I'm getting bored with it,
I tell the typewriter
this constantly walking around
in wet shoes and then, surprise!
somehow DECEASED keeps getting
stamped in red over the word HOPE

Anne Sexton "The Big Boots of Pain"

Big Boots of Pain

Jobeth watched the lean man reading the card. He’d been there for over an hour, out on the hot street. At first she’d thought he was a slow reader, taking his time. Even her Marty could read faster though, an’ he was only seven. There was something desolate about the man. The strange word echoed down the years, and she heard her ma explaining about the crying woman: Hush, Jobeth, leave her be. She’s gone an’ lost her baby. She’ll be desolate for a time. That was how the rangy man was. Like a woman who’d lost a baby. She got distracted by a customer, Mr I’m-the-big-cheese-in-these-parts Lamar, and when she looked up again, he was gone.

The space where he’d stood for so long looked awful lonely still.

* * * * * * *

Ennis read and reread the word until it made no sense, until it sounded like one of those frenchie languages Alma had sometimes dragged him to see at the drive-in. He’d played a game with his brother once: say fuck a hundred times. They did, till it became remote and distant, a thing of mystery and power. Like deceased. Deceased, deceased, deceased.

He had to call. Heard the reproach and hostility in the widow’s voice but no… was there no grief? He was at the bottom of a mineshaft and not coming out any time soon. She sounded like the sun still shone. Her own private, winter sun maybe, but still shinning.

He needed a drink so didn’t have one. Didn’t want to dilute memories. He’d need them now. They were all he had. Two high-altitude fucks a couple of times a year reduced to passing shadows in his mind. Time would dilute them enough without his help.

So for once he was thinking clearly, and the pain, cutting as it did, gave him especially sharp edges. He had the first thought of many that would drive him over the next few months and shape all the months that were to come: Who had stamped his card deceased? It wasn’t a clever thought, one of those college-type questions his Junior could have asked. One year of high school didn’t get you those kinda smarts. It was good enough though: Who had stamped his card deceased?

Surely the card would have been delivered to the little widow, all sympathy Ma’am and any thing we can do. Knowing of the deceased or not, they’d have delivered it. And, of course, it had his return address at the top. It always did.

So, on the back of that first question, another one clung heavy like a wet woolly carried over a swollen river. Why had they sent him back his card with that one word deceased? Just like in the fuck game, deceased was taking on a whole lot of other meanings now and none of them were good.

* * * * * * *

Ennis wasn’t a man for making decisions. It was why they’d been as they were: drifting, unhappy, living on the scraps of Brokeback Mountain and memory. He couldn’t decide or commit. He did now though—even though it was too late. He knew that. Maybe he was committing to the ghost because he couldn’t commit to the man.

He climbed into his truck and began to drive to Texas. Not something they’d ever discussed him doing. They only existed on the mountain. What would they have been in the flatness of Texas?

He arrived late one evening. Stunned, looking at the house. He knew Jack had prospered, their fortunes contrasting more and more as the years progressed. Expensive coats, always new jeans and boots, but he hadn’t mentioned it. The man inside was worn just the way Ennis liked him.

This was a rich man’s house. He felt grubby and inadequate, but hell, he’d felt that all his life, even in his own damn place.

The bell played a jaunty tune. Like the widow, it seemed inappropriately alive.

A man opened the door, a bull, beer gut proud and beefy. ‘Can I help you, son?’

‘Beggin’ your pardon, Sir, looking for Mrs Twist.’ Could he say the name? He tried it on his tongue and it tasted just fine. ‘Jack’s wife.’

‘I know who Mrs Twist is. Although I’m liking to think she’ll be dropping that dumb-ass name sometime soon. What would you be wanting with my littl’ gal?’

Ennis kept his eyes downcast. He knew their gaze was the only disconcerting thing about him. Jack had told him so. Jack had also said keep your powder dry, Cowboy, although they had not been talking about the impact of Ennis’s devastating stare. The memory of Jack beneath him, grunting keep your power dry, Cowboy; I’m close to shooting here made him struggle, and his reply was curt even for him. ‘Thinking I’ll be telling the lady that, if’n you don’t mind.’

‘Well, son, see here’s the problem: I do mind. So, you’d oblige me by getting off my goddamned—.’

‘Who is it, Daddy?’

‘Now, Lureen, don’t you—.’

‘Ennis Del Mar, Ma’am. I’m Ennis Del Mar, an’ I’ve come to express my… tell you how…. Can’t tell you how sorry I am, Ma’am. For your loss.’

Ennis did not miss the glance between father and daughter. He wasn’t a talking man or a clever one, but he was observant and thoughtful. He hadn’t expected open arms, but he felt a little like his card now: stamped deceased and returned. 

The big man puffed out some more and said carefully to his daughter, ‘Where are your manners, girl? Invite Mr Del Mar in. He’s come a long away.’

They knew his name. They knew where he lived. Ennis wondered, as he stepped into the place where Jack had left no mark at all, what else they knew.

* * * * * * *

There was coffee and a chair but he hadn’t liked to sit. He remembered that later. Some talk about cremation he didn’t want to remember and ashes. But he didn’t know how it had happened yet and had to ask. They told him of a car and an accident, but he was a little tyke again, all of nine, hearing the drone of flies laying eggs where a man’s penis had been and should be still.

They were watching him carefully, as well they might. He felt he was doing something inappropriate. Screaming. But he’d never screamed in his life and didn’t know how to let so much sound escape all at once.

There was only one final question. He’d driven over a thousand miles to ask it after all. ‘You got my card, Ma’am?’

Again a flick of the eyes to the bigger man. ‘Yes.’

‘Uh huh. Well then, I’m just wondering, Mrs Twist, who stamped it deceased?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Who stamped it deceased?’

The bull snorted forward, which Ennis later reflected had been a mistake. ‘Look here, Mr Del Mar, or whatever your name is—.’

‘Why didn’t you write what had happened? Why just send it back deceased?’

‘I think it’s time you were on your way, son. There’s nothing here for you.’

No, Ennis reflected bitterly. There never had been.

He returned to his pick-up. Found a youngster leaning on it. For a moment, in the dark, he had a familiar twisting in his guts, but it wasn’t Jack. Just like him, though, with his big beauty.

‘You’re Ennis.’

Ennis grunted into the so-familiar eyes. ‘You must be Bobby. I’m real sorry ‘bout your Daddy. I knew him a long time, and he was a good man.’

They boy kept his eyes fixed on Ennis, fifteen years of confidence didn’t give much. Just enough maybe. He slid once glance back to the house. ‘They didn’t want you to come.’


‘My Mom and Grandpappy. They talked about you. Said they had to stop you coming here.’

‘Why? Jack was a good friend, son. I wanted to pay my respects, is all.’

Lips licked nervously. Less resemblance now. ‘He’s not dead, Mr Del Mar. That’s why.’

* * * * * * *

‘Bobby? You come on in now.’

The boy kept his eyes fixed on Ennis. ‘I know he’s not.’

‘Look, son. My ma and pa died when I were just a mite, and I wanted them real bad to be—.’

‘No!’ Eyes becoming frantic as the mother jogged toward them. ‘Can I talk to you later! Please! He’s not dead!’

‘Bobby!’ She turned to Ennis and held out her hand. Clear dismissal and off my property.

Ennis couldn’t drag his eyes off the nails, red and thick like scarlet blood boils needing to be pricked. ‘Ma’am, I’d appreciate to visit the family plot. Pay my last respects, then I’ll be on my way. Can you direct me?’

She turned and pointed and began to recite lefts and rights, relief in her voice. Ennis turned to the boy. ‘Thank you, Ma’am. I’ll get along there now. Stay a while, if’n I may. Till I’m clear in my mind.’

The boy nodded imperceptibly and wandered off, teenage and pockets and slouch.

* * * * * * *

He climbed into his truck, reversed and took the directions she’d given him. He wasn’t thinking; that would come later. Halfway there he pulled over, climbed out and retched coffee into the dirt-brown grass at the side of the road. Some came up his nose, making him cough, tears spilling into his eyes. ‘Goddamn you Jack Twist! What the hell am I gonna do without you?’

What indeed? He had Jack’s boy running across the burnt land to keep an appointment with him, his heart full of the grief and self-delusions of childhood loss. Ennis didn’t know much, but he knew about loss.

The boy reached him, panting, and leant hands on thighs, recovering breath. ‘I’m due for supper. Can’t stay long. Can you help, Mr Del Mar?’

Ennis wanted to comfort the boy like he would have Junior: a hand on an arm, one stroke of hair. Couldn’t. Not right. Not with a boy. He thrust his hands into his pockets. ‘Ain’t easy son, but it’ll get better, I promise.’

‘No!’ The boy’s tongue tripped up in his haste to speak. ‘See, there weren’t no car. It was a beating.’

No news, this news. He felt like he’d been there, so vivid had it played in his mind. ‘It was a freak accident, son. He died tryin’ to—.’

‘You’re not listening to me! He didn’t die!’

‘Son, he was cremated. Ashes lying right here where we’re standing.’

‘No! That was the man with him!’

Ennis’s blood ran cold, cold as it had seeing the bear on Brokeback Mountain. He wanted to run now, too. ‘You’re joshing me now, boy, and I don’t need this crap. Not today. How they gonna make up a story like that? Mystery fucking man no one misses buried instead of your Daddy?’

‘No one did know who he was. That’s just it. He was hitchhiking, from Mexico maybe. No one knew.’

Ennis folded his arms but the world felt too shaky and he needed better balance. Unfolded them. Clenched fists.

Seeing he’d caused a shudder in the older man’s certainties, the boy rattled his cage some more. ‘I can’t read; they think I can’t hear neither. I got real good hearing, Mr Del Mar. Been listening to my Daddy talk ‘bout you all my life. Can’t read, but I ain’t stupid.’

Ennis didn’t look up. Weren’t nobody else’s business but theirs.

‘He’s not dead. They took him to a hospital, and he nearly died but he didn’t.’

Ennis staggered to the privacy of a tree and threw up the food that lay deeper in his belly, beneath the coffee. ‘He’s not dead?’ Little darlin’. Jack’s not dead. But anger then. ‘Christ, boy, what about the nurses and doctors and shit? When he woke?’

The boy’s eyes were running, his nose too. ‘He didn’t. Wake up. Not right, anyways. They said he can’t speak and don’t know stuff. Don’t know who he is, so they made him someone else.’

Ennis grabbed the boy. ‘If you’re making this up, so help me God I’m gonna come back here and rip your fucking heart out. Where is he?’

The crying turned to shivering. ‘I don’t know. They put him away like they did to old Mrs Kempler when she wet herself in Church that Sunday. Said she’d be happier an’ she never came again. They’ve put him somewhere, but he’s not dead. He’s not here!’ He fell to the ground and began seizing handfuls of dead earth.

Ennis watched for a while, thinking, then he crouched and laid a hand on the boy. ‘You’ve gotta help me now, Bobby.’

Tear-streaked and dirty the boy stopped. ‘How?’

Ennis gave a twitch of his lips that passed for his smile. ‘I can read real well.’

* * * * * * *

It wasn’t like one of the shows he’d watched with his girls, stretched out on the couch, drinking and thinking of Jack. He had to wait and be patient until the widow went out and the bull with her. Took two days. Longest ever, but he was used to waiting and wanting something he couldn’t have. Two high-altitude fucks a couple of times a year; Jack hadn’t understood how hard it was on Ennis, as well. He slept in his truck in a stand of trees close to the plot. No one disturbed him. No one visited the ashes. Would they have anyway? If they’d been Jack’s? Perhaps they were after all. Perhaps he’d taken grief for certainty. He’d believed the boy over the evidence of his own eyes. But he didn’t do Jack with his eyes, never had.

On the third day the boy came, excited, flushed. ‘They’ve gone to town. Be gone till lunch, Mom said.’

Ennis drove the boy back. They stepped into the house, which still had no scent of Jack. ‘That’s Mom’s desk.’ Hint of uncertainty now? The magnitude of allowing this stranger into their privacy.

Ennis nodded. ‘Could manage something to eat, son, if you’ve a mind.’

Left alone he sat in the grand chair behind the grand desk and a tiny rueful snort escaped for the first time in a while. He’d lay a bet on the fact that Jack had never sat here.

Drawer by drawer he went through the files. He’d exaggerated to the boy. He couldn’t read all that well. Hadn’t learnt and didn’t practise. He could tell farm equipment catalogues though. They were easy to dismiss. Harder were the bills and receipts, invoices and accounts. Figures swam in his mind, darted away like woollies skitterish in mountain storms.

He could read the word hospital. Sanatorium was harder, but he managed it.

I’m coming little darlin’; hold on.

* * * * * * *

Ennis thought perhaps the boy did take after Jack after all. Stubborn asshole wanted to come too. He was a good boy though, only wanting to help. Ennis told him he was needed there, to be normal. Let the boy begin a lifetime of waiting.

He wasn’t a sly man, never had been, never could be. He was close, but upfront in most things. ‘Cept for Jack of course, but that weren’t sly; that were nobody’s business but their own. Still, he wondered where the widow and bull had gone, if they’d really gone to town. He knew horses, and horses spooked. Had he spooked them into going to this sanatorium place?

So he became sly, left the house cautious, drove cautious on a back road and parked some distance away, setting off on foot across the fields. Nice place, to hide someone. Even nicer to find them.

He could not see the widow’s car so approached less cautious. He was out of place though. No hats. No flannel and boots. No smell of high places. He was all these things and felt eyes upon him. Best approach was upfront like regular folks, so he pushed open a heavy door and walked into a cool, dark lobby. Woman in nurse-white looked up. ‘Can I help you?’

‘I’m looking for….’ But what name? Surely he wouldn’t be here as Jack. Or Twist. ‘A job.’ He was used to saying that, had said it too many times over twenty years of quittin’ to see Jack. He expected a frown and got one.

‘I’m sorry. We are a private clinic, and we only take on staff recommended to us by the agency.’

‘Real good worker, Ma’am. Odd job just for a day or two would really get me out of a hole.’ He gave her the benefit of his eyes, looking up through long lashes. It had driven Jack wild that look, driven him to do things he wouldn’t often do but Ennis particularly enjoyed. Seemed to work with her, too.

‘Mr Ray might be able to use some help in the grounds. Wait here, please and I’ll go ask.’

Ennis held his hat loose in his hands, the desire to run through the place calling his name almost overwhelming. She returned with a man who worked out of doors. Ennis felt easy and followed the weather-beaten figure to the door.

He discovered he’d arrived at lunchtime; that’s why it had been quiet. Within half an hour the grounds began to fill up with ghosts, gliding in white and silent. He watched them without looking and shot to the man, ‘Who they got here?’

The old man was of the land, like Ennis, short in his speech. ‘The wrong people.’

Ennis shivered but did not understand the reply. It just resonated with him: the wrong people.

‘They broke the law?’

‘God’s, mayhap.’

They went on working, Ennis carrying armfuls of branches, the man cutting and ripping them away.

‘They drugged?’

‘Some. Those that need it. Some got the zapping in the head. Won’t never need no drugs again.’

He’d banged his head on the mountain, had Jack touch him for the first time. Could feel the touch now in a shiver down his back. ‘Zapping?’

Man pointed like a pistol at his head. ‘Lobotomy. Good for the soul. Fucking perverts.’

Ennis didn’t understand. He went back to the trees, pondering these mysteries. Tried again. ‘Had a friend once got took to a place like this. Had an accident, bear got him, all beat up. Couldn’t remember his own fucking name.’

‘Yup. That sort come here too. Never seen one from a bear though. Like to see that.’

‘You got any in now? Accidents?’

‘Don’t know, sonny. I just tend the gardens so the loonies can get their fresh air. Time for my smoke now; there’s some coffee, if you’ve a mind.’

Ennis nodded, stowed the gloves he’d been wearing and followed the man. Halfway to the hut he stopped. ‘Forgot my goddamned jacket.’

He jogged away until the man was out of sight then approached a ghost. ‘Pardon me, you know of a man brought here maybe a week or two ago? Beat up bad.’ He indicated his face, nose, chin. ‘All busted up.’

The ghost nodded, limp yellowing hair bobbing. Ennis felt a surge of hope. ‘Which room? Can you take me, friend?’

Frightened eyes. Ennis produced his smokes, and they were greedily stashed under the hospital white. They entered through a side door. Up some stairs and everything was of sickness, the smell overpowering. Ennis wanted to wrap his arms around them all and take them to the mountains.

His guide left him outside a door. He nodded his thanks, knowing that if this was the right one, no thanks were adequate.

He pushed and went in.

Jack was sitting in a window, his back to Ennis. He didn’t turn or appear to hear him, but it was Jack. For various reasons, Ennis was particularly acquainted with Jack’s back and did not mistake him now. His legs buckled, and he went down, felled like an old bear. ‘Friend?’

Jack turned, and Ennis was glad he was already down. Flies where a penis had been. This was bad.

One eye was swollen so tight it didn’t look there. Nose was broken bad and yellowing. Worst was a large white bandage over his skull. Skulls didn’t ought to be bashed. Ennis knew this. ‘Jack.’

Jack’s eyes rolled with panic like a mare rearing. Ennis held his ground although it cost him to do so. Just a hand held out, palm up, not offering sugar but something unseen, something that also held life and limb together. ‘It’s me, Jack: Ennis.’

There was nothing in the eyes; they were familiar no longer. What had been Jack, for Ennis, was gone. He didn’t rightly know where or whether it could ever come back. Deceased.

Slowly he approached and crouched down alongside the man in the chair. ‘Do you know me, Jack? Can you hear me?’

Two questions. Too much. He patted the arm gently. ‘Do you know me?’

Jack shook his head, but it seemed to cause him some pain.

What now? This he had not reckoned when he came to Texas.

‘I can’t stay now, darlin’. But I’ll come back.’ Jack didn’t seem bothered one way or the other. Ennis felt tears prick for the both of them and backed away. ‘I won’t leave you here, Jack.’


He returned to his pick-up. Felt the old friend vomit rising but swallowed it down with his pain. What have they done to you, Jack?

He’d not been able to recognise his cowboy in the wreck of the man, but the parts of Jack he needed weren’t necessarily on the outside, or made or flesh and bone.

* * * * * * *

The rest of the day was spent working with the man and scouting around, gathering things he needed. He needed two swift horses and the man he loved, but those would have to wait. For now, a hospital gown and some medical supplies would do.

He’d not reckoned on Jack not willing to come with him. He saw now the limp and the bandaged hand, which he had not seen at first. Jack was pale and tearful, confused but silent. When Ennis tried to get him to come, he resisted feebly. It was the first time Jack had resisted him anything.

‘Hey, Cowboy, won’t you come with me? This isn’t for you, Jack—this place. You ain’t deceased like they told me, but in here, you might as well be! Just us, Jack. Just take my hand.’

Jack did, and he felt like a child with a child’s trust. Ennis put on the hospital gown over his own shirt and kicked out of his pants. He could feel the air on his backside, made him vulnerable. Maybe that’s what it was for.

Two patients, they took the back stairs and emerged into a scented twilight. Ennis had brought the truck closer, but it was still far for Jack to walk. When did you get so thin, friend? In this, Jack was familiar again, the whipcord nineteen year old body Ennis had acquainted himself with on Brokeback that first summer.

‘You gotta walk, Jack. Lean on me, friend. Rough going, but you’ve had worse. Remember the time you fell from that skittish little mare? Hit your damn elbow and couldn’t roll over the whole time we were together. We got inventive, Jack, remember?’ The first time he’d ever alluded to what they did together when not riding or roping or camping, and it got Jack to the car.

Ennis drove for over an hour before he felt safe to stop and put Jack in clothes. He’d slept the whole time. Woken now, he cried out, wordless and terrifying, making Ennis start like something damned was on his trail. Perhaps it was just sleep.

He’d not slept much since reading that word deceased and the need for it stalked him now, creeping into the cracks in his defences. They had so far to go though, and he could not afford to rest.

He dreamt as he drove, on the endless straight roads, of a curve, just one, and saw it as a godsend, as if it were meant to be for him and Jack. Together they could miss that one curve and perhaps find a better place where the navigation of life was not so hard. They’d sure missed the maps when they were being given out.

He drove and dozed and drove and dozed, and all the time Jack slumped at his side, swollen and sore and silent.

He went to Cassie. She helped him for his sake, never suspecting the wedge she drove between them by helping this wounded man. Ennis left Jack there and fetched everything he needed.

Packing for Brokeback Mountain had become something of a routine by now.

* * * * * * *

He drove them as high as he could to lessen the ride for Jack. Ennis wasn’t sure Jack could ride a horse at all, but he had survived the long trip from Texas better than he’d hoped. Hope was all he had.

Parking up, he slid from his seat, much to do yet before they could start. But the place held him still. They were back. Twenty years coalesced, and he felt once more the surge of vitality that always returned on the mountain. He was nineteen once more. He would always be nineteen up here with Jack.

Ennis dropped his gaze from the heights and scuffed the dirt with a toe. He’d considered the effect of the mountain on Jack. But what about him? What the mountain meant to them, rip-roaring and going at it full throttle, might not be possible this trip. Not with this Jack. That, Ennis had not considered.

Too late for regrets now. He backed the horses from the trailer, began to pack them with supplies.

When he looked up, Jack was gone.

The panic was instantaneous worse than the asthma attack they had not been able to help in their little girl. He felt a tightness in his own chest and harsh breathing until he saw him, standing at the edge of the lake. He jogged over, his heart a wild accompaniment to his footfalls. ‘Jack?’ No reply. More hesitant now. ‘Do you remember Brokeback?’

Jack appeared not to.

Ennis could not hide his disappointment and turned away least his tears bring on Jack’s. They needed to get higher, that was all. Whatever Jack needed, he always found it in the mountains with Ennis. He would find it now. A man of little learning and less faith, Ennis had nothing else to offer his friend.

* * * * * *

Resin and the sweet smell of honeysuckle followed them up the path, quiet footfalls and soft snorting from the horses. Jack was doing fine. His broken body moulded to the saddle. That wasn’t something you forgot. It got colder as the sun intensified: that strange mountain contrast that Ennis relished. He didn’t put his coat on, needing to save that for the cold night ahead. He didn’t want to think about the night. He didn’t want to think about how this was the first time riding up Brokeback trails he hadn’t been thinking about the night to come. It was what he always thought: anticipation of Jack’s body sweeter than the air.

‘You remembering, Jack?’ Please, speak to me, friend. I ain’t the talker between us, you know that. You always filled in my spaces, as I filled yours, in other ways.

Jack turned his head and looked at Ennis, a frown creasing his features. There was no recognition.

* * * * * * *

Ennis took them further and more off the usual tracks than before. He was fairly sure no one would find them, come looking for them, want them. But he needed to be sure. Deceased. How long would they have paid those dollars every week to keep this empty shell of a man alive? Didn’t do that with horses: shot them. Ennis shivered but told himself it was just the biting mountain air.

He put up the tent and built the fire and prepared the food. It was a familiar routine but one he was used to sharing with Jack, although none of those things were what they did first when they broke for camp. 

It was come over him, just as powerful as always, and nothing but Jack’s body would assuage it. Jack sat like a child, useless and wary by the fire. Pain and need drove Ennis. He stripped and went down to the river, washing himself in the icy run-off, coldness to his balls and cock that had too much heat of their own. Dampen the fires. Don’t think about Jack. But how could you stop doing what you had lived by doing for twenty years: thinking about Jack. He thought about Jack when he woke. He imagined him alongside him during the day. He took him home to his loneliness at night and comforted himself in Jack’s imaginary arms, wiping his spill on Jack’s absent chest. He slept with Jack and he dreamt of Jack. But now, in the place that fed all of that imagining, he had to stop thinking of Jack.

He was glad it was dark when he returned. He was able to drag jeans over the boner that he had not been able to subdue, rejoin Jack at the fire and pretend that he was not dying a little inside.

‘Take a look at you now, friend.’ Very gently, he unwound the bandage on Jack’s head. Dipping his neckerchief into the simmering water, he blew on the heat for a moment then dabbed at the wound.

Jack put his hand up and winced. ‘Ow.’

Ennis dropped the cloth. ‘Jack?’ But however much he tried to get the man to speak again, there was obstinate silence. Ennis wondered why Jack didn’t want to talk. He pondered this as he continued to dab gently at the damage. He guessed the answer was simple: Jack couldn’t find the words to speak about what had happened to him. Ennis knew how that felt. Friend, cowboy, little darling: they were so inadequate. He didn’t have words for what Jack had done to him either.

The eye was less swollen, the nose also. He would never be quite his beautiful Jack again, but so slim, so vulnerable in many ways, he was more his Jack now than the bitter moustached man ever had been. This man had no recollection of twenty years of being held on a string so tight that it strangled love between them.

* * * * * *

Jack ate everything Ennis gave him, which was a good sign. Couldn’t heal if you didn’t eat. It was getting cold, and they had none of the things that usually kept them late by the warm fire. No talk, no songs. They had whisky though, and Ennis was no doctor. What harm could whisky do anyone? And he had stories. He had lots of stories he’d never told Jack. About the dreams and keeping him by his side through all the months they weren’t together and missing him so much it was like missing a limb. So Ennis tried to find his own voice, to help Jack in his search for his. And for the first time, Brokeback slipped into the night with the sound of Ennis Del Mar talking and talking and talking.

* * * * * *

It was so hard. It was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, ‘cepting leave Jack that first time. This was harder than reading that word stamped in red on his card. Jack spooned to him, folding so neatly as he always did into the hollow of Ennis’s hips. Jack’s backside where it should be, pressing into Ennis’s cock. Tarpaulin and horse blanket, smell of their clothes, heat rising between them, but Ennis alone.

Hot, scalding tears squeezed reluctantly from his eyes. Why was it he only ever cried over Jack? Even in that courtroom, hearing how he weren’t to be a proper Daddy no more, the tears had been for Jack and what they still could not have. He pressed his face into Jack’s hair, smelling it deeply. Jack turned. They lay face to face. Ennis kept his eyes lowered, a split on Jack’s lip to focus on. ‘You warm enough, buddy?’

Jack licked his lips, and in the gesture, Ennis saw the boy, Bobby. ‘Yeah.’

He could control himself no longer. The tears he’d been shedding internally since standing on the sidewalk reading his card broke out like a river busting through a winter’s beaver dam.

This isn’t why he’d brought Jack to the mountain—to heal his pain.

It felt good though being held and shhh’d in arms he’d come to know better than his own.

* * * * * * *

They awoke to a new day and old problems. First thing in the morning, finally warm and still sleepy, had always been their best time. Jack’s injuries and stiffness malleable, making him bendy and fun, Ennis randy in a way he couldn’t explain unless he had dreams he couldn’t remember on waking. Now Ennis lay with a dry mouth and swollen eyes from last night’s storm. Jack sat with his back to Ennis, peering out at the day. ‘I’m starvin’.’

Ennis sat bolt upright. ‘Jack?’

Jack turned and repeated in his dull voice. ‘I’m starving.’

‘You bet.’ I’m gonna make you a breakfast as would feed a big ol’ grizzly. You wanna help?’

Jack nodded. ‘Sure.’

In the absence of the one he wanted, Ennis made do with the one who was slowly emerging from this shell of a man. Something was better than nothing. He went discretely down to the river, on the excuse of fetching water, to relive himself. In both ways. Piss first, which wasn’t easy through the swelling, then the other, with short, jerky fisting, which almost hurt it was so good. When he came, his back was arched, his legs planted apart, and the sperm shot out in a pale arch that glinted in the early morning sun. It was so quiet here in the mountain that he heard it land, plop, plop, to the pebbly shore. When he turned, Jack was a few feet away, watching him. Ennis felt like one of his girls had seen, something he feared beyond all things, good father, good man that he was. But this wasn’t a girl, it was Jack, the man he’d pushed his cock into, the man who’d swallowed his sperm more times than he’d sent it up into his wife’s damn pussy. This was Jack who knew his cock as well as he knew his own. Jack was rubbing the front of his jeans, but his look was vacant. It horrified Ennis in the way of a nightmare, those blank eyes and that lascivious hand. He put his fingers on Jack’s wrist and stilled him. ‘You need a wash, friend. Wanna brave the water with me?’ Jack allowed himself to be distracted from his pleasure. Even naked he seemed to have forgotten what it was he needed, although his cock was semi-tumescent. That was solved by the coldness of the water. It took breath right out of lungs and shrivelled balls until they jumped high for safety. Ennis helped Jack wade into the deeper water, and they submerged for a moment to wet hair and faces. When he rose, Jack blew a stream from his mouth. ‘It’s good.’

The comments came naturally now, and didn’t shock Ennis quite as much. They pleasured him more though. ‘Yeah, it is that.’ Once acclimatised, neither was in a hurry to emerge. They swam together to the other side of the pool and back then lay in the shallows, legs extended, water drifting lazily through toes. ‘Do you remember being here with me, Jack? Do you remember me now?’

‘Yeah. I remember you.’

Ennis turned his head, but it seemed that Jack echoed more than confirmed, vagueness still disturbing in his expression. ‘Do you remember what happened to you? Who hurt you, Jack?’

Jack pushed off into the deeper water and submerged again. Ennis watched his pale body moving fish-like in the water for a while then went to start breakfast. This was only the first day. For the first time in their lives, this time together seemed to be dragging.

* * * * * * *

Ennis left Jack playing idly in the shallows, scooped up their dirty clothes, carried them back to the river. He squatted, pounding. Jack’s ingrained with blood rose vomit in his throat. He fetched a rock and hammered it repetitively into the stained material. Into his demons. A sound in the shallows, and he turned. Jack staring at the material and the rock, raised to bash. He cried out and covered his head. ‘Don’t!’

Ennis didn’t. He waded out and wrapped his arms around the shaking man. ‘Hush, Cowboy, hush. You’re safe now. Safe always with me.’


Ennis felt he should welcome the calling of his name. He didn’t. It was called by a man to a friend who had not come for him. ‘Hush, Jack, I’m here now.’ Jack was shivering. Ennis went for the practical and walked him out of the river, dressed and fed him. That cause of shivering he could stop.

* * * * * * *

They needed to get moving. The high meadows called Ennis. Held out a promise of something he needed like he needed their air to breathe. Jack hung onto the saddle horn with his good hand not going with the movements of the horse as Ennis had always admired. He sat stiff or slumped, slack jawed and silent, and so another day passed in this half-life between deceased and what had once been.

* * * * * * *

Again, Ennis pushed them longer than was normal. He dreaded the night now. Dreaded where his fragile resistance might lead them. He’d taken Alma against her wishes many times, proving something, if only to her. He didn’t want to do that to Jack. Not this Jack anyway. The other one…. For the first time in days Ennis smiled: the other one would never need forcing.

It was bitterly cold by the time they set up camp. Some food left from earlier, Ennis built the fire high for heat and sat Jack in its glowing warmth. He gave him whisky and biscuits, cold meat sandwiched between them. Jack chewed mechanically.

The darkness played on Ennis’s mind now. Not welcoming as the night always was to him. Now it seeped into his mood, casting shadows where none had been. His reserves of good humour always low plummeted. He had no idea what to do, either with Jack or with himself.

White in the firelight caught his eyes. An unwrapping of a bandage. Jack flexed stiff fingers and winced. Ennis stretched out his hand. ‘Lemme see.’

Jack let him probe around deep cuts that were still to heal. ‘Don’t hurt so much now.’

Five words lifted the weight off Ennis’s shoulders. ‘I reckon that’s the whisky, Jack.’

Jack didn’t reply. He stood and went out of the circle of light to piss. Ennis didn’t ask to watch as he had once done.

* * * * * *

It was always the worst of times to try and sleep: so cold from sitting outside that he could not feel toes. Jack solid against him helped.

The familiar smells of the tent, the sound of gentle flapping, a coyote in the distance, the horses snickering at the sound. Everything was the same and everything had changed. These were the times he found his voice: ridiculous endearments that Jack teased him about, crude comment on their activities, rambling accounts of nothing much, just to make Jack laugh. It was mostly what he needed from Brokeback. Besides the obvious. He had nothing now, his companion silent and stiff, breathing deeply.

Ennis turned away from Jack for the first time ever and took care of himself. It didn’t even feel good.

* * * * * * *

Jack was flexing his fingers again, smoking and testing the temperature of some water. He’d wanted to shave. Ennis took it for a good sign and heated the water, watching hypnotised as the blade dragged slow over stubble he could feel against his own skin. It wasn’t what they did in bed that marked the difference; it was the stubble. He had Jack type sex with Alma. It was Jack’s stubble grazing his cheeks that reminded him what he was and what he was doing with another man.

Jack showed the first sign of pleasure when his shave finished. He lit a cigarette and leant back, eyes closed. Ennis didn’t like eyes closed. When they were on the mountain, Jack’s eyes were on him. It was just a thing, but he needed it.

* * * * * * *

‘We’ll hunt, Jack, catch us a nice deer maybe for supper.’ He tossed Jack a gun took it off him again when the eyes flared with fear. ‘Hey. Shhh. It’s your gun, Jack. Just yours.’

Jack didn’t want a gun, but he went with Ennis, his limp hardly a limp now. Jack was pretty much Jack now from the outside. Ennis wished the mountain would do its magic inside sometime soon.

He shot a deer and butchered it. Jack played in the river while he did and wouldn’t even look at the strips hanging from the rack Ennis fashioned. He ate the meat with relish though later that night under stars that held no sympathy for Ennis in their cold gaze. ‘I’m gonna crash, friend. You gonna watch the fire some more?’

Jack shook his head and pulled off his boots, hopping toward the tent. ‘Cold tonight,’ was his only comment on the pleasure of being with Ennis.

* * * * * * *

Jack’s feet were icy on his shin, but he let them stay. He’d taken them between his thighs once to warm them and then neither had needed warming for the rest of the night. Now he left them cold and alone brushing his shinbone.

‘You comfortable there, Cowboy?’

No reply from Jack, except his hand, which caught at Ennis’s and placed it on his cock.

This time, entry into Jack was practised and slick, but the physical aside, this was new and terrifying, and Ennis was nineteen again and having feelings he couldn’t name and desires he couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to stop. If he’d wanted to, he could have stopped it after that first night. They’d both known he wouldn’t, that this was just how it was going to be from now on.

He’d gotten used to Jack’s more ample backside. Now two hard globules fitted his palms like a baby’s. He’d been afraid they’d hurt Jack here. Ram something in him, pull something out. He’d heard of both. Feared them for being only half-understood. But Jack was smooth and tight and as welcoming as the trail that sucked them deep into the mountain.

* * * * * *

Ennis found truth hard to separate from reality when sun opened his eyes. Except for his jeans, which were around his ankles. So much shame that first morning when he’d slunk away from Jack, knowing what they might now be.

‘I ain’t no queer.’ Ennis turned to the sounds of ghosts. Jack’s mutinous face and his jeans missing entirely.

‘Me neither.’ Jack seemed satisfied with the reply and pulled him back for more.

* * * * * * *

They reached the high meadows the following day, panting in the thinner air, horses steaming and skittish. The air was metallic and pure, pinching their ear tips and fingers. Jack complained about his hurts, and Ennis’s heart overflowed with joy. Jack complaining was Jack returning.

The sex continued to obsess them, now not waiting to set up camp before they were at each other. Ennis was more cautious though, cautious of Jack’s bruises and bones that broke too easy. Or was it because he was fucking a total stranger? He’d never done that before, had threatened to kill Jack if he heard he had. It was the best and the worst, and guilt was more potent between them than the smell of their sperm.

* * * * * *

Five days at the very top of the world, hunting, eating, fucking and sleeping. Jack regained his muscle tone, not this good since he’d rodeo’d for a living way back when. Bruises faded, and although there were scars, they didn’t alter his beauty. Not in Ennis’s eyes who had looked beneath Jack’s surfaces for too long to let spidery lines distract him.

But he remained a stranger. He spoke more, but only passing commentary on the day or the food.

After five days, Ennis didn’t know what else to do. He was as high as he’d ever gone and beyond them there was only God. He contemplated that one day, cleaning his rifle. But being a soft man at heart, he couldn’t bear to think of the horses fending for themselves.

On their final night, he tried again, lying deeply warm in sperm-soaked blankets. ‘You gonna tell me what happened, Jack? Might help.’

‘I don’t remember.’

Ennis didn’t believe him, but he didn’t really know this man at all, so had no buttons to push. ‘There was another fella, they said.’

‘I don’t want to talk about this.’

‘Maybe I do.’

‘Maybe ain’t my concern, Ennis, now leave off and let me sleep.’

* * * * * *

They came down from God’s playground to the rain and slipping horses and curses soaking them. Tempers flared where lighters would not. They were glad to stop, pitch a tent, eat cold, be cold, no warmth between them now. Three days to come down and then there was the pick-up and the trailer. This was where they parted, were supposed to. That’s how it went. Now Jack had to ride with him, but to where? He’d healed him, saved him most probably, but for what?

‘Maybe you’d best go to your folks, friend.’

Jack turned on some music, showing more interest in that than his life. Ennis didn’t blame him; his wasn’t looking too good either.

* * * * * *

Not poetic, even Ennis could see a stark brittleness in Jack’s house that matched the mood between them. He’d been driving all day, so had to accept an offer to stay: horses needed out and feeding. Didn’t care about himself. 

A woman came out onto the porch as they pulled up. She stood uncertain, tiny in faded blue in a faded place with faded dreams. But she did not faint or scream and Ennis reckoned they’d not been told. No deceased in red for them.

Jack embraced her and it was genuine. More so than he’d shown Ennis for all their violent lovemaking. Ennis was jealous, an emotion so startling in its heat that he gasped and held his side for a moment. It passed and he tipped his hat. ‘Ma’am.’

She nodded then led the way inside.

* * * * * *

They sat an uneasy grouping around a scrubbed table. Jack’s father made of the scrawny leftover parts of the bull man. ‘Someone give you a beating, son?’ He made it both sneering and hopeful.

Jack studied the table. ‘Better now.’

The mother offered them coffee and something she’d baked. They accepted the coffee, were persuaded to the baking, and ate to fill the silences.

‘How’s Lureen and her folks? How’s Bobby? We’d sure like to see that boy, Jack.’ She glanced at her husband as if requiring his permission to breathe.

Jack passed on family news in a monotone. Ennis watched for cracks, thought he saw some, some awareness of exactly what had happened, but the father was watching him and he could not concentrate on Jack with his usual intensity.

‘Ennis Del Mar.’ It was said as if a reward should be given for smartness. ‘Heard a lot about you over the years. Could say too much.’

Ennis had nothing to say to that.

Jack stood up swiftly, his chair scraping painfully. ‘I’m going up, Ma.’

She looked pleased. ‘It’s just as you left it, Jack.’

Every eye seemed to be on Ennis, asking him where he was going. He tipped his hat to the mother and said he had the horses to tend.

When he was finished, it was late, and the pick up was unappealing. Jack’s body was more so.

He tiptoed up the stairs like he had in Alma’s house, twenty years and another life ago.

Jack sat in the moonlight, smoking, the door open, expecting Ennis. Ennis slipped in and shut it behind him. ‘Won’t stay. Too much trouble for your ma. Ain’t right in her house. Just wanted to say goodnight.’

Jack nodded, not bothering to turn around.

Ennis twisted his hat in his hands, unsure. ‘I’ll say it then: goodnight.’ Jack still watched the road disappearing into the distance, probably too far for him now, now that it was all over. ‘Jack, please.’ The word sounded unfamiliar; he’d not said it often and never to Jack that he could recall. ‘I’ll be gone most like in the morning, ‘fore you get up.’

‘Where are you going?’

Ennis came forward. ‘You need to let Bobby know.’ He’d told Jack of the boy’s help, hoping to see pride. Even Bobby got the new Jack’s indifference.

Jack rose and went to his desk, running his fingers over ink stains, tracing his childhood in their faint patterns. ‘Where are you going to go, Ennis?’

Ennis had no answer to this so sat on the bed, studying his hat.

Jack began to unbutton his shirt, sniffing under one arm, chose another, uncaring whether it gave Ennis any pleasure the way his torso caught and held the moonlight.

Ennis stood, his head low, defeated. ‘Will I see you this summer? When you’ve gotten things sorted with Lureen….’

The cry sliced the night into what had been and what was to come. Ennis cried out in primal response to the sound of such pain. Then he was on his knees with Jack in a tiny closet, not big enough for two of them, but they were one really, so they fit. Jack was pawing at a shirt, keening like a mother: desolate. It shivered Ennis’s back, stood his hairs on end. ‘For fuck’s sake, Jack, what?’

Jack balled up, hugging himself, hugging the shirt. Ennis saw that it was two, not one, one inside the other, and he didn’t need to see it was his shirt to get that this was them: one inside the other. Jack’s nose was running, and when Ennis lifted his sleeve to wipe it, they were back making the blood on the other shirts once more. ‘Oh, Ennis.’

Jack said all that needed to be said. It was reproach that Ennis had not been there for him. It was remembrance of what had happened and pleading for Ennis’s strength to get through that, and it was the old fear of what they were and what they were going to do about it.

A shadow fell upon them, and Jack gurgled fear in his throat, his hands going up to ward off a blow that had nearly killed him for fucking too close to home. His father stood over them as if with a gun, but he had no weapon, no gun, and struck Ennis as the sad little man he would have been had he not met Jack. ‘You get out my house, faggots.’ The word was spat at them. They’d both heard it before, but not from blood, which was supposed to bind. Ennis helped Jack up. They were neither one of them steady. Jack would not let go the shirts. Ennis didn’t want him to.

He helped him down the stairs and into a deserted kitchen, the father like a jailer, following.

Ennis wouldn’t allow Jack to drive, refused to himself and pulled them into the empty trailer, which smelt that good smell of horse and shit.

Jack was crying, but it was Jack, so Ennis didn’t mind. He held and wiped and hushed and waited. Jack blamed himself, but he blamed Ennis more for the tight rein he kept on him. He spoke rapid and fearful. How that desperation had turned him on to the stranger, hitching. What they’d done against the truck until Lureen’s father had sailed by fat and fulsome in a car only a Texan could love. He’d seen: Jack with his pants around his ankles, the other man rutting into his little gal’s man.

Next day, four men caught him and made him watch while they played nasty with the stranger. Ennis didn’t need pictures painted; he had them in his head already. Flies buzzed well enough without Jack’s assistance.

Then they’d turned on Jack, beating and kicking and saying things no man should have to hear. And they’d used Ennis’s name, so Jack had known they’d been sent for him, knew that the stud-duck knew, that he had finally won and there was nothing Jack could do about it.

The hospital he did not remember at all. It was no matter. Not much to remember, darlin’, Ennis told him.

They took the night hard in the trailer, no sleep for either, little rest. But Jack was back, so Ennis didn’t mind. When the light came, he had to leave. Jack said he’d stay with his folks and that it would be all right. He was needed; a strong back would be traded for bed and board.

‘When’m I gonna see you again, Ennis? Cain’t have it to be too long.’

‘I’ve taken this time, Jack. Weren’t easy.’

‘We gotta get together, Ennis.’

‘June? I maybe get a day. Maybe two? We ain’t so far apart now. Easier.’

Jack wasn’t happy, but June it was. They parted roughly as always, unable to say what they felt, mostly unable to show it either.

The pick-up faded into the distance. Jack didn’t watch it. It was a sight he didn’t need to see.

* * * * * *

Ennis didn’t lose his job. Thought he might have though. Was glad. Few weeks and his little girl visited, not so little now, telling him about a man she loved clear and in the open. Made Ennis sad and happy all at once. Wedding in June, she said.

He sent a card to Jack. Can’t be June, friend. Got my little girls wedding. How you fixed for November?

Jack’s reply, Goddamn you Ennis. November be cold as a witchs tit, was taken as a yes, so Ennis had something to get through the year for.

* * * * * *

They met at a place Jack decided for once, edge of a river, good to leave the vehicles. Jack asked about the wedding. Ennis told him about a place called Aberdeen where his girl had followed the oil. Jack said Scotland? and Ennis shrugged. Jack said he was sorry, but Ennis thought he didn’t sound it much.

Jack had changed. He was thinner, but his body was lithe not weak, lean and strong and tanned. Ennis had a surge of need for him so strong that they stopped off the trail and went at it full speed until Ennis breathed, ‘Needed that.’

Jack led the way, seemed to have an idea that Ennis had to go along with. Ennis was glad, riding and watching Jack’s back in the clear mountain air, and didn’t mind the tagging along.

They came to a rise overlooking a lake. House and barns, small cabin some way off behind a stand of pines. Ennis leant on his saddle horn, lighting a cigarette. He’d been meaning to quit.

‘What do you reckon?’ Jack nudged his horse next to Ennis’s, legs brushing. ‘Like it?’

Ennis couldn’t lie, but he sensed one of Jack’s bitter accusations coming on. ‘Sure.’

‘It’s mine.’

Ennis backed his horse up a mite; Jack swung his around. ‘I went back to Texas, Ennis, this summer.’

Ennis’s blood ran cold, although Jack was here and looking fine, so nothing had happened.

‘That were dumb! They dang near killed you, Jack! You don’t remember, but when I saw you in that sanatorium place, you were more ghost than man!’

He dismounted, better to be angry. Jack did the same and came close. ‘Couldn’t let them win like that, Ennis. What kinda man would I be? Hell, they tried to take that away from me, things they said, ‘bout you, ‘bout me. I said I’d stay gone, if’n that’s what they wanted. Got me a little stake and took it. Was that so wrong?’

Ennis reckoned it wasn’t, that Jack was owed that and more.

He turned back to the spread in the valley. ‘I cain’t believe it. That’s yourn? Kinda big ain’t it? For one man.’ Didn’t hear what he’d said until he said it then realised he hadn’t meant to hint like a gal at something he wanted, wished he could take it back.

But Jack said, ‘I ain’t alone, Ennis.’

The old gut response hit Ennis like a blow from a fist outside a bar, ‘cept he had no alcohol to dull the pain. He gasped and held his belly. Jack came closer but Ennis swung from the hip, felled him where he stood. Horses shying and backing around them, Ennis bent over Jack. ‘I told you! I told you, Jack! If’n I ever came to hear what I don’t want to hear! And you tell me this!’

Jack staggered up, jaw red and bruising under his tan. Ennis faltered. This weren’t Jack coming back at him, raw and angry and them fighting and falling out and wasting the short time they had which was never enough. Jack grinning at him made him see red, and he swung again, missed, was caught in a bear hug, Jack’s laughter shaking him, too. ‘Ma, Ennis. Ma’s with me.’

Tumbling to the ground, he heard words that made no sense until later, lying in Jack’s arms. ‘Died, no loss, hardly mourned and wanted a new start.’

Jack led the way down the trail off the pine-lined ridge to the little cluster of buildings. He was chatting, proud and happy. Ennis was glum, raining on Jack’s parade. He had his thoughts but they weren’t Jack’s business.

The house was small, but it was for Ma. She came out onto the porch, watching them descend, hand shading her eyes, a drop of blood red against white. Bright red, blood red, her dress was pretty and fluttered, made Ennis suddenly shy as he dismounted. ‘Ma’am.’ Jack pushed him into the house, schoolboy showing off his prize. Colour bewildered Ennis, quilts everywhere and sewing out. ‘Ma’s in with the Church quilting bee, ain’t you ma?’

She stroked her work, proud knurled fingers happy on the softness. ‘You’ll take coffee, Mr Del Mar.’

Jack said they’d be back for some, dragged Ennis outside, the sun squinting their eyes despite November chill. Striding over the frost-hardening ground, hardening, he took them to the cabin out back, behind the pines, which whispered as they passed. Ennis didn’t want to hear what trees might have to say to him.

The cabin had ma’s quilts in, too, one on the wall and one on the big old bed, and a few things that screamed Jack and little else. ‘Go over to ma to eat; she sure cooks better’n me. Commuting for breakfast and supper again, Ennis, but not four hours.’

Porch of the cabin looked down on the lake, couldn’t see the house from here. ‘Started with some stabling then took some hunting trips up the mountain. Guiding them. Good money, Ennis. City folk. Gonna start some breeding next year; got me a fine stallion.’

Jack was bursting with everything, so Ennis took him to the bed and took the benefit of it, no one around, no one to disturb them. First time they’d had a bed for a while and both appreciated it, didn’t miss the pine needles where pine needles shouldn’t go. They lay mixed up and tousled, passing whisky and a joint between them, then went at it again until their bones ached.

* * * * * * *

Ennis passed on the reminder of coffee. Jack punched his shoulder. ‘She won’t know, fool.’ Ennis could still smell Jack, thought everyone would.

‘What are we gonna do, Jack? Thought this week was for us to go up on the mountain. I ain’t got but more than this week. Can’t get away again till Spring.’

Jack stopped, just past the stand of pines, his eyes on the house. Ennis knew what he was thinking but it couldn’t be helped. Jack didn’t say any more, didn’t say what he’d hoped for or wished for. Hell, they were both nearly forty and had twenty years of pain behind them tellin’ them that dreams and wished for don’t count for shit.

Next day, Jack went up onto the Brokeback with Ennis, but the joy had gone. Only once did he say, ‘Could be sweet but you still don’t want it.’

Ennis said, ‘Nearly got you killed once, Jack. Won’t have your ghost followin’ me about.’

‘Twice a fucking year, Ennis! I can’t do this no more.’

‘Better than getting deceased in red, Jack. You ain’t known that pain.’

Jack’s face told Ennis that he had pain enough so they dropped it again and found level ground, talking about the trail or the horses but not about themselves.

* * * * * * *

Ennis couldn’t get away in the spring. Send Jack a card:  summer? Jack didn’t reply right off but sent a card later, closer to the summer, one word and bitter: fine.

Jack’s place seemed good to meet, so Ennis drove in late one summer’s evening with the sun just setting behind the mountain. Too late to start up they spent the night in Jack’s cabin. A whole night, and they didn’t find it hard to know what to say or do. They ate supper with ma, but she was busy and bustling with a church group coming over, lots of cooking in the warm, bright coloured kitchen she and Jack had painted that winter. House smelt of biscuits and ham; Jack found whisky for them and lit a fire, even with the evening’s warmth.

Ma had a real comfortable couch, and they sat down together after supper, mellow for once, not really like them at all. Jack eyed the kitchen. ‘She’ll be in there now, hour or more.’

Ennis pushed him off. ‘Ain’t right, Jack, hush.’ But Jack was laughing and exploring inside Ennis’s shirt. Ennis couldn’t resist Jack when he laughed. Quit it wasn’t said hard enough, so Jack didn’t.

Kissing came natural after that, Jack’s fingers in Ennis’s hair, holding on as tight as he’d held reins once, riding just as proud. Ennis could taste whiskey and wanted more.

A knock at the door wasn’t waited for answer, and a man stuck his head around. ‘Mrs Twist?’ Saw them on the couch; they’d pulled apart but were close and rumpled.

Ma came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands. ‘Reverend Sawly.’

The man came in, followed by two women. ‘I brought the ladies over, save ‘em driving in the dark.’ His eyes didn’t leave the couch.

Ma smiled and offered them coffee then like a thought that blew in as casually as the wind on Brokeback, she said, ‘You ain’t met my other boy, yet, Reverend. This here is Ennis.’

Relief in a flood rose on the old face and a hand offered, big with smile and gladness. ‘Mr Twist, right nice to meet you.’ Ennis took the hand out of habit not realising yet that this sealed the lie.

Ma continued, pouring coffee. ‘Hoping Ennis will see fit to come help out now Jack’s got the place going. Both divorced, Reverend, to my shame. Can’t seem to raise them the way we was raised.’

Reverend’s wife, shaking her head, agreeing, eyeing Jack and Ennis. ‘Two fine boys, Martha, two fine boys. Had just girls, me. Always wanted a boy.’

Ma smiled, nibbling a biscuit. ‘Boys can give you heartache Ellen, but they bring joy too. Don’t know what I’d do without my boys. God blesses us, he surely does.’

Jack and Ennis walked out into the gathering dark, not to the cabin but down to the lake.

Ennis skimmed some stones. Jack copied and beat him.

Ennis took a breath of Brokeback air. ‘I ain’t gonna be Mrs Jack Twist.’ At Jack’s look, added, ‘But I reckon Mr Ennis Twist ain’t so bad. Least I get some good home cooking once in a while.’

Jack let Ennis do pretty much what he wanted that night, out in the cabin where they couldn’t be heard. Didn’t have much time for talk, but they made some plans. Mostly about paying the stud-duck back so it was their place, good and proper and forever. Theirs and ma’s. Ennis’s mother, the one he’d had taken away and could hardly remember, now returned like a ma he’d read in storybooks to his girls: perfect and his. His and Jack’s. Brothers. Brothers and doing what they were doing spurred them to some new things, laughing at the wickedness. 

Sun up, sprawled and wet, Jack said, ‘Why’d you give in, Ennis? Given up hoping. Be forty in two weeks.’

Ennis lit a cigarette, passed it to Jack. ‘I couldn’t stand it no more, so I fixed it.’


Go to chapter two -

Feedback to jenny