Big Boots of Pain
- Part 3
Late That Summer
Jack had a letter
Feedback to: jenny
Jack had a black cloud over his head the size of all Wyoming.
Ennis didn’t need one of Alma’s fancy magazines to tell him that the letter
and cloud were connected.
He didn’t ask. Weren’t his business till Jack made it so.
* * * * * * *
They were stacking winterfeed. Or Ennis was. Jack was sitting on a bale,
chewing a nail and gloomy.
Ennis pitched, lifted, swung mechanically, glanced to Jack. “I’m not gonna
ask, cowboy; so git over here and help.”
Jack folded the letter. Unfolded it. “Shit, Ennis, why cain’t you just
pester the life outta me like a woman? Make it impossible for me not t’
“Thought you might’a worked out why by now, Jack Twist; maybe noticed
I ain’t a woman.”
Jack smiled, sunshine through the cloud. “Reckon I did once or twice last
“Bobby wants to come visit.”
Ennis laid down the fork and wiped his forehead, came to sit next to Jack.
“How you feel ‘bout that? You ain’t seen him since….” Ennis never finished
any conversation about the bad time. Cut him up too much.
Jack stroked Ennis’s thigh. “I’m here, Ennis. Ain’t leaving you none neither.”
After a time. “So, what you gonna tell ‘im?”
“I don’t rightly know.”
“No hurry. Think on it.”
Jack nodded with unhappy eyes.
Ennis didn’t do Jack unhappy, glanced around, pushed him to the floor.
Laid on him and drawled, “Seein’ you ain’t seen fit to work up sweat of
yer own, you kin enjoy some’a mine.”
* * * * * * *
“He’s startin’ college in four weeks.”
“So? What you thinkin’ on doin’?”
Jack passed Ennis his cigarette. Naked, filthy, laying still on the floor
of the barn in streaks of dust-pitted sunlight it tasted real good. Ennis
blew a long trail, saw Jack’s body shaking. “Hey!”
Jack shook him off, turned his face away, tears streaking the grime. “He
knows, Ennis. How’m I gonna face him?”
“Seems like it were only yesterday you were tellin’ me you weren’t shamed.”
“Christ, Ennis, how come you cain’t remember where you left your fucking
pants most days, yet when it comes to shit I say, it’s like a goddamned
“I know you don’t like to hear this, and we ain’t hardly talked ‘bout
“An’ I’m thinking I don’t want t’ know it now.”
“—but I had my fucking pants around my ankles, side of the road, Ennis.
My boy knows I take it up the arse. How you think that makes me feel?”
Ennis frowned. “How you know he knows? Cain’t see LB tellin’ ‘im. Shames
a man like the bull to talk on it. Faggot is ‘bout all I reckon he told
“Well, Ennis, ‘ness I’ve bin gettin’ upset ‘bout nothing all this time,
that’s what faggot means.”
“Hell, Jack, everyone who don’t shit to the right like they do gits called
that. All I’m saying is Bobby knows you didn’t git along with Lureen an’
LB didn’t like ya. He knows there was a man, cus they tried to pass him
off as you. But I bet yer bottom dollar he ain’t got a clue what rightly
happened to get you that beating.” He paused just right. “It don’t hardly
seem possible to me, so how could it to him?”
Jack turned his head. “I’m hearing some bother there, Ennis. You still
hurtin’ ‘bout this?”
“I’ll take hurt to my grave over it, Jack. Ain’t never gonna forget.”
“Shit! Ennis! Don’t say that! You’re goddamned breakin’ my heart!”
Ennis turned his head, faces together. “ I want t’ remember, darlin’.
Want to remember the too tight fucking rein I held you on to make you
need it so bad. Ain’t ever gonna forget. Ain’t ever gonna forgive m’self
Jack kissed him, long enough to taste. “You’re too good for me, Ennis
Ennis laughed, tickled at the thought. “Wish Alma could hear someone say
that ‘bout me. Tell you what, Jack Twist, you move into the big house
with ma while he’s here. Leave me in the cabin and invite that boy a yourn
up here. I think he’ll surprise you.”
“You surprise me still, Ennis, after all this time.”
“Is that so? In that case—.” Ennis rolled on top of him and surprised
him some more. Third time, and it wasn’t even fully day.
* * * * * * *
Saying it had been easy. Doing it was impossible. A few hundred feet became
a thousand miles; a different bed, a different life. They were back leaving
Brokeback with nothing to look forward to. Nothing to live for.
Ennis took it real hard, harder than he thought on or let Jack see. All
Jack’s clothes, his things, moved to ma’s to make a fiction for the boy.
Ennis moved into the barn to sleep, although he didn’t let on to Jack.
Leastways there he didn’t have to try and be two people to fill the space
Jack left in the bed.
“It’s only gonna be for two weeks, Ennis.” Jack was reassuring himself
as much as Ennis, so Ennis went along with it.
“Sure. Cain’t say I ain’t lookin’ forward to a little respite from your
yabberin’ and snorin’. Got a few aches and pains might git a chance to
heal an’ all.”
“An’ maybe if he goes in t’ town or something we could—.”
Ennis frowned and stopped grooming his little mare. Leant against her,
lighting a smoke. “How you work that out, Jack? He cain’t never go into
town. We’ve got ourselves a right situation here. Town’s folk think we’re
brothers. Boy’s gotta think we’re jist friends. I’m wondering if’n this
ain’t the time that lie jumps up to bite us, friend.”
“They do say lying’s a sin.”
Ennis laughed, a rare, clear laugh that went all the way to his eyes.
“That’s the least of our problems, friend, if you believe in that hellfire
“Hush my….’ He mumbled the last, to spare Jack.
* * * * * * *
It started badly.
Bobby said he was driving up, which confused them all. How could a mite
like that drive all the way in some rusty old pickup? When Jack pictured
it, he saw himself and twenty years past.
Bobby purred in, red and sleek, scream of European tyres. Jack rubbed
his hands on his thighs. “Shit.”
Seemed to Ennis that Jack climbed out of the car. Jack as he had been
once, before pain and years etched him. “Shit.”
Jack went over to greet and there was a hug, but it was bodies apart and
hard slaps on the back, man to man and not blood.
Ennis hung back. Bobby saw him and came over, hand out. “Ennis. It’s good
to see you again.”
The embarrassed silence from remembrance of first meetings was broken
by ma. “It’s about time I met my one and only grandson. How are you, Bobby?”
“I’m doing good, ma’am. It’s real fine to meet you. Mother said to say
sorry for your loss an’ all.”
She nodded sadly, but Jack and Ennis saw the truth in her eyes. “Come
on in now. I reckoned you’d be hungry. Jack never stopped eating when
he was your age.”
Ennis lifted an eyebrow at Jack. Jack frowned at him to be serious.
Maybe it wasn’t going to be that bad.
* * * * * * *
“You better call your mom, son, let her know you arrived safe.”
Bobby didn’t look up from his plate. “Maybe later. She’s out today.”
“What you want to do now?”
“Take a tour?”
Jack smiled. “Was hoping you’d say that.”
They saddled up, Jack very aware that Ennis was watching from the cabin.
The sun was hot, despite it being gone summer and not a breath of wind
rustled the lake. “You fish?”
Jack laughed suddenly, reined it back. “Spent twenty years not fishing,
Bobby, so I try to avoid it now.”
“Granddaddy loves fishing. We both do.”
“LB just be lovin’ that, I reckon. I remember him at the hospital first
time he saw you. You’d think he’d had you hisself.”
“Whose cabin is that?”
“We ain’t going that way, Bobby.”
“I want to see.”
“Don’t your ma ever tell you want don’t get? Bobby!” He reined in, waiting
for him, watching himself in the dismount and the cocky stride.
Ennis came out on the porch, wiping his hands on a towel. Jack kept his
eyes fastened on his saddle.
“Ennis. This your place?” Ennis nodded and stepped to one side. Bobby
disappeared into the interior. Ennis turned and leant on the doorway,
watching him. “You’ve grown some. Hardly recognised you.” Bobby was looking
for something, and Ennis could guess only too well what. “I never got
a chance to thank you for helpin’ me like you did. Meant to write, but
didn’t want your ma knowing.”
“I knew. You didn’t have to write. How is he?”
“Cain’t you see for yourself?”
The boy shrugged then saw the picture of Alma Junior. “Who’s that?”
“My oldest.” Ennis avoided his eyes straying to the empty spot next to
it with no dust. “What do you want, Bobby?”
The boy squared his shoulders. “Nothin’. Just looking. You coming riding
Ennis shook his head. “I gotta work.”
* * * * * * *
“This here situation is a pig, Ennis Del Mar. An’ if you say one word
‘bout fixing or standing I’ll punch you down.”
“I’m kinda down already, friend.” Ennis stood up, brushing his knees.
“I can’t do it. It’s like havin’ the babies listening to me an’ Alma.”
Jack flung his head back and stomped his feet.
Ennis wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “You best be careful or
I’ll git confused which Twist is which if you go on actin’ like you was
a kid. Time you were gettin’ back.”
“I’m checking the stock. Cain’t I check the goddamned stock now?”
Ennis brushed a kiss over his lips. “Twelve more days an’ you can check
my stock with particular close attention, Twist.”
“An’ that’s supposed to help is it, Del Mar?”
“Jist wanted to give you a littl’ something to think on me.”
“With me sharing with my boy? Cain’t even wring one out, Ennis. Don’t
laugh at me! An’ when did you get all with the sassy talk? Bin tryin’
to get you to say somethin’ nasty for twenty years, an’ you up an’ pick
tonight, when I cain’t do nothing ‘bout it.”
“I gotta go, Jack. I’m needing me some private time, if you git my drift.”
“Fuck you, Ennis Del Mar! Fuck you!”
Ennis was still laughing when he got into the empty cabin. Then he stopped.
He sat down easy on the bed, hat between his hands, turning it. He had
a bad feeling about something, but without Jack, his thoughts were so
consumed with needing him that he couldn’t puzzle it out.
* * * * * * *
Ennis rolled over in bed and stretched for Jack. Forty, and he could still
wake with wood to blunt an axe. What the hell…? He sat up, straw in his
hair and scratching his face. Cock-stand was the only thing he’d got right
that morning. First morning without Jack and lying in straw in a barn.
He could see the house from here though. More important, he could see
Jack’s window. Could see someone walking in front of it but couldn’t tell
if it was Jack or the boy. Ennis felt someone walk over his grave and
couldn’t shake the bad feeling.
* * * * * * *
“What ya doin’ that fur?” The boy turned, stripped to the waist and chopping
wood outside the cabin. “Where’s Jack?”
“He’s driven gran’ma into town. Said I’d be bored.”
“So you come bothering me?”
“Am I bothering you, Ennis?” The sun was in Ennis’s eyes. Felt blinded.
“Can I trouble you for some water?”
The boy made himself at home, feet up on a chair, drinking the water.
“Beer would be nice.”
“Bit early innit? Put yer shirt on.”
“Can I take a shower?”
“Sure can. Nice hot one back at the house.”
“So, you live here alone?”
“Ain’t so alone with yer daddy and his ma jist over there.”
“You see a lot of him?”
Inside an’ out, but I ain’t gonna git into this with you, brat.
“Time I was gettin’ back to work.”
“Do I remind you of him?”
Don’t need reminding. Got him. “Yes.”
“Mom said we could be twins.”
“Bet she were real pleased at that.”
‘She hates you.”
“She don’t know me.”
“She hates what you are.”
“An’ you, Bobby. What do you think, because that’s what this nice littl’
chat’s re’lly been about.”
“’S why I came.”
“Thought it might’a bin.”
“Don’t tell him though.”
“Nothing I keep from Jack, son. That’s jist something you got t’ know
“But I’m thinking you won’t be telling him just how I remind you
Ennis got up too quickly, lost the upper hand he reckoned he’d had till
“Time to go, Bobby.”
Bobby popped the stud on his jeans. “What’s yer hurry, Ennis? We got all
* * * * * * *
Jack unloaded the supplies, went looking for the boy. Found him in the
barn, grooming. “Hey.”
Bobby’s straightened. “Yer back quick.”
“Felt bad leavin’ ya.”
“I found things to do.”
“Good. You seen Ennis?”
Jack frowned. “Not at all? Not that I—. Jist wanted to ask him something.”
* * * * * * *
He jogged up the step and didn’t knock. Ennis was stripping the sheet
off the bed. “Hi, cowboy. What ya doin’?”
Bundled the sheet, and sat down. “Slept in the barn las’ night. Scratchy,
thought this might help.”
“You’re gettin’ soft, Del Mar.” He glanced out of the widow, sat next
to him and put his hand on Ennis. “Hope it ain’t spreadin’.”
“Quit it, Jack. I said quit it!”
“You’re spoiling my fun now.”
“Jack, I’ve been thinkin’. Might go up on the mountain for a few days—while
the boy’s here.”
“Why? No call to go an’ do that!”
“Give you time to git to know him, maybe. We’ve got a long time ahead
of us, friend. He only gits you two weeks. Think on it.”
“But it don’t stop me gettin’ to know him with you here!”
“Jack, you kin be one stupid son of a bitch sometimes. You know that?
What ya doin’ right now? Sittin’ here with me when you ought’a be out
“Damn is right, friend. ‘Sides, I could do with a few days. ‘Fore the
winter gits us an’ we cain’t go up at all.”
“You ever get tired of being right all the time, Ennis Del Mar?”
Ennis wasn’t feeling all that right so didn’t reply.
* * * * * * *
Jack watched Ennis leave without watching him, a trick he’d picked up
over twenty years of soaking the man into his own skin. He felt like he
was being skinned, his top layer, which was Ennis, being peeled away.
“Where’s he going?”
“Jesus. You made me jump. What’s up?”
“Where’s Ennis going?”
“Up on the mountain fur a few days. Why? I gits you all t’ myself now.
I was gettin’ jealous the way you two was hittin’ it off.’ Jack grinned,
thinking he’d please the boy, claim his attention.
“I didn’t mean fur it to happen.”
“What to happen? I don’t git ya.”
“Yesterday, when you were in town.”
Jack felt saliva rush into his mouth, but he prided himself that he kept
on fixing the fence. “Go on, I’m listening.”
“I thought he wanted to talk ‘bout… you know, last year. An’ we were talking,
“What, Bobby. Jist say it.”
“He said I reminded him of you. When he first met you. Wanted to know
if I was like you in other ways.”
“I’m thinking you don’t mean rodeoing.”
“He said it wouldn’t hurt. That I’d like it.”
Jack fell to his knees. Bobby put a hand on his shoulder. “Leave me be!”
Stood up. “Was it on the bed in the cabin?”
“An’ did you like it?”
“He made sure I would, but you’d know all ‘bout that, wouldn’t you?”
* * * * * * *
He couldn’t cry, and he couldn’t stop from crying. He was a need that
he couldn’t define or end. Nothing helped. He went into the cabin and
stood by the bed.
Finally, he went to the house and found ma. “I’m going up on the mountain.
Kin you look after the boy for me?”
Ma considered him. “You don’t look well, son. Why you following Ennis?
Thought this was to be Bobby’s time. You’ve got time enough for Ennis.”
“We ran outta time, ma. We ran out of time.”
He fetched his gun down and checked the action. Smooth, like Ennis.
* * * * * * *
The cold of the mountain hit within a few hours. Either that or the shaking
was something else. He pulled his coat close and knelt to the track. Weren’t
like on the movies. Couldn’t see shit.
He guessed where Ennis would head though. Place had seen a lot of fighting.
Seemed right somehow.
His breath steamed out, the horse’s too, ground felt hard. Mountain seemed
real unfriendly. First time he’d ever been in it on his own. Absence of
Ennis, inside and out, hurt.
* * * * * * *
He saw the tent where he thought it would be. Remembered times when he’d
come back and find Ennis by the fire, supper on, smile on his face and
such warmth in his heart that snow melted around them. The smoke trail
was thin and straight up, painful and struggling in the air.
“Jack? Shit, what’s wrong? Is it ma?”
Jack swung down. Now he was here, had no idea what to do. Hand on his
shoulder. Turned and saw Ennis’s eyes. Hadn’t seen them clear for a while.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Saw Ennis proper for the first time in a
long while. “Oh, Ennis.”
* * * * * * *
Ennis could not make Jack rise from the hard ground. Held him like he
was protecting from a bear, his body for Jack’s, over him and no harm.
“What is it, darlin’? You gotta tell me, cus you’re breakin’ my heart
Jack lifted his face, snot streaked and red. Ennis’s broken heart mended
but melted, and he cleaned with his own sleeve. “Jist tell me, Jack.”
“I didn’t trust you, Ennis. I heard what he said an’ believed him!” It
set him off again, and Ennis could see nothing more useful was going to
happen without coffee and time. “Come sit with me, Jack. Nothing that
cain’t be said on Brokeback, you know that. No secrets.”
Jack allowed Ennis to help him stand, clean his face again and like a
child be led to the fire. They sat, Ennis at Jack’s back where he belonged.
“Tell me what happened, Ennis, when I was in town.”
Ennis sighed. “Friend, I don’t rightly know how. Didn’t want to have to.
‘S why I left for a few days. Was hopin’ it would sort without me. I’m
a coward. I’m a goddamned coward. But then you know that. Who knows it
more, m’be ‘cepting Alma. Shit, I hurt everythin’ I touch.” He removed
Jack’s hat and propped his chin on Jack’s thick hair. “I think he was
tryin’ to test me. See if’n I’d fall for it an’ hurt you. What did he
say, Jack? Tell me.”
“Said you wanted him because he reminded you of me. Said you made it good
for him like you do fur me.”
“Yeah. Oh, God, what a fuckin’ mess. I did this, Ennis! I couldn’t keep
my dick in my pants when it came to you, an’ I fucked Lureen up, fucked
Bobby up, an’ now I’m fucking us up.”
“I reckon we both bear some blame when the weighin’ gonna be done. I’m
sorry you had to hear that an’ be hurt so by it, but Jack, don’t beat
yourself up ‘bout believin’ him. Remember Ed?”
Jack began to chuckle, but it was mixed still with grief, and the sound
was so funny Ennis began to laugh, too.
When whisky had been exchanged for the coffee, Ennis kissed Jack and asked,
“Why you changed yer mind, Twist? I’m thinking you didn’t pack that gun
“You put those damn eyes of yours into action, Ennis. Undoes me every
time. Jesus, darlin’, I trust you with my life.”
Ennis rocked him for a while, passing the whisky bottle back and forth,
listening to the fire talk to them of twenty years of needing no one else.
“Why you stripping the bed?”
“Huh? I told ya, cus I’m sleeping in the barn on goddamned straw because
Jack smiled into the whisky bottle. “That’s good then.”
A wind picked up and made the tent flap.
“What, Jack? Cain’t you enjoy the peace an’ quiet for a while?”
“Why are you sleepin’ in the barn?”
Ennis snatched the bottle. “Cus I’m soft, Jack Twist. Fur you. Cain’t
bear to sleep on my lonesome an’, if you ever mention this ag’in I might
have to take that gun to you.”
“What are we going to do about Bobby?”
Ennis was pleased to hear the we. “I ain’t sure it’s our place
to do anything, Jack.”
“How you work that out?”
“He’s only a few months shy of when we first met. We weren’t boys, Jack;
we were men, an’ we knew what we wanted an’ took it. It were in his eyes,
Jack; he knew what he was doin’.”
“’Cepting… we didn’t, Ennis. Are you tellin’ me that if you could go back
and do it all ag’in, you’d still walk away from me without one regret
and go marry Alma?”
“Trust me, Jack, it weren’t with no regrets. Not at all.”
“I cain’t. I’m not that man anymore, I guess. Cain only say what I want
now, and that’s you.”
“But we could have done it different, Ennis. Jist because we were ornery
stubborn bastards didn’t mean we were right. An’ Bobby’s not right, an’
we need t’ help him.”
“I think I’d best stay out of it, Jack, much as I like bein’ included
in the save Bobby campaign.”
“Cain’t do it without you, Ennis. Don’t want to. Had me a real scare today.
Made me see you different.”
Ennis snorted. “That I can believe.”
“Don’t make fun a me, Ennis. Had you not in me as I were riding
up onto Brokeback, and it felt like I was dying.”
Ennis took a deep breath. “I never wanted you to feel that kinda pain,
Jack, but it’s with me every time I think on the word deceased. Cain’t
hardly remember anything ‘bout that trip to Texas or the hospital or bringin’
you up here to git some healin’. Think I was dead inside, ya know? So
every time I wake by you or hear you fart or have to watch you cuttin’
your damn nose hair, I think that I’m in heaven already an’ that it don’t
even matter that I think the one I’m supposed to be waitin’ for’s
jist a lot of hellfire and hokum.”
“Ennis Del Mar, if you go on like this, you’ll talk more in one night
than you spoke the whole damn time I known you.”
“If’n I go on like this, Jack Twist, I’m gonna be in serious danger of
sayin’ something I planned on not never sayin’.”
Jack twisted around in his arms. “Am I hearin’ what I think I’m hearin’?”
Ennis pursed his lips and stared resolutely into the fire, not realising
the effect of its brilliance in his eyes. “This here is under protest,
but I love you, Jack Twist. Now it’s said, and no more need be said about
it. Jack! Quit it! Quit it! We got ourselves a nice warm tent, you darn
fool. Hell, your mouth is warm ‘nuff. If I’d known sayin’ it was gonna
git you to do that, you’d have heard some love nonsense from me a long—.
* * * * * * *
“I don’t want t’ go back, Ennis. It’s like all the problems down there
but up here we’re jist free from it all.”
“Problems everywhere for the likes’a us, Jack.”
“Not in New York.”
“That what yer new best friend Toby say in his letters that you think
I don’t know ‘bout?”
“We jist friends, Ennis.”
“Did I say you wasn’t? You’d know ‘bout it if I thought different, Jack
Twist; jist you remember that. Come on, it’s near daybreak. No problem
gits solved by stayin’ away from it.”
“That’s not what you kept tellin’ me all those years, all those times
you stayed away from me.”
“Who said you were my problem?”
* * * * * * *
They rode in slow, sharing thoughts and concerns and no idea what to do.
They didn’t feel old enough to know what to do, felt the same as the first
time they’d rode off this trail, thoughtless and full of each other, hurting
Ma flew from the house, waving. They kicked to a gallop.
“He went up to look for you, Jack. I couldn’t stop him. He was real upset;
said he’d done something dumb. Oh, Jack, he don’t know the mountain. He’s
just a boy.”
Jack swung down. “Did he take a gun?”
She shook her head.
“Which horse?” She told him. “Equipment?” Again, a shake of the head.
“Shit, shit, shit. Sorry, ma. Ennis?”
“Let’s go.” Jack felt weight lift from his shoulder.
* * * * * * *
“Cain’t track him.”
“Wait, what’s that?”
Ennis squinted hard. “Damn, Jack, I’m forty years old, cain’t see that
far so good.”
“Let’s go. Shit for brains goddamned kids!”
“He was sorry. He was coming to git you and make it right. Things are
gonna be okay, trust me.”
Jack closed his eyes. “I cain’t believe it, not yet. Seemed so bad what
“Jack, he’s your son, more than you know. Got your goodness. Sweet, like
Jack was silent for a while. “You call me sweet again, Ennis Del Mar,
an’ so help me….’
Ennis swiped Jack’s hat so it fell low over his face. “Sweet darlin’,”
and spurred his horse on ahead out of reach.
“Twenty one years, Del Mar, an’ you don’t change one bit, ‘cepting for
your crap eyesight!”
* * * * * * *
What humour there was still in them evaporated by midday. No sign of
Bobby and no way to find him. They’d never found the mountain hostile;
it was their mother, and they’d suckled their love on her for twenty years.
Now she’d turned on them, cold in their bones and in their hearts. At
last Ennis called a halt. “Jack, git up. You cain’t follow what ain’t
Jack beat the ground with his fist. “Fuck!”
“Git up, Jack, an’ listen to me. Jack!”
Jack reluctantly climbed back into the saddle. “What?”
“You gonna calm down an’ be civil?”
Jack hung his head. “I’m sorry. Ain’t got no call to take it out on you.”
“Close yer eyes, cowboy.”
“Come on, trust me, darlin’. Close yer eyes. Okay, now, you’re Jack Twist
ag’in as he was when I first met ‘im. You thinkin’ on that? Remember how
you ran like a wild thing? Always gettin’ in trouble and makin’ a noise
and complainin’ and wantin’ the world jist the way you though it ought’a
be? Which way would Jack go, cowboy?”
Jack had his head tipped to one side. He seemed to be listening to something.
He opened his eyes and scanned the trails ahead. “That one. Shit, Ennis,
I’d take that ‘un cus it’s the hardest. Gotta prove I could do it.”
“There ya go. That’s the way he’s gone too, I reckon.”
They swung to the hard trail, had to dismount times and lead stubborn
horses. Day started to fade in the west, spectacular but painful.
Then they saw it, coming out of the sunset, colour of blood.
Ennis swore. Jack saw.
It was blood.
The horse staggered, snickered, staggered, a routine of pain it must have
had too long. What Ennis thought reins trailing were guts, slashed and
being where guts never should. Insane and unable to stop, it dragged its
life behind, going down, heading for a remembered home it would never
Jack snatched his gun, dismounted in one fluid movement, tears unnoticed
on his face. “I ain’t never done this, Ennis. Oh, shit.”
Ennis took the rifle from him. “You hold her, friend. Leave it t’ me.”
Jack couldn’t, there was too much pain and panic, and he was knocked down,
stepped on, blood slicking his hands, but eventually it was done and the
They lost their horses in the process. Twenty years and more of horses,
and they’d made a mistake, not holding while they shot.
Jack cried out. Ennis bent to his knees. Glanced behind, up, deciding.
“We gotta git ‘em, Jack. Cain’t do this without ‘em.”
“No! We’ve gotta go find him, Ennis! Horse cain’t have come far like that.
Must be jist up there.”
“Jack, if he ain’t, we’re fucked. Cain’t walk, ain’t got supplies. Jack!
Stop!” He caught an arm. “Medical supplies’re on the horses.”
Jack watched Ennis’s eyes in horror. Saw the horror in them. He glanced
once to where he wanted to be then began to run down the trail after the
horses. It was getting too dark to see.
“They’re good horses, Jack. Won’t go far. Fuck!”
“Damn near broke my fucking leg. Slow down, Jack, ain’t gonna help him
none if we’re done in.”
“Ain’t gonna help him if he’s bleedin’ to death.”
Ennis didn’t like to say that if the bear got to him that wouldn’t be
much of a worry.
The horses were coming back up the trail toward them, edgy and full of
excuses. They remounted and swung west once more. Ennis held Jack’s rein.
“Wait up, friend.”
“No! Ennis, we gotta go now!”
“I can’t see squat, Jack, so I’m sure as hell you cain’t neither. We got
us a real bad situation here, cowboy. Jist take it slow.”
Jack nodded and side-by-side they picked a delicate way up the trail,
fixing objects in a rare glimpse of moon and trusting to luck under cloud.
The horses wouldn’t pass the dead, so they led them, hats shading frightened
Jack began to holler for Bobby, hoping at each call he’d hear, “Daddy,”
but it never came.
“No, Ennis! I know what you’re gonna say, but I ain’t stoppin’.”
“If we wait till light we kin follow the blood. Jack, we need to wait
Jack slid off his horse. Ennis was there for him. It was the worse night
they’d spent on the mountain, and in twenty years they’d had some bad
* * * * * * *
Sunup came early. Huddled together under a blanket, no tent, waiting with
no sleep and little talk, they stumbled up, stiff with cold. Ennis put
his hand on Jack’s arm, made him look at him. “You know, Jack. In yer
heart you gotta know.”
Jack looked like the man Ennis found in a hospital. “What am I gonna do?”
“Yer gonna stand it, Jack, cus that’s all ya kin do.”
“You don’t git it, Ennis. I never wanted ‘im. Not like you and the girls.
You’ve always put them first. Shit, I should know that; they came afore
me, every time. But I didn’t. I would’a left ‘im, drop of my pants, if’n
you’d once given me a slackin’ of that fucking rein you kept me on. I
never wanted ‘im. I jist wanted you, so now I’ve got ya, I’m losing him.
God’s punishment on us, Ennis.”
Ennis punched him down. “You quit it, Jack Twist. This ain’t nothing to
do with God or what you did or ain’t did in the past. That’s bullshit
and you know it! Git off your sorry ass and come help me look or so help
me God I’ll kick you while you’re down.” He stomped off, hoping Jack was
fooled. Saved his shaking for when Jack was mounted and not looking. Sometimes
Jack Twist needed some skilful handling.
They picked up the trail of blood. Ennis didn’t want to hear flies. Wished
he didn’t have to see a man, no penis, in his mind. Didn’t want that for
Jack. Whole life, remembering Bobby after a bear.
“Lit me go up front, Twist.”
Jack reined back and looked at him. Ennis shivered, looked at something
else. Jack’s eyes were full of hate. For himself, for Ennis, for Brokeback,
for everything they were.
They both began to shout, and some miles on a shout came back. Jack looked
to Ennis like the sun lived in him. They spurred hard and crashed through
He was trying to stand, a figure of mud and blood and warm, live skin.
Ennis hugged him hard as Jack, and Bobby was laughing through crying.
“Christ, Bobby, I’m gonna beat the livin’ crap outta you when we git back.
What the hell you doin’ comin’ up here with no gun? Did ya git hurt? How’d
“Fur Christ’s sake, Twist, let the boy speak.”
“He rolled me, Ennis. He jist came over and rolled and rolled me.” He
Ennis looked mystified at Jack. “Who rolled what?”
“M’be he’s delierious.”
“M’be. Git a fire going.”
Bobby came round with a cry. Jack held him and talked about nothing while
Ennis got a fire going. “You sure you ain’t hurt, son?”
“He rolled me.”
“The bear, Daddy, we kinda stepped on ‘im, and I fell off, and he caught
the horse a swipe. He was screamin’ something bad and ran. I felt like
I’d busted my leg it hurt so damn much, and the bear jist turned on me.
Thought I was—.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his sleeve over his
face. “I’m so sorry, Daddy. I fucked things up an’ when I thought that
bear was gonna git me I wished I could say that to ya, afore I went an’
died. But he jist rolled me. Over an’ over like I was a goddamned log
or something. Got me some crackin’ bruises. Wanna see?”
They both did, and Jack’s hands began to shake when he saw them. “Christ
almighty, Ennis, look at ‘em.”
“You’ve been mauled, son. Mauled by a bear and survived. I reckon you’ve
got one hellavu story to drink on the rest of your life.”
“Why’d ya do it, Bobby?”
“Jack, not now.”
“No, I wanta know. Why’d ya do it?”
The boy stared into the fire then glanced up at Ennis. “I was helpin’
ya so you’d bring him home, but you up and took him all fur yerself. You’ve
had all the best of him all my life, so why’d you go and take the little
I had as well?”
“Let me talk fur myself, Jack. Boy deserves to know. It weren’t like that,
Bobby. I took him up the mountain to make him well an’ then I left. Left
fur nigh on the rest of that year. It weren’t cus of me he didn’t come
back, son. He couldn’t, given the way things was.”
Jack waited, staring into the fire. “Life ain’t a storybook, Bobby. It’s
jist the way it is, an’ most of us spend our whole lives wantin’ things
we ain’t never gonna have. I spent my whole life—.” He licked his lips,
took a breath. “My whole life wantin’ Ennis. You’ve been wantin’ something
from me your whole life I ain’t been able to give you because of that.
Well, now I got Ennis, and m’be you kin have what you want too. You cain’t
grow sweet grass on bitter, empty land, son; it’s gotta be rich and full.
You git my meanin’?”
“I don’t want to go back, Daddy. I cain’t live with them any more’an you
“Shit, son, lookin’ like you do, I’m not sure I want you to go back to
Bobby grinned. “Just as well I’m not here then. Just as well I’m visitin’
Huston with my girl’s folks.”
Ennis and Jack chorused, “Your girl?”
Bobby blushed. “Jist because I look like you….”
Jack huffed. “Don’t see how’s yer gonna pass off a bear mauling in Houston.”
* * * * * * *
Bobby and Jack rode one horse, and they took it slow with lots of rests.
Camped one night, rough and ready, and made it back the next day. Ma was
grey with worry. Jack thought she looked old, felt old himself, realised
he could be a grandfather soon, didn’t want it.
He put the boy to bed, let ma fuss like she’d never been allowed to fuss
him and went to find Ennis. Took him by the arm and took him to bed. Took
him in another way too, not something they did very often, but special
when they did. Ennis, always so private and contained, opened up to allow
Afterwards they lay tangled, Ennis in Jack’s arms as it had always been,
needing the only love he’d ever really been given. “You gonna let him
Jack tightened his arm. “No. That’s what I wanted to talk on some with
you, ‘for I let him know.”
“He’s gonna take it hard, Jack. I don’t mind, if you want… if that’s why
yer sayin’ no.”
“Didn’t think you would, Ennis, but appreciate hearin’ it. M’be I’m the
most selfish man on earth, Ennis, an’ I know I said all those foolish
things ‘bout being punished an’ all. ‘S easy to get foolish when yer heart’s
all tearin’ up with worry. But this is my life. I waited fur long enough
to have it. When that thing comes over us—an’ I don’t notice the need
for it lessin’ over time, cowboy—when it comes over us? I want to be able
to scratch that itch, Ennis, good and proper. We earned this, darlin’,
an’ I ain’t gonna share it with anyone, not even Bobby.
“Yer very quiet, Del Mar. You thinkin’ what a grade A bitch I am?”
“I was thinkin’ that I maybe only now understand jist how hard it’s bin
fur you all these years. I’m sorry, Jack. Sorry for all the hurt I gave
“Jesus, Ennis. You saved my goddamned life in that hospital. Paid it all
“No, you got it all wrong, darlin’: I was jist savin’ my life.”
* * * * * * *
Bobby came down for breakfast the next day, stiff and bruised. Jack let
him eat then said, “We got some talkin’ to do. You busy?”
They strolled side by side, divided only by time and Jack’s clothes hanging
loose on his work-worn frame. Headed for the lake and began to walk the
shore, skipping stones.
“You’re gonna tell me I can’t stay, aren’t you?”
“I’m not gonna lie to ya, Bobby, an’ say this is the best thing for you.
People always lying to their kids like that. This is best for me. But
ya know somethin’, son? You kin go out and live yer life because
I’m here. Brokeback is like that, Bobby: real welcomin’ when you need
Hands thrust in pockets they wandered on, slow, Bobby still limping. “Where’s
“Givin’ us some space.”
“What’s that?” Small tent on sweet grass and stillness on the water.
“Took me a fancy to learnin’ how to fish. Hopin’ you’d see fit to teach
me. Be good to fish together when you come up in the vacations.”
Bobby closed his eyes, opened them and life continued. He grinned a grin
he’d inherited from Jack. “What the hell is that?”
Jack picked it up. “What the hell it look like? That’s my fishin’ tackle.”
“Damn, that’s old! You can’t catch nothing with that!”
Jack began to laugh. Found he couldn’t stop. Knew it was going to be all
right. “You’re wrong, son. It’s brand new. Ain’t never been used, but
I caught exactly what I was fishing fur with it, even if it took me twenty