Chapter 12

“Jesus,” said Jack. “Ennis?” But before he was out of the truck, trying to guess if it was heart attack or the overflow of an incendiary rage, Ennis was back on his feet and somehow, as a coat hanger is straightened to open a locked car and then bent again to its original shape, they torqued things almost to where they had been, for what they’d said was no news. Nothing ended, nothing begun, nothing resolved.

What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.They had stood that way for a long time in front of the fire, its burning tossing ruddy chunks of light, the shadow of their bodies a single column against the rock. The minutes ticked by from the round watch in Ennis’s pocket, from the sticks in the fire settling into coals. Stars bit through the wavy heat layers above the fire. Ennis’s breath came slow and quiet, he hummed, rocked a little in the sparklight and Jack leaned against the steady heartbeat, the vibrations of the humming like faint electricity and, standing, he fell into sleep that was not sleep but something else drowsy and tranced until Ennis, dredging up a rusty but still useable phrase from the childhood time before his mother died, said, “Time to hit the hay, cowboy.

I got a go. Come on, you’re sleepin on your feet like a horse,” and gave Jack a shake, a push, and went off in the darkness.Jack heard his spurs tremble as he mounted, the words “see you tomorrow,” and the horse’s shuddering snort, grind of hoof on stone.Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face because he did not want to see nor feel that it was Jack he held. And maybe, he thought, they’d never got much farther than that. Let be, let be.

Ennis didn’t know about the accident for months until his postcard to Jack saying that November still looked like the first chance came back stamped DECEASED. He called Jack’s number in Childress, something he had done only once before when Alma divorced him and Jack had misunderstood the reason for the call, had driven twelve hundred miles north for nothing. This would be all right, Jack would answer, had to answer. But he did not.

It was Lureen and she said who?

who is this?

and when he told her again she said in a level voice yes, Jack was pumping up a flat on the truck out on a back road when the tire blew up. The bead was damaged somehow and the force of the explosion slammed the rim into his face, broke his nose and jaw and knocked him unconscious on his back. By the time someone came along he had drowned in his own blood.No, he thought, they got him with the tire iron.“Jack used to mention you,” she said. “You’re the fishing buddy or the hunting buddy, I know that. Would have let you know,” she said, “but I wasn’t sure about your name and address. Jack kept most a his friends’ addresses in his head.

It was a terrible thing. He was only thirty-nine years old.”

The huge sadness of the northern plains rolled down on him. He didn’t know which way it was, the tire iron or a real accident, blood choking down Jack’s throat and nobody to turn him over. Under the wind drone he heard steel slamming off bone, the hollow chatter of a settling tire rim.

“He buried down there?” He wanted to curse her for letting Jack die on the dirt road.

The little Texas voice came slip-sliding down the wire. “We put a stone up. He use to say he wanted to be cremated, ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain.

I didn’t know where that was. So he was cremated, like he wanted, and like I say, half his ashes was interred here, and the rest I sent up to his folks.

I thought Brokeback Mountain was around where he grew up. But knowing Jack, it might be some pretend place where the bluebirds sing and there’s a whiskey spring.”

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