A journal of narrative writing.
Like in a Western
Page 4

Mary is watering her flower pots, though the fall mums have about browned away. She points to a rocker as he steps up the porch.

“You have a letter, hon. From your daddy.”

He will ask about Jesus later, taking Ike’s letter straight to his room. He locks the door, sits on the bed and reads it with moving lips.

Ike has got a prison job. Not many fellas get one. It is an honor and a benefit. Ike says he can send Christmas money now, and keep payments and taxes going for the house.

They are logging an old pulp mill place, deep in the swamp, and it takes horses – and men on horseback – to get a trail started. Even in these modern times, it takes a mule to get a job started. I don’t imagine the State has any horses I can’t handle. I will get pictures of me and my horse and will send you one straight off.

The rest of the letter is the usual news about life in the bunkhouse and how good the food is. He is folding it back when Mary taps at the door. She lets herself in using a key.

“Is you all right?” she asks softly, smiling.

Monk nods and wipes his nose.

“My daddy got a job,” he says.

“What? I don’t understand, hon. Cousin Ike is in prison …”

“A prison job, Aunt Mary. Riding horses. Like in a Western.”

“Oh. Well, any able-bodied man needs to work. Even if he is shackled from his sins.”

“Aunt Mary, can I name that boy dog Jesus? If Madge has one in the litter?”

“Well no, hon. We don’t name animals after the Lord. That ain’t what we do. Do you have another name?”

“Not yet. Just give me a bit to think of one.”

“Well, you got till morning then, cause old Madge is already starting into labor, hon.”

Mink claps his hands over his head and gives Mary a big grin. He asks can he go watch. He already has his cowboy hat on his head.

“Sure, hon. We can watch till supper. Then you got lessons and bath and prayers.”

He asks who will keep watch over Madge after dark, will it be Claude.

“Yes, hon,” Mary says. “Uncle Claude takes the night shift around here with the animals.”

* * *

Claude is a stout, balding man who is even more docile than his wife. He is a broker at the farmer’s exchange and was a pastor years ago. He takes Mink out on the sly, right after midnight, to look at Madge’s puppies. They are shivering under the heat lamps, but Claude says they are just fine.

“Is there a boy?” Mink asks, trying to see closer.

Claude nods, holds up two fingers. He points at the pair on the far right, in the corner of the box.

“The one to the end is the one I’ll name, Uncle Claude. His name is … Abel. The good brother from the bible.”

Claude nods approval and they back away from the opening to let Madge and her puppies rest. It has begun to rain a fine mist. Claude’s glasses puddle up almost instantly, and he thumbs them dry so he can see. What he sees is his wife coming hurriedly down the porch steps as she tries to shield the mist with her hand. She joins them under the green light of the yard lamp and puts her hand quickly to her mouth.

* * *

They bury Ike in the family cemetery beside Orin’s place. It is a small plot surrounded by a knee-high wall of white brick. The wind scours the earth out here, so there are never flowers.

Orin squeezes Mink’s hand the entire time the preacher eulogizes. He lays a palm on the boy’s shoulder when they lower the casket in. Mary dabs at his eyes and nose when she comes over and Mink offers his limp hand for all to shake.

The white sun sits atop the cemetery all afternoon, till it plummets into the dark treeline at dusk, leaving room for the stars to fill all this black sky.

* * *

“Abel!” Mink hollers. “Abel, come here!”

The dog is the fastest of the bunch. The strongest. He pounds to a halt at his trainer’s feet. Mink takes a rope and circles it over his head, again and again. The dog watches with fascination, eagerness, learning. Mink ropes the post and Abel barks his approval.

They ride out through freshly painted wheat fields, using windrows, at a full run at one point, till Mink pulls up some to let Abel catch up.

Mink pumps water for horse and dog, cups some to his own mouth, pushes back his hat – one that Ike won in Georgia years ago – and watches a truck come up the lane, shiny as a new penny.

Orin waves as he goes in the house and Mink waves back. Abel lies at his feet and breathes heavily. He has one blue and one green eye, and they go wherever Mink puts his gaze.

A cloud rises, pink in the evening, and drops cool heavy rain out across the green winter wheat stretched flat between swamps. It splatters the dry dust in the cemetery, filling the grooves in the tombstones where the names of Corprews have been carved. It dampens the white marble of Ike’s grave and pushes toward the house, a sheet of rain.

Mink reaches between his boots and dislodges an arrowhead, flint relic of the Moratoc, and turns it over in his hand. It is smooth as iron, heavy. It may have killed panthers or bears, or even a soldier in one of the early wars of this nation.

Raindrops smack his shoulders and neck, and he squeezes the stone in his palm, clangs the gate to the corral closed, shouts at Abel to follow, and he runs ahead of the storm.