OCTOBER: A LONG NIGHT
“Seriously? You should’ve talked to me first.”
Mark slumped inside his new truck and stared at me in disbelief. My hands shook as I opened the door and climbed down and away from him. I let Nelson out to stretch his legs but he ran over to the trees, watching us both carefully with his tail tucked far underneath. I called him back closer and he came reluctantly.
“You know how sensitive he is, don’t raise your voice at me like that. You scared him.” I crouched down and buried my face in his furry neck and burst out crying.
“Oh Jenny, now what?”
Impatience and gentleness competed in his voice. I cried. His footsteps brought him close but I didn’t look up. He knelt down next to me and pulled us both onto his lap under the midnight sky. I curled up tight and Nelson whimpered. Mark stroked us both, whispering softly about the stars above. I relaxed. Nelson wriggled and I let him go. Mark sat and waited.
I sighed once more and leaned into him. He spoke up.
“Do you think he wants to drive with you or with me in the new truck?”
I punched him lightly, “me of course. You’re the big mean stranger who made me cry.”
He laughed out loud and it echoed down the highway. I sat back and stared at him for a second.
“I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. One woman wanted to take him as a guard dog and leave him alone outside. Another man wanted his hyper little kids to chase him around all day. I couldn’t do it.” I tried not to cry again.
“But why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“You were too busy on stage. And I thought you’d be mad and make Louisa take him back,” I told him.
I couldn’t explain, not even to myself, so I shrugged and stood up. I held out my hand to him and pulled him close.
“Let’s go home, okay? We can talk about all this in the morning, just not now. I’m too exhausted, Mark. I’m just exhausted.”
“Okay, it’s been a long night. What do you think Frida will do?”
“Play, I hope.”
He nodded as he closed the car door for me and walked away, watching me drive off ahead.
We made coffee and sat outside, all four of us. It had been a long night. Frida had been none too happy to share the bus and it took a while to settle everyone down. Nelson knew he wasn’t wanted and avoided Mark as much as possible. He sat near me, practically on me, and I thought of using his broad head as a coffee table. The ears would’ve kept the mug from falling off.
Mark toasted me with a smile, tired but soft. I said little. We’d not chatted about the truck or the dog. Neither of us wanted to spoil the mood, I guess. The sky stretched cloudless as usual, and the ground beneath the trees had cracked and split once again. The rains had come and gone. The water buckets sat empty. The tomatoes had been eaten. Life was good.
Nelson stretched out his nose and sniffed at Mark’s bare feet, tail wagging, and oh-so-gently, he took a lick. He didn’t curl up and die, instead, he inched forward and we all watched, even Frida. Nelson wriggled close and poked his left foot with a paw. Frida stood up and came over, sniffing the new dog curiously. She sighed her puppy sigh and wandered off to water a pinion. Nelson followed cautiously. They circled each other twice. Nelson bowed once and the games began. Running full-pelt back behind and around the bus, over and over again, they charged across the yard, under trees, over buckets, and I got dizzy trying to watch them both. Mark cheered them on, making bets as to who would come out first on each lap. Frida, no Nelson, no, back to Frida.
The sun beat down and I grabbed my straw-hat, and sat with my back to the bright light.
Mark offered me a cookie and poured out more coffee for the both of us. The breeze tickled the dried grasses in the yard. The prayer flags rustled and I said a quiet thanks.
“We should get some firewood soon, don’t you think, Jenny?”
I nodded, “Can we get a huge pile? I don’t want to freeze this winter. Do you think the bus will be okay though? Not there’s much we can do, is there? I can start collecting the kindling whenever I take the dogs out walking.”
The land was full of dead and down pinion trees, and I pictured breaking off the branches and carrying them back one by one. Maybe not. Mark had heard of someone with firewood stacks some twenty feet high – he had firewood envy. But he’d talked to one of the men and was quoted a decent price for a truckload.
“It’s very doable, especially if we load up ourselves, and now we have the Ford…”
“Yeah, we have the Ford. How much did it cost, you never said?”
He gave me the best widest smile that morning. “You’ll never guess.”
“Go on, tell me,” I pouted.
“No, you’ve got to guess at least once first, come on, be a good sport.”
I stood and walked over to it. The paint was flaking off in places and pale rose-colored rust peaked through. The tires had a deep tread. The engine hadn’t leaked oil over night. The front end was dented. The interior was a wreck. I had no idea, and I told him so.
“Five hundred. Only five hundred, not bad, eh? For a working reliable vehicle.”
It was a wreck, but not that bad, you know? “Good job, Mark. Yeah, okay, I approve, but only if I get to drive it too.”
He laughed and threw me the keys. “Let’s go then, shall we?”
“Why not?” he grinned wickedly, challenging me.
“I have a hangover and we have two dogs, where are they meant to go?”
“In the front seat with us,” he said as he stood up, grabbing the thermos and his bandana and sunglasses. “Let’s go explore. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
What could I say? I whistled to the dogs and they came up, panting and drooling. I opened the driver’s door and in they jumped, no questioning looks given. I claimed my seat quickly. Mark was left to fight for a space as I gunned the engine by accident. I grinned sheepishly.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize it would be that sensitive. Everyone tucked in?”
With nods and smiles all around, windows open, radio tuned to a country western station, we drove away.
I took a right turn and headed away from the highway. The sun bore down on me and I reached for Mark’s sunglasses. He changed the radio station to Oldies in revenge. The dogs leaned against us both, tails intertwined and wagging comfortably, the stress of the night before apparently forgotten. The road was graveled and rocky in parts, smooth going in others, the valley opened to the west of us, and I glanced over at my boyfriend. He was frowning as he smoked but I didn’t ask. I drove slowly to start but soon found my confidence and picked it up. We passed a few more private driveways after a couple of miles, leading to half hidden homes with tall windmills sticking out into the bright blue sky. Horses grazed in the arroyos. A coyote ran over the rise in front of us, chasing a roadrunner by the looks of it.
My phone rang. I passed it to Mark.
“Hello?” He grimaced. “Yes, Martha, she’s right here, but we’re driving and she can’t really pull over.”
The road ahead and behind was empty and I tried not to giggle or cough too loudly. He carried on, politely asking about the weather, her cats, and if she had any plans to visit. I slapped him and he put the phone out of reach, humming and hawing. The dogs panted. I pulled over onto a sandy spot on the next straight stretch. I grabbed the phone from him.
“Hello, Mom. You did what? When? Oh…for a couple of weeks?”
Mark let the dogs out and joined them in their watering program. He wandered out of sight with the two following his heels closely as he scrambled up a small ridge and waved. I climbed out and sat on the tailgate, listening to Mom’s plans. I drank some cool coffee. The plans? Well, she was arriving next week. On Thursday, at four.
The road dropped off into a wash, the rocks lined the path, and the gravel had run off in the last rains. It was great. Actually it wasn’t, we were stuck in sand. Mom was coming to visit next week. The dogs were thirsty. I was still hung-over and Mark was loving every minute of it. He pulled out a shovel from the bed, and he dug out the one rear wheel, by sticking branches and rocks to give us some traction. He turned a nozzle on each of the front wheels, climbed back in, and gave me the thumbs up as the engine started back up first time. The Ford slowly but surely climbed out of the rut, an inch at a time, the truck made it.
“Gotta love four wheeling. Can I drive the rest of the way?” He beamed at me.
Ahead of us, the road rose up towards the mountains and ridges, a narrow one-lane track with barely a sign that anyone lived back there. He stayed in the front seat and I shoved the dogs into the middle and I claimed the window seat.
“When’s she coming? We’d better get the outhouse finished. Okay, onwards and upwards, my friends, onwards and yes, most surely, upwards.”
He gunned it and we shot up the mountain road with a scream.