||[Nov. 9th, 2006|10:59 pm]
|||||forever young... Chris Isaak||]|
Ed and Hank
Part 15, Thursday afternoon & evening
Ed's postcard from the edge.
Note: Don't worry. I am currently banned from using the computer except to post what Hank's written. See previous chapters for disclaimers etc.
Links to all previous parts are here:
Part 15, Ed's postcard from the edge
Hank lay flat out on the bed. Unable to move, barely able to speak, “Damn… Ed... Thought I was s’posed… ta do… unta you…”
“Ya did. Damn good too. I was jus’ doin’ unta you in return. See. Works purty well, don’ it?”
“Where ya goin’ Ed.” Hank tried to grab for Ed but missed as Ed got up and started towards the bathroom.
“Gotta get back ta work. ‘Fraid Bill might quit if’n he don’ start gettin’ some help. Start ta feel like a hired hand.”
“Bill knows he ain’t jus’ a hired hand ‘round here. Think he knows he’s jus’ like family.”
Ed grinned, “No need ta insult the man.”
A few minutes later Ed emerged from the bathroom. He walked over to the bed and bent to kiss Hank, “See ya later. Love ya, dumbass.”
“Love you too, dumbass.”
“By the way. You ever plannin’ on gettin’ up?”
“Maybe. Not sure if I can after what ya jus’ done unta me. Not tha’ ‘m complainin’ mind ya. Might try ‘n write some. Been havin’ some trouble writin’ this next chapter. Think I got what they call writer’s block.”
“Don’ make no sense ta me. ‘S yer life. Our life. Think ya’d know well ‘nough wha’ happened.”
“Know wha’ happened. Jus’ cain’t seem ta find the words ta tell it real good.”
“Maybe comin’ out ‘n doin’ some good ol’ fashioned hard work might dislodge that there writer’s block.”
“Hold on… Think I feel it passin’. Yep. It’s gone. Words are practic’lly fightin’ ta get out. Better get back ta tha’ computer quick ‘fore ma brain gets all blocked up again.”
“Thought jus’ the suggestion a physical labor might cure ya.” Ed laughed and bent to kiss Hank again before heading towards the door.
Hank thought he saw Ed hesitate for just a split second as he passed by the dresser where that one particular postcard still lay tucked out of sight under some very old t-shirts. But then Ed was out the door.
Hank had managed to move over to the desk by the time Ed was heading towards the barn. As Hank was watching him Ed turned and looked up towards the window. Hank half-expected Ed to flip him off, but instead Ed smiled then blew Hank a kiss before continuing on his way. Sixty-some years old. Up to forty-odd years together, depending on how you reckoned it, and Ed was still surprising Hank. First time he’d ever blown Hank a kiss. Hank had managed to raise a hand to catch it, reflex probably, but he’d been so startled that he hadn’t blown a kiss back to Ed. Just sat there staring down at him. Most likely with a real dumb look on his face.
Hank had thought maybe Ed was going to give him the finger just because it was another one of those things they sometimes did. Like using ‘dumbass’ as an endearment and going back and forth about that old truck. This one started during a long ago argument. Hank couldn’t even remember what they had been arguing about now, but as he was about to storm angrily out of the room he had turned and flipped Ed off, to which Ed had shot back, “So is that an insult or an invitation?” They both stopped and stared at each other for a moment before their anger was suddenly forgotten and the intended insult quickly turned into a definite invitation.
He knew how lucky he was. Hank tried not to take that luck, or Ed, for granted. And writing their story had sure helped in that respect. For both of them. But sometimes it seemed like it just couldn’t be avoided. What with all the day to day details and drudgery of life. Although, when he thought about it, Hank realized he should be thankful for the luxury of actually being able to take Ed for granted. Of knowing Ed was going to be right there with him pretty much every day and every night, until… Well… No sense thinking about that.
When the time came, Hank just hoped he would go first and not Ed. Hopefully, a long, long time off. Hell. They were still young. Weren’t they? Not as young as they used to be. But still, not really old. Hank let his mind, and with any luck his two typing fingers, drift back to a time when it had been impossible for him to take Ed’s presence in his life for granted. Back to that first Labor Day Weekend they had spent together so long ago.
Hank and his heart were still singing when he and Ed got together that second time after so long apart. And, of course so were those angels. As often as was humanly possible. Which was pretty damn often. But Hank and Ed only had three nights this time. A lot better than nothing. But not nearly enough.
After that, they tried to meet once a month for a weekend at a time. Halfway between. But it always seemed like they were sayin’ ‘good-bye’ before they’d even managed to say a proper ‘hello’. Sometimes they had only one night together. Sometimes two. Rarely three. Not enough time. Never enough time. For Hank nothing but forever would be enough time. Back then, he could only hope Ed would feel the same some day. Or, if he already did, manage to admit it. Manage to act on it.
But then Ed had acted on one thing. It was Ed who figured out how to change things up and make a difficult situation a little more bearable. Told the fellas he worked with at the co-op that he’d cover most every weekend for them if they’d let him take a whole week off every two or three months. Said he needed to help out a friend whose ranch had fallen on hard times. Hank knew Ed didn’t like to lie. But what was that lie compared to the one they were living? The one big lie that made all the other lies necessary.
Overall, it ended up being about the same amount of time spent in Ed’s arms. But still, it was a hell of a lot better. Having a bigger chunk of time at once like that. Ed always managed to attach at least part of a weekend onto one end of that week. Usually gave them six or seven nights, six days and a few hours together. On the rare occasions Ed got the weekends off on either end they could sometimes manage eight or nine nights, eight days and a few hours together.
Hank smiled, thinking of the first time they had a whole week together since their reunion. The minute they had found a secluded place to camp, Ed flew at Hank with the same intensity as always, knocking him flat on the ground, not waiting for them to set up the tent and not even taking the time to grab that already well-worn foam pad first. When Hank had finally managed to free his mouth for a moment he had told Ed to slow down, after all, they had the whole week ahead of them. Ed had paused only long enough to whisper, “Week’s not as long as ya migh’ think”, before diving back into Hank.
Hank could do nothing but agree. A week wasn’t as long as you might think. And all those weeks, all those nights, days and hours totaled up, amounted to hardly more than a month spent together every year. Hank knew that well enough. He’d added it up over and over again. But it was better than nothing. Better than before. Better than some people ever got.
“Better than nothing. Better than before. Better than some people ever got." Hank would repeat this to himself over and over during the weeks between. That’s what he took to calling the weeks without Ed. The weeks between. Between yearning for and devouring. Between dreaming of and holding onto. Between purgatory and paradise.
Sometimes the weeks between passed quickly, but sometimes they dragged out endlessly on that lonely ranch with only his folks for company. There was no lack of work to keep Hank busy. Even in winter there was plenty to do inside and, weather permitting, out. Hank worked himself to the point of exhaustion more often than not. Found it made the nights between a whole lot easier to get through.
Hank didn’t make it to town too often. But, luckily, his folk’s ranch wasn’t as remote as the Twist ranch so there was the occasional Friday or Saturday night spent at the local bar with some of his old high school buddies. Just a bunch of young guys, saddled with wives and children they didn’t know they didn’t want until it was too late, meeting to blow off some steam and drinking to forget the tedious lives already laid out for them. They laughed and joked with Hank and told him they envied his freedom. But Hank had no delusions that they were true friends. Knew most of them would just as soon beat the crap out of him as look at him if they ever came to know the truth.
Hank would never have traded his time with Ed for anything, but as much as he hated to admit it, and as miserable as he’d been without Ed, he’d gotten used to a certain amount of goings-on in his life. Traveling from city to city, the excitement of the rodeo and even hanging out drinking with his rodeo buddies. Not to mention the relative warmth of those winters spent in the Southwest. All of it meant nothing without Ed. But now that he had Ed, well kind of anyway, it would have been nice to have some of that other stuff too. Or all of Ed. He would have settled for all of Ed.
Thoughts of those Southwestern winters reminded Hank of the bitter, bone chilling cold of their first winter trips. Hank thought that was when he must have first frost-bit his fingers. Still hurt like the devil to this day when Hank’s hands got too cold. And in winter they could never get far enough off the main roads to suit Ed. Other roads were all blocked by snow. Horses couldn’t get through. They would have needed snowmobiles. No way could either of them afford a snowmobile. And besides, the last thing Hank wanted was to go further into the wilderness in the dead of winter. Still it was all worth it in the end. When they were finally warm, wrapped tightly in each other’s arms in that big old bedroll.
Smiling, Hank thought back to their first winter camping trip. That time it was cold, but not bitter cold. They had managed to find a reachable, yet deserted area. A gentle but heavy and wet snow was falling even though the sun was peeking out, casting long shadows. Ed and Hank’s young bodies had generated so much heat in their small tent that Hank had sought relief by running out into the snow bare-ass-naked. "Naked as a jaybird" according to Ed. "Naked as nature intended" according to Hank.
Hank stopped for a moment, taken aback by the eerie beauty of the late afternoon sun glistening off the falling snowflakes. Then he let out a ‘Whoop!’ threw himself down onto the freshly fallen snow and made a real pretty snow angel, which caused him to let out an even louder ‘Whoop!’ when the snow hit his right-then-not-quite-so-private parts. Hank could have kicked himself right after, but luckily Ed didn’t seem to connect earthbound snow angels with his vengeful God up above.
Of course Ed was having none of it. At first. He stuck his head out the tent flap like a curmudgeonly old man. Called Hank "mad dog crazy". Then Hank hit him square in the face with a big old snowball. Ed called Hank a few other choice names and started chasing him around their campsite. They quickly trampled that pretty snow angel clean out of existence. No matter though, it not being of the singing variety. It was the squirt guns all over again. Except those snowballs stung a little. And no clothes were strewn about this time ‘cause they were both naked already. Ended pretty much the same way though, but for the details.
The next winter Ed got a cap for the back of his pickup truck. Bought it from a friend at work, used, so it didn’t cost too much. Paid it off little by little. Hank contributed what he could. Ed said not to bother, that he needed it anyway. Would have bought it anyway. But Hank knew better. Knew Ed didn’t need it for anything. Knew the cold didn’t bother Ed near as much as it bothered Hank. Sure was a helluva lot better than the tent. Got them up off the ground, they stayed dryer and the wind didn’t blow through, so it was a lot warmer.
Yes. It was a lot warmer. Hank couldn’t argue with that. And he was grateful to Ed for thinking of it. But it was still damn cold. Still a long way from a warm motel room with hot and cold running water. Still an impossibly long way from what Hank really longed for. A place together. A life together. An entire lifetime spent toge…
Hank jumped, startled back to the present by Ed’s voice bellowing at him from downstairs.
“If ya ain’t gonna do an honest day’s work, the least ya could do is get dinner started! Looks like I gotta do everythin’ ‘round here these days. Dawgs’ dishes are empty too…” Ed’s voice was lost in the clanging of metal dog dishes in the sink. Probably just as well.
“Shit. Whole afternoon couldn’ be gone already, could it? I hardly wrote anything.” Hank got up from the computer, falling against the dresser because he didn’t realize his foot had fallen asleep from being tucked oddly under him, “What time was it anyway?”
“Do ya even ha’ any idea wha’ time it is?” Ed yelled from below.
“Cain’t say as I do.” Hank called to Ed as he limped down the stairs, “Be right down.”
“It’s after seven. ‘N I’m hungry! Been workin’ hard all day...”
Hank stumbled into the kitchen, trying not to laugh at the distressed expression on Ed’s face. Ed always got cranky when he was particularly hungry. Hank crossed over to the fridge, opened it and grabbed a beer, twisting the cap off and handing it to Ed. He then took out an apple and a hunk of cheese, cutting a few slices of each, he put them together on a plate and handed them to Ed. “Here, eat this ‘n I’ll start dinner.”
Ed had already finished half his beer and quickly started eating the apple and cheese slices, “Gettin’ awful tired a this Hank.”
“Sorry, Ed. Guess I lost track a time. ‘N yer right. Least I can do if I’m not out there workin’ with ya is ta get dinner started.”
“Said I was sorry.”
“Should be. Dontcha think I’d like to lie ‘round all day too? When do I get ma turn?”
Hank ignored Ed, knowing that the last thing Ed wanted to do was lie around all day. Not that that was what Hank was doing. But he easily could. Hank opened the fridge again, “Whatcha want fer dinner?”
“What we got?” Ed peered over Hank’s shoulder, “Dammit. Guess if’n I don’ wanna starve I’ll have ta do the grocery shoppin’ too. Shit. Looks like all we got is a whole lotta nothin’.”
Hank turned away from the fridge, turned towards Ed, the sudden tears in his eyes surprising him as much as Ed. “Dunno ‘bout you dumbass, but I got everythin’ I ever wanted in this world right here.”
Ed reached out and set his plate down next to his beer on the counter. He placed his hands gently on either side of Hank’s face and kissed him tenderly as Hank’s arms wrapped around his waist. Ed’s hands dropped to Hank’s shoulders, he brought his lips to Hank’s ear and whispered, “Shit. Was jus’ talkin’ ‘bout the lack a food. Why ya gotta go spoilin’ a good fit a temper by sayin’ somethin’ like tha’ ta me.”
Ed grabbed Hank’s arm as he reacted to what Ed had said and tried to twist away. “Asshole.” Hank laughed, “See if I ever say anythin’ nice ta ya again.”
“C’mon back here, dumbass.” Ed reeled Hank back in and pulled him close, “Ya know I feel the same. Was jus’ really enjoyin’ bitchin’. ‘Sides, think yer jus’ tryin’ ta distract me from the fact tha’ we don’ have no food in this here house.”
“Got plenty a food.” Hank kissed Ed again and pulled away, turning back to the fridge, thinking, “Shit. We really aint’ got no food, do we?”
Hank stuck his head in the fridge, hoping something would jump out at him, “Still got some salad fixin’s. ‘N there’s some stuff I can throw inta an omelet. Or I think we got some chili ‘n the freezer.”
“Who made the chili?”
“Think you did.”
“Then I’ll have ta go with the omelet. Think we migh’ ha’ some potatoes. I’ll make some potatoes while ya make the omelet.”
Dinner eaten, the dishes washed and put away, a fire going in the fireplace, the dogs fed and sacked out in front of that same fireplace. All was right with the world again.
“Thanks for starting a fire!” Hank yelled to nowhere in particular because Ed had disappeared somewhere. Hank shoved the coffee table out of the way, pulled a couple of cushions off the couch and plopped down on them, using the couch as a backrest, like they had used so many assorted logs so long ago. After all, old habits die hard.
Hank looked up as Ed came into the room. Ed was holding that postcard. The one Hank had found in Ed’s drawer.
“Since it’s been ‘true confessions’ week ‘round here thought maybe this should see the light a day. S’pose it’s ‘bout time it joins all them other postcards. Part a the story after all.”
“C’mon down here.” Hank reached up and Ed took his hand, allowing Hank to pull him down to him. Ed settled back against Hank as Hank wrapped his arms around him and held him close.
“Sorry, Hank. Guess I shoulda told ya ‘bout this years ago. It’s…”
Hank interrupted Ed, whispering in his ear, “Know what it is. Guess I shoulda told ya I come across it years ago.”
“What?” Ed twisted out of Hank’s arms, sat up and turned to face Hank.
“Yep. When I was lookin’ through yer drawer fer somethin’ ta wear. All ma clothes were dirty.”
“Shoulda known better than ta keep it in there. Yer always wearin’ ma stuff. Guess ya know what it says then. ‘Bout bein’ the only way I could quit ya. Wondered ‘bout tha’ line bein’ in the short story. Thought it were jus’ a coincidence.” Ed leaned forward and tossed the postcard onto the coffee table, “So ya knew all along. ‘Bout me wantin’ ta…”
“Nah. Didn’ know ya’d been plannin’ on doin’ ‘way with yer self. Jus’ thought ya’d planned on dumpin’ me by sendin’ tha’ ta me. ‘N yeah, I mentioned it ta her. Made quite an impression on me. Didn’ know why ya still kept it after so many years. Didn’ know ‘til today wha’ it really meant.” Hank tugged on Ed, “Now, c’mon back here.”
Ed settled back against Hank again, “Couldn’ dump ya. Couldn’ stop wantin’ ya. Couldn’ stop lovin’ ya. Tha’ was ma whole problem. Seems almos’ stupid now…”
“Ain’t nothin’ stupid ‘bout it.”
“But back then… Damn… All tha’ religion crap. ‘N more ‘n tha’. Felt like a failure. As a man. A husband. A father. Even as a son. Thought maybe if I hadn’ been like I was ma folks wouldna been so crazy. Thought they musta seen it in me when I didn’ even know it was there ma self. Sent ‘em over the edge.”
“Jeez, Ed. Ain’t nothin’ ya coulda done tha’ woulda changed yer folks. Ya did the best ya could in a real bad situation.”
“Yeah. Know tha’. Now. Hind sight’s a lot clearer than what ya see when yer livin’ through somethin’. Weren’t like ma sister ‘scaped it either.”
“Hell. Once ya make it through yer childhood sometimes ya jus’ gotta pick ‘n choose yer own family when yers ain’t no good fer ya. Lotta people gotta do it. Fer a lotta diff’rent reasons. In the end, ain’t blood tha’ matters. It’s who cares 'bout ya ‘n who ya care ‘bout. Who accepts ya fer who ya are.”
“Guess it’s kinda like Nora ‘n her folks. She tried so hard with ‘em. But after a while, after the divorce, she jus’ kinda gave up on ‘em. Had ta. Couldn’ take gettin’ put through the wringer no more. Sends ‘em a card at Christmas. Think tha’s ‘bout it. Know it caused her a lot a hurt. Prob’bly still does.”
“Ain’t easy. Havin’ yer own family turn their back on ya.”
“Specially if yer close to yer family growin’ up. ‘Course I weren’t. But Nora was. It weren’t ‘til later tha’ they started in on her. Bet tha’ made it even harder on her.”
“Prob’bly ‘cause up ‘til then she’d jus’ done everythin’ they told her ta do. Everythin’ they ‘xpected her ta do. Only started in on her when she made up her own mind ‘bout some things.” Hank shook his head sadly, “Ain’t no sense livin’ fer yer folks. Hell. They’ll be dead ‘n gone some day ‘n there you’ll be. Stuck livin’ some version a their life ‘stead a yer own. Life they prob’bly didn’ even wanna be livin’ in the first place.”
“Lot easier said than done though.”
“Tha’s fer sure. But sometimes ya jus’ ain’t got no choice. Think we’re pretty lucky. Ain’t got no big family. But we got Iris ‘n Ruth ‘n her kids ‘n even Nora. ‘N don’ forget Bill ‘n a few other friends."
"'N each other. We got each other, Hank”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the fire, then Hank spoke again, “’N ya weren’t a failure as a father either Ed. Ya know tha’ well ‘nough. Don’ believe me ‘n I’ll call Iris righ’ now. Nora’d back me up on tha’ one too.”
“Sure felt like a failure at the time. But Iris did turn out real good. Proud a her. First person I ever know’d tha’ went ta college. Nora had a lot ta do with tha’. But Iris is a strong girl. Brave girl. Movin’ ta Chicago like she done after graduatin’. Made herself a good life there. Got a good job. Good friends. Think she might even ha’ found herself a good man in this latest fella.”
“Got every righ’ ta be proud a her. Jus’ don’ go callin’ her a girl ta her face. Woman’s in her forties. Don’ think she’d take kindly ta tha’.”
Ed smiled, “Can say that again. Cain’t help it though. She’ll always be ma little girl.”
Hank grinned, “’N ya certainly ain’t a failure as a man. I can attest ta tha’. Ain’t never failed me. ‘Cept once or twice maybe when ya were too drunk. Or them times ya were too tired or had the flu or somethin’. Weren’t ‘xactly failin’ me though. Jus’ more like rain-checks.”
“Didn’ ‘xactly mean it tha’ way.”
“How’d ya mean it then?”
“Ya know damn well how I meant it. Jus’ how I felt back then. Like I weren’t what a man was s’posed ta be. Feelin’ ‘bout ‘nother man way I did ‘n all.”
“Yer everythin’ a man is s’posed ta be Ed. Hell. You’re honest as the day is long.” Hank grinned then, “‘N yer kind kind ‘n yer brave ‘n...”
“Makin’ me sound like a damn Boy Scout.”
“Nah. Yer not God-fearin’ ‘nough ta be a boy scout. ‘N sometimes yer not very courteous or cheerful. ‘N obedient. Ya ain’t very obedient. But yer pretty clean. Well, least-wise ya clean up pretty well. ‘N yer very loyal ‘n yer…”
“Nope. Pretty much everybody were Boy Scouts. Think there mighta been some kinda law.”
“But all tha’ campin’ we done… Don’ think ya ever started tha’ fire once.” Ed nodded towards the fireplace, “Here either.”
Hank laughed, “Didn’ say I were good at it. Got drummed out anyway. Think I violated tha’ ‘morally straight’ clause they got.”
“Yer kiddin.” Ed moved to sit up again, but Hank held him tight, wouldn’t let him go.
“Think they thought me ‘n this other boy, cain’t even remember his name now, was gettin’ a little too friendly-like with each other. Guess they thought I were the one corruptin’ him. Was jus’ like tha’ old show… ‘Branded’… stripped me of ma Boy Scout badges. Ripped ‘em right off me.”
“Know yer kiddin’ now.”
“Well, maybe jus’ exaggeratin’ some. Made an impression on me tha’s fer sure. Already knew I weren’t like other boys. First I got the idea other folks knew I weren’t like other boys too. Learned ta hide it a lot better after tha’.” Hank sighed, “When did you know Ed? Know ya were different?”
“Lemme think…” Ed paused, a deep frown on his face, “Suspected somethin’ fer a long time. But don’ think I knew fer sure ‘til las’ Saturday night. Don’ ya remember? Coulda sworn I told ya.”
“Tryin’ ta be all serious here, dumbass.”
“Okay, okay. Dunno really. Guess I had it buried so deep didn’ really know ‘til tha’ summer I met ya. Maybe not even ‘til tha’ first time.”
“Ya really didn’ ha’ no idea ‘til then?”
“Dunno. Maybe I mighta had some kinda feelin’s. Ya know, eyes always drawn ta the boys ‘n not the girls. But wouldn’ never admit it ta ma self. Much less no one else.” Ed grinned, “Though there was tha’ one fella I kissed when I was ‘bout sixteen. Does tha’ count?”
Hank played along, “Use yer tongue?”
“Nah. Yer the only guy’s had the benefit of ma tongue ‘n his mouth. ‘N everywheres else.”
“Don’ count then. Feel kinda bad fer him though. Yer tongue is mighty fine.”
“Thanks. ‘Preciate the compliment. Not as fine as yers though. By a long sight.”
“Thanks. Course, ya’d have no way a really knowin’ how mine would compare ta yers. Would ya?”
“Guess not. Jeez. Cain’t never win with you.” Ed laughed then changed the subject, “Well if nothin’ else, ya gotta admit I were a failure as a husband.”
“Well, okay, maybe ya failed as a husband. But only with Nora. Haven’t failed with me. Yet.”
“Ya okay, Ed?”
“Did ya jus’ call me yer ‘husband’?”
“Guess I did. Ya got a problem with tha?”
“Dunno…” Ed paused, “Not with the idea. I guess... Jus’ kinda with tha’ word.”
“Ya prefer ta be ma ‘wife’?”
“Think tha’ migh’ be ma problem with it. Word ‘husband’ makes ya think there’s a ‘wife’ ‘round somewheres. ‘N ain’t neither a us no kinda wife. Hell, mos’ women ain’t no kinda wives these days." Ed grinned then, "Not tha' there's anythin' wrong with tha'. Bein' a wife 'n all."
“Wha’ ‘bout ‘spouse’?”
“Nah. ’S a ugly word.”
“Yer kiddin’ righ’?”
“Tha’s whatta dog is.”
“Don’ think I’d be tossin’ tha' word ‘domestic’ ‘round today if’n I were you.”
“Dunno. Sounds kinda awkward ta me.”
“How ‘bout jus’ ‘partners’?”
“Well, guess tha’d be okay. If ya think we gotta settle on somethin’. Kinda been usin’ it all ‘long anyways, ain’t we? ”
“Yeah. Don’ know if I like tha’ one though. Don’ quite capture it.” Hank thought for a minute, “Okay. Think I got it. How ‘bout ‘old man’? Think them hippies started it.”
“Old enough withou’ ya callin’ me old regular-like.” Ed grinned, “Wha’ ‘bout ‘dumbass’. Been usin’ it fer a long, long time. ‘N ya can use it in jus’ ‘bout any situation.”
“Ya really want me ta refer ta ya as ‘ma dumbass’ in front a Bill or Iris or Nora or Ruth or Ruth’s kids or whoever?”
“Not like nothin’s never stopped ya before.” Ed grinned, “Guess yer right though. Cain’t really use ‘dumbass’ tha’ way. But don’ think it really matters fer people tha’ know us. ‘N fer other folks maybe we can jus’ use ‘partners’. Then after ya introduce me maybe ya can grab ma ass ‘n give it a good squeeze so’s they don’ mistake us fer jus’ business partners.”
“Like ta see yer face if’n I actually did tha’, pardner.”
“Well… Don’t seem ta be anythin’ else tha’ sounds righ’. Wha’ da ya think? Withou’ the ass-squeezin’ a course.”
“Okay. ‘Partners’ it is. But jus’ ‘til someone thinks up somethin’ better. ‘N I reserve the right ta squeeze yer ass if’n I think the situation calls fer it.”
Ed grinned, “Fair ‘nough. But only if some guy’s makin’ a play fer me ‘n ya feel the need ta let ‘im know ‘m all yers.” Ed grinned, “Stake yer claim. So ta speak.”
“Got yerself a deal. Do enjoy stakin’ ma claim ta ya.”
“Now tell me somethin’ I don’ know.”
They sat in silence again for a few minutes again. Hank holding onto Ed. Both watching the fire until Hank broke the silence again.
Uh…” Hank hesitated, “Uh... Hey… Ed?”
Hank hesitated again, but figured now was as good a time as any. And besides, the third way to make Ed talk, besides poking him with a stick or just being quiet and letting him, was to blindside him with a question he wasn’t expecting. Hank put his mouth next to Ed’s ear and whispered, “Just how close did ya come? Ya know… Back then…”
Ed was silent for a moment then let out a big sigh, “Pretty damn close. Had the gun in the truck. Loaded. Truck gassed up. Was gonna stop ‘n mail tha’ postcard to ya then drive up ta our mountain.” Ed paused, “Was jus’ so tired. Jus’ didn’ have the energy any more. Ta think ‘bout it… Ta face it... Wanted ta be done with it.”
On account of the postcard Hank knew Ed must have come close, but he didn’t know it was that close. He tried to keep his voice even, but it was difficult, “Wha’ stopped ya?”
“Like ta tell ya it was you. But it weren’t. Weren’t really the fear a hell neither. Thought God migh’ forgive me fer killin’ ma self if it was the only way I could stop sinnin’. ‘Yieldin’ ta the Devil’, ma folks woulda called it.” Ed shook his head, “In the end, it was Iris tha’ stopped me.”
Hank made a mental note to send Iris a huge bunch of her favorite flowers. And if his will didn’t already leave everything to Iris after Ed, Hank would have changed it first thing the next day. Not that it was that much. But whatever he had, he knew now he owed it all to Iris.
“Weren’t even thinkin’ ‘bout what it woulda done ta Iris... What it woulda done ta you. Was sittin’ at the kitchen table. Had jus’ finished makin’ out tha’ postcard when Iris run inta the kitchen. She was all happy. Laughin’. Came over ‘n hugged me ‘n kissed me on the cheek. Told me she was goin’ outside ta play with her friends.” Ed took a deep breath and let it out, “That was it. Nothin’ more. Jus’ lookin’ at her sweet face... Couldn’ bear ta think a wipin’ tha’ smile off a it. Knew I had ta stand it. Least ‘til she grew up, was what I told ma self.”
Hank stayed quiet, sensing Ed had more to say.
“Scares me ta think ‘bout it. If it hadn’ a been fer Iris. Prob’bly woulda gone through with it. Woulda missed out on this life a ours. Better’n anythin’ I ever could a dreamed up. Guess tha’s why I still keep tha’ postcard. Remind me how close I came ta throwin’ it all away. Wha’s tha’ old ‘xpression? It’s always darkest before the dawn. ‘Course it ain’t ‘xactly true. But tha’s wha’ it was like fer me. Dawn jus’ took an awful long time comin’. But it came. ‘N ’m jus’ glad I was still here ta greet it. With you.”
“Wish I woulda known. Cain’t believe I couldn’ tell there was somethin’ that wrong with ya.”
“Was pretty damn good at hidin’ it. Specially when I were with you. Was closest I ever came ta forgettin’ ‘bout it all. Think I mighta told ya all this before. Jus’ bein’ with ya. Up in the mountains. Was like ya chased all them thoughts ‘bout ‘God ‘n the Devil ‘n Nora ‘n the rest a the world right outta ma mind. Most a the time, anyway. Don’ make much sense if ya think ‘bout it. Since you were the whole reason they were all out ta get me. But tha’s how it were.”
“Wish ya jus’ coulda sicced ‘em all on me, ‘stead a you.” Hank frowned, “‘N I ain’t too happy ‘bout tha’ message ya were plannin’ ta send me. All them years together ‘n tha’s the best ya could do?”
“Sorry. Was pretty bad. Guess I weren’t really thinkin’ ‘bout you. Wasn’ thinkin’ straight at all. ‘N I jus’ wanted ta stop thinkin’. But ya got a lot better ‘n Nora. Never even thought ta leave her a note. Guess I hoped maybe they’d jus’ put it off ta a huntin’ accident. Or a gun cleanin’ accident.”
Hank felt himself start to shake slightly and pulled Ed closer, “Don’ think I coulda lived withou’ ya, Ed. Finally think I know how ya felt when she killed Jack in tha’ short story. Don’ feel good. Knowin’ wha’ mighta been. Feel like I dodged a mighty big bullet back then, ‘n I didn’ even know it at the time.”
“Think yer a migh’ confused, Rodeo, bullet was intended fer me.”
“Ya know damn well what I mean.”
“Yeah. Sure do know whatcha mean.”
“Well, least-wise we got our happily-ever-after in the end.”
“So tha’s whatcha call this?”
“Sure do. Bitchin’ ‘n moanin’ ‘n drudgery ‘n chores ‘n no food, ‘n ugly dogs ‘n all…”
“Well, don’ like tha’ no food part at all. Like them dogs, though. ‘N don’ mind the chores ‘n drudgery. ‘N ya know I like ta bitch jus’ much as you do. But… Gotta admit ta bein’ mos’ partial ta tha’ there moanin’ ya mentioned.”
“Be happy ta oblige ya with some a ma best grade-A moans.” Hank whispered in Ed’s ear, then lightly bit Ed’s earlobe to emphasize his point.
“Ya up ta it? Know I kinda wore ya out earlier ‘n all. Can jus’ neck a little if’n ya want. Neckin’ makes ya moan plenty good.”
“I’m up fer it. Hell. Ya know what they say, gotta make hay while the sun’s shinin’.”
“Don’ know no ‘they’. Don’ wanna make no hay either. Jus’ wanna make ya moan.”
“Do yer best, Cowboy. ’M all yers. Always have been. Always will be.”
“Only problem is,” Hank couldn’t help but think as they turned towards each other, their mouths easily coming together, “‘Always’ ain’t turnin’ out ta be nowhere near as long as I mighta thought.”
Moments later Hank briefly broke their kiss and smiled softly, gazing into Ed’s eyes and thinking, “Least it’s a helluva lot longer than six or seven nights, six days and a few hours…”