summer on Brokeback is covered in the previous Chapter #12
A Pair Of Jacks.
The enhanced and expanded Original Short Story/Movie begins
at the section below entitled "Gettin' There"
Reminder - Images can be clicked on to E-N-L-A-R-G-E them
The driver was trying to find his poor older brother’s grave in some hick town called Lakton Utah, but the closer he got to it, the more liquid courage he needed.
He was a first time drinker tonight and thought he was handling it "verrrrrry wuh well." (Burp)
The driver’s older brother Earl had been murdered hear tell, some... somewheres around here a long time ago; he knew that, but the horrific details had only reached his ears back in 1960…
…or was it was it ’61?
It had taken 49-year-old Otis Lamb two more years to figure out where the hell Sage Wyoming was and he was gunning for revenge on his elder brother’s murderer-er-ers as soon as he blessed his kin’s final resting place.
Now his only problem was getting there without killing himself in the process.
He’d already bashed into a big rock on the side of the road and knocked his passenger side front wheel out of aligna aline… outta whack, so steering was a bit tricky in his condition.
"Ahhhhh hell Shirley, it's just a den... a dended fen-fender, nah better not tell'er that... a dimpled hubbycap. EASily fixed by gosh - by golly - by gum!"
He got within fifty yards of the SAGE roadside arrow pointing left, when the damn-en-nam-en-ammed fool car ruh- ruh -runned out of gaso-gah; uh it runned out of fuel.
On the seat beside him in his speeding pickup were three 6-packs of beer in rattling glass bottles.
He’d drunk seven of the eighteen that he sort-of carried with him by the time he'd zigzagged the rest of the way up the constantly tilting and very rude road on foot, surprisingly without getting hit by someone (thanks to the hour) and he finally stood on the railroad tracks cussing loudly at the dark distant buildings on Sage Street.
Very gently putting down his precious cargo and placing his index finger to his lips, "Shhhhhh" to keep them quiet because they were clinking together… and might wake up Shirley.
He sadly started crying and spat out towards town, “Ya broke one of them there testaments…
...naw that ain’t right.
No… uh one of them Good Book things, uh, Oh! Commander - uh - command-a-ments… yeah that’s it. No that’s a word for mustard, ketchup and such; ain’t it?”
He hurled an empty bottle as hard as he could and yelled, “FUCK YOU; SAGE!!!”
It fell harmlessly hundreds of yards short of its destination into some weeds.
He jerked his head down behind himself and sternly warned his remaining beer bottles, "STOP interrupting!"
Figuring he had the sleeping town's attention now, he demanded, “KYLE DEL MAR; YOU GIT YER ASS OUT HERE NNNNNOW, Kel Dire Marhrer! You goddamned son of a whore-shot bitch. No wait, no that’s two of them um - uh c-com-MANder-mints!
I’ll have pickles, mustard and mayo on that please… an and don’t burn it.”
Having trouble counting them off on his illusive fingers, he said, “ONE - Thou shalt not ki-kilmurder, 'n… ‘n uh THREE - thou shalt not take our lord and master’s name in veal… uh no... uh in weathervane… I ordered pick-pickles with that didn’t I?”
Now he was pissed because he did - uh - didn’t get to hear his glass missile bray-brak… uh… didn’t get to hear it shatter, and considered stumbling over to where it landed to try throwing it again.
He changed his mind and was about to throw another when he remember-erred what he wanted. “SAGE; ya used poor l'il baby Jesus’ name in vain as an excuse to kill my brother… (sniff) my BIG brother that I love very velarmy uh much. Ya shouldn’t use Jeh-hees-sus-sus-sus’ name like that, ‘cause… a'cause he’ll sic the whole thing… the whole holy ghost on ya!”
"Now I feel sick."
He started losing his balance while muttering, “Too... too much gravity around here. Gravity yer a bitch,” giggled, and then righted himself to bellow, “Kale delmer Uhmare; git yer ass out here; I say! God told meeeeeee yer supposed to use his word-words ta LOVE people - NOT hate ‘em. Kaley Dormer; I’M a'WARNIN’ YA, ya fatherfucker - get OUT here’ er I’m a fixin’ ta… fixin' ta oh PUKE all over yer town ‘n… 'n be-buh-believe you me, that ain’t somethin’ ya wanna to have to clean up!”
He burped again and looked disgustedly down at his remaining bottles of beer. “My wife Shirley’s so hot she got my booze all warm!”
His attention was pulled off to his right by a bright light approaching far off from the west. The 45-car train was hauling coal to Nebraska, along with refrigerated farm produce from California for the eastern coastal markets, 100 baby carriages, assorted auto parts, and tractor motors, tires and plows.
He faced it in an unsteady fighting stance and muttered, “Cuh-come ‘n get me ya BASTard; I ain’t afeared a you-hoo!”
As the intense headlight got ever closer, he began punching at the dark air in front of himself threatening and cussing his head off.
The engineer didn’t see him until it was too late to apply his breaks, so he laid on his deafeningly loud horn instead, closed his eyes and then hoped for the best.
Fortunately Otis didn’t realize he was standing on the wrong track until the train was nearly on top of him and it passed dangerously close on the adjacent track to his right in loud rushes of wind and the metal rhythmic clacking of wheels.
It spun him around the other way and he grinned maniacally at its eventual retreat from him, triumphantly yelling, “TORO! TORO!" and sang like a little kid, "Missed me - missed me - now ya gotta kiss me... TORO!” at its eastbound caboose, motioning like a matador with his imaginary cape... is uh is that what that damned thing's called? “TORO! Ya rotten ssssssonovabitch; Ya better not come back er I-I’ll getcha next time, I will, you betcher ass I will.”
Noticing the front right tire had gone flat on his stricken and wounded El Camino, he muttered, “Fffffffffuck you,” to his distant car.
In a stupor he staggered over the rails sideways to the right and collided with a tall wooden trackside box, grabbing onto a big lever attached to it to keep from falling.
Otis really hadn’t thought this out all the way through. He was going to use the beer bottles to make Molotov cocktails and burn Sage down, but now he’d have to carry them alllllllllll the way back to the car and si-siphon the g-gas… and then walk alllllllllllllll the way back up here again to throw ‘em…
Ah DAMNENAM it, the car’s outta um outta gaso… ga… fuel!
“You muther ya mother, ya… youuuuu.”
He leaned over the now-horizontal big lever and threw up while something metal seemed to clunk into wood behind him.
He drank another bottle to rinse his mouth out and started cussing at an imaginary ghost, then hurled another empty towards Sage.
Shaking his fist at the dark businesses on Sage St. he warned himself in an amused tone, “If’n I don’t stop doin’ that, I ain’t gonna have nothin’ ta blow that fuckin’ one-hor-hor-horsey town up w-with.”
A long horn blaring off to his left signaled the approach of another freight train coming, this time from the east, bound for California.
This one was on his track and carried assorted cargo and mail, 128 brand-new 1963 Impalas, 50 Bel Airs, 35 Corvairs, two Corvettes, and 70 Biscaynes from the Chevrolet plant in Detroit, along with 6 tankers of propane and 2 of heating oil from Pennsylvania, and 4000 Goodyear tires from Akron Ohio.
"Ah-HA! Yer coming back for more are ya? Hahaha!"
Spotting its swiftly approaching light, he took off his coat, held it in front of himself and shouted, “TORO!” defiantly refusing to move.
Suddenly so mesmerized and scared that he was frozen in place, he began crying big tears as he sang, "Jeeeeeesus loves me, yuh-yes I know, 'cause the damn Bible tells me soooooo... How the hell does that song go anyways?"
He fell backwards on his ass to the wooden ties between the rails, reached over for a bottle and generously handed it up towards the approaching locomotive, “Here hhhhhave a beer, ya ol’ ssssonovabitch.”
That light was the last thing he’d ever see…
The sharp-eyed engineer was so fixated in fascinated horror on the man in his path that he only just then noticed that the signal tower lights had changed. Terrified, he knew it was too late to warn the little hamlet to his left but he bravely tried anyway knowing he was about to die.
For only seconds there came the desperately screeching metal-on-metal brakes and a desperate continuously blaring diesel horn that suddenly cut off. Then the horrific sound came of crashing tons-heavy railcars flipping and tumbling sideways like toys at Sage’s sharp elbow curve. It would be the last thing almost everyone in that innocent-but guilty town would ever hear.
Moments later came six deafening explosions in quick secession. Those who hadn’t been instantly flattened by the blasts in their own homes or burned to death, heard a loud rumbling of earth as the dirt and rock holding back Lake Sage liquefied. Sage Wyoming felt the ground shaking beneath their beds, and they witnessed the rush of thousands of acre-feet of water at their doors…
For Sage’s 2000+ residents the thunderously loud, continuous, roaring, earsplitting cacophony, crashing, deafening, and exploding crescendo suddenly stopped…
…and dead silence and eternal darkness replaced it.
In the blink of an eye the flash-burning town no longer needed the already-dead volunteer fire department; they and everyone downstream of little Twin Creek needed the coast guard.
Although it was a bit of overkill; good ol’ sweet-hearted and lovable Otis got his revenge alright after accidentally switching the freight train onto the siding from the much faster main line…
Out of the thousands of residents, only two in town survived long enough to hear another train approaching from the west loaded with fuel oil and propane...
...moments later Sage would be forever known as an empty ghost town, barely able to ever prove it had ever existed and nearly forgotten by history.
[This is where Annie Proulx's short story and Focus Feature's Film begins]
REGULAR text is based on the film and short story.
BLUE text is written by me.
RED text is dialogue or events from Annie's original that were not included in the movie.
GREEN text is based on/or reworked from a filmed but deleted scene... enjoy. ...Jet
When he thought back on it, 19-year-old Jack Twist would describe it as being given his first taste of whiskey. It was something he never knew about as a boy, but something he would later as a man not be able to live without.
Just days after turning 20, Ennis del Mar on the other hand would see it as walking out in front of a speeding pickup truck he hadn’t seen coming until it was too late to jump out of the way.
Both, though neither of them could find Vietnam on a world globe if their lives depended on it, were more than a little worried about being drafted into the escalating war, and had heard vague rumors of atomic bombs and an averted confrontation over missiles in Cuba.
Jack Twist was definitely not looking forward to working for foreman Joe Aguirre again. In fact, Twist was still dazed that he'd been invited to return considering the events of last summer and all.
By sheer fate, Twist and del Mar had come together on paper long before actually meeting. Twist had a summer’s worth of experience on the mountain as a herder and was relieved that Johnny-Jack Aguirre wasn’t returning this time.
Del Mar was assigned at random as his new camp tender for this year’s sheep operation north of Signal.
The summer grazing range lay above the tree line on campsite land in the National Forest encompassing Brokeback Mountain and its surrounding peaks and lakes.
The chore before Ennis was getting there.
Alma's bitch of a mother wouldn't even give him a ride from Riverton to Signal in her shiny new Ford and there was no bus service, so he figured he better leave around eleven the night before he was due there.
As a child Ennis had once ridden to Lakton Utah on his bicycle with his best friend Michael, and his legs ached for days afterward. After a couple of hours or so of walking along a two-lane highway in the dark with his thumb out hitchhiking, the memory of those sensations in his ankles and shins from that youthful trek came back to him.
A little after four in the morning, a brand new tractor-trailer hauling cattle picked him up on Route 135 intending to connect with Route 287 heading south, and he was greeted with a friendly smile from a man that Ennis estimated to be about thirty as he climbed up into the cab half asleep.
The driver considered the ride a fair price for company and conversation in an effort to stay awake on his lonely journey southwest from Idaho to Oklahoma.
Not knowing this, Ennis shrugged out of his coat in the dark warm interior and settled down to doze, hoping for a little sleep.
Except to tell the flap-jawed trucker where he was going, Ennis only answered the man’s friendly questions over loud country music in grunts and one-word answers while absently staring out the windshield after realizing that sleep was now out of the question.
He was left off soon after dawn at a dusty intersection just inside the city limits of Signal as the first pale blue light began to halo the distant mountaintops.
As the young horseman climbed down from the cab, grabbing his coat and paper sack, the radio announcer broke into the music, “We have reports coming in about the rail disaster early this morning involving an eastbound freight train crashing into the wreckage of a westbound train just this side of the Utah border in a little town called…”
As the door slammed closed, the rest was drowned out by the clattering diesel engine. Ennis groggily looked around trying to get his bearings.
The lonely gear-jammer probably would’ve taken him all the way into town but decided to dump the wayward ranch hand half a mile from his destination.
The truck pulled away loudly in a cloud of black smoke as the chill morning air hit Ennis.
[Filmed but deleted scene...]
Still half asleep, del Mar shrugged back into his new coat and trudged onward with his thumb out on foot as the sun slowly rose higher.
Up ahead on the right, he spotted a combination mom-and-pop Esso gas station/greasy spoon/convenience store just beyond a set of railroad tracks.
He reached it just as the place was coming to life for the morning, and noticed an old man with a cranky expression on his face, rolling an old tractor tire that was nearly as tall as he was out of the repair bay to lean it against another much smaller one.
Ennis walked up to him in the driveway and asked, "Uh, ’scuse me, huh. Mightin’ ya tell me where the Farm ‘n Ranch Employment Office is at?"
The old guy pointed a helpful finger in the direction Ennis was traveling and said with an unexpected smile, "At the stop sign on the other side of that field there, turn right. Then it's in that trailer house 'bout three blocks up north that ways. You’ll see it on the left tucked back of Ike Cullen's Hardware store."
Ennis nodded politely and tipped his hat.
He made it two steps away when the old mechanic warned him to take a good rifle and lots of ammo for coyotes if that bastard Aguirre sends him up on Brokeback, and Ennis answered him with a backward wave without turning around.
Del Mar set out for the street again when the smell of freshly brewed coffee reached him. After checking his watch and seeing that he still had time, he reversed course and walked over to the station's little diner, bought a cup of java and rested his legs.
He passed on it when the pretty waitress offered him the morning newspaper. Except to scan an occasional Playboy, Hamley's saddle catalogue or check the funnies, reading up on current events wasn't really one of his strong suits.
The pleasant and busy place kind of reminded him of Moe's Diner in Sage where he met Alma, and he reveled in good memories of home until the bad ones took their place.
He took a minute to enjoy the caffeine rush, grabbed a couple more packs of smokes to compliment the carton he had in his paper bag, paid the cashier, and then set off again on foot towards the address on his employment reply postcard...
…Meanwhile a few hours earlier and from another direction, Jack Twist had been pleading half the night with his old and battered GMC pickup to just give him one more half a mile and then another and another.
He didn’t want to be late and have to suffer the wrath of the foreman he’d worked for last year and considered an ungrateful jerk for saying nothing after saving his son's life and then firing him.
Maybe this year's surprising offer of a job through the mail was an apology for Aguirre’s being wrong on both counts.
Thankfully he’d had the presence of mind to head south from home at midnight, thinking he’d most likely have to hitchhike the rest of the way into Signal after the damned pickup broke down.
He was seething mad because his father in a last ditch effort to make him stay had threatened to take his wages to pay for a replacement farm hand if he left. Jack knew that was a lie because he’d called his uncle in Signal to ask if he would rescue him if he got stranded. Harold told him that he and his family wouldn't be home. They were on the way up north to Lightening Flat to help while Jack was away over the summer.
With that in mind, the drive consisted of mostly begging and praising his dashboard, singing cowboy songs to his broken radio, and debating on whether to kiss or kick the damned pickup’s ass when or if he arrived on time.
When he finally made it into Signal, the first light was coming up over the mountain.
With a cough and a backfire his truck died.
Shucking off his best clean shirt, he spent half an hour in the chilly morning air under it tightening old electrical tape around a leaky fuel line suspended from a bent clothes hanger.
Afterwards he put his favorite heavy denim shirt back on, dusted off his ass with a couple of slaps, and remarked philosophically, "Well, I guess gittin' there's half the fun..."
The parking lot was empty except for a couple of ancient broken down pickup trucks and tumbleweeds scurrying around with the windblown dust.
Just beneath its window, a wooden sign on the right front office trailer door held a friendly greeting:
-SOLICITORS WILL BE SHOT - AGAIN!-
Above the dirty glass pane, another sign read simply J. AGUIRRE.
He leaned his back against the trailer wall to the left of the wooden stairs that led up to the door while lowering his hat’s brim against the bright morning sun as it cleared the crest of Brokeback Mountain.
Ennis was tired and road-weary, and with a wide eye-watering yawn he tried hard not to dose off.
After being forced into manhood so early he often found himself in a tug-of-war between being considered an adult or a teenager because each had its advantages. His job application said he was 19 though he'd just celebrated his 20th and he figured if anyone asked he'd just let them guess. Many a time he'd lie to ranch bosses that he was 23.
He felt like he was still 17 until he got himself engaged.
He'd decided to put off being a "man" until his thoughts inevitably and reluctantly strayed to his fiancée Alma and the family he hoped to raise up.
"Time enough for that huh?" he muttered as he lit a cigarette and absently watched a train rumble by. Studying it while the long chain of cars loudly clattered south, he spared it a puzzled frown after the end went past an old broken down pickup truck in the field across the road.
...For some reason it was missing its caboose.
As he pondered how his life was a lot like that truck, rusting, useless and going nowhere, the sound of something backfiring in loud irregular bangs came from somewhere in the distance off to his right and seemed to be getting closer.
A moment later an old dark colored 1950 GMC pickup appeared rumbling by the hardware store and then entered the parking lot in a cloud of dust and oil smoke. Gears gnashed and the clutch protested as it came to an abrupt halt after first spitting gravel forward as if the driver had resorted to throwing it into reverse to get it stopped.
His new boss?
A young brunette shorthaired cowboy decked out in careworn fancy denim scrambled angrily out of it and high kicked the back wheel skirt, rattling it while cussing under his breath.
Jack was just pissed off enough to stomp right up to him and ask if he was another one of god-damned Aguirre's kin too, and almost did... but after five short measured steps forward, he thought better of it, then silently turned around and returned to his truck.
Ennis' eyes stayed glued to the ground at his feet, looking up only to quickly check him out after the young stranger briefly turned his back, then quickly looked right back down again.
After grinning recognition at the rusted multi-colored truck that was still there to the right of the trailer from last year, Jack settled his spine against his own pickup trying to size up the first to arrive. For a moment the stranger disappeared and Johnny-Jack's ghostly image appeared busily putting that stupid sign up on the door.
Ennis moved to light a cigarette again, and Jack was brought back to the "here and now."
They were like different sides of the same coin. Jack enjoyed the female attention he seemed to get from wearing his jeans and shirts tight to show off his athletic build. Ennis on the other hand wore his clothes loose because he was used to getting his older brother’s hand-me-downs.
One hated his truck; the other would’ve given anything to have one to get around in no matter what its ailments.
Ennis loved his daddy’s old truck as a young teenager and used to drive it back and forth to high school after his parents died. It had no heater, one windshield wiper and bad tires; when the transmission went there was no money to fix it, so he had to give up dreams of graduating… then he and his brother were driven out of Sage.
The truck, like both of their lives up to that point, had paint that was dull and uncared for, everything was rusted and not a single corner of it wasn’t dented or scratched. They’d soon find out that in many ways and for a lot of other reasons, they had a lot in common though they themselves didn’t know it… yet.
The rodeo cowboy realized that he was absent-mindedly staring.
Twist finally turned and got into his pickup to reach across to the glove compartment, then got back out holding a galvanized cup with water poured from his thermos, and a safety razor with an old blade in it. After closing the door, he adjusted the side mirror with his back to the stranger.
They were both brought up to avoid other men’s eyes so when their gazes met for brief seconds they’d quickly dart away. For the next five minutes they played an undeclared game of “eye tag.” Naturally they were curious about the stranger they were about to spend the whole summer alone with.
Twist appeared to be a year or so younger than del Mar. Ennis sized him up as a “show” cowboy who’d never rode or done a day’s decent work in his life, with his matching jeans and shirt, plus a kerchief tied loosely around his neck. He changed his mind at the sight of well-worn cowboy boots, shined to hide their age.
Averting his gaze as much as possible, Ennis became aware of the muscular thighs and hardened calves beneath the close-fitting Levis, and correctly guessed a rodeo cowboy after noticing the developed biceps too.
His dark hair was closely trimmed beneath a fairly new looking black cowboy hat as if he’d left the barbershop only an hour ago. His broad shoulders formed a well cut “V” down to a trim waist. As he turned sideways, Ennis noticed a pair of worn black leather work gloves sticking out of his back pocket. This kid worked hard with ropes and horses, and del Mar was glad to see he was here to do his fair share of chores.
At first the young ranch hand told himself that he was only sizing up a co-worker, but strangely Ennis was having a hard time keeping his gaze off the guy; the swaggering way his hips moved, the gleam in his eyes and his ready smile. To his dismay, he found himself fantasizing about running his hand up this young man's inner thigh, as if sizing up a muscular new stallion he wanted to buy. He could almost feel beneath his palm the flexing sinew writhing under that taut blue fabric as his fingers explored higher to... Shocked that the thought would even occur to him, he quickly distracted himself again by thinking of Alma, the girl he loved and planned to marry.
Turning his back to him, Jack took a different tack and used the mirror to check the lanky ranch hand out while shaving the same spot on his cheek repeatedly. As Twist’s razor dipped back into the tin cup of cold water, the quiet stranger behind him had moved and was now sitting on the edge of the steps to the left of the office door. From what he could tell under the loose, worn jeans and new-looking brown coat, the young man looked to be about his age, strong and solid with the stance of someone raised on a horse.
He nodded to himself because that was good. Least ways compared to his partner from last summer, who was a queer lazy-assed young kid with company connections, who had gotten sweet on him and almost got them both killed.
There was a look of shy confidence on Ennis’ face and now that Jack had his back to him, he noticed in the mirror that the cowpoke seemed to be openly staring at him too.
Jack always watched good-looking guys to see what their secrets were to attracting women and it dawned on him that the straw-haired stranger seemed for no good reason, to be dressing almost to hide the fact that he was exceptionally handsome. Something else about Ennis kept drawing Jack’s eyes back to his mirror but he couldn’t name it and kept shaving to distract himself.
Neither would really admit to themselves why they’d gone their whole young lives checking out other men. Both chocked it up to defensively sizing up a possible opponent in a rough fistfight and left it at that.
A 1960 gold and white Rambler sedan roared smoothly into the parking lot, startling Ennis into scrambling in panic off the steps at the last moment as it sped straight at him.
Dodging barely to the left of the steps at the last possible moment, the damned car looked like it was brand new; shined within an inch of its life to hide that it was really nearly four years old.
Considering the thirty or so yards the driver had after turning into the lot, this near miss could only have been intentional. The young ranch hand had a quick temper but held it not wanting to get off on the wrong foot with his new boss. The car’s front passenger-side bumper was now where del Mar’s knee had been only seconds earlier.
The look of smirky satisfaction and disdain on the foreman’s face didn’t help matters. Through the glare of the windshield, the man’s eyes held a sour expression. He grabbed his hat, a stainless-steel thermos, kicked the door to hold it open and then slammed it after putting on his hat. He’d pulled in too close to the trailer to walk around the front of his car so he detoured around the back ignoring both young men as he headed between them and up the stairs.
In the brief moment he had to size them up the foreman declared them about as useless as a pair of deuces in a high-stakes poker game and probably just as dependable.
Ennis carefully stubbed out his smoke and saved what was left in his pocket, then turned to follow directly behind his new boss up the steps.
The foreman slipped his key in the lock and entered.
Jack was prepared for the rude son-of-a-bitch to pull his shit on new hires but Ennis wasn’t so when the man abruptly pulled the door closed in del Mar’s face it startled the cowboy into abruptly retreating backwards down two steps. He then cautiously looked over at the other young man, lost as to what to do next.
Twist only barely kept himself from laughing out loud and instead snickered in explanation, then posed against his truck trying to project exaggerated unconcerned confidence.
Jack suddenly realized that since encountering the stranger, he'd somehow unconsciously begun using the tricks he employed to attract girls on this handsome guy and the man seemed to be responding!
Ennis frowned at him and their eyes met and locked. An electrical magnetism struck them and the world suddenly disappeared but for the sight of each other’s gaze. Neither young man understood what they were feeling and neither were left time to name or ponder it.
“If you pair of deuces are lookin’ fer work, I suggest ya get yer scrawny asses in here pronto!” the foreman’s brusque voice said from the suddenly opened door.
Foreman Joe Aguirre was a man with little use for, nor any respect for ranch hands. They were just tools of the trade, a dime-a-dozen, deserving little or no notice and only slightly better than the bastard sheep wranglers from Chile or somewhere in South America that he’d just hired.
He scooped off his hat and hung it on a nail on the front wall next to a pair of fancy-looking and expensive 10 x 42 binoculars as he moved around the left side of a big desk at the rear of the trailer. He looked bored as he landed in a squeaky swivel office chair.
He would eventually have forty-eight herds of sheep assigned up on separate sections of Brokeback this year. He’d sent out sixteen yesterday. This would be the first of eighteen more he’d have to give this same damned speech to today so he just wanted to get through it and get on to the next pair due in half an hour.
If he recognized Jack from last summer out of the hundred or so men he'd interviewed in the last couple weeks, he didn’t show it and probably didn’t care. The little wooden sign outside on the front door with his name on it was all the introducing he figured they deserved. ...that's when he realized he was alone?
Barely acknowledging each other’s presence, del Mar and Twist scurried inside while quickly removing their hats.
After pulling the door closed behind himself, Jack stood as he did last year, defiantly in the middle of the floor, feet confidently planted, thumbs in his front belt loops.
Ennis settled to the left, leaning his shoulder nervously against the wall next to a grimy window.
Jack wondered if he'd get the same smart ass routine from this man that he did last year.
Ennis took it all in for the first time.
Jack recognized the same old wooden desk still littered with scribbled-on scratch paper, full clipboards still hung on the back wall, a stained ashtray brimming with cigar stubs and a phone. Though a tiny bit grayer, Joe Aguirre still sported short receding hair and a mustache the color of cigarette ash.
He began reciting unfamiliar instructions with no preliminaries.
“Now up on Brokeback, the Forest Service’s got designated campsites on the allotments. Them camps can be three or four miles from where we pasture the woollies. Bad predator loss if there’s nobody looking after ‘em at night.”
“Now what I want... is," he paused to point at Ennis, "...the camp tender stays in the main camp where the Forest Service says, but the herder,” pointing at Jack with a chop of his hand, “he’s gonna pitch a pup tent on the Q.T. with the sheep 'n he’s gonna sleep there. You eat yer supper’n breakfast in camp, but ya sleep with the sheep a hundred percent. No fire, don’t leave no sign. Ya roll up that tent ever’ morning in case the Forest Service snoops around."
Jack frowned when he noticed a difference. Last year both partners worked together instead of separately. He cautiously remained silent. There was still not a single sign that the foreman recognized Twist, who as good as saved this man's son's life last summer.
Aguirre opened his mouth to continue when the phone rang interrupting his train of thought. Their pissed off boss answered, “Yeah?” cussed out whoever it was on the other end of the line and then slammed the phone down on its receiver. Frowning up at Jack again he continued, “You got yer dogs’n yer .30-.30s, ya sleep there. Last summer had goddamn near twenty-five-per-cent loss from a couple of tenderfoots. I don’t want that again.”
“You,” Joe continued, turning his attention back to Ennis, smirking as the young man jumped upright nervously. Aguirre took in his blond ragged hair, the big nicked hands, the baggy jeans torn and button-gaping shirt, “Fridays at noon be down at the bridge with yer grocery list 'n mules. Somebody with supplies’ll…” his eyes scanned back to Twist’s face for the first time and he frowned in puzzlement.
Turning his attention back to Ennis he continued, “…uh ...uh somebody'll be there at the pick-up.”
He didn’t ask or care for that matter if Ennis had a watch hidden under his left coat sleeve. He reached up and took a cheap dime-store wrist watch from a box on a high shelf, wound and set it and then tossed it at him as if del Mar wasn’t worth the reach. Ennis confidently caught one-handed with a precision that surprised the foreman. The ranch hand checked his own watch and reset Aguirre’s to it in a youthful act of defiance dumping the foreman's in his pants pocket.
The boss' eyes narrowed at him. “Tomorrow morning we’ll truck ya up to the jump-off.”
Their eyes met his, his met theirs only briefly, then he picked up the phone in silent dismissal, pausing to look pissed that they weren't already gone.
They shrugged, put their hats back on and swiftly walked out the door and down the steps. Lost as to what to do next, they paused in front of the Rambler. Ennis dug Aguirre’s watch back out of his jeans, turned away and started fiddling with it as if trying to avoid speaking.
The more friendly of the two, the young rodeo cowboy carefully lit a smoke then suddenly extended his hand to the ranch hand’s back and declared, “Jack Twist.”
“Ennis,” he mumbled in reply, turning to briefly shake the offered hand with a quick strong grip, then his eyes hid under the hat as he turned half away.
Jack’s friendly smile turned to an expression of laughing question. After last summer, this better not be another of Aguirre’s kin so he asked, “Yer folks just stopped at Ennis?”
Ennis met his gaze this time and replied flatly, “del Mar.”
Jack raised his eyebrows with another friendly smile and responded, “Nice ta know ya Ennis del Mar,”
Aguirre said they’d be trucked up to the jump-off in the morning, but had given them no idea of where they’d be staying over night. Lost for a plan until then, Twist decided to get a beer while he thought about it… then added, “Well, if we’re gonna be workin’ together, we might as well start drinkin’ together.”
To Ennis’ lack of response, Jack headed off past him out of the parking lot on foot muttering, “Come on.”
A pair of deuces usually beat a king, but in this case the duo were going nowhere fast...
...Something about one of those two bothered Aguirre. They were probably just locals he'd seen around but he didn't care enough to waste time thinking about it... still... Just then the phone rang...
Ennis on the other hand was glad they’d be separated. This rodeo cowboy seemed to be way too talkative and conversation was never one of del Mar’s strong suits.
The ranch hand trailed along behind him to a bar that Jack knew of and had stayed over night last year in after Johnny-Jack got hurt. It was just up the street and they drank beer through the afternoon.
Making conversation, Jack told Ennis that it was his second year on the mountain…
Silence… a nod and a grunt without eye contact. He played with the pretzel dish.
Jack shrugged and talked about a lightning storm on the high pasture the year before that wiped out forty-two sheep, the peculiar stink of them after they died and the way they bloated, “Thought I’d asphyxiate from the smell. ‘Ageery’ got all over my ass like I was supposed to control the weather.”
He told Ennis of the need for plenty of whiskey to alleviate the boredom, then told the overly quiet stranger that it wasn’t all bad up there though and that it sure’s hell was better than working for his old man. There was no pleasing his old man…
Twist said he’d taken up bullriding in order to avoid living at home with his loveless parents. He was proud to be connected with the rodeo circuit and fastened his belt with a minor bullriding buckle. Jack was crazy to be somewhere, anywhere else other than Lightning Flat up north.
Nothing but a nod… still no eye contact or response.
Twist was starting to get frustrated with what little he was getting and was beginning to conclude his new companion had taken an instant dislike to him. As Jack had already deduced on closer inspection, Ennis was scruffy but had a sturdy build that balanced a developed torso on long bowed legs and possessed a muscular and supple body made for the horse and for bar fighting.
Feeling like he was getting nowhere with this guy, Jack tried to draw him out again as they sat alone at the bar. He decided to try asking him a direct question, "You ever rodeo?”
Ennis shook his head silently, “You know uh, I mean once in a while… when I got the entry fee in my pocket.”
Jack smiled knowingly and nodded. Determined to learn something, anything about the man he was about to spend the next few months alone with, Jack thought a moment and then asked, “Are ya from ranch people?”
Ennis only shrugged without looking up. As he fondled the neck of his beer bottle he replied softly, “Yeah, I was.”
Twist suddenly could feel del Mar’s loneliness as if it were a thing in the room with them. “Yer folks run you off?”
Ennis shook his head, “They run themselves off. There was uh… one curve in forty-three miles of Dead Horse Road 'n they missed it one night,” gesturing his hand straight ahead and then down as if it were a car jumping a cliff. “Killed ‘em both.” He thoughtfully took another drink and then added, “So uh, the bank took the ranch 'n my brother ‘n sister - they raised me mostly.”
Well no wonder! Jack blinked and replied softly, “Shit,” drinking the last of his beer. “That’s hard.”
As they began warming to each other, the two young men seemed to be physically drawn as if by magnets and shifted ever closer until they were nearly shoulder-to-shoulder.
Jack rattled on about the pretty girls on the Rodeo Circuit he’d seen after Ennis told him sparse details of his fiancée Alma Beers, making her sound like a pickup truck he was thinking of buying instead of someone he was looking forward to spending the rest of his life with.
Jack leaned over him for a pretzel and their shoulders touched.
A shudder ran through Ennis’ body like the first time he’d touched Alma’s breast and he quickly inched away.
Jack began rocking forward and back to the music on the jukebox and without knowing why, Ennis ever-so-slightly moved his thigh a little sideways until the rodeo cowboy’s calf rubbed against his in passing to and fro.
Without breaking the intimate contact, Ennis pulled out the stub of his cigarette, nodded at Jack’s lighter in his hand and asked, “Can I?”
Jack’s eyebrows went up and he handed it to him. Their hands touched and Ennis drew in a breath, quickly lit up and handed it back muttering “Thanks,” withdrawing his leg.
Both began considering where they were going to spend the night until someone came to truck them up to the drop off point tomorrow morning. A middle-aged man with a South American accent suddenly entered the bar and called out their names impatiently. He told them there was a change in plans and drove them out to where the sheep were being staged to leave in a few hours instead of tomorrow.
A crew of men and earthmovers were building up the ground near the tracks that ran through the trailhead. Ennis recognized it as a railroad siding in progress.
Neither of them had slept last night, and groaned that they probably wouldn't get any until late that evening.
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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.