiting for them to approach.
“Well ah’ll be!” said Buck. Doc Holiday stepped forward and said in a loud, clear voice, “We’ve been waiting for you, Buck Henry! We couldn’t leave without you, could we?” Buck looked confused, “Where we going?” Buck’s mamma yelled at him, “Look up, son!”
Buck looked up. The sky had turned black, full of twinkling stars. They started moving, like they were rushing past them, like they were on a fast locomotive heading west. “What the heck,” said Buck.
His mamma told him, “We’re going home now Buck, our old home is fixed up again, and it’ll be like it used to be, but better. It’s time to move on down the road, and we’re not looking back!” Tiger was asleep in Buck’s arms, his ears twitching as he purred. “Yes mamma, I remember now. Thank you for waiting mamma, thank you all for waiting, I would have been powerful lonely down there by myself, it’s mighty kind of you all to wait, mighty kind!”