These are the first 50-some pages of a new novel. I want to think the novel’s done, but the few people who’ve read it, yeah, most of them are still resisting. —
first pages: —
Terry – out after a dozen tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, manages the estate
Daisy – stripper etc., brought to the estate for Bertrand to photograph
Bertrand – east coast heir
Victoria – his wife
Daniél – old local Hispanic, works the estate
Nelson – old Indian from the pueblo, worked the estate
Park – aging bad boy movie star
Edward – pretty aging B-movie actor, son of legendary star
Giant Bill – hanger on and facilitator for Bertrand
Park’s brother – porn peeper
the twins – young teens from comfortable Connecticut
Mother of the twins
Father of the twins
Mrs. Tafoya – cook on the estate
Mrs. Tafoya’s girls – two young teen cousins of Mrs. Tafoya
Leo – local thief
Sheriff’s Posse – local Hispanic merchants badged for horseback searches
New Mexico – isolated, northern valley
Storrs’ estate – old, low, sprawling, adobe mansion, a summer place
The air and the view west were dry enough for desert, which I’d visited desert, and the mountains were mountains, which I’d also. I wanted to forget desert and mountain, and if I hadn’t been me, which I’d been wishing since I started wishing, I’d of gotten my thumb back out and moved on. But military was the one activity I’d ever done right, and the home I hadn’t got thrown out of. You don’t forget those things, and whatever New Mexico was, it wasn’t going to be screams. In fact, this corner of the state looked like it didn’t have enough people to cause problems even if they wanted. Leaving me as the nervous ingredient, except the hatred and the anger that boils it, those are things you can refuse and I had refused.
Nelson Roybal, who’d given me this last ride in his truck and had to turn off here for the pueblo, he pushed open the door I’d just closed and said, “Terry, you look like you need a job.”
Two years plus, Thursday start of 4th of July weekend, Daniél Pacheco and I were tarring roofs on the main house, and Nelson Roybal was a year dead from his cancer.
The little courthouse-jail in town was bright new glass and steel, but everything else, the shops and bars along the barely-second-world main drag, they were adobe, and so were the houses outside town, including the Storrs estate. For decades, the adobes had been plastered with cement stucco instead of dirt, but underneath the stucco it was still dirt, adobe bricks, six by twelve by eighteen the old bricks, four by eight by twelve the newer ones, not all that new. Buildings were single story and stood high because the walls came a couple feet above the flat tar roofs as firewalls. A single, narrow, two-lane road passed through town; no recreation anywhere near; the pueblo too much grime for picture-taking; kids who wanted a job had to leave. In other words, even with the shiny courthouse-jail, this could almost have been somewhere I’d fought. Only I’d let all those somewheres go to Hollywood for people to play with. I was in a different world now. If I’d known how to pray and imagined I had the right, it would never have occurred to me that I could pray myself so free. Everything that mattered was a simple task and the next simple task and the next and back to the first.
When Daniél and I did these roofs at the Storrs’ place, we checked along the firewalls against cracking in the stucco that would let damp eat into the dirt underneath. If the cracks in the stucco were minor, we’d slip them with fresh stucco. If the cracks were more than that, we’d break away a stretch of the old stucco there on top of the firewall and put down fresh tar paper over the adobe and fold over wire and then give it a couple coats of the fresh stucco. Where canales, the long chutes that carried drainage off the roof and away from the walls, where any of them were rotting, we broke out the stucco and tar and pulled the old canales, set in new ones, and then papered, wired, stucco-ed and tarred fresh. We lugged around knee-high cans of tar and troweled it into the cracks broken open from the cycles of cold, snow, melt and freeze during the winter. The bigger, year-after-year cracks, we’d cut into and line with paper and tar that. We did the roofs when the weather’d gotten hot enough to warm the tar. A seriously old place like the main house, you wanted to tar every year. Whether or not I knew my parents, it was work I was born to do, and after two years, I had it down – even if I couldn’t yet do it like a human being.
Daniél, who been tarring and plastering for decades, got tar on his hands. I got tar on my hands, my forearms, a knee, an elbow, the other elbow, down my stomach; end of the day, I’d have it on my back. Which didn’t mean I was not a fast learner – I’d got smart enough to always tar in the same pair of short pants and without a shirt. At lunchtime, Daniél went down Nelson Roybal’s ladder at the back of the house, and I jumped the twenty feet off that back firewall, a new habit to let myself know I was not getting too smart for my own good.
I had asked, back my first time on the roof with the tar, about why not get a roofer. Nelson had said, “Terry, the roofer in this town is not so honest.” Daniél had said, “Also, he is going to want to put a whole new roof with all the new tricks, and the owner knows we are cheaper.”
While Nelson was still around, we all sat together out there behind the house and they threw their wrappers and empty tins of Vienna sausage into the irrigation ditch. When Nelson was gone, and when Daniél realized I was coming back after work to pick up the trash, then he ate in his truck so he could take a nap, and I made toasted cheese with tomato in the cottage and talked to the dog.
The first of the arrivals for 4th of July weekend showed up as I was walking down the drive to my toasted cheese. Which, yeah, part of the deal. This where Daniél and I worked, and Nelson before, part of it had been built 400 years ago, and the current owner’s mother, a New York heiress, had bought it 50 years ago and brought New York friends out in summers. A secret sort of place then. Now other people, like the son and current owner, weren’t so interested in secret. As local kids moved away, not-so-locals were drifting in, some rich and some not.
Anyway, a 4th of July weekend on the estate, and the first arrival was Carl Park the movie star, runty guy with a high-pitch snarl and bar-fight attitude. He was bringing his pal Edward from some other movie I missed and from wherever they all lived out there, definitely didn’t any of them live near the California I’d used to know. Park had bought a big dirt house nearby, and made it into a mansion they said, for vacations, part of the migration. Edward was a B-movie star, whatever that meant, who had the father who’d been a real star. Edward apparently handsome enough that, with the name, didn’t matter if he had his dad’s talent. And listen to me, roof-tar-man, talking talent. So past comes Park’s jeep, and Park nods at me; I’d seen him through with one woman or another enough times. Couldn’t see today’s passenger until they stopped up by the house, and Edward liquids out of the jeep tall and slender and hair over his eyes and what-would-you-call-it, poised, ready for the mirror. If I’d ever had a girl who wanted to see only me, Edward would’ve changed her mind before she could take the breath. Since I never had the girl and Edward wouldn’t have noticed her, water off a duck. Park, I liked. Never talked to him more than Hello, but he was who he was, and if he got paid for people to watch that, fine by me.
Today, like all tarring days, after I washed my hands in the turpentine, I ate lunch at the kitchen counter so as not to touch anything with the tar on the rest of me. Buddy the dog watched the movement of ingredients and then the sandwich getting smaller, but he preferred days I sat to eat lunch; then he could watch from closer in and converse.
After lunch, Buddy said he’d work at sleeping on his porch sofa, and I headed up toward the front of the main house, the left end of the front, other end from where privilege went in. When I got to Daniél’s truck, a green step-side so old its powdered paint barely made a color, I knocked on the roof of the cab.
As Daniél got out, a black Mercedes came up the drive from below the cottage, part of Carl Park’s fleet, covered with the authentic local mud but a fair size Mercedes and not old. Inside, looked like a delivery guy bringing one of Park’s shiny women.
All this for the vehicles was a dirt turnaround close to the house. At the head of the turnaround was a stretch of hollyhocks crinkling in red and pink and yellow, r&r bar talent. At the far end of the hollyhocks from me and Daniél was the privilege dirt. Daniél and me and his truck being on the west end of the hollyhocks, in the ruts that led back around past the junk rooms of the house and under the mesa. In a landscape mostly flat or mountains, a mesa stood in for hills, and this mesa went up sharp and then in stages to five six times the height of the house. My cottage was fifty yards behind Daniél’s truck, before the turnaround opened out. The driveway came up between Buddy’s and my front porch on one side and on the other side the grass and box elders that ran to the kitchen of the main house. Across beyond the box elders, along the far edge of the grass, cottonwoods lined the irrigation ditch as far as the wall for the pool. The ditch ran below that and the east side of the house and then on out with a few more cottonwoods and then bare mesa for the Indian mountain.
There was a gate into the house courtyard, but it was the kitchen door people used. Daniél and me, even on our side of us-and-them, were not that far away. I could see Park and pretty Edward come out to stand at the kitchen door, under the overhang of the big box elder that Victoria’s wild cats came down for milk. In the shadows behind Park and Edward at the kitchen door was Victoria, wearing one of the billowy scarfs she tied over her head to say, out loud or not, ‘When I was young I used to be beautiful.’ I was never one of them who said, ‘You still are,’ not my job, but she still was, and as big a phony as she was, she had muscle, unlike Bertrand. No sign of Bertrand, but otherwise the early partiers were assembled for the arrival of whatever the Mercedes was delivering. I would of rather watched Buddy sleep, but Daniél wanted to see so he could tell his sister. So he said. He stood with me on the far side of his truck for protection.
Guy at the wheel of the Mercedes may have been a retard because he drove almost up to the house and the people at the kitchen door, and honked his horn. Before the reverb of the horn off the mesa had shut down, Carl Park was ripping open the driver’s side door, pulling out the retard by the collar of his black tee shirt.
“What’s the matter with you? You honked? From now on never use the horn. You ever think you’re going to die if you don’t blow the horn, die. Go away and die right now.”
The other side of the Mercedes, the girl got out, but it was hard to see her past the main event. In the shadows, the kitchen screen door moved, and Bertrand limped through.
The driver tried to close his door and stand free of the car, and Park pulled the door back open and kept the voice going like waves of acid to eat flesh.
“Don’t get out of the car. You’re not coming to the party. Because you’re my brother? I feed you because you’re my brother, but you don’t come to parties.” Park shoved him back into the car and slammed the door. “Get away from me and my friends. Don’t let me see you anywhere near anywhere, ever. You hear me?”
The brother looked like he’d been beaten down so long he didn’t hear anything but basic instruction. He was backing the Mercedes careful down past the cottage before Park finished with him.
Park turned around toward the house, raised his arms like a touchdown and shouted, “Bertrand, Bertrand.” Same voice, hoarse like he’d been ripping it since before he was born, but now all party news. “Bertrand, look what I brought you. I got you somebody for Fourth of July. America, Bertrand. America. Come and meet Daisy. Daisy, meet my good friend Bertrand I told you about. Bertrand’s our host. So is Victoria. Where’s Victoria the hostess? Victoria,” and then a big laugh. Little guy, big pirate laugh, calling to Victoria with the laugh, teasing with an edge but not all that unkind. Which seemed a lot of action for a laugh. Was that acting? Everybody watching, even the faces of Mrs. Tafoya’s girls (though not Mrs. Tafoya) at the kitchen windows.
Also except Victoria, who had hold of pretty Edward’s wrist like somebody’s been a bad little boy and not necessarily Edward, dragging Edward away from the kitchen door toward the gate to the pool, and then through and behind that wall.
And if you’d asked me whether I didn’t think all this ridiculous crap was ridiculous crap, I’d of asked whether a bear. But if you asked whether I couldn’t stand it, I’d laugh. This was a couple summer months in a year, and not every day, and I didn’t have to be in it. Even if I ever did have to be in it, it was not loud pieces of something that had skin and would never get put back. No, I had a nice bed and my own real shower and a bad dog.
Everybody who was going to hate Parkie knew it right away. Victoria herself had known and loved him forever – this wasn’t even one of the times when you thought about killing him.
But she hated having this trash wash up on her doorstep, and she was sure as hell going to let the trash, along with Parkie and Bertrand, understand they were beneath contempt. She made her appearance at their welcoming ceremony, and then walked out in the middle of it. For a bigger exit, she got Edward’s little wrist and brought him along. If Parkie called after them, so much the better.
She was surprised a real woman had never grabbed Edward and taken charge of him. That was what he needed, but it was always the mice chasing him. Victoria could have taken charge once upon a time. She still could, if she wanted, which she didn’t remotely.
The trash, she could hate, and she did.
It was time Daniél and me headed around to the back of the house and cranked back into the tar. But I gave myself the misery of watching Bertrand do his cane out from the shadows and down past the jeep. His war hero walk, in pressed khaki pants like Brit regimental whatever and a white dress shirt and a little scarf around his neck. Boot shoes with straps and buckles. Never been nearer to a war than believing his own parade. It was a mistake to like Park because he was not a nice person, but you looked at Bertrand, and if you’d had daughters, you’d of wanted them to marry Park in a hurry. Bertrand got to the Daisy and bent down at her with his tall, skinny, patron thing and held out his left hand for her to shake. Right hand on the silver knob of the cane.
A glimpse of her shaking the patron’s wrong hand, hearing whatever bullshit he said that Daniél and I didn’t have to hear, and she looked like she was easy holding her own. She wasn’t beautiful or star-like, dirty color hair and pug profile and the top of a pink tee shirt showing around her neck – not scary to look at but no fire alarm either. Who knew what Park had been saying about bringing something for Bertrand, what with Victoria being home? What this Daisty was, she looked, just standing there nodding, like she could make Park and Bertrand into half-regular people for a couple minutes at a crack. No small accomplishment.
Daniél and me hustled the ruts under the mesa around to the back of the house and the ladder, and I finished up the day in full tar, arms and legs, chest and forehead, ear tar, shoulder blade tar. We got down, Daniél laddering and me jumping, and Daniél turpentined the shoulder blade for me before he headed home, while I did my hands before heading on to feed the horses. I saved the rest of my tar for later so I wouldn’t have the turpentine all over me too long. When I got back from the stables, I’d wallow with the turp and then take a shower
For the horses, we (Buddy being rested up) walked down and cut off the drive onto the track below and away from the cottage, over the cut from the irrigation ditch and through box elder shade and the ratty grass that was more lawn than anybody else in the county had. Cottonwoods hung over the irrigation turnout before the heavy gate to the low pasture that ran beneath the main house. Past the gate was a little swamp of cattails. The pastures and Victoria’s lawn and trees were pure irrigation, and the seepage collected here a quarter mile from the Indian river, a creek really, before the it began its dry cut beyond the mesa to the canyon of a major stream out of the San Juan’s that fed down to the Rio Grande. The cattails were above head-high, the tops already losing green, the shafts not yet dry enough to crackle. The redwing blackbirds took off.
My job, when we got to the plank raft of a bridge through the cattails, was to say, “Don’t jump in the mud. Don’t jump in the mud. Don’t jump in the mud.”
After that, Buddy, not a graceful jumper, went like hard garbage thrown from a truck. He didn’t check when he was in flight, but he’d of known if I wasn’t watching. Buddy liked an audience. Get him a part with What’s-his-name. He landed armpit deep in what was more mud than water, and he looked back saying how happy he knew I must be.
Buddy was sixty pounds, white and rust like a Lassie, but the hair not long and the body stockier, the snout shortened. A mutt but a better-looking mutt than me. Also he had a smile. Charm had never been an asset for me, but Buddy could open his mouth and do his breathing, and make the smile. Which he particularly did when in mud.
I said, “Great.”
He gazed at me, the breather smile, said, So-glad.
“I told you, No mud.”
“So forget about sleeping on the bed.”
“You hit the quicksand. You know that?”
He smiled more as the gunk level rose above his armpits.
“You die, I get your dinner.”
The people I enjoyed speaking to were Daniél and Buddy, but it wasn’t long ago I didn’t want to speak to anybody including the mirror, which still held for the mirror. On the other hand, there weren’t many people, me among them, wanted to hear my voice. Daniél did, I thought. Also Buddy, so he could blow me off.
All these friends aside, the good news was that in another day we’d be done with the tar.
The better news was that there was still no invitation from Victoria to show up at any of the partying, which I sometimes got those invitations when a body was needed for a corner. I figured finish the roof tomorrow and then, regardless holiday weekend, sneak off all day for a couple days to clear an abandoned spur off the irrigation ditch where it was out of sight at the far rear edge of the property. Avoid invitations altogether. Take Buddy, take lunch, creep back to the cottage at night by the low pasture.
But hold on about Buddy. Today, with our mud bickering not yet done by the usual rules, Buddy was sending his charm somewhere else.
Buddy was smiling at the girl, Daisy. Daisy was on the other end of my little raft of a bridge, almost in touching distance. Talk about losing skills. I’d lived because I was lucky, but I’d also been good.
As it happened today, Buddy being the one with the charm, she didn’t notice me at all. She smiled back at Buddy, which to be fair would have been my choice.
He made his smile bigger, said whatever it is the charming ones always know to say, and don’t think I hadn’t always been envious.
She said back to him, “It’s not really quicksand, is it?”
His tail now way up above the surface and wagging for her.
“But would he eat your dinner?”
His chops closed, and he pretended to be worried. Jesus, where were the cameras for this asshole? Which was a way of talking I’d given up for the most part, swearing. I’d lived in it, didn’t want to live in it any more. ‘Fuck’ was completely gone.
Man, but I felt a dope standing there while she and Buddy chatted.
Also, she was prettier than I’d thought, up close in that little room of cattails. Or not all that pretty. Jeans and the tee shirt and the hair short and simple. She was built maybe, though the jeans and shirt weren’t that sort of tight. No, it was the smile. Even her looking at Buddy instead of me, I could see it.
Buddy got back to smiling himself.
She said, “I do like mud.”
Buddy’s tail going nuts.
“I would love to come in.”
Tail to wag-frenzy.
I had to say something, and I said, “Hi.” Hi being, for me, a big success. I almost said it again. Please God help me from saying it again and again. Which sometimes you prayed, the little things, and God stepped in, even for guys like me weren’t allowed to pray. Because before I could say Hi Hi Hi Hi Hi, she smiled at me, and I forgot anything else. Plump face like she was still a little girl, which she was not by any stretch, but in fact plenty pretty enough, and she smiled into my heart. Smiled all delight like she knew my heart and the great things in it and they were smiling back and there was no getting happier for her than being right here with me. I could barely stand it. I wanted her and Buddy to go back to their smiling because I knew what was in my heart. I said, “I’m Terry,” which was ridiculous, and she smiled at me as if her heart was bursting right out of her to get to my heart.
Took me a second to see she was holding out her hand to shake, and I shook it, and she said, “Woof.” Which if I’d had any sense, I’d of laughed. Her hand was warm. Also it was strong with a good grip and enough meat on it I could have hugged it.
I let go and aimed that hand, my hand, somewhere toward Buddy and said, “This is Buddy.”
She said, to him, “Hey, big guy.”
To me again, she said, “Woof.”
I said, “Daisy.”
She said, “Woof, woof,” and nodded and still smiled, my heart trying to hide and her smiling right at everything it was and wasn’t. I wanted to shake hands again.
I said, “Do you want to do the horses with us?”
I’d been places where, if people didn’t know, they would of thought what happened there was bravery. But most of those places, you did what you did and didn’t get scared until after, and then you got loaded or not and got up in the morning. It was the job and you did it until you couldn’t do it anymore, and it wasn’t usually anything to do with bravery that let you down. For me there in the cattails, asking Daisy about the horses, that was bravery.
She shrugged, said, “Woof,” and turned back for the stables as if it’d been her suggestion, which put her walking in front of me, and before I could catch up, Buddy heaved himself out of the deep mud to a shallow launching area, and hurled through the cattail stalks onto the track in front of Daisy. She kept walking, so I had to grab her arm, not hard but enough to stop her and pull her back a step before Buddy did his shake. Today, for our guest, he did a bigger shake than ordinary, vertical mud high as the cattails, which meant good horizontal going backwards. When he was finished, he went on ahead.
Today I didn’t yell after him, because I had hold of Daisy’s bare arm below her shoulder, and I could feel her warm and making a muscle inside my hand to keep her balance against my pull. As I let go, she said, “Thanks,” without looking at me but in a grateful voice and then shouted ahead, “Buddy,” loud, in a voice half What-was-that and half Screw-you. Buddy didn’t pay any more attention to her yelling than he ever did to mine.
Daisy turned back to me, looking down at the spatter on her jeans. She spread her arms and put out her chest to look at the spatter on the washed-out pink tee shirt, which was less splatter than on the jeans but, on the pink, more obvious. With her head dipped, I couldn’t see her face, but yeah I could see she was built. I concentrated on her hair. In the sun and up close, her hair had blond in it; maybe it was bought blond or bought brown or both, but it was nice hair, maybe only her hair. When she lifted her head, she was going to be taller than I’d registered.
She lifted up her head now and snarled to me, “Buddy,” like she and I’d known each other and Buddy for years and he’d splattered us for the eight thousandth time. Then she shrugged and smiled quick and started on again for the stables in a way that said we were going side by side, and we did, and we came out the cattails and there were the mountains, the Indian mountain first and biggest. Level ahead was the prairie-dogged alfalfa Daniél and I had dug in to make a few adobe bricks, and beyond that were fence lines heading at town along the weave of cottonwoods by the Indian river. But it was the mountains and sky I always first saw when I came out the cattails. Daisy looked at them too, and she said, “Wow,” and Buddy sprinted across the far side of the alfalfa, dove at a prairie dog hole and dug like a freak.
I said, “I don’t let him up on the bed very often,” and she said, “I know,” as if she did know and of course. Well, it would have been of course, the freight of dirt he was carrying, and even so, how she said it.
To the left were the four stalls and tack room that Nelson Roybal had brought me out to help him and Daniél build summer before last. Just concrete block laid in an el, but tight and cleanly made. Daisy came through the tack room with me, and when I grabbed a fork and went into the first stall to muck it out, she grabbed the other fork and went into the next stall and followed me with her forkfuls to where we threw it over the paddock rail. She must of done physical work as a kid, and I said, “Thanks,” concentrating on my own forkfuls.
Then she watched as I shook oats until the mare came in out of the pasture, the colt behind. Just the two. Daisy stood beside the pasture gate on the bottom board of fence and hung over the top board like a kid. The mare let me hook the lead and walk her into her stall. The colt didn’t follow inside the gate, so I went to him, and he let me hook on, and then, which he liked to do with me, he reared up so I hung free in the air, belly to hoof. I didn’t know a horse from a radiator before last summer, so the first time up with the colt was more fun for him than me, but after that we both had fun with it. It wasn’t every day. He let me walk him on in then, looking over at Daisy to be sure she’d seen how terrific. A zoo of actors around here. The colt and Buddy should have been friends and maybe would have been if the mare hadn’t caught Buddy once with a hoof, lightly, and in the fat of his haunch, but that once was enough and Buddy’d decided on prairie dogs.
I put together the meals and supplements and gave the rubber tubs in to the mare and the colt.
I was not a teenager who’d never been around girls, but I hadn’t much been around girls in regular ways since I was seventeen, and even up to then it wasn’t all that regular, the world I lived. Also, now I figured to stay alone for the rest of my life, and that wasn’t a help. I was thirty, by somebody’s official guess, and I felt like a ten-year-old having to talk to a girl for the first time ever, which meant I was even more happy than usual about the stalls to muck and the horses to get in and their feed to do. I liked the horses. I curried them couple times a week, liked how their coats felt. I sometimes hugged them around the neck, which they let me, even the colt. I liked the air in their stalls when they’d just come out, leaving that night heat and piss acid; I liked their breath in the velvet nostrils and that when they went into their pasture they knew who they were and how much they mattered.
Daisy came and stood next to me as I closed the bottom door of the colt’s stall. It was a Dutch door with the top part of the door hooked open for the summer and with a narrow counter on the top edge of the bottom door. Daisy leaned on the counter to look at the colt. It wasn’t that wide a door, and she stood against me. She didn’t press; she just stood, and we touched; our clothes touched. It didn’t seem a big deal to her whether we touched or not; she wanted to look in the stall like I was getting to do. My age, and I didn’t know that girls, women, if you’re both focused on something else, could stand next to you and touch you or not. It had to be how regular people did. I wasn’t regular, but it was nice to know regular was out there and that I was getting taught about it. After a while you don’t worry how late you are learning things the rest of the world’s known forever.
The colt snuffled his head around in his tub but had his ears dialed up at Daisy and me, and when he couldn’t stand it anymore, he surfaced, reached his head close, blew damp air, and stared at Daisy.
She put her hand out to pat his nose, and as I said, “Teeth,” not fast enough, he made his play and she closed and dropped her fist, and his teeth clicked and now she did stroke his nose and he let her, and she said, “Bad boy.”
She was quicker than I was, or she’d been around horses more. He’d gotten me the first time he tried, and I’d taken a swing at his head hard and fast as I could, and he got out of the way without hardly trying, so I hit the door frame. It was a winter morning and I had heavy gloves; otherwise I’d have broken my hand. As it was, the hand swole up for days. So I’d put the colt’s quick teeth away inside my schoolhouse with the other lessons pain taught, and he didn’t get me again. The swinging without a thought, however, swinging to hurt, that was something else, something I believed I’d got rid of. So from all my wrong blackboards, I grabbed the lesson about never again hurting on purpose and nailed it back where it belonged, prominent inside my forehead.
Daisy was looking at me and I hadn’t noticed.
She grinned like she’d caught me, and said, “I like how you trained him to rear up with you that way.”
She’d been teasing me since the bridge with Buddy, and all I could think was to ask her to please keep on teasing. Instead, I made a smile. It wasn’t a bad smile, or she didn’t mind. She said, “Come on. Let’s hose off Buddy.”
How did she know? Right, how did she not? But still. That was what we always did. He never went in the mud on the way back, and when we got to the cottage, he always went at the hose curled under the high, downhill end of the cement porch, and I held him and hosed him and he shook while I held him so I got hosed too, which he didn’t like as much as eating or going in the mud but it was on the list. Winter, when I didn’t want him wet, I let him stay outside and dirty for the night, until it was serious cold and he didn’t want mud; he waited for ice, and then dove low and slid through the dried cattail stalks to shatter them and get the noise that made.
In today’s mild evening, Daisy and I walked side by side without speaking. It felt like I was visiting, and she managed to let me know, without a word, that it was all right to be a stranger.
At the bridge in the cattails, when Buddy ran past us and stopped to look back, Daisy said, “Don’t go in the mud, asshole, or I’ll rip your throat out,” and he ran on ahead for the drive and the cottage.
She said, “Sorry.”
I said, a square, saying what time it is when everybody’s got watches, I said, when what I wanted was to hold her hand again, too scared to let myself want to hold her arm a second time, I said, “He never goes in on the way back.”
She said, “Oh, naturally, the way home to dinner. Going home he’s a good doggie. Still, he wanted me to give him some shit. Don’t you think? Do you think I hurt his feelings?”
I said, “You did hurt his feelings,” and I said it okay and quick enough, and she let her smile come and I smiled back at her, Mr. Freaking Courage himself, and God but she was pretty. Not so pretty, but the smile. I wanted to squeeze her into the heart she thought she saw, and for an instant, with the thought of squeezing her, I registered the note nailed inside my forehead, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was her saying, “home.” Why would she say that, except she knew what it meant, and I wondered whether, if I were next to her for a while, I would know what it meant. No. I knew I was already getting more than I deserved and it would stop by the time we got to the cottage, and all right, I’d have had this time to the horses and would know that times like this were true, like a word in the dictionary you believe.
The sun was not nearly down but there was deeper shade under the cottonwoods and the box elders. The edges of the dirt driveway looked less ragged, and the grass beside looked more lawn than weeds.
And something else.
The driveway curved a distance down to the gate but not so far I couldn’t see. Outside the gate, Carl Park’s Mercedes was half-hid by willow brush off the shoulder of the road. The guy in it would be the brother. Later on, I’d check what was happening with that.
Up ahead, Buddy was waiting beside the porch, monitoring our approach, keeping an eye on other important things we wouldn’t know about, also wondering if there were any chance the stranger with me could get in the way of dinner. He didn’t think so. He moved closer to the porch spigot and its hose.
She said. “Buddy’s in charge, right? How’s he like this to go?”
“Usually, with just him and me, we try to get each other wet as we can. You could watch that and stay dry. Or you could do the hose and get us wet and stay dry yourself. Or I could do the hose and stay dry and you and him get wet, which might or might not help out with your mud splatter. Buddy himself doesn’t work the hose so good, but he wouldn’t want you to tease him about that.”
Which was a lot for me to say, but it didn’t feel wrong, not with the two of us having done the horses and her teasing me the whole way, with Buddy waiting to get the hose, with the cottage I’d lived in two years that must of looked to somebody, to her, like it could be a home.
She grinned – different from the smile, instead ready to make a mistake and have fun doing it – grinned at Buddy, at the hose, at me, at Buddy, with Buddy on his feet and revving up.
She laughed and slugged me in the arm like somebody’s little sister and went and got the end of the hose and brought it to me.
I saw motion outside the kitchen door of the main house.
That was a ways away and more hidden than before by the deeper shadows, but Carl Park and Bertrand and somebody else bigger were looking at us. The bigger would be Giant Bill, Bertrand’s hustler who shaved his head and helped Bertrand get loaded.
Daisy saw them, too. “Oops,” she said. She said it matter of fact, and handed me the hose and smiled, though not the big smile. She said, “Duty calls,” and walked away toward them.
All done. No surprise.
Carl Park took a step from the kitchen door and out of the shadows and pumped his arms over his head, shouting down the drive at her, “Party time. Party time. Party time.” Each time a shout, each time pumping the arms, that voice loud, high, hoarse, weird. The message being, Everybody-get-naked-bring-your-weapons-the-hot-tub. He included me. “You too, amigo. Party time.”
I waved without looking, and Buddy and I took the hose out of sight around the corner of the cottage.
It was what it was. Which was a saying Daisy had hated from the first time she heard it, and like other sayings she hated, it was usually true. The good stuff, the few minutes out of the blue with somebody like a Terry and Buddy, those minutes never lasted long enough to have a saying. But they could, and pretty soon she was going to see that they would.
She turned around and called, “Hey,” and waited for him to step back out into the drive.
She said, “Love the tar,” and watched him realize he was covered with it all this time. It took him a minute, but he made a nice smile.
She could have cried for how much she wanted to get soaked by the hose with Buddy. Her crying days were history before history. She was surprised she even remembered them. Soon, she would remember for real, and she’d cry if she wanted, even if all of the rest never went away. Carl Park gave another, “Party time,” and she went on to the main house.
After I had turped and taken a shower and brought Buddy in off the porch sofa for his dinner and done a cheeseburger for myself, there was still daylight left. Without Buddy, I went to see if Carl Park’s Mercedes was still hidden beyond the gate at the foot of the driveway.
Yes, and the brother had pulled far enough off the shoulder and into brush that he might not be able to drive out, though I couldn’t see that he’d tried. It was time he did try. I wondered if I would have to chain the Mercedes and drag it out. It was a heavy car, but the ranch truck was a three-quarter ton, four-wheel-drive pickup. I could put some blocks in the bed if it needed.
He saw me coming and turned the engine over to bring his window down. He put his elbow out and grinned like we were pals and he’d guessed I would show up. We weren’t pals, and we had no plans together, but that didn’t mean I had to come down on him. I made my official foreman smile and spread my hands out to say, What’s up?
Up from below the steering wheel, he lifted a laptop like that was the conversation.
I got to the car, and he closed the computer and held it half out the window. He said, “I’ve got everything digital and almost all the magazines, including the early ones. This is a special weekend, but ordinarily I don’t carry those early ones around because they’re collectibles.”
I kept up my smile and tried to think what he was talking about.
Big grin from him. He mistook my smile for congratulations.
Everything about him read like bad news, and I lost my smile.
He said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. For me, I like best that she started early and so only barely had to do hard. I never really wanted to see that. I did and I didn’t. But no, get in, I’ll show you stuff you haven’t seen. I bet anything you haven’t.”
I said, “Go away.”
He said, “You don’t know who she is? I mean she’s not one of the real famous, especially now. Still. I mean. You don’t know?
“I don’t know anything. I just work here. Now beat it.”
He gave me an I’m-Carl-Park’s-brother stare.
If I’d ever had a real brother, I wouldn’t of talked to him the way Carl had talked to this guy, but you could see how the guy would wear on you.
I slammed the top of the car with an open hand, and he lost the stare and started the car and gave it too much gas and spun the thin sod of weeds under his tires. I started back to get the Ford when his tires caught and he shot onto the road and toward town. So I took my time walking through the big adobe gates, the last thing Nelson helped build, Casa Grande gates for Bertrand, and then up the dirt drive in early dark to the cottage. On beyond at the lighted house, the kitchen door opened and closed with one of Mrs. Tafoya’s girls going in. She’d probably been sent down to tell me I ought to come up and have fun at the party, which meant the weird brother had done me a favor. In my little kitchen, Buddy had his paws up and was looking over the edge of the sink at the pan I’d cooked my cheeseburger in.
The only thing I guessed about Daisy – and it was easy keeping to that, what with all the other kinds of not guessing I’d had for practice – I guessed she was my age, and maybe we both looked older.
The night was warm enough that next morning the tar was still soft, even over the back rooms that were shaded by the last cottonwoods on the main irrigation ditch and on a spur ditch that once irrigated the old haying meadow off the back of the house. We did every year’s tarring from the front of the house toward the back, so these were the last rooms and the end of this years tar. The cover of the cottonwoods overhead was thick enough that when you looked up you could see only blue sparks of sky through the pale undersides of the leaves. Out from under the hang of branches, you saw some of the face of the mesa reaching away and the mother ditch running at its foot. There was a gray hint of the fallow Indian land that spread beyond the Spanish pastures to the first lift of the Indian mountain.
Lunchtime, I jumped from the firewall, and Daniél went down Nelson’s ladder. Nelson trained as a carpenter when they him sent away to Indian school, and he’d been a good carpenter, like his father had been a good carpenter he said, and it was a nice ladder. Often as I could, I jumped to a spot I hadn’t jumped before.
After lunch, in another couple hours, we were done, and Daniél stood up, did the hand to the small of his back, and said, “Workers go home early. Fourth of July.”
We lowered the last rolls and scraps of tar paper and wire and the buckets of tar and the tools. Daniél went down the ladder. I jumped off a spot next to lilacs near the corner of the house toward the mountains. And when we’d put everything away, Daniél got in his truck and got back out, saying, “I left the ladder up. Nelson haunts us if I leave that up after we’re done.”
I said I’d get it, and he said, “Okay, I am going home for America. Feliz cumpleaños. Hasta el lunes. No, Martes. Sí? Tuesday.”
“Tuesday,” I said, and he drove away down past the cottage.
Bertrand and Giant Bill had come up the driveway in the Ford a while ago. A suburban couple from Connecticut with daughters had arrived in the morning, but apparently Victoria was taking them to see to the Pueblo. Carl Park had another pal besides Edward arriving from somewhere, and more girls. He’d probably be meeting them in the bar on what was called the plaza where they could watch out the window at different Indians waiting around in blankets to refill their hangovers. Later on, the serious parties would begin – without me, if I had anything to do with it.
I went back and climbed the ladder a last time to get one more jump for the weekend. I never came down in front of windows, but the lilacs I’d just jumped beside actually wrapped around a window to a room nobody used. The room was an awkward little V shape, and though its window aimed at the mountains, the lilacs were thick enough to block the view and darken the room. I’d opened the room’s door a few times each winter when I took laps to check for leaks. There was just a low, built-in bench of a bed and shelves of sex magazines and CDs of probably the same. Who knew?
So I went and sat on the firewall above that room and its window and the thicket of lilacs. The firewall was warm despite the shade. From here I couldn’t see quite into the ditch as it went below the house, but out along the foot of the mesa I could see the narrow shine of water running as far as a pasture two properties out. In the summering green of our pasture, the colt stood by himself, pleased with himself. Tar stuck my arms to my ribs. There was a slight space in the lilac against the wall of the house. The bush was past its bloom. I pushed off and bumped down without much scratching and stood facing away from the house at the leaves and branches I was going to have to push through to get out.
I glanced back at the house, at the window of the little room.
Daisy and Bertrand were there in bright light.
Victoria had seen the Pueblo more times than anyone should have to see it unless they had to live there. She was only faintly interested in the barely teenage twin girls she was with. She was less interested in their parents. No, that wasn’t fair. She was inclined to like the wife. The husband, however, even if he was starting to make money out of the blue, was not much. Sometimes you needed one of those at your party, sometimes you got stuck with one.
Nonetheless, she could not have been happier to be out of her house.
First time in the new jail, bro.
The old jail was his second home since he was ten. He thought about that, and he missed being ten. You were ten, you got people both side of the bars happy. Mira the ladroncito, stealing cars and can’t see out. Unless it’s their car and turns up wrecked – that was when he started learning you got to borrow from anglos. He still got caught. Pues a small town, how many criminals there going to be? But in that old jail, by second visit he knew what’s for lunch every miercoles and the good dessert. Now his cousins told him if he ever came to his mother again, since she got tired and sick, they’d kill him. Bueno, made the old jail his only home. He laughed at that, laughed at his cousins, nobody going to kill Leo Segura. He was a full grown criminal now and his mother hadn’t opened the door since five years.
Pero in the new jail, it was different guards, all of them younger and didn’t know who Leo was. How did that happen? When he got important, believe it bro, mejor those guards les conozcan a Leo. Pero, he wasn’t never coming back here. Because he knew things now.
First thing he knew was that in their all shining new jail, half the time they close the cells, the locks don’t catch. Entonces, chingalo and vayate. He didn’t have no friends in this jail and he didn’t care about if the toilet smells better. Walk out of this pendejo jail and keep walking out this pendejo village. Claro, you didn’t want the guards catch you walking out. These new guards beat anglos and Spanish both.
Orale Leo, so don’t let them see you. Just get your culo out before somebody fix the locks.
The light was glare bright.
Bertrand was crouching in his English general’s khakis and boots with a camera. He also had the vest that the photographers wore over there. Not many of them got to come out on missions like photographers had back in Vietnam, so they said, but all of them wanted to and tried to. It was their work. Bertrand had never worked in his life. Pretending from the day he was born. His cane propped against the door; take that cane away, set the house afire, and see what happens to the limp. Last year we’d had a local kid cleaning up construction waste around the stables, and Bertrand told the kid about being an intelligence officer on the last helicopter out of Saigon, and how he’d given up his place for one of the women on the roof. Then he’d had to find his way out of the country on his own, walking mostly, got his limp in an encounter he’d rather not discuss. Actually, most of what he’d seen, his time over there, he couldn’t and didn’t want to talk about. War was a terrible thing. Intelligence like he did, you never got medals. Jesus what an asshole. The kid didn’t know exactly what Bertrand was talking about and was impressed just the same. I didn’t know my own birth date, but I knew Bertrand, that much younger than Daniél and Nelson, would have been a little boy forty-however-many years ago. Today, famous photographer. He had his sex mags, and a laptop, like Park’s brother, spread open at his feet, part of whatever, the shoot. He little-stepped here, little-stepped there, high crouch, low crouch, looking through the expensive camera – I didn’t know cameras but I could recognize expensive – looking over the camera and saying things only she could hear. If I’d had a weapon, I’d have gone in close and redundant.
Bright light, Tiny room.
Pretending to be shy, pink like a cartoon and bleached by the light, not real and so real my stomach closed up.
She stood with her back to Bertrand and had her hands in loose fists near her collarbone and looked at him over her shoulder. She kept moving, a bit, a bit, her face shy but also surprised and then angry then sorry then hoping. Her shoulders moving, her hands. Her legs, her knees in and out and her hips. She had on high heels. No other clothes. She should have seemed wrong, especially in the too-bright light, but she shone. She looked into Bertrand as he moved and crouched and said whatever, and she was so beautiful I could have forgiven somebody other than Bertrand.
She turned half to face him and put her hands behind her head like she was pushing back her hair, though her hair wasn’t long. In the light it was more blond. Her tits too round and too big and her nipples small. She didn’t have pubic hair, though she hid herself with how she kept her legs even while she worked her knees and changed her shape in the light. Under her arms she was too vulnerably pale, and the surprised face, the shy face, for Bertrand.
He held the camera down to his side, and she nodded and smiled. Not her big smile but a real enough smile. She got onto the bench bed that had an Indian rug over something more pad than mattress. She kneeled back on her heels and put her hands behind her head again and pushed out her chest like an old pin-up. But Bertrand didn’t want that, and she lay down on her back, still with hands behind her head, and now her back arched and now, as Bertrand crouched low and came around so the back of his photographers’ vest was to me, she spread her legs wide, and him with his camera get close for that. Daisy arched and spread, looking down herself to him, nothing shy, and in that glare of light and then her head to the side she gave all of her smile.
I turned away, turned around,
and faced Carl Park’s brother.
The two of us were nose to nose in the lilac. He had gotten in without my having a clue, and I couldn’t even care about that. He had one hand lifted with a magazine and whispered, “I told you it was her.”
The note pinned to the inside of my forehead was lit up, and I put both hands around his neck and lifted him and backed him out of the lilac, the brush so tight he had to have crawled in. No more than a second and I had him out, Indian mountain behind him. He wasn’t near blue yet. He watched me watching him. He was scared and looked like he was used to it, okay with it. I put him down and let go with one hand and kept the other hand on his throat. I said, “I don’t care who your brother is,” and then squeezed his throat until he got scared for real.
When I let go he started in the direction around the corners of the house toward the pool, and I said, “It’s going to be human beings out there. Go the back of the house and up over the mesa,” and he went that way, walking, rubbing his throat with the hand not holding his magazine. I said, “Run,” and ran at him myself, and he ran, and I followed him in his greasy jeans and expensive bomber jacket. When he was scrabbling on his knees up a seam of the mesa, grabbing at the chamisa to keep going, I let him go on alone.
I pulled down Nelson Robyal’s ladder. He had built it of two-by-four and one-by-two, and after years outside, it had become gray and soft to touch, but it was still solid. The last sun was still clear of the mesa top. I laid the ladder against the back wall of the junk rooms and said, “You made a good ladder, Nelson.”
Saying that to Nelson calmed me down, but as soon as I started for the cottage, I was out of breath again. Forgetting was the answer to that. And in comes Victoria driving the ranch station wagon with the little horse on the hood. She stopped beside me. In the front seat, she had the husband of the couple from Connecticut. The wife and their girls were in the back. Twins? Twins, and they stared at all my tar and one of them whispered, shyly it sounded, which was nicer than not, “Gag-me?”
Out the corner of my eye, I saw too big a shadow by the kitchen door. Giant Bill.
Victoria looked me up and down and smiled and said, “Were you working with tar, Terry?”
For Victoria I could make a smile like a human being, and I did, and she made her serious in-charge face, which she could do, and she said, “I want you to come to the party tonight. I need another man. Besides which, all the guests, except these lovely people with me, are too boring for words.”
I couldn’t really see the wife, but the husband looked boring enough for two, not always such a bad thing. Victoria’s expression told me, in this case, it was a bad thing, and she said out loud, “You come as you are.” She turned to her suburbans and said, “Wouldn’t that be diverting?” No reaction from them, and Victoria came back to me and said, “Except your tar would stick to people, and not everybody would be diverted. So all right, Terry, you can have tonight off. But only tonight. I definitely want you to come to the big party tomorrow night, and if you’re not careful, I may make you play croquet tomorrow afternoon.”
She made a happy smile like she was kidding, but we both knew she wasn’t, and Christ knew why but I didn’t mind. She drove on to the house, and I almost called to tell her not to go in.
And right behind her up the driveway from the gate came Carl Park in his open jeep with pretty Edward shotgun and a girl in Edward’s lap. She was almost as pretty as him but not pretty enough to hide how happy she was about getting his lap. Edward wore her as decoration. In the back were hangers-on hanging on. Park nodded to me like an okay guy with somewhere to go. He knew me, he nodded. Pretty Edward nodded to me past his decoration like he’s a regular guy and I’m a regular guy, men who do things, salt of the earth both of us, and he’d like us both to feel good about all that. That quick he’s lit me up inside my forehead, and I look him in the eye and take a step alongside the jeep to hold the look. This made twice in a quarter hour. Get a grip, Terry. I was the property guy and lived a different universe from anybody in the house except Mrs. Tafoya and her girls. Which made me the lucky one, and quick as I could, I made the right little nod back at pretty Edward, let him off the hook. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m on my way to see my pals the horses, and that’s all I want on my mind. Daisy. Nobody wanted to know about Bertrand and his little room.
I kept moving, past the cottage, heading for the horses. I was early and didn’t care. Not all that early. Buddy gets off the sofa, catches up, tells me I’m early, hurries ahead, launches. The colt takes the lead and comes to his stall like a baby. Voices drift down from the lawn by the pool. People already have alcohol. Where was Daisy? Not my business.
After the horses, I wondered could Buddy and I have a couple beers on the porch since Victoria gave me the night off? Or would she send one of Mrs. Tafoya’s girls to say they need somebody like me at the party after all?
I did the turpentine, grabbed a six pack of Coors from the refrigerator, and Buddy and I headed up the mesa. As I ducked under the barb wire behind the cottage, I saw the older girl starting down to the cottage from the main house. Nick-of-time, Buddy said, like he was the one would have had to do the party.
The mesa shadowed over the cottage, and I went up the deep draw and then its seams. Buddy saw a rabbit and disappeared left. I went to the right to take away the pitch in a small close canyon that had a floor of dry drainage and caked sand walls streaked in rust and clotted with grasses that had caught and dried down. No sky but straight up.
I heard a noise around a next seam. Buddy must have dislodged a slip of crust off a loose wall.
That hidden noise reminded me about Park’s jeep. It had been vets hanging on in the back, and one of them had spent time. Those ones, like me I supposed, when they were first out they looked like it was prison they’d just got free of. Park talked about the vets over at his place who’d been in “the Storm and the Stan,” which he said like a preacher shaking his rattlesnake, and if any of the Spanish wanted trouble, his men had automatic weapons that “they fucking know how to handle.” What was that? Crazy was what it was, and I’d seen plenty of crazy in desert and mountains both – some of it funny if it wasn’t inside your own head, the paranoid not so funny – but Park, who’d never been there, yeah, and underneath maybe dangerous.
I didn’t think bad or good or anything else about Daisy except I hoped she had clothes to put back on. Stupid thing to think, and if I’d really believed she didn’t, I’d of gone in there with clothes of my own for her. People did what they had to do, which it would never have occurred to me to say about Daisy. It was me I said it about, and it never justified a thing.
I was glad I’d brought a whole six pack.
Another noise, more than before, and I shouted, “You get him Buddy?” Walked around another corner where the walls spread wide, and instead of Buddy was a guy on horseback with a rifle across his saddle, and behind him four more, all Spanish, middle age fat guys, all with rifles out, no uniforms, focus down on me. Hunting rifles. Also three holstered pistols I could see. If it weren’t me who was where I was, I would of laughed. Big things, horses, when you’re close and down hill. Everybody in cowboy hats. Man but it ought to of been funny.
My knees were bent, and I unbent. Lifted my six-pack out to one side and my empty hand to the other. Nobody talking. Lead guy had his finger inside his guard. All of them did.
I said, “Friday night.” As if that made any sense. “I work down on the Storrs’ place here. I’m the foreman. Me and the dog are going to have a couple beers on top of the mesa while the sun goes down. Keeping out of the rich people’s party.” I figured talk was called for. Then the beer was getting heavy to hold out, and I said, “Can I lower the beer? Rather not drop it and lose half what I paid for in foam and maybe soak the dog.”
Lead guy said, “Where’s the dog,” and I said, “Rabbit,” and a couple the guys behind laughed and one said, “Not him,” looking like they’d had beer and wouldn’t mind more.
The lead said, “We’re Sheriff’s Posse. We’re civilians when we look for people who get lost, but the sheriff badges us when we look for criminals. A criminal is who we’re looking for now.” I didn’t see any badges and didn’t ask. “We’re not kidding out here. We got a man escaped from the jail. So I suggest you and your dog go home and have your beer there. Stay off the mesa tonight. We don’t know if this man’s armed, but we are, and you can be glad we’re professional, the way you surprised us. You listening, amigo? Go on along home.”
Which is why they invented, “Yes, sir,” and I said it like a nervous boy, which he wanted and which I didn’t feel far from. Five rifles and five fat men not all of them balanced terrific on their horses. “Yes, sir.” I said it again as I turned down, part of me remembering the face on the lead in case I was ever lucky enough to run into him when he was on his day job instead of his horse, and I put that thought away, didn’t need that thought and had no trouble losing it. Besides, I’d already seen Mrs. Tafoya’s older girl coming to get me. So Buddy and me would be clear on the porch sofa. I turned the corner and heard the hoofs and the creaking saddles and the voices laughing now. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard them before. Any more than I could believe Carl Park’s brother got behind me in the lilacs. I took those things as good. I’d thrown those skills in the garbage with the uniform.
Which was why I could walk away from Bertrand’s window, one more sorrow to look at and forget.
Buddy joined up cheerful. He told me he’d caught his rabbit and released it, which he said was how he liked to do when he didn’t want to spoil his dinner.
We got to the cottage, and I fed him. Three gulps. Then we’re on the sofa on the porch. It doesn’t take but a fat man on horseback with a finger inside a trigger guard to remind you why beer. I went to bed with the Indian mountain long dark.