As the Christmas season approached, their peace and normalcy were shattered when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, then World War II came and he was drafted into the army. As a regional celebrity, he was assigned to sell war bonds, but he insisted on going overseas instead to do his patriotic duty.
John Twist served as a corporal in Europe and enthusiastically sought out every kind of dangerous suicide, reconnaissance and intelligence mission he could find. In only eight months he collected an incredible number of bravery metals, but was forced home when a serious back injury ended his service.
He’d failed at forcing God to make him pay for the unforgivable sins that others convinced him that he would be punished for.
Instead he reluctantly returned even more of a celebrated hero than he already was and forty pounds lighter, with spinal ailments that eventually took years to heal. He kept his shaved head from the military, forsaking the wavy brown hair that made him so attractive to his pretty wife.
He lost his warm smile too.
The Pentagon wanted him to return to their original plan of using his good name and fame to sell war bonds on tour but within a month of his return home his parents both died of complications from measles. They'd both refused treatment saying God would cure them. Martha found a draft of a new will that had been drawn up but not taken to a lawyer yet, leaving the ranch to their church...
...she burned it.
The spread was handed down to him but because of his ailments he could barely keep it running, even with Harold’s steadfast help.
The Twists immediately offered Martha’s brother the ground floor rear bedroom, but he liked the privacy of his trailer down by the horse barn.
Martha's parents sold their house in town and moved back to Montana with rumors that a government austerity plan might close the postal hub he worked at.
Sadly Peter, Jim and Mary haunted his dreams and waking thoughts. He was tortured by the memory of that preacher blaming God's holy judgment for all of his current misfortune because of the man-on-man sex for money he’d had, and the adulterous nights he’d spent with other women as well.
No one, not even long-time friends, ever called him "Johnny" again; including Martha. Through the coming years he’d sometimes go off by himself for a couple of days on a hunting or fishing trip, but he always came home empty handed. Actually he’d secretly travel south to put flowers on Pete Hutchison’s grave.
As he became more cold and indifferent with his wife, she returned the attitude back, which is why he was surprised that months later with 1943 coming to a close, she was suddenly urgent about having sex with him every night.
Their marriage finally produced a child in 1944. Though the baby was a little more than a month premature, he weighed in at almost 7 pounds and fully formed, which surprised the doctor.
John suspected that Martha’d lied about the length of the pregnancy, but he never voiced his suspicions that his wife had had an affair a month before he resumed marital relations with her.
His unvoiced doubt became so bitter that he refused to allow the baby to be named after him and they christened him Jack Edward Twist instead using a sometime nick-name for people named John and the middle name reluctantly came from John’s father.
They could barely afford to support themselves and Harold, much less a baby.
The loss of his fame, popularity and muscular good looks made Twist eventually lose interest in his wife and infant son, and he became more indifferent. He stayed with the family only because it was his Christian husbandly duty. Through the years that followed, Martha wanted more kids, but John was silently angry at the world and his unforgiving god, and eventually she gave up.
Jack spent his boyhood being treated more like an unpaid and unloved ranch hand than a son. He was repeating his father’s childhood as if it were his locked-in destiny.
As the boy grew, behind his back, John referred to him more and more to his mother as "the bastard" instead of his given name, widening the gap between mother, father and son.
The house was large enough that Martha was seriously considering taking the separate bedroom downstairs that they’d offered Harold in the back on the ground floor, but each time she almost did, she changed her mind - for she really did love John.
Through her latter twenties and early thirties she had several very careful affairs of a sexual nature, but never fell in love with anyone but John. If it weren't for the adoring love that Jack gave his mother, she might have left the ranch altogether.
John was suffering… suffering bad. He’d suspected all through his childhood that he was “different” but dared never think it, much less tell anyone until his confession to Harold.
He’d never felt as happy as he was with Pete, and to some extent Big Jim. Though they never came right out and said it, the Bossmans accepted him for who he was, even though he himself couldn’t put a finger on it.
Now that they’d been ripped away from him, he was doomed to spend the rest of his life living a lie with a woman and now a son who deserved so much more love than he could ever give them…
At the age of ten he got into an old trunk in the attic and found some of his mother's clothes from when she was young. Inspiration hit him and he began saving up his Christmas money and allowance to buy her a Mother’s Day gift.
The next spring he led her down their long narrow driveway to show her that he’d planted two tall cherry tree saplings on opposite sides of the lane midway between the elbow turn and the road.
She burst into tears and showered him with love and gratitude from then on and she took great joy when a few years later they began flowering every spring.
They gradually developed into large trees and began to branch out. By Jack's 16th birthday in 1960, it was clear that he'd planted them too close to the edge of the drive, which eventually forced his father to detour around them into the field if anything wider than a tractor tried to pass between.
John threatened to chop them down, but Martha would hear nothing of it so eventually from the road the long straight lane curved to the left before and then back to the right after to rejoin the original driveway.
Martha won a first prize at the county fair with a cherry pie she’d made from their fruit and gave the blue ribbon to Jack for his birthday.
He proudly tacked it up on his bedroom wall.
The years unfairly flashed by for Jack, the boy sailing headlong quickly towards manhood. He would remember his youth as the same dull thankless routine day in-and day out, year in-year out either going to school, or riding horses tending 40 head of cattle, dozens of chickens, planting and then harvesting crops, and doing endless chores with almost no help from his father. As long as he worked hard he got little criticism from his parents nor praise either.
John had begun secretly traveling to towns where he wasn’t known, hoping some preacher or psychiatrist could “cure” him of his “affliction,” but always came home disappointed and usually with a lot less in his wallet. He’d explain away those solitary trips to his family as long-term treatment for his war wounds.
Martha became locally famous for being able to bake amazing things with the cherries from her son's trees and for a time had a side business selling cakes and pies for the area markets under the brand name "Aunt Martha’s" until people started moving away from Lightning Flat due to the predicted postal hub closure and then her business failed.
Having finally won his mom’s affection, Jack turned to his dad, remembering the rodeo trophies that he’d also discovered in that old trunk. He took up trying to learn bullriding, dreaming of becoming a big rodeo star like his father was, but John did nothing to encourage his enthusiastic son because with his boy out competing; no one was tending the animals and fields; or at least that’s what he told everyone.
Jack was ignored every time he asked his father for advice, and whenever he managed to get entered in a local event somewhere his father refused to travel there to cheer him on… which made Jack only more determined to surpass his old man in the event. Without knowing the real reason why John avoided the rodeo, the distance between father and son grew even more.
In 1961 when he was 17, some guys connected to the area rodeo show he hoped to get involved with gave him a ride down south to Texas and back with them. After his first taste of whiskey he got lucky with a young girl in the barrel-riding event on the last night they were there and actually got as far as "second base" with her. To impress her he went all out and won a silver buckle in the junior bullriding event he'd entered with her watching from the stands and cheering him on.
Her name was Laura or Lana or something like that and she reminded him of his mother with her cherry red trimmed riding outfit, boots and hat.
She starred in all of his jack-off fantasies after that for years to come.
He started his senior year in high school in 1961, and the handsome athletic teenager kept his dark hair short and trimmed neat, always wore denim, and favored a "bad guy’s" black cowboy hat. He wore the silver rodeo belt buckle like a crown of glory that he’d barely managed to win.
Like his father before him, he’d developed a lean muscular build and wore close-fitting clothes to show it off. He wasn’t exactly conceited, just careful to look his best, hoping that the right girl would come along and think him a good catch or the right guys would come along and accept him into their group and he’d acquire their popularity as his own.
He spent many hours memorizing funny stories and one-line jokes and tried never to be without his smile.
In the ensuing months after graduation in 1962, Jack started his real education and traveled with the rodeo circuit. He learned even better techniques of how to ride, and he improved the use his body to attract girls and took advantage of how many wanted just to run their hands over his muscled chest and firm ass.
He quickly learned which way to comb his hair, how far to unbutton his shirt or whether to wear one at all, how far up to hitch his jeans to show off his butt or his crotch, how to pose while standing and what smile to use.
It was as if he were an expert fisherman learning which bait was best and most effective.
He studied men too. When he’d spot a pretty girl staring at a hunk, Jack would study him to figure out what about the stud caught her attention and try to develop that in himself.
Sex came easy to the brawny young rodeo cowboy with pretty young "buckle bunnies" following him nearly everywhere he went, but love was completely absent, as it was in every aspect of his young life. Women were just a way to "get his rocks off" that left him emotionally lonely afterward. He had no doubts that one day he’d find the right girl when he could finally figure out what was missing from the ones he’d seen so far.
The rodeo might have landed him a lot of sex, but it didn’t earn him much money.
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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.