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Big Boots of Pain - Part 4

Approach of Fall

“We’re gonna be broke come spring, friend.”

Ennis skimmed another pebble over the lake, grunted as reply.

“You hear me?”

“I hear ya.” He stopped his fun. Not had much fun for the first forty years of life so was used to its absence. The knot in his belly, begun to soothe under Jack’s insistent loving, came back, hard and fast. He stamped his feet. “It’s damn cold.”

Jack came up, wrapped his arms tight. “Spring ain’t till next year, Ennis. I ain’t sayin’ we’re broke an’ out on our asses now. Did you fear us leavin’ this evenin’? Goin’ our separate ways? Ma out on the streets, m’be only a quilt to keep her warm?”

Ennis turned, punched him so hard blood flew through the air, darkening pebbles where it landed. Left him on the ground and began to walk back to the cabin.

* * * * * * *

Jack left it a while, mostly because he was bleeding. Flow stopped and he followed Ennis back, hands pushed low in pockets. He went in, not looking at Ennis and put coffee on to heat. As he shrugged out of his jacket, he looked ruefully at the blood, then went to the bathroom to inspect his nose. “M’be I ought’a take up prize fightin’. Got me the nose fur it now.”

Ennis leant in the doorway, watching. “Don’t ever make fun a me, Jack. What’ve I got if I ain’t got this? This ain’t mine; ain’t something I kin control or keep mine. I’m here like a woman, Jack, an’ I cain’t stand that you git your fun on that.”

Jack watched him in the mirror. Replied into it, “We paid LB back almost a tenth what I owe him, Ennis. You and me earned that money equal, last few months. I’m sorry you cain’t see that. We pay it all back, an’ this place’ll be ours. Equal.”

Ennis closed his eyes, opened them, took the washcloth from Jack, dabbing gently. “You niver had to worry ‘bout money, Jack, not since you met Lureen. My whole life’s bin like ridin’ through rain: cold and hard, and you jist want it t’ stop. I cain’t joke ‘bout it like you. This all I got now.”

“Well m’be you ought’a stop hittin’ it then.”

Ennis’s smile warmed them both. “I’m feelin’ real bad ‘bout that now. Kinda swellin’. You ugly as a hog.”

“That so?”

It was unexpected, no less relished for that. Lovemaking, lately turned tender, slow, bed-soft and warm, now on the bathroom floor, heads jammed, scrabbling for purchase, tearing clothes and biting like cats for arousal. Ennis stabbed dry. Jack cried out, tearing, and they went at it on blood.

* * * * * * *

Jack paced; Ennis watched, knowing why he couldn’t sit, feeling good to think on it.


“Well you should’a stopped me then.”


“If your ass hurts, ya should’a said no.”

Jack blinked then aimed a kick at the bed. “I figure we make a list of our assets, Ennis. See what we got an’ ain’t got. See if we cain’t figure a way to make some money this win’er.”

“We got huntin’ parties booked?”

“Some, till back end September. Then I reckon it’s too damn cold to camp out. Ain’t no vacation for them in that. Bad nuff when yer being paid.”

“M’be we kin sign on fur some work someplace.”

Jack shook his head, put a hand on Ennis. “Yer too old, cowboy.”

Ennis took that as a challenge.

* * * * * * *

“Horses be okay. Got the winterfeed fur them. Guess we could hunt fur vitals.”

“An’ you could fish.” Jack’s lack of prowess with a rod amused Ennis.

“You ain’t ‘xactly helpin’, friend.”

“M’be we could sell ma.”

* * * * * *

Jack held Ennis, arm tucked under his sleeping head, stroking fingers through sweat-damp curls. What would Ennis be if they’d had no parting since that first summer on Brokeback? Four weeks gone, and he was softening, hard skin being shed. More and more, Jack saw this Ennis: this quick, fun-loving man, willing to love. Still had the other one to live with, an’ all. Hard, mean, quick with his fists, anger in his gut. Flip sides of the same coin. Nose ached from one, ass from the other. Jack reckoned he was branded well and good.

He wanted sleep, like Ennis, but worry wormed awake in his belly. Ennis was right: too easy for too long. Didn’t want to be his father: dried out and sour from poverty and disappointment. Had ma to look after. And Ennis.

Thought about Toby. Couldn’t ask. Wouldn’t ask. Thought about LB and a few months not paying. Wouldn’t give the son-of-the-bitch that much satisfaction. Lit a cigarette. Smoke curls in the air, soft curls in his fingers. Didn’t want to lose this. Thought about Mexico and the paying for flesh. Considered. Made him laugh and want to tell Ennis, but remembered his nose. Thoughts drifted to a tyre iron. Bobby. Pleasure at the fishing. And it came to him. Just as clear and brave as sunlight through cloud on Brokeback. “Ennis!

“Del Mar, wake up.”

* * * * * * *

Ennis knew Jack’s enthusiasms. Best go along, quiet, prisoner to his zeal. Soon blow over and be forgotten.

* * * * * * *

Wasn’t forgotten this time. Jack persisted with the same tenacity he’d shown to Brokeback over twenty years. Still harking on it come October. Ennis needed to pull hard on the reins of this one.

“Jack. Stop.”

Jack, carrying an armful from cabin to house, waited. Planned they’d live there with Ma, rent out the cabin for fishing vacations throughout the winter.

Ennis, leaning on the rail of the porch, watched the lake. “I ain’t moving in with your ma.”

“Ennis, we done decided all this! Only fur the win’er.”


“No! What ya mean no! Bin planning this fur weeks!” Jack had ways of dealing with Ennis as well. He ignored him and kept on walking.

“Jack Twist, you take one more step an’ we’re gonna have a fallin’ out o’ this.”

Jack took a large step, moon large, and kept going.

* * * * * *

Jack slumped on one narrow bed, eyeing the other, scowling. Ennis, framed in the doorway, glanced behind and shut the door. “Could lend you a strap, friend, so ya don’t tip out at night.”

“Fuck off, Ennis. I got a fishin’ party arrivin’ in two days, so you best be outta that cabin. You had a problem with this, friend, you should’a raised it over the last four weeks. I ain’t sprung this on ya.” He flicked him a glance. “Not like you, springin’ bad surprises.”

Ennis sat on the opposite bed, took off his hat, twisted it in his hands.

Jack bounced his bed, raised eyebrows, hopeful. “Come on, cowboy. You need some help decidin’?”

Ennis looked up, sharp. “You got no respect, Twist.”

Jack stood, came close, backed off. “I’m sick o’ this, Ennis. What I done wrong now? You always on my case worse than Lureen, an’ she a grade-A bitch sometimes!”

Ennis stood, made the room shrink. “Got no respect fur me, fur ma, or fur your own goddamned wife, Jack. We cain’t live in this house all win’er. What we gonna do, huh? You goin’ give me up, Jack? You ‘xpect me to not have you fur the whole win’er?”

“Christ, Ennis, no. We kin…. When ma….” Seeing he was now so wrong he went for being right, came forward, belligerent. “Least I ain’t ‘xpectin’ you to live on two high-altitude fucks ‘tween now and spring. Got us beds an’ bein’ together. ‘S more than you ever gave me.”

“We ain’t together on this, Twist. I’ll be outta the cabin tonight.”

* * * * * * *

Jack refused to meet ma’s eyes over supper. She laid a third plate and told him to wait. Boy-small again, he waited.

Ennis came in, nodded to ma, ignored Jack.

Jack talked to ma about the fishing till she cleared and took plates to the kitchen. Awkward silence crackled louder than the fire.

“Cabin’s all clear. Like I said.”

Trying to show no interest. “You in the barn?”

“Nope.” Ennis stretched out and lit a cigarette.

Jack played with his glass. “I ain’t gonna ask.”


“Damn you to hell, Ennis Del Mar.”

Ma spoiled Ennis’s fun. “So, Ennis, where you stayin’? Don’t like to think of you in that old barn all winter.”

“No ma’am.” Furious glance to grinning Jack. “Campin’ out, down by the lake. Right prutty spot.”

Jack’s face fell. “Without me,” not said, but heard.

Ma got to worrying. Ennis and Jack regarded each other over the table, lines drawn. “I gotta get goin’, ma’am. Got me a hike… now I’m commutin’.”

Jack pushed his chair back, knew he was a weak for this man and didn’t care. “You want some company back, cowboy?”

Ennis took time with his hat. “Nope.”

* * * * * * *

Ennis didn’t arrive for breakfast and looked rough when Jack saw him at the cabin. Jack was sweeping out. He leant on the broom and lit up. “Mornin’.”

Ennis nodded. “I’m goin’ t’ town.”

Invitation or announcement? Jack fished in his pocket. ‘Got us the money fur next week. Kin you bank it?” He held it out, hoping desperately on it being invitation, brushed Ennis’s fingers as it was taken. “Didn’t sleep, friend. I’m feelin’ bad ‘bout this whole situation.”

Ennis looked down. “Yeah.” Pushed the cheque in his pocket. “Guess you ought’a.”

* * * * * * *

Jack saddled up, went to find Ennis’s camp. He was right. Prettiest spot on the lake. Through the woods, an easy walking trail, or along the shore, further but sweet. Wouldn’t know the house or cabin existed from here.

He sat on Ennis’s blanket, thinking, left food and a present. Rode up on the mountain, talking to himself.

* * * * * * *

Ennis arrived for supper. Jack was cooking, ma gone to a church evening. Ennis tossed his hat, saw the situation and retrieved it. “I’ll eat in camp.” The hesitation was painful. “Thanks fur the supplies. An’ the whisky.”

“I cain’t eat all this.”

Ennis hesitated some more. A log falling to flames decided him. He dropped his hat and sat down, Jack filling his plate. With ma gone, Jack ate his out of the pan.

Jack poured whisky and heaped more food to Ennis. He tossed a log on the fire. “Gettin’ cold at night.”

Ennis nodded, drained the glass. Jack refilled. “You manage pie?”

Ennis tossed back the whisky. “Depends on who baked it.”

Jack fetched it, more cream than pie. Third whisky went down unnoticed.

Clearing the table, Jack watched Ennis on the couch, long legs stretched to the warmth, near sleep.

“Some might say we’re wastin’ what we got now, Ennis. Didn’t wait twenty years to fight with ya.”

“You wanna make out on the couch, Twist?” New voice Jack didn’t like or get.

“We kin go upstairs.” Glance at the door. “Don’t want ma comin’ in an’—.”

“Christ!” Ennis was up and pacing. “This what we come to, Twist? Two ol’ nasties sneakin’ around? How kin you think on it?”

“I told you, Ennis, long time ago: I ain’t shamed by what we do. M’be you are. M’be that’s what twenty years were about. Not the girls, not I gotta work, Jack. M’be it were I’m shamed by you, Jack and what I want t’ do in your body.”

“Shut up!”


“I said shut up!” Ennis grabbed him by his shirtfront. “It ain’t about shame! It’s about respect, and you ain’t never had none. I cheated on Alma, and I’m deeply shamed ‘bout that, but you… you…. You cheated on me!” It was said. Ennis couldn’t rightly work out why. Had nothing to do with moving into the house for the winter.

Jack put hands to Ennis’s wrists, slightly stronger, though he’d never use that. “I never did, darlin’, if cheatin’ done in the heart.” Stroked his thumbs over work-worn bones. “Kin you wait some minutes?”

Ennis pulled a hand free, wiped his eyes. “Wut for?”

“Need to find me some long-johns if I’m campin’ out this win’er”

* * * * * * *

Ennis knew no mention of the cold could now be made. Not ever, all winter. They lay huddled, too cold to sleep on hard ground. Tent flapped, blankets smelt of horse piss, but his world was back on its right axis, tilted just so. “You didn’t ask me, Jack. Jist ran on, thinkin’ I’d go along wi’ it. You don’t respect me.”

“This your thing ‘bout feelin’ like a woman a’gin? Because, friend, I’m thinking I jist let you prove you ain’t.”

“Christ, Jack, you think more wi’your ass than you do wi’your brain.”

“Guess that’s because I gits to use it more o’fen. I thought you’d jump at the idea, Ennis. We gits to pay the son-of-a-bitch back sooner, kin afford to eat and keep the place goin’, an’ all we ain’t got is the cabin fur a few months.”

“That how you see it, Jack? Jist a cabin?”

Jack sat up, hand on Ennis’s face in the dark, calloused cupping of stubble. “It ain’t us, Ennis? That what you think?”

Ennis held the hand, stroked the palm, felt for the pulse on the wrist. “You sure ‘bout that? We were Brokeback for twenty years, Jack. Never existed off the mountain. It were like you were dead then it were so bad. M’be we’re jist that cabin now, an’ if I ain’t got it then—.”

“Shit, Ennis, don’t, I cain’t stand it. You’ll tear the heart outta me, darlin’, I swear t’ God.”

* * * * * * *


Ennis shot bolt upright. “Coyote?”


Ennis recollected. Punched Jack.

“I got me another idea.”

Ennis groaned, pulled the tarp over his head. Jack went under with him. Smelt of bodies: sweat and spunk. “We build us a new cabin. Here. Right on this spot. Pruttiest place on the whole of Brokeback, I reckon.”

Ennis shuffled over, facing Jack. Doubtful. “You ever build a cabin?”

“Jesus, Ennis, you rain on even the Pope’s goddamned parade.”

“An’ you go at life like it gonna work out jist how you want it, no regard fur the reality o’ the situation. Yer gonna take falls so hard, darlin’, that’s all.”

“An’ you ain’t never gonna git high, Ennis. You gonna stay down at the bottom of the mountain because you too afraid t’ climb up an’ see what there.”

They rolled onto backs, found cigarettes, opened the flap to night sky. Ennis watched stars, old friends, ice-cold light on his face. “If I climbed up a ways, would ya come meet me?”

Jack hugged him, rough and painful. “If I come down off my mountains, Ennis, will ya have that camp ready fur me?”

Ennis turned, his face cooling Jack’s, lips like sweet ice in summer. They explored, mouths deep, feeling tugs on balls that clashing tongues always brought. “Our cabin, Ennis. Kin you picture it?”

Kissing around stubble, smelling tobacco, “Kin you picture the work?”

Tonguing where Ennis particularly liked it, “Build it together, friend. Share the work.”

“Sweet hellfire, Jack, I cain’t say no to ya.” Urgent turning him, scrabbling to enter, and a feeling of being home already. No cabin needed.

* * * * * * *

They surveyed their work. “What time you expecting ‘em?”

“Noon. Looks good, don’t it?”

Ennis knew better bunkhouses, but was silent, trying not to be the damp always spoiling Jack’s parades. Jack was in his good books just now. Smelt like Brokeback and aching anticipation of camps high on the mountain. He walked up behind, pressed them together, full light of day and no shame. Jack closed his eyes and leant back, soaking in the love. “M’be we should’a painted it up some.”

“They comin’ to fish, not admire prutty fancies.” Jack’s ear tasted of soap.

“See if’n I cain’t pick us up an ol’ boat this win’er.”

“Damn fools’ll probably drown ‘emselves.” Jack’s neck tasted of fall sunshine and work, flesh hard to the bone when he bit at it. Jack stretched back, hands sliding behind Ennis, stroking. Ennis whispered into the licked-wet skin, “This don’t wear out, do it Jack? Thought it might, now we gits it all the time.”

Jack rumbled in his throat, rubbing on Ennis. “’S like nature. Riper the conditions, better the growin’.”

“You growin’ fur me, Jack?” Jack shifted Ennis’s hand down for answer.

A while and some exploring later, cotton over wood, Ennis sighed. “Ain’t the other fur me, Jack, that makes me blush t’ think on what we do; had that some with Alma, though ain’t sayin’ half as good. It’s this, under my hand and me here picturin’ it and thinkin’ on it. Where’d that come from?”

First conversation in twenty years about what Ennis thought on their sex. Jack took it easy. “Lureen never took no interest in it, after it give her what she wanted. Ain’t a woman’s thing, far as I kin see. Men the on’y ones like their cocks. Natural to like another an’ all.”

Ennis murmured into warm neck. “You argue like a preacher.”

“No damn religion I ever heard. Might’a gone to church more if sermon on the cock subject o’ the day.”

“Hush, sinner. I aim on havin’ you in the afterlife an’ all. Don’t want you crispy an’ peelin’.”

“Where’d you spring from, stranger? You killed off Ennis Del Mar? Because I’m tellin’ you, friend, he wouldn’t take to all this lovin’ talk. He be lookin’ to punch someone right about now, jist so he don’t have to feel the need a me.”

Ennis lowered Jack’s zipper, slid cold hand into heat. “Punchin’ never take the need away. Nothin’ did, ‘cepting Brokeback an’ slidin’ in t’ you.”

“You wanna take the need away now?”

“We jist got through makin’ the bed fur—.”

“When we ever need a bed, fool?” A glance around, habitual as breathing, then Jack popped the stud open on his jeans, letting them fall. Fists griping the porch rail, watching sunlight on the lake, Jack was taken. Still sloppy from a wake up call, he was ripe conditions. Ennis grew to fill the space.

* * * * * * *

The cabin wasn’t right. The cabin wasn’t as advertised. Their cabin. Jack apologised and promised refunds. Seeing his hurt, badly hidden, Ennis felt murder in his heart, tasted and liked the flavour.

Jack took his hurt out on the wall. “Goddamned sons of bitches, Ennis! I told ‘em ‘bout the cabin ‘fore they paid. Right on the goddamned lake; fish fur the takin’. What more they want?”

“T’ prove they got more money ‘an us, I expects.”

“We’re sleepin’ in a goddamned tent! See us complainin’ there ain’t no fancy bathroom, ur kitchen app-li-an-ces. Fuck! What d’they think this is? New York fuckin’ city?”

“You wanna mess up the bed? Seems a shame t’ waste it.”

“Are you laughin’ at me, Del Mar, because that would not be a good thing t’ do right now.”

“Sure nuff, Jack.

I’ll save it t’ tomorrow. Cabin still be empty.”

* * * * * * *

Ennis watched Jack, biting his nail till the quick bled. Made him shiver. “When it gotta be ready fur the next uns?”

“Two weeks. What’m I gonna do, Ennis? I don’t know shit about appliances. That were Lureen’s department.”

Ennis poked the fire, wished it was Jack. “New York city. M’be you should ask your prutty friend up in New York city. I’m thinkin’ he knows more’n a man ought’a ‘bout appliances… of all kinds.”

Jack called, breakfast the next day. Magazines were promised.

Next day, a large black jeep rolled beside the barn. Grinning face, laughed, “You have no idea what it costs to mail magazines, Twister.”

* * * * * * *

Ennis felt small. Small man with small ideas. The land he understood. Horses and seasons and how hard it was to make a life, these he understood. Flying across a continent in one night because you could and because you were bored awed him. Awe silenced him. Jack was drunk on the fun and being liked. They came with money and ideas. Smelt of life in a place where life was lived without deceit. Ennis envied and feared them, consumed by silence.

“Shit for brains, Twister, did you seriously expect people to live here?” Toby kicked the cabin’s absence of appliance.

“Told ‘em it were simple.”

“Okay, Ad Reinhardt is simple, this is…. Never mind. Stand aside; genius at work.”

Jack glanced to Ennis. “Cain’t take all this from ya, Toby, though don’t think it ain’t appreciated.”

“How much are you asking for a week?”

Jack named a figure. “Okay, good.” Mock calculations in the air. “You owe us two free weeks twice a year for the next ten years. How’s that?”

“But, ya could’ve come for free, now we friends, an’ all.”

“Jesus, Twister, you are now a man of business; you don’t have friends!”

Ennis shook his head and left them to it. “Both damn fools as each other, if you ask me.”

Martin caught him at water’s edge. “Sorry. Tobes has… enthusiasms.” He took Ennis’s grunt of sympathy for encouragement to talk. “Christ, it’s pretty here. Have you any idea of the potential of this place, Ennis? Nineteen eighty four: leisure is the new Big Brother. You’ve got the horses, fishing; hell, skiing in a few weeks if this cold gets any worse. Tobes wants Jack to fix a hot tub on the porch, looking down over this view. You market it as steaming in snow.”


“Don’t worry. It’s a designer thing—what he used to do, before the Cock Ring.”


“The club? Toby’s club, the Cock Ring.”

“Cock fightin’ illegal in Wyomin’.”

Martin had no idea if Ennis was joking, but had a sudden flash of desire to be Jack and know this quiet man enough to tell.

* * * * * * *

The visitors slept in the cabin, Ennis and Jack in the camp, but they spent the evening sitting around a fire on the beach, swapping whisky and stories. Darkness and friendship dissolved twenty years of caution. Ennis, Jack sitting between his legs, claimed his property with fingers on neck and a twisting of curls.

Jack wanted Toby to talk about sex, but felt Ennis’s disapproval. Hushed the other two out of respect, till Ennis said, “Don’t bother me none; I ain’t listenin’ anyways.”

Only Jack knew, and not through anything said, that Ennis was. Benefits were had later that night. Jack, in Ennis’s good books and knowing it, made Ennis say things, do things. When dawn came, neither one could stand for aching, but there was frost so old bones were blamed.

* * * * * * *

“I’m gonna cancel next week’s guests. New stuff be here then. We put it in an’ kin take visitors furst week in November. How that sound?”

Ennis glanced around the cabin. Samples, swatches, books, orders, instructions. “He a right littl’ whirlwind of fuss an’ fancy, ain’t he?”

“He’s gonna market us to all his friends, too, Ennis. Solid bookings right through the spring, m’be.”

“Oh, an’ I kin see jist how you like the idea’a his kinda friends, Twist.”

“I swear, Ennis, half the time I don’t know if yer more stubborn or more stupid.”

“Stupid? That real good, Jack.” Began to push and corral him to the wall. Thrust him hard. “What about when they wanna go t’ town, Twist? You thought’a that? Because folks round here ain’t stupid—like me. Two an’ two always make four. T-Mar gonna take on a whole new reputation, an’ I’ll be findin’ you in a irrigation ditch missin’ my favourite part. You thought on that!”

“It ain’t—.”

“It always like that, Jack. Don’t ya git it? There’ll never be no place nor time when we kin go to the movies together, sit at a picnic, take a walk; Christ almighty, kiss like regular folk can. That ain’t never gonna be fur us. You never see no animals survive if they different. Think on that littl’ runt puppy ya carried all that first summer in yer saddle pack. You put ‘im down and other dogs damn near killed ‘im. Jist fur being different. An’ that what we are, Jack, an’ the sooner ya come to accept it, the better off you be.”

“Christ, Ennis. Preferred it when you ain’t talkin’.”

“I always talk, Jack; I jist don’t do it out loud like other folk. Can’t see the difference—still the only fool listening, far as I kin see.”

“I listen, Ennis. I hear ya.” He kicked the wall. “Son of a fucking bitch.”


* * * * * * *

The trees were so pretty they could have sold the place on red and gold alone. Two men and their wives came first. The men fished; the women painted and rode some with Ennis teaching them. The men went hunting, the wives into town. Such happiness, they wanted same time next year. Paid cash, more money than Jack or Ennis ever held. They scattered it on blankets and went at it, crumpling and staining, hot skin smelling of money and spunk.

They ordered the lumber for their cabin.

Following week, four men came. Old and quiet.

“What they doin’, Ennis?”

Ennis shook his head, didn’t want to know.

They did it again, whatever it was, following day.

“Shit, Ennis, I think they walkin’!”

Every day, boots, sticks and sacks until late, past sundown. Walking.

It worried Ennis more than the flying. “You think bein’ old an’ all they ain’t noticed they missin’ the horses?”

Ma was asked into town with them one night for dinner and a dance, told Jack she felt like a floozy but went anyway.

Money for that week fattened LB’s belly, sizable chunk off what they owed.

* * * * * * *

Middle of November, first snow hit hard.

Ennis woke to white, tumbled out of canvas and vomited, staining the purity.

 “What’s up? Fuck Ennis, you sickin’ fur something?”

Ennis shook him off, wiped his mouth. “Always like this fur me, first snow.” He didn’t explain but went to sit by himself, hunched and small in the whiteness. Later took Jack so hard it was more keeping than taking.

Lake froze. Got so cold they had to move in with ma. Ennis didn’t say a word; lumber for the cabin had arrived; he could see the stack from the window whenever he needed.

Brokeback was bound in snow and ice, still, waiting out for warmth. Stillness slipped inside, abstinence feeding intimacy. They took up cards, played for whisky and kisses sneaked under the covers of a shared single bed.

Lay tangled and watched the moon move across snow.

“We ought’a have a tub for our place, an’ all, Ennis. Out on the porch so ya kin soak yer old bones. Reckon we ain’t broke no more.”

Ennis, holding Jack’s warm, naked body, thinking on abstinence and anticipation, grunted. “Reckon we never were.”

The End

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