He had trouble dealing with the cocky attitudes of the typical rodeo cowboy anyways and decided that the circuit just wasn’t the life for him.
Years ago his daddy used to tell his sons stories of his time as a calf roper and said that you had to have really fucked up if you needed to resort to the rodeo for a living.
In 1961 with little local prospects for a future, he wandered south again and settled on a ranch between Kemmering and Diamondville 45 miles east of his hometown of Sage.
The first thing he did was to try to reach Mike Salisbury's parents in Lakton, but apparently they'd moved away a while back and no forwarding address or phone number was listed.
He resigned himself to start his life over yet again, and the friendly foreman took him under his wing teaching him everything he knew about the horse and livestock business. The ranch hands taught him the right way to win card games and just as important, how to drink whisky but still keep your wits about you.
He cut his hair, learned to groom himself well and bought new clothes to step around town in. His new look earned him compliments and confidence in himself.
A couple of times he rode along in the supply van with his boss into Sage. Except for some fresh paint here and there on the single main drag, and the addition of a third set of railroad tracks right beside the first, it all looked the same. After a while he realized no one rode horses in town anymore.
Ennis never let on to his new friends that he was from here and always stayed in the truck while his foreman shopped for supplies. As people ignored him in the cab of the big truck, he watched without recognizing a single face that passed on the sidewalks.
When he was called to help carry bundles out, del Mar kept his face hidden beneath his hat and never made eye contact with anyone... try as he might though, he couldn't help discretely looking around.
He gazed uphill and south to where Sage St. dead-ended at Camel's Back Rd. Two blocks shy of that was the left turn onto Dead Horse Rd. that once led to his boyhood home. Hidden behind the buildings on the left was the old rodeo stadium, and looming above it was the earthen dam that held back Lake Sage.
Within a few month's work, he was actually making enough in wages to begin saving a little at a time for a pickup to drive around in instead of riding St. Michael everywhere, or hitching rides. To that end he learned enough to pass a driving test and earned his Wyoming driver's license. Occasionally the ranch foreman let him use one of their trucks to get around in on his own, as long as he ran errands for him too.
Twice he drove by his old homestead, now a vast parking lot. After the 2nd time, he punched the metal dashboard to keep from crying and fractured his middle finger on impact.
...He should've known his new hopeful life wouldn't last; nothing good for him ever did... The job stretched out for almost a year and a half until the owner went belly up financially in June of 1962.
[Right about now, Jack Twist was arriving at Joe Aguirre's trailer in Signal northeast of here to spend his first summer on Brokeback Mountain.]
Six long months passed without work. He lived off his savings in a fleabag rooming house in Kemmering getting more and more homesick for Sage... so close - but so far away.
Eventually with no employment prospects to be found there and with nothing better to do, he found himself facing a very lonely, depressing and cold Christmas Eve. He packed up what little he had and snuck quietly back into his hometown. He gambled that he wouldn't be recognized as the young boy who was driven along with his brother out of Sage with his tail between his legs a little over five years ago.
He moved into a cheap room over Moe's diner part way up the hill on the west side of Sage St. next to the Chevy dealership. He made an effort to stay unnoticed. At first it worked, but he started getting careless, hanging out in taverns in town, playing cards and drinking, which drew attention to himself... and his name. It never occurred to him to lie about that.
What pay Ennis had scrounged for a truck was now dwindling fast and he soon realized that attitudes hadn't changed despite the years. Even though he was discreetly applying for jobs everywhere he could think of, no one would hire him despite growing into a handsome clean-cut, clean shaven, young and very attractive man with his daddy's good looks.
Eventually high school acquaintances recognized him. Ennis' worst mistake was an application that came from the downtown sales lot and passed across Alvy Corbett's desk at the GM distribution hub out on Dead Horse Road.
Corbett immediately got on the phone to call others. He was not only one of the vigilantes, but his dealership had pressured the bank into foreclosing on the del Mars so he could pick up their land across the road from his new office/storage lot for a song.
An assistant bank manager got a healthy financial kickback from Corbett for the deal and was fired soon afterwards. Just one more man with a grudge against Ennis.
The bank's owner had given a hotel chain the first option on the del Mar Ranch. They wanted the peninsula for a resort on the lake, but thanks to the dirty deal, Alvy had signed the land title for it before they knew what happened... which cut the owner out of a more lucrative reward - their savings-checking-payroll account.
One young woman asked Ennis if he could remember the last time he smiled and he couldn't. Sage's girls had begun taking notice of him and he became less careful and shy, developing a talent for bar brawling and winning at poker to pay the rent.
On New Year’s Eve he met an old man who'd actually participated in the mob lynching of Earl and Rich ten years ago.
He'd driven the truck back in 1952 that dragged Earl, and then later hauled the two lovers and their captors to their deaths in that irrigation gully outside of town.
As the night wore on the true, unembellished and ugly details of what really happened to them came out with the help of a bottle of cheap whiskey. Del Mar tried through the night to dredge up outrage, anger, an urge to kill this man or at least beat him up, but he could feel nothing but the final knowledge of what really happened.
They'd forced his father to go with them and used him as a decoy, but for some reason his dad didn't escape them when he had the chance.
Ennis was left in turmoil not knowing whether his father was as innocent as he'd believed; especially when a detail about one of the men repeatedly dowsing Rich with lighter fluid came out. That can hitting his and K.E.'s bedroom door would stick in his mind for years to come.
Apparently as 1962 became 1963 that night, the old man never mentioned the threat against the del Mar family that kept his father controlled and then silent. At the time young Ennis was so scared and crying in fear at that door, that he didn't remember hearing his father speak of it either.
The next night Moe's wife gently knocked on his door to tell him that Saint Michael had died from the cold and old age.
Ennis felt nothing, and felt nothing about feeling nothing when he should've... even when he went down the next morning to say goodbye only to find his faithful steed's carcass gone.
Sage’s kindly new doctor headed them off, saying he’d ease the young man, who was guilty of no crime, out of town honest and fair.
Through a local patient Dr. Heath Skully'd learned the truth about what had happened to Earl and Rich, and how the town unfairly blamed Ennis' late father. He felt sorry for the former hometown boy because he had two sons about del Mar's age in college back east and another at home in high school, and wouldn’t want his own to suffer what the locals had planned for the itinerant ranch hand.
He talked them into leaving it up to him in his own time.
Behind the scenes, the doctor was the one who'd anonymously paid to have Ennis' horse taken away to be stored until he could be buried on his farm in the spring.
A week later on the morning of January 8th 1963, Ennis bundled himself up in a couple of sweatshirts under his blue plaid jacket and finally took a short trip on foot across town and down Dead Horse Road to see the old place where he'd grown up, and also to check on his application at Corbett's, unaware.
After half an hour of trudging through snow, his heart sank as he topped Sutter's hill and found a vast snow-covered car-clogged parking lot in the distance where their ranch once was. He flexed his fist as his right hand remembered the pain when it hit that dashboard.
Facing towards town, a big billboard advertising Corbett's Chevrolet/Pontiac/Buick now took advantage of the lake view-effectively ruining it. It replaced what was once a beautiful line of trees that had grown along the outer edge of Kyle del Mar's land at the water.
One of the absent ones was remembered fondly as the willow tree he'd climbed in his boyhood. Ennis had made an attempt to see past the horizon, but then was afraid to climb back down from his high perch for an hour. Michael had coaxed him down.
The only thing recognizable was Earl’s old repainted water tower on the opposite side of the road surrounded by metal buildings where his barely remembered grandpa Bower's homestead once stood. For a moment his heart ached for Earl and Rich ...and Michael.
Beyond his absent boyhood home and off to the northeast was shallow Twin Creek Cove, now frozen over, its trees barren of leaves. He'd haphazardly learned to ice-skate there in his youth after reading "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates."
He'd journeyed here hoping to feel something in his heart or his soul, but even this disappointing vista failed to garner much of a reaction. He closed his eyes instead and remembered the warm love from his father and mother.
He figured if the car lot wanted to hire him, they'd contact him at the diner. With no other reason to go any further, he reversed direction now facing the bitter wind.
On his way back, a big '55 white and bronze deluxe Pontiac convertible approached from behind and stopped beside him causing a sweet memory of driving Earl's '53 convertible to wash over him.
The passenger front window hummed down and a male educated Midwest accent asked, "You're Ennis; aren't you?" The old and unfamiliar driver had a pleasant smile as del Mar climbed in and thanked him for stopping while his window hummed back up before he realized there was no window handle to crank.
The gray-haired stranger offered him a warm ride to his place over Moe’s Diner where his sister used to work.
A conversation started up about how Ennis was disappointed that he couldn't even pay for a job in his beloved hometown and how he'd reluctantly have to leave soon because of it.
The friendly old practitioner mentioned that he’d seen some notices up on the wall at the post office about good paying jobs opening up herding sheep up north in central Wyoming, but he didn't know of anything locally.
Ennis asked the kind gentleman to drop him off there instead.
After turning left where Dead Horse Rd. ended in town, they headed south uphill and he pulled over to a snow-packed curb on the right where Sage St. dead-ended into Camel's Back Rd. and then put the car in Park, leaving it idling.
Just as Ennis reached for the door handle the man asked, "Aren't you cold in that light jacket?"
Del Mar shrugged and replied, "I'm wearin' three shirts under it. I'm okay."
He moved to exit the car again and the man grabbed his elbow to stop him, then reached for a supply store box about three feet by two feet and six inches deep in the foot well behind his seat.
"I was on my way to return this today," he said matter-of-factly pushing the box onto Ennis's lap. "I got it as a Christmas present for my son, but I guessed two sizes too big."
To Ennis' reluctant expression the man looked pointedly at a small silver and turquoise crucifix on a chain hanging from the rear-view mirror. "It would surely do my old Christian heart good if you'd accept this from me; call it a late holiday present from Jesus; who cares for all men great and small."
"I... it's mighty kind but... I don't rightly..."
"Maybe God's mighty hand guided me to you today to help one of his flock in need Ennis... Please?"
Ennis nodded in surrender to a man he now suspected was a new preacher in town, and moved to open the box. An old hand came down on top of it and requested, "Wait 'til you get it home; okay?"
Ennis thanked him for the gift, the warm ride and the tip on possible employment, shook the stranger's hand and got out of the big Pontiac admiring the huge rear bumper with a chromed spare tire tilted forward against the middle of the trunk lid.
It was only after Dr. Heath L. Skully drove away that Ennis realized he'd never thought to ask the man his name. Then he wondered how the stranger knew not only his name but also knew where he lived too... and that his sister worked there so many years ago!
Once inside the Post Office's warm lobby, his worry over the mysterious stranger eased while reading the reprinted and enlarged newspaper ad posted on the wall from a company called Farm and Ranch Employment Services. On a shelf beneath it were little printed postcards pre-addressed to Signal, Wyoming.
After filling out the brief application, he went over to the clerk’s cage, bought a two-cent stamp and mailed it.
The cheerful lady attendant recognized his name and told him to step over to the vacant window to his right. She disappeared in back and returned with a stack of envelopes for him.
After warming a cup of day-old coffee on an ancient hot plate, he settled down in a worn and lumpy chair to try to relax.
Amongst the collected old bills, advertisements and undelivered mail that had collected in the dead-letter office was a two-year-old correspondence from Mike's mother Amy marked URGENT.
Amy told of discovering a note and a diary from her only child who apparently no longer lived with them.
When they’d come in 1957 to help his father harvest his crops, Sam and Michael went over to downtown Sage for supplies and while there were told at the gas station and then later at the grocery store that Kyle del Mar was the one that led the gang that’d tortured and then murdered Earl and her brother Richard.
When they came back from the supply run, Sam told Amy and he was so angry and she so sad, that they together made up the story about her sister being ill in order to get out of there before Sam lost his temper or Michael said something to Ennis.
After the Salisburys returned home, they talked it out and decided there was no way Kyle could've done it and that they'd overreacted. Which is why they came back to help with the harvest in the first place.
The Salisburys didn’t find out until too late that Mike became so fixated on revenge that he developed an idea to sabotage Kyle’s car so he’d be hurt or killed in his cherished blue Chevrolet to pay for his deeds since the locals didn’t seem interested in justice.
He’d removed the lock washers from the steering column and tie rod of the ’55 Chevy, but Ennis almost caught him in the act while supposedly lubing the front chassis so he had to turn it into a series of teaching lessons about cars so no one would suspect.
With Ennis regularly loosening the bolts and with the lock washers gone, a crash was inevitable.
Mike had discovered a vague local newspaper article about the fatal del Mar wreck, but no mention was made of who specifically was in the car and so he began urgently writing several letters to Ennis but got no replies. She went on to write that in his diary, young Michael told of how he’d suffered terribly after admitting to himself that he was a god forsaken queer like his uncles and feared for his life from the same fate Earl and Rich suffered… or of being struck down by Jesus in heaven.
Michael confessed in his journal that he had fallen deeply in love with Ennis back when they were fourteen but couldn't find the courage to tell him so.
For the next four years he worked out with weights and stayed slim as a rail. He also began hanging out at a corner in town in front of a Bear Lake tourist bar that was said to be frequented by homosexuals. Michael was hoping to meet a special someone that would make him feel the way he felt when he was around Ennis but everyone paled in comparison.
Someone must've spotted him there because word spread all over high school his senior year.
Despite his being a tough athlete on the swim team and varsity wrestling, classmates must’ve picked up on his being “different.” Some of the jocks ganged up to made his life a living hell, driving him into a deep dark brooding depression.
Her son became convinced he’d not only killed Kyle, but also the whole family. He spoke often of wanting to go to Sage just to look for his boyhood crush, but couldn't bear to think Ennis might be dead at his hand.
After pleading for someone-anyone to answer her letter so she’d know if they were alright, she relayed the sad news that Mike had just committed suicide at the age of 18.
Ennis frowned and looked at the envelope again; the letter had been postmarked from Lakton Utah a couple of years ago in 1961.
Tragically, Ennis had gradually grown cold and emotionless over those previous few years from too much pain, heartbreak and hardship.
With the realization that he might’ve played a part in his parent’s deaths, he buried his feelings deep inside of himself and burned the letter that implicated him in an ashtray without answering it, closing forever that chapter of his life.
He’d also had a boyhood crush on Michael though he never admitted it to himself or even realized it until just recently. In the awful blink of an eye he hid the memory of those forbidden feelings where hopefully he’d never find them again.
It was the stoic way of all men of the West and the way he was brought up.
Remembering the mysterious box, he reached over and pulled the lid off and his mouth gaped open in wonder at what he found. Beneath large sheets of tissue paper was a very nice, warm and probably expensive brown winter coat with a darker brown sheep's wool collar. Balled up in one pocket was a dark brown scarf and the other contained a brand new pair of insulated gentlemen's leather gloves.
The bottom of the box held two pairs of heavy wool socks. Ennis nodded to himself that this gift was no accident and wondered if he'd ever find the man again to thank him for it.
His car again reminded Ennis of Earl's red Pontiac and for a moment he fantasized his murdered friend's ghost doing him a kindness.
After eating a cheap dinner downstairs wearing his new coat, he returned up to his room to sift through the remaining old mail and discovered a bill from a mail order catalog addressed to K.E. and realized it’d been over three years since he’d heard anything from his own brother… not that either of them were that easy to find under the circumstances.
He moved to toss it in the wastebasket and encountered a brand new blank envelope next in the pile. It contained a crisp twenty-dollar bill and a hand scrawled note in neutral handwriting that said, "Tell no one where you got this traveling money."
Obviously the stranger had intentionally steered him to the post office using the excuse of the job opportunity to get him there and it was probably he that arranged for the clerk to "by chance" recognize his name and slip him the money.
...Nah, he'd have put it in one of the coat pockets, rather than risk it possibly being kept by the woman behind the mail cage.
Then again, maybe she on her own had heard around town of his problems, felt sorry for him, and wanted to help on a whim by slipping him some spare cash if she ever met him on the street, acting now only when he just happened in to check his mail?
...$20 was a lot of money in those tough days to just pass off to a complete stranger.
He spent the rest of the night worrying whether it was worded as a kindness... or a veiled threat to leave town.
He'd never given anyone the impression that he was going to quit Sage - in fact just the opposite. Either way someone or more than just one, however gently or subtly, was now trying to push del Mar in that direction...
Soon after, he began dating her casually and two weeks later he finally lost his virginity with her.
As with anyone’s first fuck he was convinced he was in love.
He soon moved her in with him and after an awkward courtship and a drunken party to celebrate their one-month anniversary, he proposed to her the day he got a successful reply from his application to herd sheep for three months somewhere up north.
She refused until he could come up with enough money to marry her properly in a church wedding that her mother would approve of, which meant putting it off until he came back from wherever he would be sent to work.
People became increasingly unfriendly towards them, apparently because Ennis hadn’t moved out of town yet.
Complaints constantly came in to his landlord about them living in sin, nonexistent noises, bad smells, and loud music coming from Ennis’ apartment. Diner customers stopped tipping Alma altogether and complained about her slow service, wrong orders, and “attitude.”
Moe soon tired of it coming from all directions and evicted him... and fired her.
Two days later the couple took the train north to Riverton where he moved into a cheap apartment alone over Betsy’s Tavern on East Monroe Ave.
Alma started becoming controlling and thought it only proper for her to live with her mother until they were married. She knew she had her hooks into him good by refusing sex until he got a job that'd support her properly in case the shepherd thing fell through.
Hungry for a job - any job, Ennis began checking newspaper want ads looking for something temporary until June but found nothing.
When the weather warmed, to impress her he tried his hand again in the local rodeo as a bronco rider this time, but couldn’t stay astride one for more than three seconds and gave up soon afterward. To add to his income he started playing poker downstairs and befriended an American Indian named Gene, who was also in the rodeo with him. They became no more than drinking buddies.
He had better luck at target and skeet shooting contests but couldn’t afford a proper rifle for it, having sold his father’s years ago for food. Except what he could scrounge downstairs, he had no spare cash for entrance fees and gave up rifle trick shots for a living.
He took pleasure listening to a cheap little transistor radio Alma'd bought him. His youth was filled with music from that console radio Rich had purchased for his family and the songs brought back fond memories... until one day he returned home to find his room broken into. It'd been stolen along with what spare cash he kept there. Fortunately he'd learned long ago to carry most of his money with him rather than leave it unguarded.
He wound up with barely enough to pay the rent until October when he expected to come back from the herder’s job in Signal. In the meantime Alma would watch over his place from time to time.
Another postcard was forwarded to him through Sage with the time, date, instructions to bring warm clothing for the mountains, and the location he was expected at. He sent a final acceptance notice to Mr. Joe Aguirre at Farm and Ranch Employment Services.
His plan was that he most likely would get hitched to Alma in November or December and he’d need money to start a family… like normal people do.
Alma was his first woman both sexually and emotionally. He struggled with himself when trying to call it love for want of a better word. He certainly didn't feel towards her the way has dad felt for his mother.
Getting married like K.E. had done wasn’t something he was especially enthusiastic about but he’d been taught all his life that that’s what all good men were expected to do.
You married, you raised a brood of kids, you retired and you moved on to the next life in heaven...
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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.