When he hadn’t gotten a reply from Twist for a while, he made a serious effort to date Cassie but there were too many things that were against it. For one, there was the difference in their ages.
Jenny hated her and Junior just barely tolerated the woman despite how many times he took the girls with him on dates with her.
To compound things, Ennis lost interest in having sex with her or anyone for that matter and eventually stopped returning her calls.
In the end, Cass had visited the ranch so many times trying to see him, that she actually started dating his boss and best friend Carl Stoutamire.
Of course Ennis was so wrapped up in his own problems that he didn’t even find out about them until he had his usual breakfast at the bus station luncheonette one morning. She came in accompanied by Stoutamire on her way to visiting her parents up north in Idaho and spotted him there eating his eggs.
The encounter didn’t go well for either of them.
Del Mar felt the need to get away and talked Carl into letting him have some extra time off in November above what they'd already agreed on. Ennis was figuring he could patch things up with Jack and maybe even summon the courage to tell him he loved him.
He didn’t know about Jack's death until his postcard to Twist saying that November still looked like the first chance came back stamped "DECEASED" in red ink.
For a moment he stood dazed in the middle of the street. He looked at it again, rereading the word DECEASED rubber-stamped diagonally across his handwritten card.
Repeatedly he kept asking himself if there were another meaning for the word, not able to face what it was telling him.
He went to a payphone by the post office and dialed Twist’s number in Childress.
It was something he had done only once before when he tried to apologize to Jack again after the terrible misunderstanding over the divorce… If he'd only talked it out with him at the trailhead instead of just leaving… had found a way to get out of bailing hay in August so they could be together… if he had…
Twist had driven so many miles north only to be sent back home because he had the girls that weekend and couldn’t get out of it.
His legs barely supported him as he trembled, not wanting to face the loss, and he leaned against the glass of the phone booth to steady himself, then sadly looked at the card still in his hand again. The last words he'd scrawled on it were Pine Creek. Ennis closed his eyes as they started burning from the memory of those nights.
This would be all right; Jack would answer… had to answer.
But he didn’t.
It was Lureen and she asked, "Who? Who is this?" and when he told her again she said, "Jack used to mention you… Yer the fishin' buddy or the huntin' buddy; I know that. I would have let ya know," she explained, "but I wasn’t sure about yer name 'n address. Jack kept most of his friends’ addresses in his head. It was a terrible thing. He was only thirty-nine years old."
She went on in a level voice to repeat the garbled story that her grieving mother-in-law had told her.
"Jack was pumping up a flat on the truck out on a back road when the tire blew up. The bead was damaged somehow and the force of the explosion slammed the rim into his face, broke his nose and jaw and knocked him unconscious on his back. By the time someone come along he had drowned in his own blood."
She didn’t make it clear where it’d happened, and Ennis was too far gone emotionally to think to ask.
Years of conditioning in the ways of men took hold and not a tear fell from his eyes, though he wanted desperately to be able to feel that release. His chest tightened just the same.
Tire rims don't just explode off of cars; that much he knew. Jack must've let his secret slip to the wrong person.
They'd used the tire irons on him for sure' just like Earl and Rich.
If they knew about Jack, did they know about him?
"He's buried down there?" he asked and wanted to curse her for believing that lie, or possibly being the one to make it up; not knowing about cars herself.
The little Texas voice came slip sliding down the wire, "We put a stone up. He used to say he wanted to be cremated 'n have his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain. I didn’t know where that was. So he was cremated like he wanted 'n half his ashes was interred here 'n the rest I sent up with his folks.
I thought Brokeback Mountain was around where he grew up, but knowing Jack, it might be some pretend place where the bluebirds sing 'n there’s a whiskey spring."
"No ma’am. We herded sheep up on Brokeback the summer of ‘63," said Ennis. He could hardly speak as his chest got even tighter and his eyes burned.
"Well," she said, "it was his special favorite place. I thought he meant to get drunk. He drank a lot."
"His folks still up in Lightnin' Flat?"
"They’ll be there until they die. You get in touch with them. I suppose they’d appreciate it if his wishes was carried out… about his ashes 'n all."
No doubt about it, she was polite but the little voice was as cold as the snow-melted water from the mountains Jack loved.
"Well I thank ya fer yer time ma’am, 'n, and I sure am sorry."
The only reply was a click as she hung up.
Ennis hung up and slumped against the glass enclosed booth, unable to move, unable to feel and unable to grieve.
As he reached to push the glass door open, scalding tears finally fell down his cheeks. He’d cried like that only once before - the day he lost his girls in the divorce hearing.
It was only after his grief overcame him and then subsided, that he remembered that he'd threatened to kill Jack the last time he saw him if he came to know that Twist had been cheating on him with some hustler down in Mexico.
What if Jack had said something to someone about that?
Paranoia began to grow within his thoughts.
Lureen showed no signs of knowing it; what if Twist said something to his parents; after all Jack had headed straight there from their campsite.
The horror-filled childhood memory of seeing two dead bodies slammed into him along with the reason the local menfolk had killed them.
He headed for a pawnshop in a town a few miles away to buy a pistol. He needed one that couldn't be traced back to the ones he already owned. If they’d come for Jack, maybe he was next and he wasn’t about to become another Earl and Rich if he could help it...
...Miles and miles south, Lureen reached over to the end table, picked up a little address book, and looked up Old Man Twist’s phone number. Sighing resignment, she picked up the phone, paused and then changed her mind and replaced the receiver.
After lighting a cigarette, she picked up the remote and clicked on the TV...
He wasn't sure how he got there; only that he was home, though he vaguely remembered taking the phone off the hook as he came through his door.
Phone... He was numb and his mind was blank after he hung up that payphone.
He'd have torn up the postcard, but it was all he had left of Jack now.
He didn't know how he felt; he didn't know what to feel as he shed his clothes and headed into the bathroom to freshen up before going out again for dinner.
Jack wouldn't be dead if he hadn't rejected him the last time he was here after the divorce?
Why did he bring up Mexico?
Ennis rested his head against the ceramic tile beneath the hissing warm showerhead and tried to cry but nothing came as he lost track of time, thinking only of how much fun he had with Jack over the years.
He started breathing hard and fast and felt like he was going to faint from hyperventilation. His voice bounced off the tiny enclosure as he balled up his fists and screamed, “WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME ya sonofabitch?”
NO… no… If’n ya love someone, you’ll sure-as-shit lose ‘em. How many times is God gonna learn me that lesson?
The spray began turning cold as the water heater fought a losing battle. Had he really been in here that long?
He turned off the shower and toweled himself down.
He stared at himself in the mirror over the sink and became convinced that it was his fault. It was the fear that kept him silent. Ennis almost punched his own reflection and then thought better of it.
Change the subject, change the subject – think of something else.
Out in the middle of the bedroom he tried to figure out what he was hungry for for dinner, and decided he wasn't.
Standing there naked, he suddenly couldn't remember what Jack's face looked like.
Just as quickly he couldn't recall his lover's voice.
His throat tightened and clogged, his eyes began to burn and water, and he threw himself face-down on the unmade bed, clutched the pillow to his head and choked out only some of his grief.
It felt as if he'd never stop crying, nor could he stop blaming himself.
For his whole life he thought for sure that he knew what true loneliness really felt like...
...but he was wrong
...now he knew.
That evening he returned from eating a quick snack at the bus station diner and when he arrived home he went to the shed behind the house to tend to his horses.
Jack’s bay mare Trusty seemed to sense something wrong somehow and wouldn’t stop nuzzling Ennis until he broke down in tears again hugging her head and neck.
Knuckles on the barn’s doorframe startled him, and Carl asked, “You okay; ya missed work today Ennis.”
As his boss approached, Ennis didn’t bother hiding his tears and snorted his sinuses clear. He replied, “I found out this mornin’ that Jack Twist, my best friend in the whole world cashed in his chips down in Texas.”
Stoutamire nodded, “He’s the guy ya go huntin’ with from time to time.”
Del Mar looked down at the floor, suspecting that Carl knew more about Ennis and Jack than he let on. Gesturing to the big animal beside him he replied, “This here’s his horse Trusty. I… I don’t reckon I can… The long and short of it is I don’t reckon I can stand to have her around; it’s just too hard. You got someone that could use a good horse?”
Carl nodded, “My nephew Jackson’s been beggin’ me fer one… She’ll do fine.”
Ashamed of his weakness, Ennis stared at the floor and handed over the reins, whispering in pain, “Much obliged.”
Stoutamire took them from him, placed a comforting hand on del Mar’s shoulder and said, “Sorry ‘bout yer sidekick Bud.”
Ennis stood in the weakening dusk staring after his friend walking Jack’s horse through the tall wheat to the distant main house.
He was still there when darkness fell.
After a while he sat down on the ground in the barn's big doorway, sighing in frustration that the memory of what Jack’s voice sounded like still eluded him until from the darkness behind him Twist angrily yelled, “You count the damn few times we been together in twenty years. Measure the fuckin' short leash you keep me on, then ask me about Mexico and then tell me you’ll kill me fer needin' what we have together 'n not hardly never gettin' it. You got NO fuckin idea how bad it gets! God damn it all to Hell, Ennis!”
In tears Ennis said, “Sometimes I miss you so much I can hardly stand it too, Jack… …I …I’m sorry I never told ya that.”
A sound of movement made the cowboy look up.
Just barely visible toward the back of the gloomy barn stood a nineteen-year-old Jack Twist in pain, tears streaming down his face. Jack murmured sadly, "The hardest part Ennis, was that to you, it was always you 'n me... to me, it was always us... always."
Half astonished and half afraid, del Mar stood up and wiped his tear blurred eyes... looked again... and found himself alone...
Like most men, Ennis was never good at tracking dates and so forth... It didn't occur to him until just then that the reason Jack was so fixated on seeing him before August was so they could celebrate their 20th anniversary together, which would've fallen this year around his 40th birthday that June...
Water fell from the outer corner of his eyes, his voice raised a full octave and cracked, "Ohhhhhhhhhhh Jack."
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Important notice about this novel: This adaptation of the original short story was
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2012 and contains enhanced versions of all of the original's events written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana in red/black/green.
All text in blue written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner published here ©2005-2013.
Reproduction in any form or use of unique characters is
forbidden without permission of the author.