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Twist’s hopes had been high on the possibility of getting an autograph for his young son... until he found out that the place was packed with a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 1,800 people.
A weak vice-president Humphrey presumably going up against Nixon would certainly fail, so many Americans' hopes and dreams for the future were pinned on another Kennedy in the White House.
After being waved at in 1963 by the President and First Lady, and naming his son after Bobby, the brave Kennedy family members were Twist’s heroes. Considering what happened the last time he’d seen a member of the famous clan it was just as well. At least he could boast that he'd stayed in the same hotel, though with L.D. and Lureen being staunch Republicans along with most of the rest of Childress, he didn’t know whom he’d brag it to, other than his own son... Bobby.
Around 11:30 p.m., the candidate left the Royal Suite and took the elevator to the ballroom where he gave his victory speech for winning the California primary. Even if he wasn’t nominated, he’d still be a force to be reckoned with and Jack Twist couldn’t be more pleased.
Just after midnight while Twist called down to arrange for a cab to Los Angeles International Airport to pick him up around 2AM, Kennedy left the ballroom and walked through a kitchen pantry shortcut to get to the Colonial Room where hoards of anxious reporters were waiting.
He never made it after he was shot by an assassin just like his brother. With Martin Luther King having been murdered only two months before, the country was close to spiraling into chaos.
With the hotel in lockdown Jack didn’t make his flight and prayed most of the night while Bobby lingered in the hospital.
Despite the hopes, dreams and useless prayers of a whole nation for him, Senator Robert Kennedy died that morning.
His father-in-law became annoyed when Jack had a local jewelry shop make up some personal accessories that Twist wore all the time. A couple of Texas-style string neckties with Kennedy half dollar clasps, and two silver belt buckles similarly adorned.
Though Twist would contribute heavily in the years to come to Jack and Bobby's brother Teddy’s many campaigns, out of superstition Jack never once went to a city where a Kennedy was staying at the same time.
The following year the country… indeed the whole volatile world had something joyful to celebrate for a change. While the globe sat glued to their televisions, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon... Well maybe not the whole world; the USSR probably wasn't happy the U.S. beat them there.
Suddenly women were “chicks” and wanted to look like the British fashion model “Twiggy.” Men began radically slimming down Mick Jagger style or working out in gyms to emulate Superman’s muscles. To show off their new looks, the younger generation started wearing fewer clothes to fit in with their peers. Popular television shows and every trendy magazine from TIME to TV Guide sported articles and ads featuring sexy trendsetters.
Almost every sentence out of anyone’s mouth now began and ended with the word “man.”
Before Ennis’ astonished eyes, local guys suddenly grew their hair increasingly longer to match their girlfriend’s in “unisex” style, and men wore tight low-rise jeans showing off toned bodies that initially made Ennis blush. Everything suddenly became "groovy" and peace symbol stickers appeared on everything from billboards to jewelry to Volkswagen busses. Flower power, “love beads,” and the "sexual revolution" had arrived all around them without the del Mars.
Naked “streakers” at crowded events weren’t gasped at; they were the accepted comedy relief that were applauded and cheered. Top-10 songs were even written about them!
The Beatles broke up and went solo. Portable radios got bigger and louder broadcasting Motown, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, The Mamas and the Papas and Bob Dylan tunes. “Head” shops sprouted everywhere selling hash pipes, rolling papers; fluorescent colored posters and scented incense sticks to burn. Apparently Aguirre’s son Johnny was ahead of the times, because nowadays you’d no longer shake hands or say “hi” to someone on the street; you'd put up two fingers and say “Peace” instead."
Like it or not, the ranchman in his late 20’s became known as an extremely attractive “hunk” because of his sun-bleached blond hair, tan, and muscled body from working with horses and ranch chores. Girls… and men took notice of him and he shyly became popular at the bars he frequented.
Ennis began feeling trapped in his increasingly loveless marriage. He and Alma fought almost constantly and in the five years after their reunion, "Rodeo" and "The Horseman" did keep in touch, exchanging post cards and meeting twice a year or so when they could both get time off from family and work.
Their fishing/camping/hunting trips usually lasted between a week to ten days and both men spent most of the seemingly endless months between hookups looking forward to the next one.
During their most recent one, Jack returned to camp from a nature hike to clear his head only to find Ennis naked at the shoreline of some lake. A week or so before, the ranch hand had taken his family to a community swimming pool that earned him a bathing suit tan line that Jack couldn't take his eyes off of. Del Mar seemed to sense the extra attention and he would playfully find any excuse to wander around without anything on... which drove Twist crazy with lust.
Ennis paid for all the teasing that night, and before long their special position of del Mar getting fucked while being sucked at the same time became the norm.
Twist's love got more intense, but as del Mar allowed their sexual relationship to get more and more urgent, he seemed to drift further away from any kind of emotional attachment that was more than a deep friendship that just happened to include sex.
Jack was becoming more and more troubled by it, but his love overrode any doubts of how he felt. In his mind they were a long established loving couple and had sadly convinced himself that his lover felt the same way.
Meanwhile with each coupling, Ennis became more and more tortured by the aftereffects as he'd drive home from them. His masculine ego was suffering from being sexually dominated... and trying not to admit to himself that he intensely enjoyed it. He'd put it out of his mind the moment he walked in his front door and greeted Alma and his girls. He'd become the heterosexual husband and father as he'd been taught that God demanded.
A few months later, another post card would come, he'd find himself impatiently fantasizing and craving Jack's body like an animal in heat. He was being emotionally torn in two and knew sooner or later the stress would take its toll on him. The memory of seeing Earl and Rich dead ran shivers through him and he'd concentrate on satisfying Alma...
...But he'd rush to his lover's arms every chance he got... then fight not to show how much he needed it.
The two men worked their way through the high meadows and mountain drainages, horse-packing into the Big Horns, Medicine Bows, south end of the Gallatins, Absarokas, Granites, Owl Creeks, the Bridger-Teton Range, the Freezeouts and the Shirleys, Ferrises and the Rattlesnakes, Salt River Range, into the Wind Rivers over and again, the Sierra Madres, Gros Ventres, the Washakies, Laramies, but they didn’t return to Brokeback.
The omission was Ennis’ doing, though Jack suggested going there several times and finally gave up asking after a few years.
Alma was left to imagine what horrid things happened on those trips but was relieved when her man returned to her... but the resentment grew more and more as each year passed. The look of glee on Ennis' face whenever he'd get a card from Jack haunted her for weeks afterward.
L.D. Newsome semi-retired in 1970 after failing to get selected to a seat in the Texas State Republican primary mid-term races. He turned the day-to-day operations of his farm equipment business over to Lureen while he’d been out campaigning, but he kept a close eye on things, never letting Jack advance higher than head salesman.
After the defeat, he allowed his daughter to remain in charge, letting her get used to running things; sort of an on-the-job training program for when he decided to leave the business altogether. That’s not to say he didn’t stick his unwelcome hand in when it wasn’t wanted, and always when Lureen had just made a major decision or investment.
As little Bobby grew, his learning disability became more of a problem, but Grandpa doted over him anyway. He considered the "Sr." at the end of his name a badge of honor.
Over the years, Jack came to realize he wasn't getting the kind of love from Ennis that he needed. Twist had regular bouts of depression and began developing a drinking problem though he kept pulling himself back from the brink before it became serious. He’d always come home from one of his fishing trips tenser than when he left. He knew he loved Ennis but was never brave enough to utter the word.
The torture was that if Jack out-and-out said he was in love with Ennis he feared del Mar would reject him like he’d done so many times before.
Ennis grew up convinced that if he loved someone and told them so; he’d lose them or be left behind by them… his parents, his sister and then his brother and of course Michael. As a result he hid his true heart from Alma and most heartbreaking of all from his little girls.
He tragically convinced himself that if he didn’t love Twist, he wouldn’t lose him too. Because of his strict upbringing, Ennis also still believed that he was safe from eternal damnation as long as he didn’t say the word “love” out loud to another man while God was listening...
…Jack Twist took an airliner a little over 5,500 miles north and then rented a car to end up standing in front of a house in Casper Wyoming. He circled the light blue and white pickup with his mouth gaping open. He'd found it in the back of a car magazine. The 9-year-old 1966 Ford F-100 looked like it had just been driven off the showroom floor.
A tall fat black man in his mid-fifties wearing jeans, plaid shirt and a white cowboy hat stood next to him beaming with pride and commented, “My daddy bought it brand spankin’ new when he retired, and him ‘n mama drove this thing from one end of the country to the other ‘n back probably 6 times.”
In those days Mr. Rand knew Twist could go out and buy a brand-new truck for five grand, but he figured if that's what he asked for, maybe he'd get what he actually expected for it... around half that.
While the owner pondered, Jack frowned, opened the driver’s side door on well-oiled hinges and looked at the odometer… 115,117.9 miles.
Mr. Rand remarked, “All freeway miles to Florida, Mississippi ‘n up to New York to visit relatives ‘n back.
The interior was nearly immaculate.
Jack walked around to the hood and after lifting it found a new-looking engine that someone took very good care of.
Rand added, “He passed on in ’72 ‘n we ain’t had the heart to drive it, so it’s been sittin in the garage since then.”
The hood came back down with a solid clunk as Jack admired the new wax job, the immaculate chrome and the shined nearly-new tires.
The thing looked like it could go another 200,000 miles without any trouble; which is exactly what Jack wanted.
Twist met the big man’s eyes and said, “Your ad said $5,000.”
Rand nodded, “I’m ‘bout ta try ta put my oldest thru college… you know how that goes?”
Jack nodded knowingly, pulled a wad of hundred-dollar bills from his pocket, and handed $5,000 to the astonished man.
Rand grinned in startled surprise at the lack of an argument and turned back towards the house, “I’ll get the title.”
To his back, Jack raised his voice, “We ain’t done yet partner!”
Rand turned around and frowned down at Twist.
Jack responded by handing the big black man standing over him a personal check for $3,000 more and asked, “Ya willin’ to do some work on it for me?”
“What? it’s perfect, man!!!”
“Go cash that check, then pull the cargo bed off it and sell it along with the whitewall tires, the shiny bumpers and the pretty chrome ‘n then pocket the money you get for ‘em. Find some used mismatched tires that’re safe but worn, an old rusted out and dented bed at a junkyard ‘n all the other stuff ya need. Then take some steel wool pads ‘n some laundry soap and get rid of the wax job.”
Rand protested, “Ya outta yer mind?”
“Scuff up the seats and the dash; don’t forget the carpet and the shift knob,” continued Twist. “I want this thing to look like it’s been through hell and back even though it ain’t.
“Why? My Daddy's truck,” he replied shaking his head, looking like he was about to hand the check back.
Twist handed him a piece of paper with the name Ennis del Mar and an address in Riverton on it. “He owns a black GMC parked out back. Park this next to it with a sign on it. Now, he ain’t got two nickels to rub together now-a-days, he’s got too much pride to take charity, but he damn well needs a new truck that he can depend on, but it’s gotta look like $750 is a good price on it.”
Dawn broke in Rand’s eyes, a broad grin blossomed across his face, and he nodded his head and jutted out his hand.
They shook hands and the big man understood, “Look like hell, dependable, and $750. Man, you spending $8,000 for a friend has to be the nicest damn thing I ever seen ‘n I’ll do ya up proud…” With a grin he added, “Gimme a couple weeks. I’ll put a $1,150 ‘FOR SALE’ sign on it ‘n make him dicker it down to $750 ‘n I won’t make it easy for him neither. The clean engine 'n the like-new glass I'll explain that I was fixin' it up 'n run out of money.”
Jack smiled and nodded, then gave him his mailing address in Childress after the big man offered to take “before and after” photos and send them to him.
They exchanged a grinning hug and Jack headed back to the airport a happy man... until he returned home.
Entering his kitchen, he called out unanswered hellos and went into a panic when he discovered a note from L.D. saying he and his wife had taken Lureen and Bobby on a "trip of discovery" to Wyoming. The message didn’t mention when they’d return or where specifically they went.
Twist spent four days trying to guess if they’d located Ennis somehow or traveled to see his parents in Lighting Flat or God knew what; only to be told on their return that they’d flown up to see the majestic Devils Tower National Monument.
Mrs. Twist asked to be left off for a couple of hours instead at some friends that she hadn’t seen in years, and then she’d walk over to the local bank to cash a check for gas for the trip home.
Neither one went where they said they were going.
John journeyed south to visit Pete Hutchison’s grave.
As soon as he pulled away from the curb and drove off around the corner, she set off on foot a block north towards Signal Savings and Trust.
She didn't know how long he'd be gone or how much time she had. She paused to look in her purse, making sure she had the mysterious letter she’d gotten in the mail two weeks ago.
The young man on the other side of the teller’s window frowned at the key the older woman had handed him, along with some paperwork in an envelope with the company’s letterhead. On the stem of the key was stamped K598.
It was one of the larger boxes that the bank kept in its safe deposit section. According to the paperwork it was rented in the sole name of someone called Ennis del Mar. Martha had heard her son mention someone by that name once; they were supposed to come up to help run the Twist Ranch a few years back, but nothing ever came of it.
Thinking further back on it, she recalled finding a sheet of notebook paper in Jack’s trash up in his room. He’d signed "Mr. Jack del Mar" on it over and over again.
Strict instructions were included in the letter that del Mar was to be given the key only in the event of Jack Edward Twist’s death. Jack had included a note with it that said he would send her regular letters when this mysterious Ennis person changed his address, and that under no conditions were her husband John or del Mar to even know of the existence of the bank box.
"Excuse me a moment ma’am," he said politely distracting her thoughts as he went over to his supervisor.
They shuffled through a small index file and discovered that while it was only in del Mar's name, the card mentioned two other people, One had opened the account for him and was paying the long-term fee on the box, and the other was Mrs. Twist, who was listed as having temporarily custody of Mr. del Mar’s key, so both clerks shrugged at each other. The head teller initialed something and put the card back in its place.
About twenty minutes after being shown into a private booth in back, Martha came out visibly shaken and asked for a piece of paper and a pen, then disappeared back into the vault area.
A half an hour later, she asked a teller to cash two one-hundred-dollar bills into twenties. She also wrote a check on their joint account for sixty dollars, cashed it, and went to a restaurant two doors down. After an hour of leisurely enjoying a fine meal that she’d never hope to normally be able to afford otherwise, she paid the check, left a generous tip and went back to the bank to sit on a bus stop bench just outside, watching the traffic deep in thought.
John pulled up to the curb in their old Chevy truck some time later after his round trip took longer than expected.
Twist looked at his wife in concern. "You alright?" he asked.
She nodded silently and handed her husband sixty dollars. Both remained silent the whole trip back up north.
Over the years they’d return to Signal to put flowers on Harold’s grave, but she never set foot in that bank again, nor did she ever tell John what had upset her…
...Ennis’ old ’55 GMC finally gave out and he used what joint savings they had left and bought a light blue Ford F-100 pick-up that he'd been eyeing in the back parking lot one morning. Alma said it looked like it was nearly falling apart and needed parts that they didn’t have the cash for.
After going over it, the Ford turned out to be mechanically sound despite the high mileage on it, and del Mar spent the money he'd budgeted on repairs for a tall cargo cage so he could haul a couple of horses in the bed.
Lureen got into the spirit of the times and her hair color perpetually changed to whatever seemed in fashion at the moment.
L.D. bitched, but had to bend to popular trends as Newsome Farm Equipment customers increasingly came in to the shop wearing the very same look, and Twist insisted he needed to appear “mod” if he hoped to be in sync with the buying public.
In the summer months, young brawny men and sexy girls both wore tight jeans cut-off so short that the fringed bottom hems met their crotches. The outer denim side-seams usually were split up to the waistbands showing lots of hip skin, making it obvious the wearers weren’t sporting underwear.
In 1974 Ennis had turned 31 and he kept telling himself he looked 25... maybe 26. He was desperate to try to hang on to his youth just as a new catch-phrase “Never trust anyone over thirty” became popular, so Ennis briefly tried letting his hair grow over his ears and collar and sported a pair of cut-offs like other guys did. The first day he went out in public with them on, he turned beet red in embarrassment feeling like he was strutting around town naked… then he realized no one was taking notice of him and other guys were wearing the same thing and mostly went shirtless to boot.
Once he realized that he was actually showing no more than he would wearing a bathing suit and how comfortable they were in the heat, he started enjoying wearing them.
Of course as soon as he found something that made him feel good about himself, his wife had other ideas. Alma had a righteous fit for a week afterward, gasping at the “obscenity of it all.”
After her constantly bitching at Ennis, he reluctantly went back to dressing “like a damned old man,” to shut her up.
The generally accepted style aimed at women shamelessly wearing less and less, and "micro" miniskirts and halter-tops became the norm. Alma stubbornly imitated what she saw on “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie” instead and insisted on dressing the girls the same way. A couple of young ladies that worked with Alma had become “Jesus Freaks” and she finally found something in the mid-70’s counter-culture that she could identify with.
Poor Junior began complaining that the kids in school were constantly teasing her and calling her “Amish Junior,” and pleaded with her father to let her change her name.
His wife even took exception with the woven straw cowboy hat that he liked so much with the brim curled tightly up on both sides. Alma bought Ennis a new one that was more conservative looking and said it made him look like a proper husband and a father. When he went out by himself, he still took the straw one despite her because it made him feel young. While packing for an upcoming camping trip it disappeared only to be found much later when he returned behind a pile of his girls' winter boots at the back of the hall closet
Soon del Mar without realizing it began missing the straight-laced "good old days" and slowly more conservative attitudes began creeping into his head. He hated that he was gradually beginning to sound like his wife and fought it off as long as he could... but it wasn't easy.
Two weeks later he drove his newly bought pickup out to join Jack and was mystified that Twist seemed to be grinning more at the truck than at him...
[Abbreviated and reworked deleted scene]
The next day while on horseback near the Tetons, they were nearly hit from behind by a speeding yellow VW minibus trailing blaring loud music and a cloud of dust behind it.
"Shit!" exclaimed Ennis reining in his panicking steed. "They're a'gonna miss that curve if he don't slow his stupid ass down!"
The two men galloped ahead and sure enough encountered the bus half-submerged in a stream. As predicted, the hippie driver buzzed on grass had strayed off course on the winding mountain road with his two girlfriends who looked to be co-eds from some college.
Ennis and Alma had noticed a lot of them lately, fleeing the city to settle all over the open Wyoming countryside looking for a simpler life away from cops and protests.
The lean shirtless driver had long blond hair and a well-trimmed short beard. When they arrived on site, the guy was hanging out his window yelling for help as the green water lapped at the sill. Two girls on the passenger side were busy trying to out-scream him.
After calming them, Jack and Ennis attached a rope to the back bumper of the nearly submerged van, and their struggling horses pulled it partially back towards land, but the bus' tires became wedged in the big rocks at the bottom of the little river.
Ennis kept shaking his head in disapproval while Jack on the other hand silently wondered if these careless strangers had any spare weed maybe as a reward for their help?
Jack remarked, "Maybe if ya got out; it'd be easier ta pull?" as Del Mar and Twist approached them through the fast moving stream. The plan being to have them crawl out through the windows and onto their horses.
Twist wound up on the driver's side and the attractive young man seemed to be searching for something under the waste-deep water inside his vehicle. It turned out to be his absent denim shorts hidden beneath a bunch of floating 8-track tapes and plastic picnic cups. Not showing the least bit of embarrassment, the guy pulled them on and then crawled out into Jack's arms to settle behind him on Twist's new horse "Trusty."
In the process the buzzed hippie knocked Jack's Stetson off and it went floating around front and then downstream. A few minutes later it got snagged on an overhanging branch that reached the water's edge about thirty yards away.
The stoned guy who looked to be in his mid-twenties kept repeating over and over, "Sorry Dude," and seemed more concerned with not getting his long hair wet than his waterlogged bus. Twist got another surprise when the guy's palms began exploring Jack's torso intimately from behind as two arms caressingly tightened around him. Twist straightened as his passenger rested the side of his head between Jack's shoulder blades.
The ex-rodeo cowboy distracted himself by deducing that if the stoners had any marijuana left they would've grabbed it as a priority before leaving their van.
As soon as both horses and their passengers hit shore, one of the young ladies went rushing after Twist's expensive black hat.
Sizing up the ugly and rusted yellow vehicle's situation, Ennis judged it to be a lost cause and rode the other girl to a campsite payphone to call for a tow truck.
Her female friend returned to the group a few minutes later wearing a big inviting smile... and Twist's soaking wet hat on her head. Twist grew a relieved and broad smile while he thanked her, but when he reached for it, she giggled and ran away.
After an hour or so del Mar and his female flower child returned announcing that help probably wouldn't arrive until late that evening. The guy offered to "break bread" with them in thanks, which brought an instant smile to both young women. Our two heroes were about to decline when the hippie gestured to his attractive young girlfriends and implied that they didn't have any "hang ups" about sharing anything with friends.
To illustrate what he meant he had his “chicks” flash their ample breasts for them while one of the blond girls said she lovvvvvvvvved mixed orgies.
"Love the one you're with, man." she sang, and then asked, "I really get off watching two guys making out with each other; have you two hunky studs ever tried it?"
Ennis swallowed hard and his eyes widened in shock while his mouth gaped open watching her reach over and playfully fondle her girlfriend's nipple.
The recipient of her attention remarked, "We love to share," reaching down for the top button of her tight shorts.
Del Mar was trying to control his chest from panting as he realized he was hardening between his legs. He blushed red when he realized that the long-haired man nodded agreement and began eyeing him as hungrily as his girls were. To make the situation even more confusing, the guy reached over to slip his hand down the back of his nearest girlfriend's shorts. "Free love, Man!" the hippie intoned as his other hand wandered up to the bare breast the other girl wasn't still busy with. "This is the seventies Man; if it feels good - do it, Dude."
After hastily declining politely, the two rode off towards their own camp.
As they trotted along the trail Ennis caught Jack adjusting himself while looking back with a longing look on his face and wondered which one of the girls Twist was lusting after. Del Mar laughed and philosophically commented over to his long-time companion, “Well… at least all of her tattoos are spelled right.”
Trying to hide how tempted by the young man he'd become, Jack bitched the rest of the trip about losing his hat and how he felt naked without it.
Ennis just smirked and remarked laughingly, "Top hands ain’t supposed to love their hats."
Gazing backwards Jack said, "Maybe if I'da had more of uh education I coulda been one of them hippies."
Suddenly realizing that his partner was maybe looking back for the guy instead of the girls, Ennis felt a flush of jealousy come out of nowhere and for no good reason replied, "I don’t like damn hippies. Un-American if you ask me."
Jack burst out laughing. "Talk about being a 'square' Ennis! He had a little Old Glory tattooed on his right shoulder, a flag patch sewn onto the back right ass pocket of his shorts and had a full size stars 'n stripes displayed over the whole back window of his van fer chrisakes! He couldn't be more American lessin' he was wearin' an Army uniform!"
They became silent until they reached camp... then they made love.
Wildly painted muscle cars like the GTO and Mustang took over the streets, joined by Harley and Honda “chopper” motorcycles that roared around everywhere. Then the Arab fuel crisis came and suddenly vehicles became dinky economy cars that Ennis considered no more than skateboards with motors. Everything shrank on them but their bumpers, which got huge and ugly. Big Chevy, Dodge and Ford trucks were being replaced with tiny Datson and Toyota pickups, and other names he couldn’t pronounce.
Del Mar reluctantly stayed with his shorter hair and country/western music to placate his wife, but he started resenting Alma when he began to feel left behind by the rest of the popular world of "If it feels good - do it, Man!"
The damned years seemed to be going by too fast. Back in 1973 in the midst of it all he'd turned thirty and handled the milestone with as much difficulty as his father had. Buying into the popular culture, Ennis remembered feeling ten years older than he had the day before his birthday. The remembrance burned at him of how Alma delighted when he cut his hair even shorter, started dressing more conservatively, and was miserable for doing it.
He was young when he was with Jack - he could feel her turning him into a shriveled old man... like Jack said... a square.
Alma’s boss Monroe became a business chain opening up more grocery stores and laundromats, and recently had even started a catering business that he’d put her in charge of.
Marital fights in front of the kids became more frequent as she took extra shifts to manage the business for Monroe and fill in for undependable workers… especially when she started making more money than he did.
Unfortunately that didn’t keep them ahead of the bills by a long shot, what with school clothes and supplies, doctor bills for Jenny’s asthma and then pneumonia, and Alma Junior having to have her appendix out. Huge fights broke out between them over anything no matter how trivial if it concerned money.
A big one broke out when husband and wife traded rooms with the girls. Ennis and Alma slept in the tiny bedroom now while the daughters used the foldout couch in the living room. Alma decided to use "her" paychecks to buy a new frilly and very feminine bedroom set, making her husband furious as behind on the utilities and rent as they were.
When he questioned how she got it up there and set it up all by herself, she casually mentioned that Monroe helped her get it at a very reduced price at one of his general stores, and that he'd had some of his workmen tote it up the stairs for her.
The most frequent fight always seemed to be how his pay was theirs, but hers was hers. They took turns with, "I, me, my; that’s all ya ever say, I, me, my - not "we" or "ours" just "I"!"
Ennis tragically began turning inside on himself... and he talked less... talking meant fighting.
A little before a planned camping/hunting trip of Jack's, Lureen Twist dragged her husband to an estate auction in Dallas. He found something there that he'd ached to have for himself but selflessly bought it for Ennis instead.
Though he got it for a lot less, after having it researched, he had it appraised at being worth $115,000, but it wasn’t about money, its value came from love, the anticipation of Ennis' reaction and the knowledge that a hunter like del Mar would covet and cherish such a gift.
In camp a month later, and three days into their hunting vacation, Twist had Ennis sit on the campstool out in front of their tent and close his eyes.
Jack gently laid a long wooden box across his lap and said, "Okay, open ‘em."
Ennis looked at it and ran his palms across the hand tooled fancy oak lid as Jack announced, "Happy Birthday!"
Del Mar looked up at his cherished buddy questioningly and answered, "You know it ain’t my birthday, huh."
"True," he replied and then with a lot of reverence added proudly, "But accordin' to notarized paperwork and matchin' numbers, what ya got there turned 68 years old today.
The story goes that an old prospector in Oregon bought it 'n died in a cave-in the next day without ever pullin' it out of that box.
It's been handed down 'til it come to be in your hands now... and I want ya to have it."
Ennis frowned and fumbled with the latch, then raised the lid to reveal a mint condition Winchester Model 1873 lever action .44-.40 hunting rifle. One of the finest weapons ever made.
The horseman gasped in astonishment and looked back up at his generous friend in wonder.
"I had it torn down 'n inspected without touchin' the patina, it’s been test fired only once, certified by a factory expert, 'n all the paperwork is in the case. I found it at an auction and the minute I saw it, I remembered how ya told me that ya hated sellin’ yer daddy’s when you was a kid, so I figured ya deserved this one to replace it."
Ennis was too stunned to speak as Jack knelt to point out its features.
Del Mar interrupted him and after swallowing hard, he muttered in a hushed whisper, "Henry action… I think they stopped makin’ 'em in the early nineteen-twenties… 24-inch barrel… rimfire…"
He stood and placed the box carefully on the stool he'd been sitting on, and then respectfully lifted it out, hefting it marveling at its balance.
Ennis turned to sight on a distant tree, worked the smooth-as-silk freshly-oiled lever action and lovingly caressed it like when he held Alma Junior for the first time the day she was born.
Twist’s heart sang as he watched his friend, and with a warm satisfied smile said, "I knew you’d like it."
The sound of his voice brought Ennis back to reality.
"Jack. Ya know I cain’t take this."
Twist fought back disappointment and replied, "What d'ya mean? Uhcourse ya can."
"I cain’t take this home. Hell; in this condition it’s worth at least 85-90 thousand huh, 'n probably more'n that to a collector!"
Jack was beginning to lose his patience. His friend seemed to always stomp on any joy they had together.
"It’s a gift, don’t worry ‘bout it,"
Instantly Ennis grew frustrated and angry. He roughly pushed the gun into Jack’s hands and barked in his face, "You ain't thought this through, Jack! Ya don’t git it - ya don't NEVER git it, huh."
He backed off a couple of paces to stand in front of the empty box, then turned back to him and continued, "If'n Alma seen this... Ya just don’t git it. Alma... me 'n my shit jobs, then me struttin’ home with this in my hands, huh, with her goin’ on 'n on 'n on 'bout this an’ that that we cain’t afford fer the girls.
Hell; she’d take one look at this 'n without knowin’ any better, she'd sell the goddamned thing at a pawn shop fer a couple hunderd to pay some bills the minute I turned my back."
After a moment’s thought he added, "Fuck; I’d go crazy worryin’ someone would steal the damned thing… No, I just cain’t accept it… I cain’t afford it; things are too tight for us - shit I’d be tempted to sell it myself to make ends meet if’n they was to get bad enough, huh."
Trying to salvage the situation, Jack said the wrong thing, "Hey, ya need help; I got plenty, you name the figure, I’ll loan it to ya or give it to ya outright… you goddamn know that."
Ennis roared back, "I - DON'T - NEED - YER - HELP! ... Ya got that, huh?"
Near tears, Jack turned away and silently walked over to the water’s edge carrying the incredible gift in his right hand that should’ve made his lover so happy.
This was supposed to go so different. Like his love for Ennis, his joy always seemed to turn to heartbreak.
Ennis growled, "I sayed…"
"I FUCKIN’ HEARD WHAT YA SAID!"
In frustration he almost hurled it into the water, and thankfully thought better of it.
With his left hand balling and unballing into a fist, Jack turned back around to face Ennis’ still questioning eyes.
"Yeah, I got it," he grunted as he stomped over to put the rifle back into its case and then carried it back to his truck.
They left for home an hour later and three days early with barely a word between them…
It angered her because Ennis refused to get a better job for himself that paid enough on its own so she wouldn’t have to work like other wives, though she was convinced that many were available. He also continued to buy and sell horses on speculation instead of putting money away for the girl’s further education.
They couldn't even go to church without arguing in the pews. One day Ennis sang, "Jesus loves me this I know" instead of "yes" I know, and Alma had a quiet hissy fit at him for singing the wrong words on purpose to aggravate her. He squeezed her hand hard enough to almost make her cry out and told her that he'd been singing it that way his whole life, just like his daddy and granddaddy before him.
Alma started going to the Methodist Church with the girls, always leaving him behind when he mumbled something about Sunday being his only day off, not liking that "fire and brimstone" crowd... that and he wanted to sleep in one day a week.
Suddenly in every argument they had, "God" was on Alma’s side.
She began making the girls say prayers at bedtime and recite grace before even a simple snack. Several bibles appeared in the living room and the nightstand of their bedroom. She’d try to read it aloud before they went to bed till Ennis got sick of it when she started intentionally and frequently quoting Leviticus. He came home one day to find a crucifix nailed above the inside of their front door.
Monroe began regularly driving Alma and the kids to church every week and for socials and picnics. In her ignorant mind her husband had been "infected" by that Jack nasty Twist and this was her way of protecting her children from Ennis in turn infecting them.
After a particularly spiteful and loud fight over his continued refusal to take a second job with the electric company, Ennis went out to Betsy’s bar to cool off. He’d never laid a hand in anger on Alma in their yearsof marriage, but that night he’d come damned close.
When he came back home that evening, the sounds of the kids laughing up there, the TV playing loudly, and Alma singing, "Jesus loves me - yes I know..." was too much for him and he just sat out in the night air alone on the tailgate of his truck for about half an hour smoking and wondering if his life would ever turn around for the better.
After a long while, he laid on his back in the bed of the truck and looked up at the stars through a clear dark sky, remembering that night with Jack looking for something up in heaven. Things would be so much different if they’d followed through on Jack’s idea to ranch up together.
Above and behind him, he heard their storm door open and didn’t bother to sit up and look because he figured it was just Alma. He didn’t want to hear her bitch at him for staying out so late.
The girls started calling out "Goodbye!" so he frowned and peered out from the pickup's bed to see Monroe in his "Sunday best" come out on the landing under the porch light and down the stairs.
He must’ve not seen Ennis in the dark until he was right beside him, because he practically jumped out of his skin before wordlessly rushing to his car and driving away.
When del Mar finally went up to the apartment he didn’t have the energy or desire to act jealous and let it drop.
Alma happened to be standing behind him one day when he opened his tackle box and she noticed that his two-year-old rod and reel looked brand new and so did the unscuffed price tag that was still on it.
She nodded to herself that he wasn’t going up there to fish and had the theory confirmed for her the next time he was ready to leave on one of his "trips" when he nearly forgot to take the creel case with him and would have if she hadn’t said something.
When he came home happy and rested, she ignored him... his favorite hat disappeared the next day.
He figured she probably burned it.
Her resentment opened out a little every year. Ennis’ fishing trips once or twice a year with "him," but never a vacation with her and the girls.
His not wanting to step out and have any fun unless it was alone, his yearning for low-paid, long-houred ranch work, his propensity to roll to the wall and sleep as soon as he hit the bed, his failure again to look for a decent permanent job with the county or the power company put her in a long, slow dive.
Worst of all, over the years every time she came down the steps from their apartment, she came face to face with that private stairway that led up the other direction. A couple of years ago she'd talked Monroe into having the trim painted dark brown but that didn't help. The ghosts of her husband and that nasty Jack Twist trying to climb into each other's clothes while in a passionate lip lock still tore her apart just a little more every time she had to face it.
Finally in the summer of ’77 it all came to a head when Ennis was feeling particularly horny one night and just as he was about to enter her, Alma asked him to use a rubber. "As far behind in the bills as we are; I don’t think it’d be a good idea not to use precautions."
That killed the mood immediately.
Before rolling off of her panting with passion, he said in frustration, "If'n you don’t want any more of my kids, I’ll be happy to leave ya alone."
She replied a little too quickly, "I’d have them, if you’d support them."
She remained silent as he climbed off her and took his usual position facing the wall. The way Ennis liked to have sex with her most of the time didn’t make babies anyway. She’d long ago deduced that that’s how he had sex with that Jack and resented being used as a substitute for him.
She turned off the light…
Three months later Alma filed for divorce and custody of the girls. If Ennis wouldn’t support her and the girls the way she wanted, she had her own man waiting in the shadows that would.
When the court day came, Ennis felt like the world had crashed down on his shoulders. His self-image as a man who was a good husband and loving father was now shattered and he felt like a complete failure.
He loved and cherished his little girls more than his own life and while standing there his face held a mixture of equal parts resentment, hate and shame.
He was now convinced beyond doubt that to love someone-anyone was to be condemned to be hurt by them. As he stood in the courtroom he could feel himself shutting down and was powerless to stop it.
As the Judge ruled in Alma’s favor and ordered Ennis to pay child support, his chest tightened to the point of hardly being able to breathe and tears fell from his crestfallen eyes.
He looked to be in such agony that both Alma Jr. and Jenny broke free of their mother and cried open tears as they gathered around him hugging him and looking frightened of the judge.
Ennis moved out that night leaving no word of where he was going. A week later after swearing them to secrecy, he told the girls he was staying at the Siesta until he could find a job out of town.
Until he did, he worked part-time pumping gas at the filling station across the street.
Alma figured he'd disappeared to avoid the child support, but he just needed time to heal and would never do anything to hurt his girls.
He wrote a heartbroken letter to Jack giving him the news, hoping he’d write back but heard nothing for a month. He had to leave on a roundup and missed his 2nd month in a row with the girls so he was out of town for a long stretch. Ennis wanted to be in love, but convinced himself that he was just lonely.
He was shocked when after another month Junior called to tell him that Alma had married Monroe and was a month or so pregnant.
The hippies came and went and all eventually become disco groupies while the music turned into K.C. and the Sunshine Band disco and then ZZ Top guitar rock.
Jimmy Carter brought an excuse for prayer meetings everywhere, and televangelists raked in tons of money and started networks on something new called “cable.”
Every time you picked up a newspaper or turned on a TV there was another news report about a mysterious "gay cancer" and on Sundays in the years to come there were the televangelists falsely declaring God’s judgment on only homosexuals with a horrific disease that could only be caught through their sinful sexual contact. Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant began convincing everyone that gay men roamed the streets at night trolling for little boys to kidnap and sodomize.
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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.