||[Dec. 29th, 2006|10:32 am]
Ed and Hank, Part 20|
The summer of Hank’s discontent (and the winter of Ed’s…)
Warning: Contains a bit of blasphemin'. Disclaimer: Somewhere, somehow, Hank told Annie Proulx their story. Jack and Ennis belong to Annie Proulx. Ed and Hank belong only to each other. Breakin' even since our trip got cancelled. Feedback: Always appreciated.
Everything else is here:
Part 20, the summer of Hank's discontent
As time passed Hank’s discontent grew slowly. It was almost forgotten every time Hank laid eyes on Ed. Almost forgotten every time Hank laid his hands on Ed. Almost, but never entirely forgotten. Hank couldn’t help but see his life unfolding in front of him. A lifetime where all that mattered was measured in the meager number of days, hours and minutes spent with Ed as the years went by.
And there were those times when even Hank didn’t believe he and Ed could ever have a real life together. “How would they ever manage it? It just wasn’t done. It just wasn’t safe.” But they went on meeting as often as possible. Despite his occasional doubts and fears, Hank did want a future with Ed. And Ed wanted… well… damned if Hank knew what Ed wanted. Beyond the obvious that is.
Hank sighed, thinking of all that might not have been without Ed. And the times he had come close to letting Ed go. The first time had been right after Ed’s divorce. Like Jack, Hank had thought the divorce meant he and Ed were going to be together. And, like Jack, Hank had realized the hard truth soon enough.
It had been the middle of summer, close to a hundred degrees out. Hank’s folks had gone to a movie in town to escape the afternoon heat. Ed and Hank had finally given up on trying to get any work done and gone into the house. They hadn’t even had a chance to clean up before the argument had started. Hank must have started it. But he didn’t remember exactly what’d he’d said to do so.
“Dunno how Hank… Jus’ dunno how.”
Hank laughed as he thought to himself, “’Dunno how’ was definitely better than “Jus’ cain’t” and “Ain’t possible.”
Out loud, to Ed, he had said, “I know how, dumbass. Ya pack yer bags ‘n ya move here."
“Ain’t tha’ easy. Got child support ta pay. ‘N alimony. Ain’t no way ya can pay me. Wouldn’ never let ya anyway.”
“Move here ‘n get yerself a job in town. Can make yer payments ‘n we can still be together.”
“Been workin’ a tha’ place lotta years… Gettin’ paid pretty decent now. Hard ta start over. ‘N sides don’ wanna be so far from Iris. Nora’s bein’ decent ‘nough ta me. But still seems like I don’ hardly get ta spend no time with Iris.”
“She should be decent ta ya. Divorce were her idea after all.”
“Think yer kinda fergettin’... I ain’t never been no kinda decent husband ta her. Ain’t been no kinda marriage fer her.”
Hank gritted his teeth, biting back any further comments on Ed’s marriage and the divorce being Nora’s idea, “So, ya tellin’ me yer gonna move here when Iris turns eighteen?”
“…Dunno Hank… Nora’s dead set on Iris goin’ ta college. ‘N I think she should too. Iris don’ belong here. Deserves a chance ta make somethin’ a herself. Ain’t obliged ta, but wanna help pay fer tha’ too, if’n I can.”
“But then Iris won’ be ‘round, so’s no reason ya couldn’ find a job here...”
“Ya ain’t never gonna move here are ya?”
“Jus’ tol’ ya how.”
“It ain’t done Hank. Jus’ ain’t done. People find out… two guys livin’ here like that…”
“Ya been comin’ here fer at least four or five weeks, sometimes more, every year fer how long now? Ain’t no one never said nothin’ yet.”
“Ain’t livin’ here permanent-like. Makes a difference.”
“Plenty a people have ranch hands livin’ on their ranches. Wouldn’ be no different. No one’d know if it was jus’ you or you ‘n me livin’ in tha’ trailer. Ain’t nobody’s business, but ours.”
“Still… Hank… If’n folks’d find out…”
“Dunno ‘bout you, Ed… but I ain’t plannin’ on puttin' up no billboards.”
“Still. People have a way a findin’ out. ‘N ya know as well as I do, lotta folks jus’ as soon kill people like us as look at us.”
Hank took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, “Hey, Ed?”
“Wha’s tha’ hangin’ in the window a yer truck?”
“Wha’s tha’ hangin’ in the window a ma truck?”
“How many guns ya reckon ma pa’s got in the house?”
“…Dunno… A few…”
“’N if’n yer still worried we can jus’ start carryin’ handguns right on us.”
“Don’ wanna live like tha’. Havin’ a gun all the time. Don’ like guns.”
“Tell ya somethin’, Ed... rather live with you ‘n a gun under ma coat, then withou’ ya.”
“Yeah. Can jus’ see ya wearin’ a coat on a day like ta day.”
“Ferget the damn guns then. ‘Sides most people ‘r cowards when ya get righ’ down ta it. Sure, some migh’ wanna do us harm, but lightnin’ could strike ya dead too. Or ya could fall off a yer horse ‘n break yer neck or get trampled. Or crash yer truck. Plenty a ways ta die in this here world. Migh’ as well live yer life… our life… ‘til then.”
“But… still have ta go ta town. Face people. Not like I ain’t seen what happens. Mothers draggin’ their kids ‘cross the street. People glarin’. Guys gettin’ beat up. Run outta town.”
“Where the hell you live? Ya ever really seen tha’ happen? Someone gettin’ run outta town?”
“Know it can happen. Hear the way fellas talk. ‘N if’n people stop doin’ business with ya… tha’s one sure-fire way they can run ya outta town.”
“Been doin’ business with people in these parts fer a long time. They ain’t gonna stop jus’ because ya move here. ‘N I know damn well ya can hold yer own ‘n a fight. Even when yer outnumbered. So guess yer ‘really ‘fraid a them women. ‘N some hard stares.”
“Damn right ‘m ‘fraid a them women.”
Hank knew Ed was trying to make him laugh, maybe get out of the rest of this argument, but it just made him angrier, “Ya think other people don’ face tha’? Lotta folks here treat ya like tha’ fer any number a reasons. Some of ‘em’ll shun ya if ya jus’ look at ‘em cross-eyed. Most’d prob’bly be like ma pa, jus’ pretend they don’ know nothin’ even if’n they do. Doubt no one’ll come up ‘n pat us on the back ‘n say hooray fer the queer fellas. But, all in all, I ‘xpect we’d gen’rally be left alone.”
“Don’ like tha’ word.”
“Know damn well wha’ word.”
“Well… I don’ much give a shit if’n ya don’ like tha’ word.”
“Ain’t what I am.”
“Then wha’ ya so worried ‘bout? If’n ya ain’t queer ain’t nobody gonna care. Only hate on ya if’n yer queer. Ain’t no reason fer no one ta hate a perfectly straight fella who jus’ sometimes happens ta enjoy…”
“Stop… Hank… Stop…”
But Hank didn’t stop. He hadn’t even tried to stop.
All the years of heartbreak, anger, pain and loneliness had just spilled out of him as Hank attacked Ed where he thought he’d be the most vulnerable, “’N wha’ ‘bout yer God? Think ya can fool Him easy as ya fool yerself? Think He’s gonna let ya off easy ‘cause I‘m the only queer here? Prodrigal son returnin’ home ‘n all tha’ crap? Maybe He’ll send me off ta hell ‘n put ya on a big ol’ throne righ’ next ta him up ‘n heaven. Then again, maybe He’ll jus’ turn me inta a damn pillar a salt. Then you ‘n God ‘n Jesus ‘n Mary ‘n whoever else is up there can sit around in yer fancy flowin’ robes ‘n pass me ‘round the table, just in case yer damn manna ain’t seasoned ta yer taste.”
Hank watched as Ed’s head dropped down, his hands covered his face and he started shaking, just a little. Hank stopped. All the anger drained right out of him at the sight of what his words had done to Ed.
“Ed… Ed…” Hank had reached out for Ed, convinced Ed was going to leave him for sure now.
“Hank…” Tears filled Ed’s eyes. Ed was… laughing?
“Dammit, Hank… Spent a long time tryin’ ta crawl out from under all tha’ religion...” Ed wiped the tears out of his eyes, “Shit… Think ya mighta jus’ set me back a good bit there…”
Relief washed over Hank, "Ed..."
Ed grabbed Hank, pulling him close, running his tongue along Hank’s hot neck. “Yep. Think it’s already started. Ya clearly taste a salt.” Ed licked the other side of Hank’s neck, “Regular salt-lick here. Could tie ya down in a field ‘n lure some deer close-in. Damn...” Ed leaned back and pulled Hank’s sweat-soaked t-shirt over his head, “Let’s see if the rest a ya is tha’ salty too…”
Later, lying tangled up in each others arms, Hank spoke again, just couldn’t help himself, “Jus’ thought we’d be together. ‘Cause a yer divorce ‘n all. Jus’ wantcha with me, Ed. Like tha’ postcard I sent ya. Could be some sweet ranch. Some sweet life. The two a us livin’ jus’ like folks do. Jus’ livin’ our lives together…”
“Jus’ cain’t Hank…”
There it was. Ed had just come full circle. Back to ‘Jus cain’t’. The same words he had said a few years back. It was like a knife in Hank’s heart. Ed wasn’t making any progress. Hank had been kidding himself. There was just Ed refusing to budge over and over again.
“Dunno if I can keep doin’ this then, Ed. Spent practically ma whole life on this here ranch. Ranchin’ ain’t in ma blood like it is yers. Did it fer you.”
“Did it fer yer folks too.”
Hank was quiet for a moment, “Ya ain’t wrong there. ‘N we wouldn’ a made it withou’ yer help. Owe ya fer tha’. Owe ya a lot.”
“Ya still…? Ya wan’ me… ta stop…?” Ed had tried to hide it, but Hank could hear the tinge of panic in Ed’s voice.
“Still wan’ ya Ed. Still want whatever part a ya I can get. Love ya, dumbass.”
“Love you too, dumbass,” Ed’s voice was no more than a whisper, but he’d said it just the same.
It was always hard for Ed to say that. Hank knew just how hard. And Hank knew he meant it. Even back then Hank knew that Ed never said anything he didn’t mean. But, after all this time, was it enough? Could Hank keep living this kind of life, knowing Ed loved him, but knowing they’d never really live their lives together?
Hank had let it drop. He felt like he was always letting it drop. But what choice did he have? Hank didn’t want to make idle threats. Knew he couldn’t take a stand, make an ultimatum, unless he was ready to let Ed go. And he just wasn’t ready to let Ed go. How could he live without feeling Ed’s arms wrapped around him ever again? Without Ed’s laugh? Without Ed…?
“Sorry ta bother ya Hank, but could ya toss them tissues this way. Don’ wanna bother Ed.”
“Sure Bill.” Hank put his pen down and walked over to the coffee table, grabbed the tissues and tossed them to Bill. Hank looked down at Ed. He was asleep, sprawled across the couch with Hankthedog curled up at his feet. Hank bent down and kissed the top of his head and pulled the quilt up higher on Ed’s shoulders, tucking it under his chin. Hank generally wasn’t superstitious, but whenever Ed got sick, which wasn’t very often, Hank felt better if he covered him up with that old quilt his ma had made. Kind of like a big old patchwork good luck charm, keeping Ed safe.
“Thanks, Hank. Ain’t tha’ hurtin’ yer hand? Writin’ all tha’?.”
“Nah. Not too bad. Coulda moved the computer down here ta the livin’ room with you ‘n Ed ‘n me if’n I wanted to. Jus’ didn’ feel like it. Hope ya didn’ mind me movin’ ya down here?”
“Nope. Feelin' a lot better. Good ta be sittin' up in a chair. 'Sides, then ya don’ have ta be runnin’ up ‘n down them stairs all the time.”
“Yep. ‘N easier ta check on ya when ‘m out doin’ chores. Jus’ poke ma head in the back door ‘n yell.”
“How ya comin’ with yer story?”
“Think it’s ‘bout done. Almos’ up ta the part where Ed finally moves in, permanent-like.”
“Cough, cough, cough, cough…”
Hank got up and went over to Ed, bending over and kissing his forehead again, “Hey, Ed. Damn… yer still pretty warm. How ya feelin’? Can I getcha anythin’? ‘Nother blanket? Some soda water?”
Ed just grunted.
Hank turned towards Bill, “Ya hungry Bill? Think yer up ta eatin’? I’ll go fix ya a plate.”
“Sure. Thanks, Hank. Think I migh’ be able ta get somethin’ down. Maybe even keep it there.”
“Watcha want? Ya got yer choice. The beef stew I made, the chicken soup or the casserole Betty dropped off or the ham ‘n sweet potatoes ‘n green beans ‘n fruit salad ‘n homemade rolls ‘n pecan pie yer sister dropped off. Awful nice a yer sister ta make tha’ whole Christmas dinner fer us.”
“Yeah. Jus’ her way a thankin’ ya fer takin’ care a me. Made her life lot easier not havin’ ta worry ‘bout me bein’ sick on top a everythin’ else she has ta do too.”
“Ain’t been no trouble havin’ ya stay here. ‘Sides ya been good company now tha’ Ed’s sick as a dog.”
“Well, guess migh’ as well have some a tha’ Christmas dinner.” Bill looked over at Ed and shook his head, “Poor Ed. Don’ think he’s up ta it yet.”
Hank bent over Ed again, “How ‘bout it, Cowboy? Ya think ya can eat a little somethin’?”
Ed just grunted again.
“Guess I’ll take tha’ as a ‘no’. Hey Bill, ya want me ta put ‘nother movie in fer ya?”
“Sure. Tha’d be nice. What ya got tha’ we haven’t watched yet?”
“‘Man with No Name’, ‘Red River’, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, ‘Johnny Guitar’, ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’, ‘Good the Bad and the Ugly’ or ‘The Wild Bunch’...”
“Ya musta rented every western tha’ video store had.”
“Some of ‘em we own. Iris sends us movies. Music ‘n movies. Mainly old westerns.”
Bill thought for a moment, “Think maybe ‘Johnny Guitar’. Righ’ peculiar movie. But I sure like tha’ Joan Crawford.”
Ed groaned loudly and pulled the blankets up over his head.
Bill laughed, “Second thought, maybe not. Don’ sound like Ed likes tha’ one much. Whaddya think Ed would like?”
“Pretty much anythin’ but ‘Johnny Guitar’. We can watch it later when he falls back ta sleep.”
“How ‘bout ‘Man With No Name” then?”
Ed pulled the blankets off of his head.
Hank laughed, “Looks like Ed approves.” Hank put the movie in then went to the kitchen, filled a plate with food and microwaved it. He brought it in to Bill then went back to get a plate for himself. After they finished their dinner, Hank glanced over at Ed, who seemed to be asleep again, and then grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. On it he wrote “Pecan pie?” then showed it to Bill. Bill nodded. Hank then wrote “ice cream?” and showed the paper to Bill again. Bill nodded again.
Hank brought their plates into the kitchen and came back with two pieces of pie, being careful to walk behind the couch on his way to and from Bill’s chair so that Ed wouldn’t happen to see what he was carrying.
“Know ya got pie.”
“Thought ya were sleepin’ Ed. Ya think ya can eat a piece a pie?”
Ed shook his head, “Ain’t polite ta eat pie in fronta a dyin’ man.”
“Have it on good authority tha’ ya ain’t dyin’.”
Ed groaned, “Care ta make a bet on tha’?”
“Ain’t ‘xactly a bet ya could collect on if’n ya win, dumbass.”
“Yer on. Bill’s the referee.”
Bill paused the movie, “Guess I shoulda said ‘no’ ta tha’ piece a pie. Think I wanna be left outta this…”
“Sorry… Think yer stuck, Bill.” Hank turned to Ed, “Okay, not gonna take ‘vantage of ya in yer weakened state. Know ya ain’t dyin’ a this here flu, so we’re jus’ bettin’ on tha’ second bet, tha’ s’posedly ya could somehow collect on tha’ first be if'n ya did win... so ta speak... So watcha wanna bet?”
“You comin’ back ta work. Least-wise for part a the day every day.”
“Ya already got tha’. Been workin’ my sweet ass off with both you ‘n Bill outta commission. Plus takin’ care a both a ya. Runnin’ ma self ragged here.”
“Think I hear violins… Ya hear ‘em Bill? Either means I’m winnin’ tha’ first bet or Hank’s feelin’ a little sorry fer his self. Maybe even ‘fraid a losin.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll come back ta work, if’n ya win. Least-wise fer part a every day.”
“Now it’s Hank’s turn… Watcha wanta ta bet?”
“Know ‘xactly what I wanna bet. Jus’ don’ think Ed’ll like me sayin’ it out loud. Okay with both a you if’n I write it down?”
“Shit.” Ed threw the blankets over his head again.
Bill laughed, “Don’ matter ta me, long as Ed accepts the bet.”
Hank grabbed the pen and paper again, wrote on it, “You have to let me shower with you, either fer as long as I want or ‘til the hot water runs cold. And you have to watch Brokeback Mountain with me, start ta finish.” He then brought the piece of paper over to Ed, pulling the blankets off of his head and showing it to him.
“Shit. Tha’s two things, Hank.”
“Yeah, ‘n yer bet is me comin’ back ta work fer part a every day. Seems fair ‘nough.”
“No way. Ain’t watchin’ tha’ movie.”
“Wha’ movie?” Bill look confused, “Ya hate ‘Johnny Guitar’ tha’ much?”
Ed and Hank ignored Bill, “Now who’s ‘fraid a losin’?”
“Okay. It’s a bet, Rodeo. Only ‘cause ‘m sure I can win this though.”
“Now… Ed’s gotta tell us wha’ he woulda bet tha’ he coulda ended up collectin' on tha’ first bet… even if’n he were dead.” Bill turned ta Hank, “Tha’s it, ain’t it?”
It suddenly occurred to Hank what Ed’s bet was going to be, “Dammit! Wait a minute...Think I wanna call off this here bet.”
Ed managed a feeble laugh, “Too late…”
“Sorry Hank, Ed’s right. Too late to call if off now. Okay Ed, what’s yer bet?”
“Woulda bet tha’ if’n I won, ‘n I died from this here flu, ya had ta bury me in tha’ shirt I wan’ ta be buried in.”
“Damn. Shoulda known from the beginnin’ tha’s wha’ it were gonna be. Ain’t no way tha’s gonna happen...”
“From Hank’s reaction, guess I gotta rule tha’ Ed wins.” Bill, looking even more confused, turned to Hank, “Tha’ mus’ be one helluva shirt if’n ya won’t let the poor man be buried in it…?”
“It’s a long story, Bill… a real long story…”
Ed smiled, “'N it sure is one helluva shirt... Love tha’ dumbass shirt.”
Hank grinned back at Ed, "Yeah, I love tha' dumbass shirt too."
Bill shook his head, “Think ‘m goin’ back ta this here movie. Lot easier ta follow than the two a you.”