It was beginning to hit them both hard that unless they did something about it together, they’d never see each other for another long stretch, maybe never and both were saddened by it.
Jack wanted to head for their mountain, but Ennis had responsibilities.
Twist argued, "What harm can a weekend do? Take a couple days off. Right now. Get us outta here. Throw yer stuff in the back a my truck and let's get up in the mountains. Couple a days. Call Alma up ‘n tell her yer goin’. Come on, Ennis, ya just shot my airplane outta the sky - give me somethin’ ta go on. This ain't no little thing that's happenin’ here."
Ennis began swaying to his argument, but insisted on going home first. There was something about the way Alma acted when he left yesterday that convinced him it’d be better to explain in person than over the phone.
They agreed to head for Brokeback right away.
Unfortunately Jack read more into it than was there.
Ennis had come face to face with just how much he craved Jack, but there was that secret fear; the one that his childhood had bred into him. The one that had reared its ugly head.
Ennis still cared about his wife, but he only agreed to go because he needed time away from her...
…Alma had been sitting at the dinette table for what seemed like all morning; sobbing and convinced her husband had left her and the girls. When she heard them pull up out back, she wiped her tears and rushed to the window, relieved that she’d been wrong. Had he come back or was he just here for his things and to say goodbye?
Her heart sank as she saw them both jump out of Jack’s pickup.
As she watched her rival wait below, she heard Ennis run up their stairs… not a good sign.
She watched Jack and grew a puzzled frown as he walked over to their truck and leaned forward, looking into the empty cargo bed and grinning like he was proud of it as if he’d built it or something.
Rushing through the door Ennis gave Alma a quick, "Hey," in passing and quickly gathered his coat and fishing equipment.
Alma opened her mouth to ask something but he interrupted with, "Jack 'n me is going up to the mountains for a couple of days to get in some fishin' before he has to go back home."
The concept of Jack as the "other woman" was something she still couldn’t understand or figure out. Her head was spinning trying to conceive a way to keep him here, to make him realize he had a family to support. "Cain’t yer friend even come up fer a cup a coffee?"
"Well, he’s from Texas," replied Ennis without even thinking as he went to the bathroom and grabbed a toothbrush and a shaving kit.
"What; Texans don’t drink coffee?" she objected, moving to the window to look down on Twist now leaning against his own truck.
Little Alma Junior came rushing in and wrapped her arms around her father’s knees, "Bring me home a fish Daddy! A big, big one!"
Ennis smiled down at her, picked her up, kissed her and then silently handed her to her mother. He looked out the window and his breath quickened.
Alma’s world was shattering for reasons she still couldn’t understand, nor could she hide the confusion in her face. All she could think to say was, "You sure that foreman won’t fire you fer just taking off?"
Ennis looked back at her and replied, "He owes me... Huh? Didn’t I work all Christmas Eve through a blizzard fer him last year? ‘sides I can always find another job."
Ennis saw her face crestfallen and muttered a quick, "Come here," to her, kissed her over Junior’s shoulder and was gone out the door calling out, "Be back Sunday latest."
Moving to the window, she watched her husband hit the bottom of their stairs running. Across his face was the biggest brightest smile and it was more of a shock than yesterday's partially controlled grin. With Jack, her husband could openly show so much happiness... but not with her.
She broke down and began sobbing.
Junior hugged her closer and she sniffed as she heard them down below.
"You hungry?" asked Twist.
"Starved!" exclaimed Ennis enthusiastically in a gushing joyous voice. The truck doors slammed, the motor started up and they were quickly gone.
For a fleeting moment she considered quickly packing up the girls and following but the last time she tried to drive their truck she tore up the transmission, never having been taught how to work a clutch or use a manual column shift, and it cost them hundreds to fix.
She stood transfixed in that window for a long time until Alma Junior began squirming…
On the way they stopped off at a little out-of-the-way trading post/convenience store/gas station to eat and buy whisky and supplies for their hastily planned trip.
After Ennis stowed the provisions in the bed of the truck, Jack decided to try coaxing a laugh out of Ennis like the old days. As del Mar climbed into the cab of the pickup with a sack of food, Twist suddenly cut the engine, asking his love, "Ya sure we got everythin'?"
With a puzzled frown del Mar shuffled through his grocery bag as Jack leaned over to look in it. Suddenly his door was open and Twist yelled, "Be right back!" over his shoulder as he ran towards the store.
A few moments later he emerged with another little sack, got in, handed it across to Ennis, and then started the truck.
Jack shifted into gear.
Ennis peered into the bag and began laughing until tears streamed down his face, making Jack Twist the happiest man on the face of the earth.
The bag contained a can opener, plastic spoons and two cans of Better Most pork and beans…
They spent the trip talking endlessly about what the last four years had been like. The rodeo, working on ranches, being a traveling salesman, the newly born son, the sickly daughter, the hateful father-in-law, and the heartless mother-in-law.
With everything that had so joyously happened in the last few hours, it was only natural that only then did Jack think to tell Ennis about being one of the last people to greet President Kennedy on the streets of Dallas just before he was shot to death and how affected he was afterwards.
Ennis was in awe for his friend, and told about how he was on his honeymoon when the President was shot.
Feeling that the mood had suddenly gotten a little too somber, Jack changed the subject and asked with a little hesitation how del Mar’s truck was holding up.
Well… he loved it because it was his first and Ennis went into a bold exaggerated story of how he got it in a dangerous poker game.
Jack had to stop himself from correcting embellishments, fighting to keep from calling him out on them having been there himself.
Then del Mar went into how he had to use the parking brake sometimes to get it stopped and the fucked up clutch after his wife got her hands on it. What with tune-ups, bald tires and such lately, he’d been going broke keeping it on the road.
Jack looked disappointed, but silently recalled how when he initially looked it over down in Houston he thought it had at best a thousand miles left in it, and here Ennis had stretched three times that out of it.
Changing the subject, Ennis talked about how much he loved his girls and how he and Alma might not be getting along as well as they could be, but they were working as a team to build a future for themselves.
Before they knew it they were at a twenty-five foot tall cliff overlooking where a no-name lake fed a little brook that eventually became the Proulx River. They’d camped just downstream from there the night they made love the first time.
Laughing as they scurried out of the truck, Ennis challenged, "The last one in…" as they joyfully raced to the edge, shedding all of their clothes as they ran and leapt off into the frigid mountain water below.
Their heads surfaced, both screaming about how cold it was.
They felt they were in their own private heaven, laughing their heads off and splashing each other. Here they didn't have to hide. Here they could be themselves.
The laughter ended suddenly when they both realized at the same time that their clothes were at the top of that cliff; a good 20-minute walk naked around the rocky prominence back up to the truck in what was now a public campground.
Around this time of year the brook always swelled to a rushing foaming stream. A while after sunset, they bundled up in coats, surrounded in peace without a care for the first time in a long stretch.
Jack got a roaring fire going against the cold.
Ennis fell silent while looking into the flickering smoking flames and eventually eased back to lay with his feet near the fire, one knee up with his hat propped on it. He seemed to be in a state of contented rapture, just staring up at the stars in wonder with a half smile.
Jack had never seen Ennis smile so much and so continuously and it gave him hope. He sat on the log beside him, listening to the roaring water deep in thought and eventually looked over at him. Twist had come a long way north hoping their reunion would be permanent, but every time he brought it up, Ennis would sidestep the subject wanting to just enjoy being up here together again.
For a long time they sat, gradually becoming uncomfortable with their silence.
Jack settled to just watch the man he was now convinced that he loved, who at the moment was looking dreamily skyward at nothing, bathed in the warm flickering firelight.
To break the silence Twist asked, "See anythin' interestin' up there in heaven?"
Ennis' relaxed smile grew a rare mischievous grin in response and he commented lazily, "Ohhhhhh, I was just sendin’ up a prayer of thanks."
Jack’s heart suddenly swelled with hope. "Fer what?"
Ennis snorted a laugh, "I’m thankful that you forgot that damned harmonica… Huh. I was just enjoyin’ the peace 'n quiet."
Hiding his disappointment, Jack chuckled and shook his head.
The horseman closed his eyes and moaned enjoyment. There was no fighting here, no arguing over bills or worry one of the girls was sick. Not a damned thing to care about until…
Jack straightened and looked out at the mountain, topped with glowing light blue snow in the dark lit only by the full moon. At that moment he’d give up his life, his wife, his child and everything sacred and unsacred he cherished if only he could keep Ennis for himself forever.
He was so in love it hurt down deep in his soul to the point where he couldn’t keep it in any more. Gathering his courage he hesitated and then said softly, "Ya know it could be like this, just like this fer always," knowing that it was as close to a declaration of love and commitment as he dared make.
Ennis opened his eyes and looked at him quizzically. "How do ya figure that?"
In one fleeting and horrible moment Jack knew his hopes had been dashed, but bravely collected his thoughts.
They both stared into the campfire, realizing the consequences of what had just been said, but more importantly of what hadn’t been answered.
Fighting acid tears from his eyes and a tight chest, Jack continued softly and hesitantly trying to renew his fleeting wish, "Ya know, if we had a little cow 'n calf operation together; ya know… along with yer horses, it could be a sweet life... Lureen’s old man; you bet he’d give me enough fer a down payment if'n I’d get lost. Already more or less said it…"
Halfway through the sentence he knew it was doomed when Ennis began shaking his head no and Jack felt frustration welling up in his throat.
Ennis sat up still shaking his head, put on his hat to hide his eyes and corrected as he settled closer beside Jack, "Now I… I told ya it ain’t gonna be like that." Resting his back against the log, he continued, "You got yer wife 'n baby in Texas 'n I’ve got my life here in Riverton."
Unable to hold his resentment in any more, Jack asked skeptically, "You 'n Alma; that’s a life?"
Ennis’ heterosexual sense of self set in suddenly and answered for him, "You shut up about Alma, this ain’t her fault… The bottom line is Jack; if we’re around each other, ‘n this… ‘this thing’ catches a hold of us at the wrong time, or the wrong place 'n someone sees us, we’re dead Jack. Dead… both a us."
Thinking of Alma and the girls he added, "Cain’t get out of it. Jack, I don’t wanna be like them guys ya see around sometimes. And I don’t wanna be dead neither."
The rancher sat there silently for long minutes, trying to see through the blurred and hazy fog of childhood memories from years and years ago that had been pushed aside and hidden in a dark place. Times that were colored by other men's recollections that weren't always accurate, but they were all he had.
Jack frowned an unphrased question at his love’s hidden eyes and watched him consider an answer.
Ennis' heart was aching at recollecting how much he loved his two special uncles who seemed so much older and wiser back then than he was as a little boy, only to realize that when he was killed Rich was only four or five years older than he was right now.
His thoughts were also still haunted by Michael’s unexpressed and lost love, and the hidden pain it still caused.
They, they was a fag joke fer everybody, even though they was pretty tough old birds. I was what, no more 'n nine years old I guess when the sheriff found ‘em both dead one day down near an irrigation ditch.
Ennis’ entire body shuddered. "The story’s been passed around fer years that a couple of local ranchers 'n their boys jumped them both one night. They took a tire iron to Earl 'n beat him up bad.
They took his clothes from him, wrapped a clothesline real tight around his balls 'n made him run behind their pickup until he fell 'n split his head open 'n didn’t stop ‘til his dick - it pulled off. Then they tied him dead by his ankles to the back of their truck 'n drug his body up 'n down Dead Horse Road ‘till all that was left was just a bloody pulp."
Awestruck, Jack asked, "What about Rich?"
Another full-body nervous shiver wracked him while fear and sadness clouded his eyes. "Rich was a strong sturdy army hero, a real one a them snipers ya hear ‘bout ‘n see in them war movies. He was hurt in Korea but he was tough as shoe leather, so he was a stronger 'n stubbornly didn’t cash in so easy - I guess that made it worse.
While they was doin’ all that to Earl, the bastards tied Rich up in their pickup’s bed sittin’ up 'n facin’ backwards 'n they forced him to watch Earl’s body draggin' around 'n gettin' tore up… ‘n they had their fun watchin’ him cry fer his… his boyfriend.
After that they strung Rich up by his neck with that same bloody clothesline to the top of a tall deer fence with only just barely enough cord for him to stand without it chokin’ off his air.
Then they tied his hands behind his back 'n took turns takin' hard punches at him in the gut, kickin’ his game leg, lightin' all his body hair 'n clothes on fire, bein’ careful not to kill him or knock him out ‘cause they wanted him to suffer bad and fer as long as they thought it was fun puttin’ ‘im through the mill.
Rich knew if he fell or lost his balance the string would choke off his air. If’n it’d been me, I’d a had a mind ta just drop ta my knees ‘n end it there ‘n then… but not ole Rich… uh uh.
One a the men held his eyes open ‘n they squirted his face with lighter fluid 'n lit it up. He musta been hurtin’ somethin’ awful by then but he was stronger’n any of them thought.
When they was done having their fun, they just left him standin’ out there blind ‘n all, burnt up, naked 'n bleedin’… all alone… all alone, 'n finally he was so weak from the pain that he slumped down 'n hung himself ‘cause he was too tired to stand up no more… hear tell that they still laugh that ya could hear Rich cryin' fer help half a mile away. I wish that was a joke, but me'n my brother heard him from our house that night 'n had nightmares fer weeks after us looking at Rich all burned 'n hung.
Jack looked appalled that a child would be exposed to such a sight and asked, "You seen that?"
Ennis nodded, "Like I said we was just little kids who needed to be taught a lesson. My daddy - he drove my brother 'n me out to see the bodies like they was some sideshow at a circus.
Him and some men took me 'n my brother K.E. and we walked over to the fence where Rich was rotting with flies all over him.
Rich’s head was all bald 'n blistered from where they burned off his hair 'n his skin was all black 'n shriveled because like I said, one of them kept dousing him up with lighter fluid, then puttin’ the flame out before he could pass out from the pain.
Then ol’ dad walked us over to see Earl layin’ in that irrigation ditch... What the tire iron done to Earl looked like… like pieces of burned tomatoes all over him, nose 'n face tore down from skiddin’ on gravel.
My dad made sure I seen it and that we knew why it happened."
Another violent shudder ran through del Mar as the memory came back to him of the sharp bang of a lighter fluid can hitting his bedroom door from the other side. "Hell, for all I know he done the job. I tell you what; if'n he was alive 'n saw us last night or together right now like this, you bet he’d go get his tire iron." He shook his head no, "Two guys livin together, Jack… No way… Now, we can get together once in a while way the hell out in the middle a nowhere…"
Jack’s jaw dropped, "Every so often? Every four fuckin’years?"
"Jack, if you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it," Ennis replied.
"Fer how long?" he asked hesitantly.
Ennis bowed his head lower as his face became a mask of sadness.
Twist felt tears welling up again, as he realized that this man couldn’t love him - was afraid to love him like he needed to be loved.
Unable to meet his eyes, Ennis gazed down into the fire with a heartbroken look and mumbled, "This horse don’t got reins on it Jack, we just gotta ride it as long as we can."
They fell into an uncomfortable silence. Leaning over to him, Jack brushed the top of the fingers of his left hand against Ennis’ right sideburn and gently rubbed.
As the fire crackled, Ennis’ hand quietly found Jack’s.
That night in the tent there was no sex between them, they just lay naked spooned together in the sleeping bag; Ennis pressed against Jack’s back cradling him in his strong and loving arms.
Ennis decided that being there was just too hard for him and asked Jack to drive him home the next morning. The long trip down the mountain was done in almost complete silence.
Just after nightfall, about a block from the laundry parking lot, Jack pulled over and gave Ennis a big bear hug and a peck on the cheek.
They promised they’d keep in touch.
Ennis walked home alone fighting boyhood memories and confusion, not looking up as Jack passed, tapping his horn and waving out the window.
Down in the parking lot, Ennis got into his truck, started it, but didn’t want to go anywhere and shut it back off. He just sat there eventually resting his head against the steering wheel. Emotionally exhausted, he started to doze off and a nightmare began of his father beating him.
Alma Jr. rushed down the stairs to come up on his door. "Daddy, did you bring me a big fish?"
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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.