excerpt – The Backslider
At three-thirty on a May morning Frank Windham got out of his bunk and said his prayer. He reminded God of their bargain, which was that if God would give him Rhoda, he would live up to every jot and tittle of the commandments. Actually it was Frank’s bargain, God having never confirmed it. That was the way with God. He never offered Frank any signs, he never gave him any encouragement. He left him penned up with his own perversity like a man caught in a corral with a hostile bull.
In the bunkhouse closet, tucked into his shirt pocket, was Rhoda’s letter, tattered from reading and rereading, telling him she was engaged to Milo Terrance Jacobson, who was about to graduate from the university with a bachelor of science degree in accounting and an ROTC commission in the United State Navy. When the letter had come, right then was the time Frank should have driven to Salt Lake City and straightened things out. Instead he wrote one letter after another, which Rhoda never answered.
Frank went to the corrals and loaded the three mustangs into the stocktruck. By the time he had clanged the steel gate shut on them, Wesley had come from the ranchhouse. In the dark he was nothing more than a silhouette with a big stomach leaning against a fence post.
“One of those mares is in estrus,” Wesley said.
“I know. She’s in heat.”
“The estrus period is a curious phenomenon among the placental mammals,” Wesley went on.
“Well, at least I hope she doesn’t get any more notions,” Frank said. “She’s already got that gelding boogered. She wants him to be a stallion and he doesn’t think that way.”
“Are you all set now?” Wesley said. “Have you got in mind all the errands you’re going to run?”
It was a complicated itinerary. In Howell Valley, at the other end of the state, he would deliver the three mustangs and take on a load of nine milkgoats. The next day, coming back, he would stop at the Trailways bus station in Salt Lake and pick up Marianne, Wesley’s and Clara’s older daughter. He would also buy three fancy tablecloths for Clara to donate to the Lutheran church in Richfield, and he had to go to a building supply and get five cans of creosote for Wesley. Of course before he left Salt Lake, he would run his own little errand and have a talk with Rhoda.
“I have not come to peace over those goats,” Wesley said.
“I imagine you can palm them off on somebody else.”
“It was never my ambition to see this ranch become headquarters to a herd of milkgoats,” Wesley continued mournfully. “But Clara thinks Jeanette is allergic to cowmilk. And it’s also her idea to make goatmilk cheese. Have you ever tasted goatmilk cheese, Frank? My God, it is the collected, condensed, rarified essence of goatstink. It tastes just like they smell.”
The two men went into the ranchhouse where Clara had Frank’s breakfast ready—eggs, sausages, pancakes, and milk. Besides that, she had packed a double lunch so he wouldn’t have to stop on the road. Clara had the shape of a tripod: fat thighs, big buttocks, narrow shoulders, a little head. She had tartarred teeth, ruddy cheeks, and cheerful eyes, and this morning she wore a blue kerchief over her uncombed hair. She was the sweetest, most motherly person on earth, and Frank wouldn’t have traded her for six of Wesley.
“It will be so fine to have Marianne with us,” she said. “I never thought I could survive nine months without laying eyes on her.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Frank agreed, though he had never seen Marianne. When Wesley had moved Clara from Colorado to the ranch in southern Utah, they had brought along Jeanette, their younger daughter. Marianne had chosen to go to Illinois to spend the school year with her aunt. According to the photograph on the living room mantel, Marianne wasn’t destined to win any beauty contests.
“I’m excited about my goats, Frank,” Clara went on. “I’m so glad we’re getting them at last.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Frank said again, watching Wesley roll his eyes and suck in his lips.
As he put the truck into gear and rolled out of the yard, Frank felt depressed. In the autumn he and Wesley had spent some nice days running down the three wild horses in the Escalante desert. Frank had worked with the mustangs off and on all winter and in April Wesley had bought out Frank’s share for $30, not mentioning the trade he had arranged with Mr. Morris, whom he had met at a Hereford convention in Reno.
Frank wondered whether Wesley’s profits would exceed the intentions of the Fathers of the United States Constitution. Supposing that milk goats were bringing $25 apiece, Wesley would be realizing close to $100 from Frank’s share of the horses. He deserved a certain nice gain, of course, because, as he often pointed out, he was positioned in the market. That was why he could buy up old hay farms around Escalante, fix them up with wells and pumps, and get rich selling alfalfa in Salt Lake, Las Vegas, and Flagstaff.
On one of those bright days in the fall when Frank and Wesley had roped the mustangs, they took a break in the shade of an old gnarled juniper. While they finished off the apples and cheese sandwiches Clara had sent along, Wesley propped himself on an elbow and gave Frank a lecture on economics.
“Don’t become a mere millhand. Don’t get bogged down earning a simple wage while you make another man rich. There are two avenues upward, one of which is education.” Wesley flung an arm for emphasis. He was a tall, big boned, hard eating man with a chubby, sincere face and a middle which bulged like a sack of wheat. From his appearance a person might not have guessed that he had a Ph.D. in agronomy from Colorado State.
“The other avenue is the great American marketplace,” he went on. “You don’t have to go to college to get rich. You just have to be smart. And be positioned in the market. Knowing who wants what, that’s everything.” This was the avenue Wesley had in mind for Frank. “Or, of course, like myself, a person can do both.”
Unfortunately, Frank wasn’t positioned in a market. He was twenty years old and worked from dawn till dark six days a week feeding cows, plowing fields, loading bales, heaving sacks, and driving Wesley’s trucks. He had his compensations. He had fancy boots and pearlbuttoned shirts and a shiny blue Chevrolet pickup with overload springs and a four speed transmission. He received free bunk and board for himself and stable and hay for his roping horse. Also Clara did his laundry and cut his hair and cheered him up. Nonetheless, he could see he was one of those fellows who got bogged down making another man rich.
As he drove through Panguitch about a half hour after sunrise, Frank had to decide whether to stop and say hello to his mother and brother. His hauls for Wesley brought him through Panguitch a dozen times a month, but usually he put off making up his mind until he had got to the opposite edge of town and then it seemed a waste of gasoline to turn around and go back. When he did manage to stop, Margaret pumped him about his church attendance and let him know how grieved she was by his absence. “I don’t know why you couldn’t get a job here at the mill,” she was likely to say. “It seems like to me if a young man isn’t married and isn’t on a mission then there isn’t any sense in him not living at home.”
A mile or two north of Panguitch, Frank was thinking that a fellow who wouldn’t stop to visit his mother and brother ought to have his head pounded with a rock. Soon, however, he began to feel better. A long haul in a truck pacified him. Having left one place, not having arrived in another, he could put off his worries. The roar of the engine, the rumble of the tires, the rush of the air gave him a nice feeling in the stomach.
For a while he pondered about Wesley, who confided a good many personal matters to Frank. For example, he told him how hard life was for a man who had to get up two or three times at night to urinate and also how hard it was for a man who truly believed in science. When Wesley talked about science, his face took on a cloudy, poetical appearance and his voice a half peeved, half marveling tone.
“I can’t speak of these things around Clara,” he said one day as he and Frank lay side by side welding a strut beneath a horse trailer. “When people let you know they have no tolerance for your private view of things, what do you do? Do you change that view? Do you obliterate it, wipe it out? Not at all. You simply take it underground. That’s where I’m at, Frank—underground. I hide in my secret self.”
By way of emphasis he waved the welding electrode around, setting off showers of sparks as the rod struck the undercarriage in promiscuous places.
“Does Clara know that I am a free thinker?” he went on in astonishment. “Does she know that I stand side by side with Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein? Not on your life! It would frighten her to know that! My gad, Frank, knowledge of my fundamental character would break her. She has no courage for such a recognition. What Christian has? Therefore I hide and dissemble, I protect her innocence.”
Frank was thinking that a welding job that should have taken three minutes was taking twenty. Also he was wondering whether in the afterlife Wesley would make it to the Terrestrial Kingdom or whether God would lock him up in the Telestial. Even though Wesley knew how to make money raising hay, a thing nobody else in Garfield County could do, he had his oddities, he didn’t quite add up, which might cause God to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him into the higher kingdom. Clara would be in the Terrestrial Kingdom, which belonged to the goodhearted people of the earth who had been deceived by the craftiness of men, and it was nice to think Wesley might make it there too. As for Frank himself, he would be lucky to inherit even the Telestial Kingdom. A fellow who belonged to the true church and who believed in God but wished he didn’t was in big trouble.
At Circleville Frank stopped the truck and inspected the mustangs, which were snubbed by halter ropes to the stakes of the truck. The estrus mare showed the whites of her eyes and pranced in place as if she thought she was headed off to find a stallion. He went into a grocery store and bought a strawberry soda pop, which he drank while finding out from the proprietor whether the opening of trout season had been successful in this vicinity. Frank had a square jaw, a big mouthful of white teeth, a button nose, and a shock of brown hair which bounced above his shingled temples like loose hay on a wagon. He wore Levi’s, engineer boots run down at the heels, a white tee shirt, and an unbuttoned, tails-out shirt of faded red flannel. In the cab were his Sunday shoes and a nicely pressed sports shirt which he intended to put on before going to see Rhoda.
Back on the road he was tempted to pass time with a daydream about Rhoda. For a year and a half, ever since meeting her at a dance at Escalante high school, he had made up heroic stories about the two of them. He would rescue her from a fire or from a runaway horse or from a New York racketeer who happened to be passing through Garfield County, and Rhoda would hug him and kiss him and tell him he was the one she had been waiting for all her life. Then his fantasy would jump to their wedding night. It was a good fantasy but it had its limits. For example, he had to omit the wedding night when he was making up a daydream during Sacrament Meeting because God would naturally keep a close lookout for lewd thoughts in his own house. And now, as he steered his truck north along Highway 89, Frank couldn’t make any part of the daydream take fire. It didn’t seem respectful to think about romancing with Rhoda when she might become another man’s wife.
Before she left for the university, Frank and Rhoda took a drive up New Canyon where cold, clear water rushed and steep, fractured slopes bristled with pine and aspen. From a high viewpoint they gazed over the simmering Escalante desert, then meandered along the creek until it looped into a deep, clear pool. They took off their shoes and stockings and waded, she leaning on his arm, her light brown hair glistening in the sun, her voice full of squeals and laughter. Later they sat on a log and watched trout hovering in a riffle above the pool.
“This sure will be empty country without you,” he said.
“I’ll come back,” she murmured. “I’ll be home at Christmas and maybe Easter.”
“I wish you wouldn’t go,” he said.
“I couldn’t pass it up,” she protested. “At least one year. I wouldn’t ever know what it’s like if I didn’t go.”
“You’d better go then,” he said. “But I won’t love nobody in my whole life but you.”
“Oh, Frank,” she wailed, nonplussed and grieving. She put her arms around him and hugged him tight. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, expelling it in a whisper. “We’ll get married next year, Frank, I promise we will. When I come home next June, when I’ve had my year, I won’t leave any more.”
They sat on the log for a long time while she told him all the things she had always hoped her husband would be. He listened closely, wanting not to disappoint her in the tiniest particle. That night he was feverish from love and couldn’t sleep at all. While Nathan snored across the room, he knelt at the side of his bunk and made his bargain that if God really would let him have Rhoda he wouldn’t hold back on anything a righteous man was supposed to do.
He began to attend meetings at the Escalante North Ward, and he began to pay tithing. He stopped drinking coffee and tried to avoid going around with Jack Simmons and Red Rollins, who were evil company and had tempted him to drink great quantities of beer. He quit poaching trout and deer and gave up roping other people’s calves. He tried to stop swearing and he cut down his masturbation to two or three times a week. Each time he masturbated, he felt very contrite and vowed he wouldn’t do it again. Occasionally he imposed a punishment on himself like going without his lunch or leaving his waterbag at the ranch so that he had to pass an entire day without a drink of water.
He would have gone to hell for Rhoda so it didn’t matter that all this righteousness made his life more or less hellish. That’s what righteousness was all about.
About a mile south of Payson the truck sputtered, coughed, lurched, and died. It was two-thirty in the afternoon. Frank got out and kicked the bumper and said, “God damn it all to hell.” He got the toolbox from under the seat and removed the fuel pump. Just as he had suspected, its diaphragm had split. He locked the cab, peered at the horses in the back, and headed up the highway afoot, putting out his thumb every time a car came by. By four o’clock he had got a ride to Provo and had found an autoparts store, which didn’t have the pump he needed. He got on a payphone and called around Provo without finding the right pump. He got out on the highway and caught a ride to Salt Lake with a fellow who let him off at an autoparts store in Murray. At five minutes to closing time he had finally located his pump.
Outside Frank stood on the curb with his parcel under an arm. Far up State Street he could see the dome of the state capitol. The street was smothered in dust and exhaust, cars moving along its traffic lanes like ants that someone had managed to get into single files. Frank felt like punching himself in the mouth or maybe in the belly or kidneys. If he had had sense enough to change into his good shoes and shirt before leaving the truck, he could have paid Rhoda a visit right now. As things were he’d be lucky to make it back to Salt Lake with the truck by midnight.
He decided to phone her.
“She’s not here,” a roommate said. “Her and Milo went up to Kaysville at noon. They’ll be back sometime tonight. Can I take a message?”
“Tell her Frank Windham called and wants to talk to her about something important. Tell her I’ll come by your apartment tomorrow afternoon at five. I’ve got to look after a truckload of livestock and I don’t have any other time I can come by, so I hope she’ll be home.”
He had just thought up a new itinerary and it seemed sensible while he was near a telephone to call Wesley collect and let him know about it.
For the first minute or two Frank couldn’t get Wesley straightened out on what was happening. “Well, just drive on,” Wesley kept saying. “If you’ve got as far as Salt Lake, you can make it to Howell Valley by midnight or a little after.”
“But I don’t have the truck and horses. They’re still down the other side of Payson. All I’ve got is the new pump. I don’t know what time it’ll be when I get back down the road and install it.”
He could hear Wesley mumbling something to Clara. “What about Marianne?” Wesley said. “Where’s she?”
“She isn’t in yet. She isn’t supposed to be in. That’s tomorrow afternoon at two o’clock.”
There was more conferring. “Well, my gadfrey, what are you going to do?” Wesley asked.
Frank gave him the new itinerary, saying he would thumb back as far as Spanish Fork, where he had a cousin Emily. He would ask her husband to drive him on down to the truck. Then for the night he’d put up the horses in their corral and throw down his bedroll in their house. In the morning he would drive on slow and easy, taking care of his errands in Salt Lake. He would meet Marianne at two and take her with him to Howell Valley, where they would spend the night. He didn’t anticipate any problems in finding a bed for her in Mr. Morris’s ranchhouse. However, if necessary, she could have Frank’s bedroll and he would sleep in the truckseat. Then, digging in, he and Marianne would drive hard and get to the ranch with the goats just one day later than planned.
There was more conferring. Wesley was very irritated and Frank could hear what he was saying. “I don’t like this talk about her sleeping in his bedroll. That’s damned near obscene.”
Clara mumbled something and Wesley went on, louder than ever. “Hell, no, I don’t mean to not have faith in her, but you’ve got to admit she doesn’t have a lick of sense about boys.”
Clara mumbled again and Wesley shouted, “I’m not putting ideas in his head. They’re already there. I know what’s in the mind of a young fellow like that.”
Wesley came back on the phone. “Look here, Frank, I didn’t mean to bring this matter up until later, but maybe this is a good time for you and me to have something out between us. You just go ahead, like you say, and pick her up at the bus station and take her with you up to Morris’s ranch and take good care of her and get her down here safe and sound in both body and spirit. You and she are going to be around each other a lot of the time this summer and maybe next winter too if she decides she’s going to stay on and take her senior year in Escalante. Now what I’m telling you is without any rancor whatsoever. Just a bit of friendly, fatherly advice. By God, Frank, you keep your distance from that girl. I’m not having her get bogged down in Garfield County. Not by a damned sight. What I’m saying is, you treat her like a sister. Like a sister. You understand that?”
“I didn’t have in mind treating her any other way.”
“I try to do things the way they’re supposed to be done,” Frank said.
“Well, I know you do,” Wesley replied in a mollified voice. “By and large, yes, that’s a fact, you do try to do things the way they’re supposed to be done.”
“So you can count on it. I’ll look after her. I won’t let anything happen to her. She’ll be my number one lookout.”
“All right, all right,” Wesley said, becoming angry again. “I’m paying for this call. Get on with your business.”
“Yes, sir,” Frank said as he hung up.
The next morning, having slept in Emily’s basement, Frank helped her husband, Robert, milk his cows and then loaded the horses. It wasn’t easy. The heated-up mare was interested in backing up to the gelding, which took her gestures as a threat and tore out a hitching post.
“Slow down there, you wild puckerassed bastard!” Frank shouted as he chased the careening animal round and round the corral. When he and the gelding had calmed down, he looked sheepishly at Robert, who was startled and perhaps a little scandalized. Robert was a fat, middle-aged man who probably hadn’t ever acquired a taste for bad words.
“Horses get kind of skittish in the early morning,” Frank explained. “I’ll get your crowbar and shovel and plant that post again after breakfast.”
After Frank had led the mare up the loading ramp and had snubbed her tightly to a bedstake, the gelding decided he could go up too. Frank couldn’t help admiring the mare. It was her bad luck to offer her business end to a gelding, but what she lacked in judgment she more than made up in enthusiasm.
Emily called Frank and Robert in to breakfast. She was a stubby, strawhaired woman of forty-five. There were two teenaged sons, one fat, the other skinny, both with acne. There was a spoiled daughter of nine and there was Emily’s mother, Marilla, an old woman with silver hair who was a half-sister to Frank’s mother. Breakfast consisted of home-ground wheat cereal, milk, and mashed figs for a sweetener. The family was strong on footreading. Just before sitting to the table, Robert offered to give Frank an exhaustive physical examination by scrutinizing his bare foot, but Frank said he had been feeling well lately and kept on his boots.
After Robert and the children had gone off to work and school, Marilla, the old silver haired lady, kept Frank pinned to the table for almost an hour. She had eaten like a silage chopper, happily smacking her lips and licking her fingers and strewing cereal and figs around her plate and up and down her bib. She had a crush on Frank and called him good looking and wondered why he wasn’t married. She liked to preach and wouldn’t tolerate interruptions. When she asked a question it wasn’t because she wanted an answer but because she meant to move to a new subject. “Did you ever hear about Jimmy Jamison getting his privates shot off in the deer hunt?” she might say, or “I don’t suppose you’re old enough to remember what a hand my mother was with tatting,” and of course Frank had better sense than to do anything except grunt and look interested.
Finally he got up and said he had to plant the torn-out post in the corral. Marilla followed him out and kept talking about all the injustices her poor mother had suffered in polygamy. After he had replaced the post, he shook Emily’s hand and thanked her for a place to stay. He tied up his bedroll and started the truck. As he rolled up the window and let out the clutch, he could see Marilla still talking on the front porch.
Frank arrived in Salt Lake a little before noon and picked up the cans of creosote from a building supply. Then he parked in a rundown neighborhood a couple of blocks southwest of Temple Square. He wasn’t sure the city fathers should have let a neighborhood so close to the temple go to seed although it was convenient for a man who needed a place to park a truckload of horses. Besides that, these houses and lots weren’t much different from most of the houses and lots in Escalante and Panguitch—patches of lawn the size of a bedquilt with untrimmed edges and shaggy, dark green spots where dogs had defecated, window panes replaced here and there by warped plywood, paint gone dusty with oxidization, front porches that had become storage places, holding old Victrola phonographs and cardboard boxes full of National Geographic magazines.
Frank changed into his Sunday shoes and pressed shirt and walked to the Trailways bus station. After seeing he had a half hour before the Omaha bus arrived, he crossed the street and wandered onto Temple Square. For a minute or two he looked at the statue of the handcart pioneers and at the seagull monument. Drifting on, he gazed at the tall, grey granite temple which had six big spires and more little ones than he felt like counting. Opposite the temple was the tabernacle, a long, squat building with small buttresses of hewed stone and a silvery dome for a roof. Frank was thinking about Brigham Young and John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff and all the other great men who had made tracks back and forth across this square like cows in a feedlot.
He entered the tabernacle at the rear and found people listening to a tour guide. He sat down among them and gazed at the wooden pews and posts and at the narrow balcony circling three-quarters around beneath the great concave ceiling. The guide, having explained that the joists and rafters had been joined by wooden pegs and rawhide thongs, was now ready to demonstrate the exceptional acoustics of this marvelous pioneer building. When she arrived at the front, she dropped a pin on an oak railing and, sure enough, everybody could hear the pin when it hit—krip.
Outside, a skinny little man who wore a navy blue suit and a narrow twisted tie and who had eczema patches on his cheeks said to Frank, “That’s the first time I ever heard a pin drop in the tabernacle.”
“Same goes for me,” Frank replied.
“You a Mormon?”
“Likewise. I imagine most of them folks ain’t. Wouldn’t you think that was likely?”
“They are Gentiles that has come more or less thinking this building is a curiosity, haven’t they? Then they heard that pin drop. I would imagine they would be pretty impressed, wouldn’t you?”
“Likely,” Frank said.
“A little pin! Another witness as to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon,” the little man said. “God moves in mysterious ways.”
“Nobody can quarrel with that,” Frank replied as he ambled off toward the bus station.
He sat down to wait for the Omaha bus. The high-ceilinged lobby smelled of diesel fuel, saliva-soaked tobacco, and urinal disinfectant. Opposite him, sitting on a grimy oak bench with parcels around her feet was a pregnant woman who huddled a small child under either arm. A lanky giant of a man leaned against a wall, his shins gleaming between his pant cuffs and the tops of his cracked brogans. Three Navajos, one of them wearing his hair in the old-style bob bound with cotton string, came from the rest room.
A fuzzy-voiced loudspeaker announced the Omaha bus. Frank pushed through swinging doors into the cavernous loading area where passengers streamed along a dock. A big girl was getting off the bus. She wore sandals, yellow shorts, and a rainbow striped blouse and she clutched an overnight case and a large paper sack. She would measure five ten or eleven, an inch or two shorter than Frank. She had sturdy arms, bulging calves, man-sized thighs.
Stopping in front of Frank she eyed him for a moment, said, “Hello, horseface,” and handed him the overnight case. She stepped back to get a good view of him. “So you’re Frank Windham. Every letter I’ve had all winter says you’re pure death on calf tying. But you don’t look like much of a roper to me. You look like you’d do good at shovel work. Look at the size of those hands!”
Frank’s big hands weren’t something he liked to have mentioned, but he restrained himself and said, “You’re making a mistake, ma’am. I’m not this Frank whatever his name is. My name is Beardsley. Wendell T. Beardsley.”
“Woops,” she said, taking back the case.
“That’s all right,” he said, wandering on down the dock craning his neck and peering from side to side.
A little later he returned to the lobby and found Marianne teetering an up-ended trunk toward a bench. “Excuse me, miss,” he said, “if your friend doesn’t show up, I could give you a hand. I can put you in touch with the police of this here city, who have a department for lost kids. That way, your mom and dad will know where to look you up.”
“Wendell T. Beardsley!” she muttered. “Well, my name is Zora Mae Crashcumber and I’m on the road selling fertilizer, which you might know as bullshit. You bet you can give me a hand. There’s another trunk and a suitcase right over there.”
“Good Lord,” Frank said, “where are we going to put all that?”
“You have a truck, don’t you?”
“Sure. It’s filled with horses and manure.”
“These bags will wash off. Where’s the truck?”
“Wait a minute,” Frank said. “Let’s leave this luggage checked here for an hour or so and go do a little shopping for your mother. I’m supposed to run down three tablecloths with flowers on them for the church your folks go to.”
They stopped first for a late lunch at Walgren’s drugstore. They sat at the counter where they could see the walls and spires of the temple across the street. Marianne ordered a cheeseburger and coffee and Frank had three hot dogs, cherry pie a la mode, and milk. Marianne began to talk in a hearty, uninterrupted way about her stay in Illinois. She lamented leaving her kind, loving aunt and uncle, who lent her their car and listened to her problems. She scorned the riding club at the high school, whose members used English saddles, and boasted about locating a riding stable with western saddles and some nice trails, where she took rides on Saturday afternoons except when the temperatures were close to zero. Her only friends at the high school were on the staff of the student newspaper, for which she was junior class reporter. Her only date was for the Adelia M. Jackson formal, which was ladies’ choice. Now, thank God, all that was behind her. She was very excited about living on the ranch at Escalante because after ten months in Illinois she knew she wasn’t a city girl.
Listening gravely, Frank decided she wasn’t downright ugly, although she certainly wasn’t anyone he would have taken up with by choice. She was big and brawny and had a long, bumpy nose, a thin upper lip, and an unbecoming declivity in her chin. However, she also had bouncy auburn hair whose curls she had revived with a comb, nice brown eyes, and white, even teeth. She sat to his right and her blouse gaped so that every time he forgot and took another look he could see her large breast, covered by a bra, of course. He tried hard to imagine what a big brother would do in a case like this since he had decided to take Wesley seriously and treat her exactly like a sister.
As she drank the last of her coffee, she glanced at the temple across the street. “What do the Mormons really do in that temple?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been in it.”
“How old do you have to be?”
“I’m old enough. I haven’t got around to going yet.”
“I hear they have sex orgies in there.”
“Gosh no!” Frank said scornfully. “People dress up in robes. Then they sit and listen to sermons, I imagine. It’s probably like Sacrament Meeting, only worse.”
“I mean longer. More sermons.”
“Don’t you like to go to church?”
“I go,” he said grimly. “I take in Priesthood Meeting and Sunday School and Sacrament Meeting and MIA. Every week more or less.”
“Mutual Improvement Association. It’s like Sunday School except it’s on a week night.”
“Do you do a lot of improving there?”
“We mostly have more sermons. Lessons actually, but they’re just like sermons. MIA was more fun when I was Boy Scout age. Of course, I learned a lot of bad things in the Boy Scouts.”
“It wouldn’t be decent to say.”
“Tell me!” she insisted.
“I learned guys could have sex with mares, for example.”
She seemed shocked.
“I never did it myself,” he went on hastily.
“Thank goodness. How did they do it?”
“On a box. I’ve seen it done on a step ladder too.”
“I guess I wouldn’t care to know any more about it,” she said. “Do you believe in Joseph Smith?”
“Sure enough. Why shouldn’t I?”
“It seems like one Bible is enough. Why do you need a whole pack of prophets running around the country?”
“You can’t have too much of a good thing,” he said. He was thinking she was getting pretty pushy, considering she was a Gentile and more or less a guest in the state of Utah.
“Do you want to know what I believe?” she asked hoarsely. “I just believe in Jesus. Just in Jesus.” She gazed expectantly into his face.
He fetched around in his mind for what just believing in Jesus might mean. “So,” he finally said, “maybe you don’t believe in God. Just in Jesus.”
She slapped herself on the forehead and laughed loud. “You dummy! You can’t believe in Jesus without believing in God. He’s part of God.”
“Don’t you know anything?” she asked, looking at him as if some of his bolts were missing. “What I mean is that I’m saved if I believe in Jesus. He’s all I need, just Jesus. I don’t need creeds and churches and big, thick books. God loves me so he gave me Jesus.”
He couldn’t see anything stupid about thinking she might believe in Jesus and not believe in God. Half of her might be Clara, but the other half was Wesley. He could see that in her face. That long, bumpy nose was Clara’s, as clear as day, and so was her upper lip, which came to a tiny point in the center. Her ear lobes, which drooped a little, were Wesley’s, as was the declivity in her chin. Why couldn’t her religious opinions be mixed up in the same way, Clara believing fervently in Lutheranism and Wesley believing in—well, whatever it was he chose to call it on the particular day he might be secretly expounding to Frank—the Providential Principle, the Fatherly First Cause, or maybe the Great Maternal Bosom of Nature?
At five o’clock Frank and Marianne parked the truck in a neighborhood near the University of Utah, where the yards had lush, clipped lawns and banks of irises, tulips, and daffodils. Some of the houses were old fashioned mansions with signs bearing Greek initials. Frank told Marianne to keep an eye on the horses, then strolled along the street to the house where Rhoda lived.
A roommate in a baggy tee shirt let him into the basement apartment. Rhoda would be home any minute, she and Milo having gone to town for a formal photograph. Milo would receive his naval commission this evening and the next day he would graduate from the university. Looking around, Frank decided it wasn’t much of an apartment. Old wallpaper had been painted green, and in spots the dark flowered carpet was worn to its cords. The air smelled of mildew.
Hearing a car door slam, he peered through a tiny window. Milo and Rhoda stood on the grass next to a new Buick, he in a Navy uniform of black and gold, she in a light pink suit. They conferred soberly, holding hands, each nodding when the other spoke. After they had kissed and parted and returned for another kiss, he got into the car and drove away.
As she came down the basement stairs, Frank lost all his courage. He was an intruder, a trespasser, a man caught with a hand in his neighbor’s purse. His mind galloped frantically in search of a new reason for his visit.
Rhoda hugged him tight, pressing her cheek against his, saying, “I’m so glad to see you, Frank. I’ve thought about you every day.”
He stared dumbly over her shoulder, wondering what pattern the wallpaper had had before someone painted it green.
“Shall we sit down?” she asked. “Please, tell me everything. I’m so lonesome for home. How are things in Escalante?”
Sitting, he blurted, “Just fine, just dandy, one hundred percent okay. I saw your dad and mom out in their yard the other day. I stopped and said howdy. Their peas are about a foot high. They’re likely eating radishes and green onions by now, maybe some leaf lettuce. The weather has been good lately. We had a big fire down at the sawmill in March. Burned up a whole bunch of dry lumber. Brother Phelps doesn’t teach our Sunday School class anymore. Sister Hollister has got pulled in to do that. The class had a party in April. They got together at the Hollisters and made ice cream.”
He had already run out of words. The Sunday School party he mentioned had led him to shame. All winter, waiting for Rhoda, Frank had spent most of his evenings reading at the ranch. He had a notion he shouldn’t go to the party but he did and when he got there, sure enough, he found Jack Simmons and Red Rollins, who were from out of town and didn’t have any business being there. They lured him away early to taste some rootbeer Jack’s father had made. Jack swore it wasn’t fermented but of course it was and Frank couldn’t quit drinking it. He parked his pickup high on the road to Hells Backbone and they sat on the tailgate and drank rootbeer and told stories which, as the evening went on, got funnier and funnier. One rancher had got a cow into a flour barrel and couldn’t get her out. A fellow on Canaan Peak had aimed at a four-point buck and shot his own horse. A California elk hunter had come through the Fish Lake checking station with a shod mule, shot, gutted, and tagged for an elk. A homesteader down in the Escalante desert had got the shakes on a moonlit night from seeing a small, furry apparition with a round, white, skulllike head, which turned out to be a badger which had eaten into a cantaloupe until its head had got trapped inside. Frank lay back in the bed of the pickup and pounded his thighs with his fists and laughed in loud, whooping guffaws.
He could see clearly that God wouldn’t give Rhoda to a man with such trifling ways.
“I just wanted to say goodby,” he said, rising. “I’m on a long haul with some horses. I’ve got to make Howell Valley, up by the Idaho border, before I get to sleep.”
“Oh, don’t go yet, Frank,” she pleaded, also rising and taking his hand. Her brown hair was soft and wavy and her cheeks were smooth and her smile was very kind.
“I got your letters,” she said. He nodded and wiped his eyes with a thumb. Like an auger bit, the fact he couldn’t ever have her was boring in.
“I couldn’t answer your letters,” she went on. “I was going to look you up when I got home and talk to you face to face so I could explain. So you would really know.”
“I know now,” he said.
“I really will remember you, Frank.”
He cried harder.
“I just have to have Milo. I couldn’t do anything else. If you knew him, you’d know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean. I saw him out the window.”
“Will you forgive me?”
“Sure, you bet, I’ll forgive you.”
“Will you please not feel bad?”
“Sure, yeah, you bet, I won’t feel bad.”
“Well, then, would you please not cry?” she said. “Maybe we could talk about something cheerful.”
Just then he heard a strange staccato rapping, exactly like the sound in newsreels of police horses on city pavements. His eyes, drifting past the open door, glimpsed rippling muscles, shining hide, flying mane. The staccato rapping doubled. A second form flashed by.
“My good hell,” he said, “there go my horses.”
He ran out onto the street and saw the rumps of two fleeing mustangs. From the opposite direction came a shout, “Stop those sonsabitches!” It was Marianne coming full steam, her head bobbing, her large bare legs working furiously, her hand brandishing a coiled lasso.
“Hold up,” he shouted as she dashed by.
“Come on,” she called over a shoulder. “Get your butt in gear.”
“You can’t outrun horses,” he cried, pulling up alongside her.
“Well, we can see which street they turn down, can’t we?”
“I was hoping you’d keep an eye on them.”
“Well, I didn’t. I took a walk.”
“Where’s that other mare?” he puffed.
“She got rustled. By a bunch of frat rats on a toot, drunker than catfish. They put down the ramp and took off with her.”
“My God,” Frank bellowed, “those horses are going through a red light!”
Tires squealed, a motor roared, a car spun around in the intersection and stopped headed in the opposite direction. The horses veered at a right angle and headed for the university.
Five minutes later Frank and Marianne plodded onto the lower quad of the campus, a large, grassy inverted U rimmed by solemn, venerable buildings. They stopped in front of the administration building, which had broad granite steps and a rank of giant columns. Fresh, green droppings had splattered on the sidewalk.
“That’s a good sign,” Frank muttered. “They’ve slowed down to a walk.”
They went on. Between the library and the home economics building they passed a student on a bicycle. He hadn’t seen any horses. Going by the law building they saw a bearded professor carrying a large paper sack. He hadn’t seen any horses either. They didn’t meet anyone as they went by the gymnasium and stadium.
“Geez, will you look at that!” Marianne said as they rounded a corner of the bookstore. On the lawn of the union building were the two mustangs, one eating from a bucket, the other stamping idly next to a young man who had looped a waterhose around its neck.
“All right, now we’re getting somewhere!” Frank said. “Let me take that rope and I’ll go up easy on that mare eating out of the bucket and get a loop on her.”
“Howdy do,” he said, nodding at the fellow as he sidled up to the mare.
“Just fine, thanks,” said the young man, who looked like a janitor. “I take it these are your horses.”
“That’s so. Much obliged for your help.” Having secured the mare, Frank took the other end of the lasso and turned to the gelding. “These animals are suckers for grain. I’m glad you had a little handy.”
“That isn’t grain in that bucket. It’s floor detergent.”
“Lordy!” Frank said, pulling the bucket away from the mare.
“I don’t imagine it will hurt them any. It’ll likely just clean them out. I saw a calf once, three days old; its mother had died when it was born. It had been sucking up tractor oil drainings out of a cut-off barrel bottom. Never killed it. Just gave it the black scours.”
“I’ll be danged,” Frank exclaimed. “What come of the calf later.”
“It got big. It’s still ranging up home in Idaho.”
“I figured you were a ranch boy,” Marianne said. “You look lonesome for horses.”
“I hate horses. Cows too. I’m going into pharmacology.”
“Good gosh,” Frank said, “what’s pharmacology?”
“I’m going to be a pharmacist. Going to run a drugstore.”
“I sure as hell wouldn’t run a drugstore,” Marianne said.
“Now that isn’t polite,” Frank said. “If he’s got a notion to sell pills, let him do it.” He tugged at the horses and as they fell in behind him he said, “Thanks kindly for rescuing these critters. Good luck in that pharmacology stuff.”
It was growing dark as Frank and Marianne arrived at the truck and loaded the horses. Frank rummaged beneath the truck seat and found a ball peen hammer. “Now,” he said, “if anybody messes with those horses while I’m out looking for that mare, you wade into them with this hammer. Threaten them good. Put on like you mean to pound in a head or two.”
“This is crummy,” she protested. “There’s nothing to do but sit in the dark.”
“That doesn’t matter. You keep an eye on those horses. No more wandering around. And don’t get excited if I don’t get back for a while.”
Frank set off along the dusky street, coiling the lasso and muttering to himself. He rang a couple of doorbells but no one answered. Around a corner and up a hill he came to a mansion, larger than any house nearby, whose windows blazed and from whose open doors came loud music and laughter. It seemed stupid to ring the bell, but he did anyway. A pretty blonde, wearing a low-necked, full-skirted dress, paused in the hallway.
“Well, come in,” she giggled. “Where did you get that costume?”
“I’m looking for my mare,” Frank said. “Have you seen a horse around here?”
She squinted her eyes a half dozen times, repeating, “A horse, a horse? Well, come on in. We’ll ask if somebody has got it.”
She led him into a parlor where a dozen or so young men and women sat around with mugs and punch glasses and refreshment plates. She cleared her throat and spoke loud. “Has anybody seen this man’s horse?”
“I was told some fraternity guys took a horse out of my truck,” Frank said. “I’d like it back.”
A fellow wearing a short sleeved lavender shirt and a purple necktie said, “Do you see any horses here? Try the stockyards. They keep a lot of animals down there.”
“Much obliged,” Frank said. “I’ll just go on up the street.”
“Oh, don’t go,” said the blonde, frowning with concentration. “It’s very important to find your horse. Very important. Let’s go ask somebody else.”
She took his hand and led him down a hall. He glanced up a stairway and saw a couple in a shadowy corner. It looked as if the man had his hand under the lady’s skirt. The blonde tugged Frank onward and led him into a high ceilinged room. A giant table stood covered by punch bowls, a keg of beer, cut vegetables, salted nuts, tiny sandwiches, and little iced cakes.
Gesturing, she said, “Please have some refreshments. You can’t hunt for your horse without nourishment.” She tottered and swayed and finally leaned against him. “I feel so bad for your horse. I never had a horse, but I know how you must feel.”
She put her arms around him and snuggled her cheek against his chest with her body slightly askew so that when he bent his head he was staring into her cleavage. “My name is Inez,” she said. “What is yours?”
He had never before in his entire life been hit in the nose by the fact that a man could tell when a woman was ready to fornicate. He was thinking about the estrous mare, about how she had backed up to the gelding, whinnying and snorting and wiggling with excitement, and about how this beautiful, busty Inez had just backed up to him, so to speak, except of course Frank was no gelding. He was wondering why nobody had ever told him a university was like this.
“You haven’t told me your name,” she said.
“Frank! I love a name like Frank.”
“My middle initial is J. For Jamison.”
“J is beautiful too. What are you majoring in?”
“I don’t know exactly. Well, I guess I do. I’m majoring in animal husbandry.”
“I didn’t know people could marry animals.”
“You don’t marry them. You take care of them. Like I’m out looking for my horse right now.”
He was wondering what God would do if he should shimmy off into a dark corner with Inez and get his hand under her skirt. It seemed reasonable that some sins, committed in out of the way places, might not come to the attention of the Almighty, at least not until Judgment Day, when all the books would be opened and every secret, shameful thing would stand revealed. Long before that dreadful day Frank planned to repent. Adding a few more sins to the truckload he already had didn’t seem to matter much. What was the difference between drinking fifty bottles of beer or a hundred, or between breaking his fast on one Fast Sunday in a year or on all twelve of them, or between taking the Lord’s name in vain five hundred times or a thousand? Sinning was like keeping hogs in a house. Whether a man kept one or a dozen, the house was still a hogpen.
Another couple were at the refreshments table but Inez paid them no attention. She had both arms tight around Frank and she dipped and swayed with the music floating in from another room.
“Do you think you could fall in love with a girl who flunked English 3?” she asked hopefully.
“You bet,” Frank said. “English 3 doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Well, I’m the one who flunked it.”
“That’s okay. When it comes to important things, I’ll bet you’re sharp as a tack. You are a mighty pretty woman.”
“Do you think so? Do you think I’m all right?”
“You come ashouting you’re all right. They don’t make girls any nicer than you.”
Inez tossed her hair and kissed him, saying in a voice that was almost reverent, “You’re so good looking.”
His mind was going round and round with terrible thumps like a blown-out tire on a highway. The worst sin of all was denying the Holy Ghost, which Frank hoped he hadn’t ever done. In fact, he wanted to have as little as possible to do with the Holy Ghost so he wouldn’t be tempted. The next most serious sin was murder, which wasn’t a problem because Frank didn’t lust on killing anybody. The third worst sin was fornication, and that was a problem. Frank needed to know how riled up God might get over a little fornication. He needed a temperature gauge with a little patch of red showing when God had reached his boiling point.
Through the open French doors came a shrill whinny. It was one of the horses in the truck. Then he heard a faint, muffled nicker.
“I’ll be damned,” he said, detaching himself from Inez and starting for the doors. “That’s the mare I’m looking for!”
“Oh, Frank,” she wailed, “please don’t go away.”
He paused to ponder in the doorway, scratching the back of his head with the coiled lasso. He heard the hoarse, hollow grunts of a frightened horse. “Lordy, I better not wait,” he apologized. “Maybe I’ll make it back.”
He groped his way across a dark patio and lawn, knocking over a big urn, stepping into a tub of what seemed to be ashes, and barking his shins on a stack of split firewood. He waded through a hedge, tearing his shirt and scratching his face. He crawled on his hands and knees across a terrace, freshly spaded and planted with tiny flowers. He pulled himself over a brick wall and fell with a clatter onto a lawn chair.
He heard the stamping of a tethered horse and a low, desperate voice. “What was that?”
“Nothing, for hell’s sake! It’s that dog that was here a while ago.”
“Why don’t those guys hurry up?” the scared voice said. “What’s holding them?”
“Take it easy, calm down!” said the brave voice. “Give them time. They’ll get here.”
Frank spoke up vigorously. “All right, you guys, I want my mare.”
“Who’s that?” the brave voice demanded.
“It’s me,” Frank said.
“I told you, I told you!” the timid voice whimpered. “It’s the Phi Kays. Now we’re in for it.”
“For crap’s sake, stay here and help me,” the other voice said.
Frank had started forward. His foot skidded and he fell into a small pit half full of empty cans, paper plates, and chicken bones. He pulled himself out on the other side and went forward. He heard other voices and saw the waving beam of a flashlight.
“On ’em, guys, give ’em hell!” someone urged with a half-whispered shout.
Ducking his head and flailing the coiled rope wildly, Frank lunged into a body. He fell, rolled, got onto his feet, lashed out with the coil, threw his fist. In the meantime he got a fist in the nose and another on the cheek and a wild glancing kick on the thigh. He heard grunts, yelps, and profanities. Suddenly he found himself flat on the grass, his arms pinned by strong hands, his eyes blinded by the flashlight.
In the background someone was saying, “Watch out for who you’re hitting, you puckhead! I’m on your side.”
“Jeeesus Christ! It’s just one guy.”
“He ain’t no Phi Kay.”
“That’s for sure,” Frank said. “You stole my mare. You took her right out of my truck.”
“Oh, Lord, I told you. We’re in trouble now.” It was the timid voice again.
“That’s right,” Frank growled. “You are in one hell of a lot of trouble. The minimum for horse theft is eighteen months. Plus a fine.”
A murmur went around the circle of standing silhouettes. The hands holding him relaxed and he sat up. He could see only shoes and pant legs in the beam of the flashlight.
“Besides that,” he went on, “you criminals have committed assault and battery on me when I was trying to recover my property.”
“Take your horse,” a voice said. “He’s right over there tied to that porch railing.”
“It isn’t a he,” Frank said. “She’s a mare and I’m afraid you have ruined her spirit. She won’t be worth anything after this.”
Frank was wondering about the going price of milk goats. He was wondering how much cash Mr. Morris would expect in place of the third mustang. It had come to Frank that he was positioned in a market. One road up, Wesley said, was the great American market place. A man didn’t need college. He just needed to be smart, which meant he needed to have somebody down with a knee on his neck the way Frank suddenly had these fellows.
“I’ve got to deliver that mare to a rancher in the morning and he expects prime horseflesh,” Frank said gloomily. “He paid two hundred dollars and she won’t be worth fifty now. I’ll have to give him back his money.”
A belligerent voice said, “Anybody that paid more than five dollars for that crowbait got cheated.”
“That’s telling him, Shorty,” an admiring voice added.
“I’ve got a witness,” Frank said. “She saw you steal this horse and turn two others loose.”
“We haven’t stolen your horse. There she is. Take her!”
“Two hundred isn’t much if you all chip in,” Frank said, counting bodies with an extended finger. “Fifteen dollars apiece will do it.”
“Take your horse and haul your ass out of here!”
Frank got to his feet, rubbing his swollen nose. “No, sir. I’m heading off to the police. I’m going to file a complaint. I’m going to start with old Shorty there.”
Somebody had pushed forward from the rear. “Don’t get in a hurry,” he said, squatting near the flashlight and motioning Frank to join him. He wore Bermuda shorts and thongs with straw soles and velvet toestraps. After tamping tobacco into a pipe that had a bowl like an old-time ear trumpet, he lit up and Frank saw that he had a heavy black beard and a flat-topped hat.
“This is a very interesting case,” said this solemn fellow. “On the one hand, we have done you a wrong. Your property rights, vested in this animal, have been trespassed upon. On the other hand, the brothers of Psi Epsilon have a unique aspiration. Unique indeed!” Now he blew out short, rapid puffs like a two-cycle engine. “In keeping with a long standing custom, this generation of Psi Epsilon aspires to kill a horse in the abode of our traditional enemies, the Phi Kays, who at this moment are in a drunken revel in Lamb’s Canyon.”
The pipe glowed orange and balloons of silver smoke rose in the dark. The speaker’s hands were large, his beefy legs were hairy. Frank was wondering where he had got his talent for tangling up a little idea in a huff of big words.
“It’s a shame to abandon this project,” the fellow went on. “It’s a shame we are stymied here, wasting precious time.”
“I’ll show you how to get the mare upstairs,” Frank offered. “We have done you an injustice. But now you want to do us an injustice. The problem is your price. I propose fifty dollars.”
“I could come down to a hundred eighty.”
“One hundred sixty.”
“No more of this unseemly haggling. One hundred twenty-five. If that isn’t enough, take your animal and go to law. We will simply have to resign ourselves to your machinations.”
“Okay. One hundred twenty-five.”
“Done,” the fellow said in a cheered-up voice. “Boys, empty your wallets. History awaits our deed. And we’re counting on you,” he said to Frank, “to help us get this expensive animal up the stairs.”
With the money in his pocket Frank showed them how. They tied a hind leg to her belly so that she couldn’t kick. They made a nose halter from their rope and a rump sling from sheets torn from Phi Kay beds. Pushing and pulling, they moved the struggling, frightened animal down a hall, up a stairway, and into a back bedroom.
“That’s that,” Frank said as he untied the leg and retrieved his rope. “Thank you very much. I’ve learned a good deal about this university tonight.”
“Who’s going to kill it?” someone asked.
No one answered.
“You can do it with a knife,” Frank said, drawing a finger across the mare’s throat. “Make sure your knife is sharp. Go for it hard and fast.”
“Unsavory!” said the pipesmoker. “Do you have other ideas?” “I’ve got a ball peen hammer in my truck. Blood and brains would likely get thrown around the room some. But if you clapped her hard enough she wouldn’t know what hit her. She’d drop in her tracks.”
“Go get your hammer.”
“Well, no, I don’t relish that kind of thing.”
“We’ll pay you ten dollars if you’ll do it,” the pipesmoker said.
Frank was sorry he had mentioned it. He and the mare had been through a lot of things together. He had chased her through the Escalante breaks and had bucked her out and fed her grain and scratched her behind the ears. Furthermore, she had taught him a thing or two about female nature. As for the brothers of Psi Epsilon, they were wastrels, drunkards, fornicators, and horse thieves.
“We’ll give you twenty-five dollars,” the pipesmoker offered.
“No deal,” Frank said. He took his coiled rope, went out the door, and strolled around the block to the truck.
He climbed in and closed the door. “Lord, I’m cold,” Marianne said. “What’s more, I’m mad. Where in hell have you been?”
“I told you not to get excited. It took a while to track that mare down.”
“So where is she? I don’t see any mare.”
“I sold her.”
“At some livestock auction, I imagine.”
“Those sons of bitches broke her leg and she’s got to be killed, so I took seventy-five dollars for her which I figure will just about pay for three goats.”
“Well, I wish we could get out of here. I’m not only cold, I’m spooked. A man with a big dog came by four times. And a couple of guys parked a car across the street and sat there with the motor running for a quarter of an hour.”
“Okay, we’re going,” he said as he started the engine.
They stopped for supper in Ogden and for a cup of coffee in Tremonton. As they drove northward Marianne slouched against the truck door and slept. Near three o’clock they left the highway and drove along the graveled roads of Howell Valley, searching in vain for an early rising rancher who could direct them to Morris’s ranch. At last, when a road they were following ended in a juniper patch, Frank killed the engine, pulled his bedroll from the top of the cab, and got each of them a couple of blankets.
“We’re just going to have to wait till daylight,” he said. “Maybe you can get some more sleep.”
“Sure,” Marianne said. “What’s one more night of sitting up?”
“I hope you won’t tell your folks. I promised your dad I’d get you a decent bed.”
“Okay, I won’t tell them,” she said.
He slumped against his side of the cab, feeling snug and warm in his blankets. Marianne wasn’t sleepy.
“Do you want to know what I daydream about sometimes?” she asked.
“Sure, tell me about it.”
“I daydream about a cowboy Jesus.”
“A cowboy Jesus?”
“I daydream that I am a little girl and I’m lost in the trees somewhere and I feel like I did once in Denver when I got lost in a department store. I’m lost and there isn’t anybody to help me. I feel terrible. Then I daydream I see this guy coming through the trees on a horse. He’s a cowboy. He is riding a double rigged saddle and he’s got a lariat, though that part isn’t important. He’s got on chaps and spurs and a blue denim jacket and a ten gallon hat. But when he gets up close I see he really is Jesus. He has a beard and he looks like there isn’t anybody in the whole world he can’t love. He says, I found you; you were lost, but I found you.”
She was quiet so long that Frank thought she might be going to sleep. Finally she said, “Do you ever daydream about Jesus?”
“No, I never do.”
“Well, good gosh, I don’t know why not.”
“Don’t you ever think about him?”
“Sure, I think about him.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“I think he’s down on hellraisers and backsliders.”
“That’s no joke,” he protested. “When he’s had enough of all their cussing and drinking and lying and cheating and whoring around, he’ll clean them up. He’ll burn the goddamned world like a stubble.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Of course I believe it,” he said scornfully. “And you would too if you had any sense.”
When dawn came Frank shoved aside his blankets and started the engine. Driving along another road, they found a dairy farmer who pointed out Morris’s ranch across the valley next to the mountains. As they approached they drove through a square mile of dryland wheat, which stood a foot high, rippled into great green waves by the morning wind. Evidently Mr. Morris was prospering with wheat, having a freshly painted ranchhouse, a half dozen wheat silos of bright corrugated steel, several tractors, a truck, and a new red combine. However, he had apparently neglected his livestock operation, which consisted of a rickety corral full of bleating droop-eared goats and an ancient swaybacked horse.
Three mongrels circled the truck, wagging their tails and barking halfheartedly. Two men came from the house and greeted Frank and Marianne. The older was Mr. Morris, who was bald and portly and wore hornrimmed glasses. The younger was Dave, the hired hand, a huge strapping fellow who wore scuffed cowboy boots and a carved leather belt with a shiny chrome buckle the size of a salad plate.
“Got your horses here,” Frank said.
“Don’t see but two,” Mr. Morris observed, kicking a dog in the ribs.
“We had a little accident last night,” Frank said. He told his story and added, “Each horse was to go for three goats, wasn’t it? I was hoping we could work out a cash price in place of that mare.”
They followed Marianne to the corral. The goats were spotted black and white and yellow and tan and looked as if they hadn’t been eating much except the bark off fence posts. Five of them were nannies, three were kids, one was a billy.
“Those are awful run down, starved out, raunchy looking critters,” Marianne said.
“Of course them horses aren’t so much either,” Mr. Morris said.
“How about fifty dollars in place of that missing mare?” Frank said.
Mr. Morris didn’t reply.
“I could go sixty.”
“All right, sixty.”
“You cheating son of a gun,” Marianne said to Frank. “You got seventy-five for that mare.”
“Well, then, boy,” Mr. Morris said, “it doesn’t seem right for me to let those goats go any cheaper than seventy-five dollars.”
Frank kicked a post, said goddammit to himself, and pulled out his wallet. He backed up the truck to a loading chute and they put the two mustangs into the corral and all went in to breakfast. Mrs. Morris, fat and cheerful, put on a tasty meal of ham and eggs and fried potatoes.
“I was wondering if you could give us a place to sleep for a while,” Frank said while they ate. “I hate to turn around and head off for Escalante without catching up on my rest. Maybe you’ve got a bed in the house here for Marianne. Me, I’ve got my bedroll and I can throw down under the truck or in your barn.”
After breakfast Mrs. Morris led Marianne down a hall to a bedroom. Dave took Frank around back to the bunkhouse, which was a room partitioned from an old saddle and harness shed. There were two iron cots, a little potbellied stove, a table, and a chair. Dust an inch thick lay in the window sill and the floor was littered with orange peelings, empty snuff cans, and clods of dried mud.
Dave explained his housekeeping habits. “My theory is after a while things get evened out and you haul as much out on your feet as you haul in so there ain’t no use getting panicked and sweeping it out ahead of time.”
He was leaning in the doorway watching Frank spread his bedroll on the empty cot. “You ever screwed a woman?” he asked.
“No, sir, can’t say that I have.”
“By God,” Dave said proudly, “last week I was over at Jackpot, Nevada, with a buddy from Snowville, Lester Chimley. If he ain’t somebody! He says, David, you goddamned virgin, what you saving yourself for? So we looked around for the whorehouse, which wasn’t hard to find. Jackpot ain’t nothing but three gas stations, a casino, and this here cathouse, which looks like a house some family would live in. It’s got five women. There was this real pretty one. Couldn’t have been any older than that gal you’re traveling with. I went and done it to her. Then I came back an hour later and paid my money and done it again.”
“I’ve never seen a whorehouse,” Frank said.
“Just go to Nevada. Look here what I got.” Dave got up and dug into a duffel bag and threw down onto the table a box of condoms and a pack of playing cards. “Them rubbers you gotta have or else you’ll catch something.”
Frank spread the playing cards. On the back of each was a color photograph of a nude brunette lounging on an elbow.
“My gosh, I’d like to have that deck of cards,” Frank said. “What’ll you sell them for?”
“They ain’t for sale.”
“How much did you pay for them?”
Soon Dave took off for work and Frank got undressed and lay down on the bunk. He was all heated up and wondering about masturbating so that he could get to sleep, but when he wasn’t expecting it he dozed off and didn’t wake up until sometime in the afternoon.
He lay on the bunk for a while thinking about the last couple of days. He was through being in love. He was going to make sure it never happened again. He had tried it out on Rhoda, had lined himself up true and chaste like a real husband and had repented, as much as he could, and had waited for her and had cut himself off from a lot of fun and pleasure. All his life he had believed in love. Just as sure as the sun would come up tomorrow morning some wonderful woman was going to come along and raise him up and make a better man out of him and make him happy forever, and now he could see what a lot of baloney that idea was because Rhoda had taken an ax and knocked it in the head and killed it stone dead.
He became more and more angry as he thought about Inez, the pretty blonde at the party in the fraternity house. He wondered whether he could have been out of his mind when he took off hunting for the mare and left Inez standing there warmed up and ready to make love. It was crazy to repent too soon. He would get around to it when he was forty or fifty and all the logs on his fire had burned up and there wasn’t anything better to do. He was through going to church. He wouldn’t pay another penny of tithing. He would look up Jack Simmons and Red Rollins just as soon as he could and would tell them their old buddy had come back from the dead and was ready to go out dancing and drinking and helling around.
He heard a shout from outside. He got up and peered out the window. A couple of goats were in the truck, which was still parked at the loading chute. Then Marianne came from behind the truck. She had on boots, jeans, a denim shirt, and buckskin gloves, and she was looping out a lariat. She opened the corral gate and went inside and started swinging the rope around her shoulders
Frank got Dave’s duffel bag and dug around until he found the condoms and the deck of playing cards with the dirty picture on the backs. He poked around again until he found a writing tablet and a fountain pen. He sat at the table and wrote a note. “Dear Dave, Sorry to steal your cards. You likely will get back to Nevada before I do and can get some new ones. I also took your rubbers. Am leaving $25 on table, which I hope will give you a little profit on the deal. Sincerely yours, Frank Windham.”
He tied up the condoms and cards in his bedroll, carried it out to the truck, and went to work helping Marianne load the goats.