In thirty-five some years it’d become a ghost town with very few buildings left occupied or even standing after the postal service hub that it depended on closed back in the early 1950s.
Ennis discovered that the reason he couldn’t find it before was because zigzagged Ridge Road turned into D road, which turned into Rocky Point Rd up on the Montana line. He’d been looking for an address on Rocky Point Ridge Road.
The rusted old mailbox read John C. Twist and beneath it an unreadable number on D Rd.
Though the spread was over a thousand acres, the ranch itself was a meager little place, leafy spurge taking over. The stock was too far distant for him to see their condition, only that they were black baldies.
He turned to the right onto the narrow bumpy dirt lane and began following a straight picket line of ancient utility poles to his right holding three drooping wires heading east.
After a minute or so of travel in the mud and gravel, he brought his truck to a stop to avoid hitting a jackrabbit where the driveway gently curved to the left around a couple of cherry trees directly ahead
His eyes followed the scampering animal to the right into browning wheat and down a small path within.
Leaving the motor idle, he got out to look at it.
It looked like something had burned the tall grass about twenty feet to the right of the big fruit trees. It was a narrow strip maybe only five feet wide, but about ten yards long. It couldn’t have happened too long ago because it was still scorched though little weeds had taken root in its perimeter.
His first thought was that someone poured gasoline on it to burn out an underground hornet’s nest, but it didn’t look right.
A lightning strike?
No, as far away from the house as it was, the whole field would’ve burned before someone could come along and put it out... that and the two fruit trees next to the lane weren’t scorched and being taller than the ground, they would’ve been struck first.
Around him crows cawed and horses whinnied.
He stepped into the darkened area and suddenly something like fear gripped him that he couldn’t really name. A darkened path through the field led to an old rusted gate in a barbed wire cow fence leading to railroad tracks beyond.
It suddenly felt like he’d been hit in the face with something and he turned quickly to find no one there.
Jack had inhabited a "jack" rabbit to get him to stop and see this?
Ennis smirked at himself and huffed out a laugh. "Now I’m goin’ loco," he said out loud to himself. He shook his head and added, "And I’m talkin’ to myself too."
A raven circled overhead squawking at him. He gazed up at it and asked with a grin, "Nevermore, is that you?"
He scanned his surroundings again, feeling puzzled as if he’d felt something strange but still couldn’t put his finger it.
He returned mystified to his old Ford pickup and got back behind the wheel muttering, "Plum crazy," to himself.
Sitting there, he pondered that burned rectangle again and what might’ve caused it.
That scene he felt in the phone booth flashed before his eyes again of men chasing Jack into the field, beating him as he tried to get away, then later dragging him back to his truck.
Later they’d burn only that part of their valuable crop to destroy the bloodstains.
It was the tire iron, it had to be and Jack’s father probably did it, later having his own son cremated to hide the evidence.
An angry rumble began in his ears.
He leaned over to push a chromed button in the dash and the blue metal glove box door popped down revealing a loaded revolver that he’d bought last week.
He purchased it in case he needed something for self-preservation. He’d never in his life before thought of murdering someone, but to avenge Jack’s death he now seriously considered it… but he had to know for sure.
He’d called ahead, so they knew he was coming out here but not when, so he doubted an ambush was waiting but he was ready for it.
A hundred yards on, the lane elbow-curved to the left and headed north.
At the end of the drive, he came up on an old farmhouse just ahead and a couple of outbuildings to the left.
The years of rain and wind had nearly scoured the white peeling and cracked paint off the old wood, except up near the eaves. A roofless platform porch stretched across the side of the dreary place, a broom leaning next to the door.
He hadn’t made it out of his truck, when an older thin woman in a blue sweater over a plain housedress opened the kitchen door and gestured a welcome to him.
They wouldn’t do it in front of a woman.
The gun stayed where it was.
Moments later, Ennis sat at the old and worn kitchen table with Jack’s father opposite him. The ear-ringing silence between them was like a pressure in the air.
Ennis fought his emotions at being so close to a man capable of murdering his own son, probably with no more regret than it'd take to kill a favorite horse that’d gone lame or a treasured huntin' dog that'd picked up rabies.
Martha Twist avoided his eyes. She was stout and careful in her movements as though recovering from an operation.
Ennis wondered if her worried look was because she suspected he was here to kill her husband for murdering Jack. She hadn’t actually seen the killing, only the aftermath and that her husband had somehow participated without lifting a finger to save his own son.
John had said nothing about what Newsome had told him about Jack’s molestation trial. It was a lie, but old man Twist never bothered to check the facts for himself.
Martha stumped Ennis into confusion by asking unexpectedly, "Want some coffee, don’t ya? Piece a cherry cake?"
In shock Ennis replied sadly, "Thank ya, Ma’am, I’ll take a cup a coffee but I cain’t eat no cake just now."
The old man sat silent, his hands folded before him, staring at Ennis with an angry, knowing expression.
Ennis couldn’t see much of Jack in either one of them and took a breath.
Feeling tears well up behind his eyes, Ennis said softly, "I feel awful bad 'bout Jack. Cain’t begin to say how bad I feel. I knew him a long time. I come by ta tell ya that if'n ya want me ta take his ashes up there on Brokeback like his wife says he wanted, I’d be proud to."
Jack’s mother came out from the kitchen and placed a cup in front of him and he muttered and nodded his thanks to her.
The smothering silence continued to fill the room like smoke.
Twist seemed to be eyeing a sideboard where maybe a gun was hidden.
Fighting down fear of the pure hatred in Jack’s father’s eyes, Ennis cleared his throat.
Mrs. Twist had gone back to the kitchen unnoticed and returned with another separate second cup of coffee for her husband instead of bringing them both together. Ennis frowned at that but was too preoccupied to think anything of it.
Again his mind flashed back to threatening to kill Jack if he found out Twist had cheated on him in Mexico and wondered if he’d mentioned it to his parents.
The old man spit into a cup he already had at the table. Picking up the one his wife had just brought him, his eyes narrowed at it as he took a sip of his coffee and said from a clenched jaw, "Tell you what, I know where Brokeback Mountain is. He thought he was too goddamn special to be buried in the family plot."
He gave the new cup another distracted frown. His wife had been using a cheaper brand lately.
Mrs. Twist showed tender concern for her guest, despite her husband, and regardless of the presence of the man who may have perverted her boy sitting in her very kitchen.
She may have believed in the Pentecost, but she knew too that her Jack had loved this man.
Since witnessing her son’s death at a distance, secretly her husband had become her enemy and the enemy of your enemy is your friend. For a moment she was lost as to what she’d do if this man killed her husband as much to avenge Jack as to calm her grief.
She had a key she needed to give this man, but how to get him alone away from her husband was turning out to be a daunting predicament.
Ennis seemed transfixed by the righteous disgust in Twist’s eyes, wishing now he’d brought that pistol in with him.
Jack's father was a man who fearlessly said what was on his mind without holding back, yet no mention was made of del Mar's threat to kill his boy. Still, meeting the man's eyes was like trying to stare down a rattler about to strike.
Looking across the room from where she stood near the kitchen sink, Martha recognized the hatred in her husband’s eyes. Jack’s mother ignored this and almost to defy him, she moved to tenderly lay a comforting hand on Ennis’ shoulder.
Without looking at her husband, she said gently, "He used a come home every year, even after he was married 'n help his daddy on the ranch fer a week or two, fix the gates 'n mow 'n all. I kept his room like it was when he was a boy 'n I think he appreciated that. You are welcome to go up ta his room if ya want."
Ennis was almost dizzy in lost thoughts. Grabbing comfort where he could, he looked up at Martha and nodded, "Thank ya ma’am, I’d like that."
The old man’s eyes flickered toward his wife with pure resentment and then returned to glare at Ennis, eyeing him with a lethal mixture of bitterness and hatred.
Twist spoke, "Jack used ta say, ‘Ennis del Mar,’ …he used ta say, ‘I’m gonna bring him up here one a these days 'n we’ll lick this damn ranch into shape.’ He had some half-baked idea the two a you was goin' a move up here, build a cabin 'n help me run this ranch 'n bring it up.
Then this spring he’s got another one’s goin' a come up here with him and build a place 'n help run the ranch, some ranch neighbor of his from down in Texas name of Randall. They were both goin' a split up with their wives 'n come back here. So he says. But like most a Jack’s half-baked ideas, it never come ta pass."
Ennis’ heart froze and his throat tightened: Jack had found someone else. He became filled with despair because he knew he was the one who drove away the man that only now he could admit to himself that he’d loved, and this was his punishment.
Avoiding his eyes, Ennis glanced at her, then up the stairs, then back at her for permission.
Ennis scanned the room. Getting his bearings, he was facing the back of the house. The hallway that led to the stairs and emptied into the parlor was to his left in the far corner.
On the excuse of escorting him, Martha saw her chance to retrieve the safety deposit key from her jewelry box in the rear bedroom and give it to Ennis upstairs away from John’s eyes.
She met her guest’s eyes, who was still patiently waiting her permission.
She sadly nodded and he stood, walking across the creaking floor, forcing himself not to look back, again hoping he hadn’t made a bad decision leaving the gun in the truck. Wondering again if he could summon the guts to kill the man he was now convinced killed Jack... his own son… his only son.
Entering the narrow passage, the stairs were to his immediate right. Martha moved to follow him up, but John suddenly clutched her forearm in passing, spinning her around to face him in the process. He mumbled something to her in a warning tone as Ennis’ hand found the banister leading upward and continued on without looking back.
Ennis caught his breath in recognition as he entered the tiny room and saw something on the writing table.
He picked up and fondled a little wooden horse and cowboy that he’d whittled so many years ago while waiting out a rainstorm on the mountain. Jack had lovingly stained the wood to match the bay mare he rode back then, and kept it as a souvenir on an ink-stained desk.
He sat wearily on a boy sized wooden bench by a steam radiator next to the window, which looked down on the gravel and dirt lane stretching south and it occurred to him that for Jack’s growing-up years that was the only road he knew. His eyes slowly followed it to where it elbow turned west, detoured around the trees and then emptied onto D Road.
Just off the driveway near the house was an old broken down Chevy pickup that was about fifteen years older than Jack’s but had the same paint scheme as his new Silverado… The son trying up upstage his father probably.
It was too stuffy in there so he loudly slid the window up using an old wooden paint stir to prop it open. Outside was only the sound of livestock and chickens. No other cars were in sight so he relaxed a little.
An ancient magazine photograph of some dark-haired movie star was taped to the wall beside the bed, the skin tone gone magenta.
Next to it was an old faded blue ribbon from some fair or another thumb tacked to the wall. Ennis squinted at it and was baffled that it was for first prize in a pie-baking contest.
He could hear Jack’s mother downstairs running water, filling the coffee kettle and setting it back on the stove, asking the old man a muffled question. They seemed to be arguing about her offering Ennis cake and something about the coffee.
The closet was opposite of him and he got up to distract himself to look inside. He found two pairs of jeans crease-ironed and folded neatly over wire hangers and on the floor a pair of worn packer boots he thought he remembered.
Amongst the shirts hanging neatly there, was the brand new jacket that Jack had worn the last time Ennis had seen him on the mountain. It was true, he’d been here but never left, otherwise the coat would have gone with him. A roar filled his ears, as he knew now that it was true… they’d killed him.
Jack really was dead.
Ennis’ throat tightened again against a sob that was fighting to escape.
He knelt to look at the boots again and noticed a tiny recess in the apple green back wall of the closet.
Just barely in sight was a denim long-sleeve shirt with a dark reddish-brown stain on the cuff, stiff from hanging there for so long. He couldn't breath and a roaring began in his head. With burning eyes and a quivering chin, he stood to lift it off the nail as his jaw tightened painfully and his eyes blurred. Suddenly his throat was so dry he couldn’t swallow.
It was Jack’s old denim shirt from their Brokeback days. Ennis’ breath began to shudder as he knew that the dried blood on the sleeve was his own; a gushing nosebleed on the last afternoon on the mountain with Jack.
In their horseplay, grappling and wrestling, he’d slammed Ennis’ nose hard with his knee.
Jack had tried to stop the blood with his sleeve, which was everywhere, all over both of them, but Ennis had hit him with a roundhouse right, laying him out in the wild columbine and mountain clover.
The shirt seemed oddly heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down within Jack’s sleeves.
Ennis moaned a tear-filled "Ohhhhhh Jack." It was his own white plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago up on that mountain, his dirty shirt, nose blood still all over it where he’d wiped it, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one.
As tears fell from his eyes and his nose clogged, he pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage, or salty sweet stink of Jack, but there was no real scent, only the remembrance of it and the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.
He tried to recollect and then imagine Jack’s loving body within it and choked on the memory, clutching it tightly to his chest as he finally sobbed out his sorrow and grief.
After a minute or so of release, he wiped his acid tears on the soft denim, and swore not to leave this house without it.
Martha had been standing at the sink quietly coring apples and at the sound of Ennis descending the stairs she came to wait next to the kitchen door and noticed the bundle he was so carefully holding.
To his relief, Jack’s mother seemed to read his mind, nodded silently and went to the kitchen to fetch an empty paper grocery bag.
He was reluctant to let it leave his hands as she gently took it from him with a reassuring smile.
Her gaze fell on the blood stained white plaid shirt and she realized Jack’s denim shirt was hidden within it. Something else was in there - Jack’s toy horse and rider?
Martha couldn’t know Ennis would be here today or she’d have hidden the damned key and bank letter in her sweater. Under the suspicious and watchful eye of her husband there was no time now to get it from her bedroom dresser in order to hide it in the bag with these treasures amongst what she’d already added herself.
As she desperately tried to think of a way to get Ennis back here away from John, her eyes showed brief pain, then they swiftly flickered towards her husband, satisfied he wasn’t watching and then they locked again on Ennis.
A bond in Jack's blood was silently exchanged between them with a promise of a secret kept.
She silently handed the bag to him after carefully folding everything inside of it.
Jack’s damned father refused to let his ashes go. "Tell you what… we got a family plot 'n he’s goin' in it."
Jack’s mother stood beside del Mar, caressed his shoulder gently and said, "You come again," as she opened the door. She was facing away from her husband and seemed to have a pleading look in her eyes. There was an urgency in her expression as if there was something she needed to tell him that wasn't for her husband's ears.
Unfortunately the hate-filled glare that the elder Twist was still giving Ennis, distracted his attention so he meekly nodded to them both, silently thanked her for the precious package he held and made it to the truck before he was overcome with sorrow again, beating the steering wheel with balled up fists.
He was convinced she was incapable of killing her son; or at least she hadn’t participated in it. That meant John had done it, but he was too old and frail to have accomplished it himself, so he had to have had help.
For a brief flash of anger, Ennis considering going back in with the gun and demanding to know the truth… then thought better of it.
Bumping down the washboard hills and elbow corners of D Road heading south, Ennis passed the country cemetery fenced with sagging sheep wire, a tiny enclosed square on the welling prairie, a few graves with tilted head stones bright with plastic flowers and didn’t want to know Jack was going in there…
Something beside him beeped twice and he gave a distracted frown towards where it apparently came from. He reached for the paper sack with the shirts and the toy horse, and just then he heard it again... one of the gas pumps. Coming out of his pondering, he turned the key and drove home.
A few weeks later, on a Saturday, he threw all his dirty horse blankets into the back of his pickup and took them down to the Quik Stop Car Wash to turn the high-pressure spray on them.
When the wet clean blankets were stowed in the truck bed he stepped into Higgins’ gift shop and busied himself with the postcard rack.
"Ennis, what arya lookin’ fer rootin’ through them postcards?" asked Linda Higgins, throwing a sopping brown coffee filter into the garbage can.
"Scene a Brokeback Mountain."
"I didn’t order none a them. Let me get the order list. They got it I can get you a hunderd. I gotta order some more cards anyways."
"One’s enough," said Ennis.
On his way home, he stopped in at Signal Hardware, bought some fencing for an improvised dog pen and noticed that Joe Aguirre's work trailer next door in the lot to the right was gone.
He walked over to the spot where he'd first met Jack and tried to feel his long-lost spirit...
Nothing was left here for him to hold on to.
Tall weeds had taken over where stacks of cinder blocks once supported the house trailer. They seemed to indicate the office had been gone a long time.
After remaining there in deep remembrance for a few more minutes, Ennis sadly walked back to his truck, recalling that exit he'd made from this very lot so many years ago after they'd been banished from the mountain.
A tear fell as he drove past a space next to a utility shed a few doors down as an icy cold breeze invaded his memory... and a sore fist.
The near desperate look in Martha’s eyes continued to bother him… but he couldn’t figure out why...
...Three weeks after Ennis’ visit to Jack’s parents, Twist began coming to him in his dreams. It was always the handsome Jack, the lithe muscular Jack and the young happy Jack. Sometimes the dreams were of them making love on the mountain. Other times they were often of cans of beans resting on the log next to a camp fire and suddenly the spoons would turn into tire irons flying through the air at them.
Then there was the dream that seemed to taunt him where he was lost in the forest calling out Jack’s name. He’d wake up not knowing if it was Jack that was lost or him.
Other times it was the dream where he’d be walking down a country dirt road and Jack would be hung from a deer fence dead, and further down he’d find himself beaten to death in a drainage ditch. He’d always wake up from them in a cold sweat; sometimes his sheets would be soaked. More often than not his pillow would be wet with tears too.
After three nights in a row Ennis couldn’t stand it any more and set out for Lightning Flat to dig up and steal Jack’s ashes from that plot and take them back to the mountain where they belonged.
Only then would he have peace.
He’d been going over the whole visit to Jack’s parents in his mind and the pleading look on Martha’s face and the tone in her voice when she asked him to come back haunted his thoughts again.
He decided to try to see her first.
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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.