We get a few warm days, the snow melts down, I'm getting hopeful. The woman knows what I'm thinking, I guess. She just shakes her head.
And she's right. We get a huge snowstorm, have to stay inside the cabin all the time for a few days. If it wasn't for her box of stuff, I woulda really been nuts before the storm passed.
I gave up on the green book. Nothing much ever happened, it's mostly just talking, and kinda hard to understand.
I'm reading a blue book, now---Scaramouche. I think it's gonna be better.
Sill working on my letter. The woman's getting curious. I keep the pages folded up in the inside pocket of my jacket.
The woman and I still don't talk much. I guess the only thing we have in common is that we're both here..
The second time Lynn was in the hospital, Ed showed up the day before she came home. He didn't let us know he was coming ahead of time. He just showed up. He didn't look too good. Couldn't quite figure out what was up for a few minutes, till he started asking questions about Lynn. We told him she was gonna be fine, she was going home the next day. He looked kinda confused.
"So…you're gonna be OK?" he asked.
Lynn nodded her head. I said, "Why wouldn't she be?"
"The way her sister talked, I guess I thought….I got the idea….that Lynn was…dying."
We all took a minute to think about that.
"Patty told you that?"
"Well…..I guess not in so many words, but…..yeah."
"This has gotta stop," I said. This was beyond making sure I had no chair at a restaurant. Or shutting a door in my face. Or throwing magazines at me.
"Bud," Lynn said. "Don't. I'll talk to her."
"You talked to her the last time. And the time before that. She doesn't listen to you. I guess I'm gonna have to convince her that she can't get rid of me."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'd turn her over my knee if I thought it'd do any good. Don't look at me like that, I'm not gonna touch her. I'm just gonna talk to her."
"I'm sorry, it's just---"
"Bringing Ed out here like this is going way too far. She doesn't have to like me, but these stupid stunts have gotta stop."
Lynn didn't look happy, but she nodded.
Patty was at the shop. It was almost closing time, so I turned the sign from Open to Closed, and shot the bolt on the front door. Patty turned around and saw me.
"What are you doing?"
"We need to have a talk."
"Maybe I don't want to talk to you." She started fussing with the cash register, pulling the cash out and putting it in the bank bag, and counting the change.
"So what did I do to you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Ed's here. You scared him half to death."
She started tidying up the counter, putting away the pens, the scissors, receipt books.
"Look, getting my goat is one thing, but you don't even know Ed. Why would you wanna do that to him?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"He'd not gonna make a play for Lynn, if that's what you're hoping. He had his chance to do that a long time ago. And I think he has a girlfriend now."
She looked at me, venom in her gaze.
"So what's your problem with me?"
She slammed the scissors down on the counter, steamed for a minute, and then started in on me. She called me all kinds of things. I don't remember 'em all. I remember stupid oaf, and big buffoon, 'cause I'd never been called those before. She didn't like my haircut, the way I dress, the way I eat, the way I look.
"And you walk like you got something stuffed-----" she said. I didn't know what she was gonna say or why she stopped, until she looked right at my crotch and her face turned bright red. Yeah.
"Yeah, OK, you hate me, I got that. What I wanna know is why. What did I ever do to you?"
"You don't have to do anything. You just are. My sister deserves better than you."
I took a deep breath and put my hands in my pants pockets. I'm pretty sure I didn't say what she expected me to say.
"Yeah, you're right. Whaddya want me to do about it?"
It only threw her for a second. "Why don't you just go away and leave her alone!"
"Patty, you were at our wedding. Didn't Lynn look happy to you?"
"She could be happy with someone else."
I nodded. "I tried leaving her once. Like you said, she deserves somebody better than me. She wouldn't let me go. She rode Ed's ass until he found me."
"Why, for God's sake?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "You'll have to ask her. All I know is, she wants me. So you can play these stupid tricks till hell freezes over, and the only thing that's gonna happen is you're gonna make Lynn mad at you."
Patty started crying. She cries more than anybody I know. "She loves me!"
"Yeah. She does. So why are you doing this to her?"
"It's not fair! I've got Lloyd, and she's stuck with you. I ought to be happier than her……"
"Maybe Lynn wants something different than you do."
"What does she see in you? Why is she so…..silly over you?" She got a hankie out of the drawer and blew her nose. "What do you have that Lloyd doesn't have? 'Cause I don't think she likes Lloyd at all."
"God, I hope not. He might have more money than me, but he's an asshole, and he treats you like shit."
"You're an asshole, too."
I had to laugh. "OK."
"So what is it?"
I shrugged. "Why don't you ask Lynn?"
"I did, once. She said…..well, she said a lot of things, but one thing she said was that she always knew what you were thinking." Patty sounded kinda wistful. "I never know what Lloyd's thinking."
That's not something I'd wanna know. But then, that's just me.
"And another thing she said, was that you'd die for her, if she needed you to. That was a while ago, and I didn't believe her……..but then you stood in front of me when that crazy woman was pointing a gun at us, and you don't even like me. You would die for Lynn, wouldn't you?"
"Sure. It's not a big deal. Richard would die for Nancy, probably. The Rev woulda died for his wife if he coulda, I think. It's just something men feel like when they love somebody. Don't you think Lloyd would die for you?"
Her eyes filled up with tears again. "You really are a bastard, you know that?"
"And you're sure Ed's not pining over Lynn?" She took a deep breath and wiped her eyes.
"Pretty sure. You can ask him."
"OK. You gonna stop these adolescent pranks?"
"They aren't working anyway. So I guess I might as well."
I nodded. "You wanna ride to the hospital, so Lynn can fuss over you?"
She looked at me funny. "I thought you'd yell at me, and stomp around and break things."
"Yeah? Why would you think that?"
That big frown line between her eyes goes away when she laughs..
One night, when I can't settle down and do anything---I'm trying to pace again---I finally ask the woman how long it's gonna be.
She's sewing a button back on one of her shirts. She cuts the thread with her teeth, and looks up. "Not too long." And that's all she'll say..
I worked on a walking stick the last couple weeks, to help me keep my feet in the soft patches. I don't really have anything to pack. Everything I have, I've been keeping in my pockets anyway. The woman watches me go out the door. I think maybe I should say good-bye…..but then I don't.
I'm outta breath sooner than I thought I'd be. Sitting around all winter didn't do me any good. I get back to the place I was dumped out….pretty sure this is it……and manage to get up the slope and onto the road. And there I have to stop and rest for a while. That's where I am when the woman catches up with me. I didn't see Blonde Hair's body anywhere.
"I need to go into town and get some more shotgun shells," the woman says. But she waits for me.
It's a long walk. I started an hour or so after sunup, I think, but it's about dark before we hit Arrowhead, and I'm beat. My leg's killing me.
The guy at the movie house calls the sheriff when I ask him to. The sheriff isn't real happy about having to put his shoes on and come down to the jail, but he does. I can see by his face that I look like a hobo---ragged clothes, beard, long hair---but he listens to my story---what I tell him---and agrees to call Lynn and tell her I'm alive before I talk to her so the sound of my voice on the phone doesn't make her faint or something.
It's the sweetest thing I've heard in a long time---my baby crying on the phone, saying she loves me. Then there's another voice on the phone.
"Where the hell have you been, you sonuvabitch?"
"Hi, Patty. It's good to hear from you, too, put Lynn back on the phone, would ya?".
The sheriff lets me stay in the jail until Lynn gets here. She was ready to jump in the car right away, but it's gonna take her a few days to get here, so I tell her to wait until morning. The sheriff's wife takes pity on me and brings a casserole and a molded salad to the jail for supper.
I don't know where the woman went. She didn't come in the jail with me.
It's a long three days. I think about the letter inside my jacket pocket. It looks like I won't be needing it now. But I don't want to throw it away here. I'll wait until I get home and can burn it. Don't wanna take a chance on somebody else finding it and reading it.
I worked on that letter for weeks. Somewhere along the way it stopped being just a goodbye letter and turned into something more like a diary, I guess. Not exactly. But I started writing down how I got to that cabin in the woods, and what I felt like, what I wanted, and then what was happening. I wrote down about Arliss, and the woman, and the cougar. Not wanting to die. The ride in the trunk. I wrote about when I thought I was going crazy. It's a big fat packet of paper, even though I recopied the letter part (mainly 'cause I changed so many things I could hardly read it myself). I don't know why, maybe just for something to do. Don't think I'd even want Lynn to read it now. And for sure not unless I'm good and dead and can't stop her.
And then I hear her voice, outside in the office, "Where is he?" but when she comes back to the jail, she just walks right past me. Guess maybe I shoulda shaved. I'm kinda furry. She's never seen me with more than a day or two's growth. "Where is he?"
Her eyes get big, and then she almost throws herself at me. I try to brace myself, but my leg gives way, and I have to catch hold of the bars or fall down.
I don't think she notices. She's crying again, and telling me she thought I was dead, touching my face, my beard, my hair. I had a coupla things I thought of to say, but now that she's here, I can't say 'em. I just wanna hold her, breathe in her scent, listen to her voice……kiss her. Gotta kiss her. Don't care where we are, who's watching. Seems like nothing else matters right now……..
Never wanna stop. Wanna kiss her forever..
When we come up for air, I notice the bulge of her tummy pushing at my belt buckle. I look down and put my hand there. Lynn giggles, and when I look into her face, she nods. "So far, so good," she says.
News like that calls for more kissing, slightly different than before, less desperate.
Next time we have to breathe, Lynn says, "You don't have a shirt on." She doesn't say anything about the new scars, not yet, even though I know she can see some of them.
Patty's standing back a few steps.
"Hi, Patty, thanks for coming with Lynn." She doesn't say anything. Tears start rolling down her face. "Sorry I didn't stay gone longer."
"No…..I thought maybe you left because of me……I was afraid it was my fault…….."
"Nah, when have I ever done what you wanted me to?"
She laughs a little bit, walks over and puts her arms around me. "I'm glad you're not dead." And then she wrinkles her nose. "You smell terrible."
I ask her to get my stick from the floor. There's silence as I get my balance with it and start out of the cell. They don't follow me, they're just standing there, looking at my leg.
"I'm not……" I'm not sure what I want to say. I don't know for sure what the looks on their faces mean. "I'm not like I used to be." I take a deep breath. "Maybe---"
Patty says, "S'ok, we didn't like you the way you used to be." She puts my free arm over her shoulders and her arm around my waist. "You'll be happy to know I dumped Lloyd. And let me tell you….." She chatters all the way out to the car. Lynn's behind us; I think I hear her thanking the sheriff. Patty gets in the driver's side. "You two can sit in the back."
I wait for Lynn. I still don't know what the look on her face means. I wish I could do that like she can.
I make myself say what I'm thinking. "Maybe you won't want me back after you get a good look." And wait for her answer.
She kisses me. And folds me in her arms, and says, "I don't care what you look like. I wouldn't care if you were green. I wouldn't care if you didn't have any legs. I just want you home."
I manage to get in the back seat. When Patty turns the car around, I see the woman standing in front of the grocery store, shading her eyes with her hand, watching us drive away..
The girls are ready to start back for Bisbee right away, but I wanna get a motel room here, take a shower, shave, get cleaned up. Lynn brought me some clothes. My car's gone. The sheriff said he didn't know anything about it; all he knew was he didn't tow it anywhere. My shaving kit was in my suitcase when I first hit town, and so that's gone, along with everything else. Patty goes back to the store after we get a coupla rooms and picks up a few things for me.
"Did you bring my gun?"
Lynn looks at the gun laying on the dresser that I took outta my coat pocket. "Bud….what do you need another one for?"
"And the boxes of ammunition?"
She nods, but she looks uneasy. I kiss her. "I just feel better having my own." I know she doesn't believe me. "I'm gonna shave and get cleaned up, OK?"
I leave the clothes I've been wearing for months in a pile. I took everything outta my coat pockets-the gun, the few extra bullets, the rock, the twine. For some reason I don't wanna throw any of that stuff away yet. I don't want Lynn to see the letter, to know it even exists, so I leave it where it is until later.
It takes me a long time in the bathroom. My face feels raw when I'm done, but I don't look so much like a hillbilly. My hair's gonna have to wait until I can get to the barber tomorrow. And the shower……oh, man, it feels wonderful. I maybe stay in the shower a lot longer than I actually need to, but it feels so good……
I'm kinda hesitating about going out in just a towel. The scars don't look as bad in the mirror as I thought they would…..but they look bad enough. 'Course I know what they mean. To Lynn, they'll just be marks. Maybe it won't be so bad. She said she didn't care what I looked like.
I turn off the lights anyway, before I get in bed. She's waiting for me, in a pretty blue frilly nightgown that I don't remember, so I make sure I tell her how pretty it is, and she smiles.
Lynn and me have been married a while, and we were sleeping together a while before that, so you'd think getting in bed together wouldn't be a big deal. Even though I've been gone a long time, you'd think it'd be easy to get back to comfortable. I don't know for sure how Lynn feels, but this is just about like that first time again. When you're not sure how the other person feels. Or what they're gonna think of you. Kissing her this afternoon felt right; now it feels…..I don't know, different.
And there's the baby. Her stomach feels bigger now than it did this afternoon. I need more than kissing, but I don't know what she can do and what she can't…..I don't wanna do anything to hurt the baby, but…..God, I need to be with her. I need her, I need this. I've been alone a long time.
She's talking to me, I think, saying something, but I don't understand it, I'm pushing the silky nightgown outta the way. Her hands are on my face, she's trying real hard to tell me something, I'm pushing her thighs apart with my knees, and then I'm where I need to be. I don't need anything else, just to be here. To be together, connected.
It's different, but it's still Lynn.
After a minute, she starts to stroke my hair, and talks to me real low, so low I can't make out what she's saying at first. Then her legs wrap around me, and her arm. The other hand is in my hair. And now I can hear she's telling me to hush, that it's gonna be all right, and I think that's strange 'cause I'm not saying anything, but it's OK, anyway. She combs my hair with her fingers, she talks to me, and it doesn't really matter what she says, I know what she means. I could stay here, like this, all night. Then she wiggles.
"You're heavy, honey. I can't breathe."
She rolls us on our sides, but I don't like that, so we go all the way over. Lynn likes to be on top, I think because she still has that feeling that she might wanna get away, and if she's on the bottom she can't. It's OK with me, I kinda like it sometimes. Turns out it's what you're supposed to do if you're pregnant.
Her body is a lot different. It's not just her tummy that's bigger, she's a little bigger everywhere. Her breasts are heavier. Her skin is softer. Smoother. I think maybe she even tastes a little different. I like it, all of it. And I guess she can tell.
She starts to move. I tell her I don't need that if it'll be bad for the baby, but she lays her fingers on my mouth and says if she can control it, it'll be fine. I let her do whatever she wants. I just kiss her as much as she'll let me. And she's right. It is fine..
The nightmare is quick, hits me like lightning, and then, just that fast, I'm awake. At least that's how it seems. I'm sitting up in bed, shaking, and it seems to me that I mighta yelled, but I don't know for sure.
Lynn's awake, too, but she's not touching me; probably she wants to make sure I'm awake before she tries that. "You OK, baby?"
"Yeah. Just a nightmare."
"What was it about?"
After a few seconds, I say, "I don't remember."
"You're lying to me." How can she do that in the dark? She can't even see my face, and she still knows I'm lying. "It was about something that happened to you while you were gone, wasn't it?"
She scoots up and puts her arms around me from behind. "Can't you tell me about it?"
"I don't know." I turn around and scoop her up and put her on my lap. "I just can't talk about it." I kiss her. "You're kind of a big lapful now, you know it?"
I'm changing the subject, and she knows it, and she lets me do it. I fall asleep again tangled up in her arms.
No place I'd rather be.
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