The Births, Lives, Times, Secrets and Deaths of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist

Brokeback Mountain The Complete Novel 1943-2006 XVIII

Chapter 18 ~ The Stairway From Heaven

Fuck Aguirre!
Late in the evening of the twelfth of August they were getting ready to ride over to the herd together when an intense lightning and hail storm hit without warning.

Jack had to forcefully hold Ennis back from rushing out to the sheep.

Within moments they were cowering under the camp tent being pelted with golf ball sized ice stones and feeling thunder strikes seemingly only yards from them, mindful that the steel tent supports would act as lightning rods.

Later when it was over, they rode up in the dark to find not a single sign of a thousand sheep or where they’d gone.

Ennis wanted to go look some more but Jack finally convinced him that it was useless until first light, so they bedded down together, both barely sleeping after Jack told him about Aguirre’s visit and the binoculars.

Their relationship changed after that.

Jack gave of himself because that was what he came to enjoy not because he was the more passive.

Ennis was still struggling with the sexual side of their relationship and eased off till he only fucked but never allowed himself to be entered, nor did he ever blow Jack again.

Ennis craved Jack stronger in an emotional way, but Jack was more attached physically. As long as they stayed on the mountain they fit together perfectly.

The only thing that saved Jack from deep resentment at the lopsidedness of it was the craving that Ennis always held in his eyes for him. Nothing else was really needed but the unexpressed and obvious want that they both felt deep in their souls.

After an hour of tracking the next morning, they finally found the herd… sort of. The sheep had taken off west and gotten mixed in amongst a herd on another allotment.

As Ennis and Jack sat astride their horses looking down at over two thousand or more sheep, del Mar confessed he was lost. "Well, what are we supposed to do now, huh?"

"Git on in there 'n untangle them Chilean sheep outta ours I guess."

What followed was a damn miserable time over five days involving Ennis and a Chilean herder with no English, trying to sort them out, the task almost impossible as the paint brands were worn and faint after so long.

With Jack’s continued bitching about not being able to tell them apart, Ennis turned to see him dragging a protesting ewe by her hind legs toward a makeshift pen they’d set up.

"This is impossible!" Twist loudly declared in frustration.

Over the bleating del Mar yelled from astride his horse, "We gotta try. The least we can do is git the count right fer Aguirre."

Jack went off running after another one screaming, "FUCK Aguirre!"

In the midst of lassoing one, Ennis answered out of breath, "Oh yeah fuck Aguirre. And what if we need to work fer him again, huh, ya think of that? …We gotta stick this out Jack."

In a disquieting way everything seemed as mixed as those two herds.

The next afternoon they guided 991 sheep back to their own allotment. Midway there after being awake all night, Jack began playing his dented harmonica on horseback to keep from falling asleep in the saddle.

Beside him, Ennis warned sternly with a good-natured smile, "Yer gonna run them sheep off again if ya don’t quiet down!" to which Jack only chuckled and kept on playing sour notes and all.

After a while even the dogs began objecting in loud howls and fearful of attracting attention from wolves, Jack finally put it away in his pocket.

When they got back, Ennis decided to sleep with the sheep from then on despite Jack’s objections. Secretly he’d begun to sneak away from Jack to ponder his fate alone. He’d been taught all of his life that what he was doing with Twist was wrong and evil, and was truly terrified that he’d pay for it by being damned by God forever in hell for it.

Try as he might, he couldn’t let go of his wanting for the sexy young rodeo rider as much for the sex as for the... love. Never in his life up until now had he felt as if someone was devoted to him - not even with Alma.

Herders in the other camp must've reported the incident to Aguirre during their supply run. The following weekend the foreman showed up late in the afternoon after Ennis had left. The foreman muttered the latest news of his Uncle Harold, and then he firmly ordered Jack to bring their herd back down off of the mountain immediately ... ifs, ands, or buts.

As before, Joe wore a look of utter disgust the brief time he was there at the sight of the rodeo rider and never bothered to even get down off of his horse. Jack argued long and hard but to no avail. In fact within moments of his arrival their boss was gone again, setting off in the direction of the other herd.

The Storms In Jack’s Eyes
The next morning Ennis woke in his little pup tent with a start to find his feet freezing cold. He stumbled out shivering in confusion to discover everything was covered in white after the first snow came months early, piling up a foot in places, but was followed by a quick melt.

He rode down the mountain at a gallop back to camp in case Jack needed help only to find him undoing the tie straps on the tent frame.

As he spotted the food and their supplies all packed in boxes ready to be piled onto the mules, he called out mystified, "What the hell? What’re you doin'? Why are we movin’ camp?"

Jack looked over and said, "Aguirre came by again. Said my uncle didn’t die after all. He says bring ‘em down."

"Bring ‘em down? Why? - It’s the middle of August?"

"He said there’s a storm comin’ in, movin’ in off the Pacific worse than this one."

"What, but that snow barely stuck an hour, huh!" he objected. "Besides, that son of a bitch, he’s cutting us out of a whole month’s pay - it ain’t… it ain’t right."

Still busy shaking snow off of and folding the big tent, Jack considered a moment and said, "Well, I can spare ya a loan Bud if yer short on cash, give it to ya when we to get to Signal, be glad to do it. You can take yer time payin’ it back."

Ennis’ pride took hold and he answered angrily, "I don’t need yer money, huh; I ain’t in the poor house."

Jack watched him furiously kick at some unmelted snow in a spray of white muttering "Shit." to himself and then strode to a nearby tree stump. Sitting down upset, he grabbed an unused fire log, dug around in the dirt with it a moment and then absently tossed it aside.

Ennis looked around and saw that everything had already been packed and except for loading it all, they were ready to leave.

But he wasn’t.

His chest tightened and his eyes began to burn painfully as he realized why he was so upset; in the space of a day he’d probably never see Jack again. He couldn't cry in front of Twist.

He thought he’d prepared himself for their coming separation in a month or so, but not in a few days - hours!

Jack watched his lover turn and walk slowly out about a hundred yards into the meadow and then sit down in a crouch within the wet high grass on the top of a knoll.

Ennis tucked his forehead to his knees as his arms surrounded them, his tan cowboy hat hiding his face. A memory of seeing his father weeping at the shoreline of their ranch washed over him. His daddy was the strongest man he knew. The horseman badly needed the release that tears would give, but they wouldn’t come, leaving him alone in his deep sadness.

Del Mar was always alone and now he realized that his private hidden fantasy of never leaving this mountain, to spend the rest of his days with Jack was just that... a dream.

In sorrow Ennis asked himself, “How come Daddy could cry and I cain’t? Am I that damned heartless… soulless?”

A vision of Michael killing himself came over him filling Ennis with even more anguish. Ennis felt as bad as the day he wanted to drown himself in Lake Sage.

I have to push this away… I have to think of somethin’ else, somethin’ stronger.

Anger crept into his thoughts. It seemed to him (mistakenly) that Jack had given up without a fight or a single word of objection to Aguirre. Ennis tried to substitute his sorrow with resentment towards Twist for accepting the situation so emotionlessly.

Ennis had always pretended this was all a fantasy, because he knew that in real life it would have to end sooner instead of later. But like a really good dream, he woke up from it before he wanted to and longed to go back to sleep to be back in it. He knew that when he "woke" this time he’d have to be normal again, marry Alma and forget all about Jack.

As long as he was up here, he was free... of himself and all of the hatred he’d been taught and seen as a child. He hadn’t prepared yet to face the fact he’d given his heart away on Brokeback Mountain... and so he ached there alone for Jack’s arms to comfort him.

His mind kept flashing between anger and confusion… love and resentment.

Don’t nobody come near me until I can sort this out in my head.

Meanwhile, having finished packing the camp up by himself, Jack felt it too. He’d argued long and hard with his boss that they could stick it out through the storm, but Aguirre stubbornly would hear nothing of it, warning that if they stayed he wouldn’t pay them for the time they’d spent so far.

With one last tug on the ropes and a look to see that the pack animals weren’t going anywhere, he scanned the clearing to find Ennis still sitting there.

He'd been stealing glances of him and fought to keep from running to comfort his companion. He had to give his friend time to let it all out.

Jack would cry later ...possibly for the rest of his life.

When he couldn't stand it any longer, he reached up to his saddle and grabbed his lasso, heading toward his friend through the tall field.

The wind was picking up and smelled of snow, pine and wet wild grasses as the sun warmed his shoulders.

About ten yards from him, Jack began twirling the lariat over his head neatly landing it around Ennis’ back and knees where he sat.

With a gentle tug on the rope, he softly said reluctantly the words he'd dreaded since falling in love so deeply with this man, "Time to git goin', Cowboy."

Del Mar stood up, pulled the lasso off over his head, brushed himself off and gave Jack a silent nod, walking ahead of him down the hill.

Jack smiled and playfully swung the rope again, this time catching Ennis’ feet, causing him to fall.

Twist giggled and playfully pounced on him, meaning to give him a kiss goodbye, but Ennis struggled away and laughingly protested, "This ain’t no rodeo, you," and began mock fighting him like a calf that didn’t want to be roped and tied.

With joyous peals of laughter, giggles and grunts, they both rolled down the hill, side-by-side in each other’s arms struggling mischievously.

Then something happened and that emotional switch flipped in his head that he’d been struggling with. Alma… Jack… Fearing lynch mobs the rest of his life. Getting tied down in a useless marriage that he’d only recently realized he didn’t want.

God had been watching him this whole time and only now decided to punish him for his sin?

This is all Jack’s fault; he shoulda fought harder against Aguirre’s decision.

Ennis started fighting for real, circling Jack’s neck with his strong hands.

Something inside of him thought that if he killed Jack, he’d kill the hurt of the coming separation and painlessly destroy the forbidden feelings he had for him.

Surprised and near panic with his wind nearly cut off, Jack fought back and accidentally butted Ennis’ face with his knee.

Del Mar stopped abruptly and stood up, wiping gushing blood from his nose onto his white plaid shirtsleeve and cuff. The blow had cleared his head, and he stood dazed wondering what the hell was he thinking?

Aghast at what he’d done, Jack jumped up, pulled him close and started wiping Ennis' nose with the sleeve of his heavy denim shirt.

Suddenly an intense rage and confusion welled up again within Ennis at Jack not standing up to Aguirre, for his own acting queer for the last few weeks, and the terror of being damned to hell for what he’d done on this god-forsaken mountain. Without warning he flattened Jack with a right hook to the left side of his friend's face leaving a deep red mark on his cheek.

Jack collapsed hard into a sitting position all curled up and moaning on the ground painfully clutching his head, fearful of another blow. When he finally looked up he watched Ennis staggering to their horses, peeling off his shirt and wiping his nose with it.

When he reached Cigar Butt, he searched for the spare gold plaid one he kept in an old burlap potato sack and jammed the bloody shirt into his saddlebag.

Jack painfully stood up on unsure legs, strode cautiously over from the meadow and just as he reached out for his friend, Ennis backed away from him and muttered, "Gotta piss," and took off toward the woods while Twist waited by the horses.

When he returned he found Jack still standing next to the bay mare, putting something in his saddlebag.

Ennis stood transfixed looking for a long time at the morning sun glaring off of his bright red nose blood soaked into the sleeve cuffs of Twist's favorite denim shirt and wondered why he hadn't taken it off.

The bruise on his cheek just below his eye looked very painful.

Del Mar moved forward to apologize, but Jack fixed him with a look that Ennis had never seen before... An equal parts anger… betrayal of trust… fear and powerful resentment. Like a dog kicked just one too many times that is growling a warning to stay away because he no longer trusted his beloved owner to approach… without hurting him.

All of that and more was in Jack’s eyes.

Ennis timidly bowed his head and mounted Cigar Butt.

The Banished Angels
A moment later, they rode off with the dogs to silently gather and herd the flock back down the trail. They didn’t utter a word the whole ride down; after all it took a great deal of concentration to keep track of so many animals. Even if they’d tried to speak the loudly protesting sheep would’ve prevented their hearing each other.

When Jack's attention was occasionally distracted by a stray, Ennis’ eyes sought him out and would become transfixed with the sight of Twist’s bloody sleeve.

Every glance that Jack made towards Ennis found him looking down or away.

Shrill whistles to the dogs were their only communications.

With the difficult task that required all of their thoughts, both young men were unable to express themselves for fear of losing track of their charges. The inevitable result would be for the whole situation to totally crash down on them emotionally once they reached their pissed off boss.

All around them, the mountain boiled with demonic energy from the sudden snowmelt, glazed with flickering broken gray cloud light; the wind combed the grass and swayed the tall pines, moaning through slit rock in a bestial drone.

As they descended the slope Ennis felt that he was in a slow motion, headlong, and irreversible fall, like a child who’d been punished for a crime he didn’t commit or an angel who’d been banished from heaven by the god he still feared might punish him for loving another man.

His breath caught at the first time he'd consciously used the word love.

Across the flock about 20 yards away, he noticed that Twist kept rubbing the deep bruise on his left cheek next to his eye where del Mar had hit him.

Ennis sank back into his life-long pattern and withdrew further into himself, becoming the stoic and nearly wordless man he was before.

Through stolen glances, Jack watched it happen close to tears and helpless to do anything about it.

Both men hid the building heartbreak that they felt.

At the Proulx River commercial trailhead they shrugged into their coats as a misty rain began to fall and waited at a split-rail fence for their boss.

Jack bowed his head and openly began sobbing, knowing the rain disguised the burning tears he could no longer hold back. After the difficult task of bringing the woolies down, his mind finally felt the emotions of the situation crash down on him.

Ennis saw it happen, haunted and worried by the ghost of Michael’s suicide, and turned away feeling like his heart would break if he watched, unable to comfort his young friend… his lover without showing weakness himself.

Del Mar finally broke away and strode over to say goodbye to trusty Cigar Butt and sadly give a few affectionate pats on his neck. He felt miserable that he probably wouldn’t have enough to buy the horse from Aguirre. Too many things in his young life were going wrong at once and in his emotional frustration, he wondered how much longer he could hold out before breaking down himself.

Ennis had more practice at holding things in, but he knew it was building like the steam in "Old Faithful" and that sooner or later it’d release. He also knew that the longer he held it in, the more brutal it’d be coming out… and more’n likely he’d be alone when it did.

Ennis turned to go over to his boss to ask how much he wanted for his beloved mount and stopped in his tracks at the sight of Aguirre’s near-threatening eyes on him.

The distant foreman kept openly shooting them both pissed-off looks as he supervised the wranglers loading the sheep, mules and horses into trucks.

As if cruelly sensing what Ennis wanted, Joe Aguirre gestured to one of the Chileans and moments later Cigar Butt was abruptly led away to a staging area filled with stock vans and semi trailers.

The young horseman turned and went back meekly to stand beside the still crying Jack as the rain became a downpour.

Twist’s eyes were bloodshot red and the swollen bruise where he’d been punched was turning purple and yellow.

In his heart, Ennis ached to hold Twist in his arms and comfort him but didn’t dare.

Spotting his approach, Jack quickly composed himself as
Aguirre walked over with a clear plastic-covered sheaf of paper on a clipboard in his hand. A sour expression said. "Some of these never went up there with you. The count ain’t what I’d hoped for neither. You damned quee... damned ranch stiffs ain’t never no good."

Both young men bowed their heads and looked away.

Aguirre handed them both envelopes with cash in them and walked off toward his Rambler muttering something under his breath that sounded like "fuckin’ queers."

Twist and del Mar turned to follow after him, expecting a ride back to the office trailer where Jack’s truck was still parked, but he started his car up and drove away before they reached it leaving them stranded.

A Sharp Knife Cuts The Cleanest & Hurts The Least
The rain eventually stopped and a drying stiff wind took over. An hour or so later they hitched a ride with the Chilean herder back into Signal. While the silence between them during that drive healed the resentment in Jack, it only festered in Ennis.

The driver told them in confidence that Aguirre had started having them use Twist’s truck to run errands in, but the considerate herder laughed when he told him that he’d kept the old pickup full of gas and had even had the leaky fuel line replaced… on Aguirre’s dime.

When the stockmen determined it needed a tune up and possibly a new battery, Aguirre drew the line and they parked it where it stood now about a month ago and hadn’t touched it since.

Once there, they noticed the truck was backed in where it was previously parked nose to the wall of the building next door. Aguirre must’ve gone straight home, because his car wasn’t there.

Jack thanked the man after getting his keys back, shook his hand and waved as the Chilean pulled out of the lot.

Ennis had heard that K.E. and his wife and moved to Signal and he thought of looking his brother up; then thought better of it.

With nowhere else to go, he silently turned to head toward the highway to thumb a ride back to Riverton. He’d thought of asking Jack for one, but needed to cut the ties fast.

Ennis was fighting the urgent want to kiss him goodbye and apologize, but remained stoically silent below his lowered hat brim instead. While he felt the need to get away fast, he equally wanted to somehow say he was sorry for hitting him, but couldn’t find an excuse or even the words to stay and talk about it.

He ached for a way to not let it end like this, but in his deep regret couldn’t think of one. His daddy taught him that in life, love, hunting and friendships, a sharp knife cuts the cleanest and hurts the least.

They parted without a word or even a handshake.

Ennis got only fifteen feet away on foot, when he heard the grinding of Jack’s starter. What if Twist pulled up and offered him a ride home? Ennis ached to hold his lover in his arms one last time.

From behind, the starter stopped and started twice more, then Jack cussed loudly. The carburetor probably wasn’t primed properly when they changed the fuel line.

Reversing course, Ennis silently strode back to the truck, reached into the old grill above the bumper and pulled on the latch, raised the hood and began fiddling with something for a moment. After employing a couple of tricks he’d learned from Earl and Rich on how to get a reluctant engine running, he yelled, "Pump the pedal," still crouched over the engine. After nodding to himself, he shouted, "Okay, try again 'n give it some gas!"

The starter grinded and then caught immediately, the truck roaring to life in a cloud of smoke that was quickly carried away by a gust of unusually cold wind.

Ennis slammed the hood closed and when Jack jumped out to thank him, he found del Mar searching absently through his canvas bag. "I cain’t believe I left my damned shirt up there. Oh well, I’d never have gotten the blood out of it anyways."

Ennis looked up to find Jack nodding, "Yeah," and then looked away.

Twist asked, "You gonna do this again next summer?" with a hopeful tone interrupting Ennis’ continued search.

Jack was prepared for a fast exit and already had one foot up on the running board of his idling old pickup, his arm propped over the top of the open door between them.

For only a moment, Ennis' eyes sought out the bloodstained sleeve again, but it was now covered by Jack's heavy coat. He fixed his eyes on the ground in front of his feet to avoid Twist's expectant gaze.

The breeze was picking up and blowing hard and cold. He glimpsed Jack’s bruised cheek, unable to settle his eyes on it for more than a second. He returned to looking down, absently rummaging through his burlap potatoes bag some more.

Jack had asked him something about coming back next summer hadn't he?

"Oh, maybe not," he answered finally.

A dust plume rose and hazed the air with fine grit and Ennis squinted against it. "Like I said, me ‘n Alma’s gettin’ married in November, so uh, I’ll try to get somethin’ on a ranch I guess... You?"

"I might go north up to my daddy’s place 'n give him a hand through the winter… I might be back… if the army don’t git me."

Ennis nodded nervously a lot and after an uncomfortable silence between them he finally said, "Well, I guess I’ll see ya around, huh?"

"Right," replied Jack looking down.

The wind tumbled an empty feedbag down the street towards them until it swept up under the truck.

Ennis felt his gut welling up in his throat as if he were sick and decided to cut and run.

Quickly there was forty feet of distance between them.

Nothing for Jack to do but drive away and as his truck came up alongside and then passed del Mar on foot, he looked back through the side mirror hoping against hope that Ennis would gesture after him to stop or at least look up in a final glance goodbye.

Ennis' broken heart begged him to call out after the rodeo cowboy and after no more than fifty paces he felt like someone was pulling his guts out hand over hand a yard at a time. His overwhelming sorrow at their parting before he had time to emotionally cope with it destroyed his ability to summon the strength to run after his friend... his...

As he began feeling dizzy, his eyes stayed focused on the uneven ground he was now stumbling over. He finally looked up in time to see the old GMC turn the corner...

...and Jack was gone.

He choked back a confused and anguished sob and crashed zigzagged to his knees between two utility shacks and tried to puke but nothing came up... no; it wasn't his stomach. In his deep state of confusion, he didn’t want it to end with Jack, but couldn’t admit it to himself or face it either, so he did what any man brought up in the West would do; he began punching the wall of the building until the pain took away his unwanted thoughts.

His mind drifted back to the day he punched that tree trying to kill the pain of Michael leaving him.
He felt about as bad as he ever had. The throbbing in his knuckles was so intense he began sobbing. Deep inside himself he knew why he cried, but the man in him blamed it on his sore fist.

A cowboy on foot came up on him and silently paused to see if he could help.

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YA LOOKIN' AT?" Ennis roared ferociously and the man retreated, figuring he was drunk.

As he ached for the comfort of Jack's strong arms and the tender caress of his lips, Ennis collapsed against the wall and bawled in despair for almost fifteen minutes. His eyes felt like someone threw acid in them as his nose clogged and tears ran down his face.

A gust of wind hit him and froze the wet skin on his cheeks as tiny snowflakes invaded the dark space between the buildings that surrounded him. In frustration he balled up his fists and yelled at the wall, "It’s goddamn August fer crimony sakes!" and then curled up in a ball on the ground and cried in emotional agony… alone... as he suspected he'd always be... as he feared god had damned him to be.

He told himself he should've learned his lesson with Michael… why couldn’t he have learned his damned lesson with Michael?

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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/
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.


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