"Honey, when I pass away, just skin me and put me up on Trigger and I'll be happy.”
– Roy Rogers to Dale Evans

My mother and I are the only two in this museum, the lone pilgrims peering at glamorous Hollywood headshots and plastic six guns under glass, pressing buttons to hear tinny recordings of Roy Rogers saying “Howdy” echo through empty galleries. She doesn’t understand why we drove all day for this, why I got church-quiet when we slapped on adhesive sheriff’s badges and passed through the unmanned turnstiles.

We drift from case to case, reading yellowed trading cards greedily fished out of Sugar Crisp and Post Toasties. “Take it easy, that’s my hip pocket,” warns Roy, singing cowboy handsome, as you nip the waistband of his Wranglers like he’s the Coppertone baby. “Thank you for your kind attention,” he says, and you obediently bow, touching your muzzle to your polished hooves. I am memorizing every word, postponing what we paid for—you, the wonderful one-two-three-four-legged friend who carried his cowboy through a million matinees, you, the palomino superhero who made countless suburban children scrawl “a pony” at the top of every Christmas list, you, all the rage. We watched you outfight the Phantom, outrun steam trains, outwit black hat after black hat, while every other scrap of horseflesh on the silver screen stood in the background, boring brown and bay and gray.

But the show must go on, so you do. Roy had you mounted in your famous rear, faded forelegs dangling helplessly in midair, glass eyes and silver conchos glittering under strategic spotlights. They’ve made things as familiar as possible in this strange purgatory, hiring some high school kid to paint a pasture on the wall, scattering hay on the wooden diorama floor. The body of Bullet the Wonder Dog rests at your carefully shod feet, his fake tongue a moist pink slab. The thirty-dollar-a-ticket strains of Roy Rogers Jr. crooning “Don’t Fence Me In” drift through a tightly locked stage door.

“He looks mangy,” says Mom, pointing out the vinyl veins swelling beneath your newspaper-yellow hide. And I press a button to activate a video of Roy Sr. modeling various Nudie suits, white teeth and sequins shining, because I want her to be wrong. I try the door on your display—all the doors, like a bad kid, giggling, nervous under your blank gaze, reluctant to follow my mother past Nellybelle the Jeep, and away. Mostly, we pretend we’re not bothered, buying five-dollar DVDs and kitchen magnets in the Happy Trails Gift Shop, washing our hands of you in the well-appointed public restroom, then wandering dazed into the hot flash of the empty parking lot.

But I’m writing a sequel. Tonight, long after the souvenir ladies pile into their Buicks, as my mother snores in her hotel bed, as the moon rises high over neon signs, I am coming back to you. Sliding deftly under locked turnstiles, lariat in hand, I’ll feed you mothballs with a flattened palm and use Roy’s wax arm to give myself a leg-up. You’ll move slowly at first, shaking dust off your creaking saddle, snorting life back into your moldy bones. We’ll rodeo through velvet ropes and pirouette past the cowboy hat display, leaping the ticket stand in a single bright bound to burst through the waiting doors, into empty prairie and open sky.

There’s a ditch that swells with mud when it rains, so it rains. I will cup your warm nose with two hands, loosen your stitches, help you shed your saddle like so much dead skin. And you will be allowed to rot.