markwildyr.com, Post #134
Hope everyone enjoyed the Curt Huntinghawk story that ended last week.
THE VICTOR AND THE VANQUISHED
“Wilam!” Matthew called from the sidelines.
I waved him off and got set as the pitcher whipped a fastball over the plate. Hitchcock, a chubbo whose belly moved slower than his hips, whipped thin air—with the bat and the belly. I rolled my shoulders and pounded the glove with a fist to loosen up, hoping my brother would go away. I didn’t get a chance to play ball with the other guys very often, and I didn’t want to be pulled off the field. Besides, I’d really come down to the tribal rec center to find James, but he wasn’t around. I planned to go looking for him pretty soon.
“William Greyhorse!” Matthew yelled. “Hey, man, you need to get your butt home.”
“Okay. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. The old man’s on a rip-snorter, and he sent me to get you.”
I spotted the kid whose glove I’d borrowed and motioned him over. Then I ran to catch up with my brother and fell into step beside him, which wasn’t easy. Matthew’d turned twenty-one this summer. All that meant to him was he could get into the bars over in Mapleton without sneaking around, but it also meant he stood six-one, and had legs to match. They ate up the ground a lot faster than mine. I was a little better than five-nine but considerably short of five-ten. I’d already accepted the fact I was the runt of the family. My dad was an even six feet. Something I’d never match.
“What’s going on?” I was panting because he hadn’t shortened his stride for me like he usually did. A bad sign.
“What do you mean?” I asked between gasps.
Our place was a rundown affair sitting right at the eastern edge of the little settlement of Rolling Hills. The big barn behind it was usually empty except for junk. Now, our twenty-year-old pickup was hidden in the middle of it, half loaded with our belongings. The truck had been black once, but the Bondo smeared all over it rendered the vehicle two-toned. Black and gray usually looked pretty good together, but not on a beat-up Dodge half-ton. The barn already smelled of rubber, gasoline, and burned motor oil.
Dad lurched out of the back door loaded down with his hunting rifle and fishing tackle. He was sweaty and wild-eyed from his drinking, but he didn’t seem drunk. Cutting up a man must have sobered him some.
“Where the hell you been?”
“Well, get your ass in gear. We’re out of here in ten minutes.”
I headed for the room I shared with my sisters, Nola and little Junie. There wasn’t much I wanted to salvage except for my carving knives—and my clothes, for all they were worth. Mostly Matthew’s hand-me-downs cut to size.
But my knives were something else. Because I never knew when Mom would pass out for the day or when Dad would come home mad dog drunk, I was practically house bound all summer on account of the girls. And during the school year, I’d rush home as soon as class was over. So I whittled to keep busy. Got pretty good at it, too. I made all the toys the girls ever had, including their dolls.
The last couple of Christmases I’d even sold a few carvings. I put the little money I made right back into better knives. Mom said it was a waste of good money buying up different carving knives, but if it was, it was the only wasting I ever did. I never bought candy or soda pop like the other guys. But sometimes I stood sweets for Nola and little Junie with money I made from doing quick chores around town or selling a carving.
I liked to whittle animals mostly, but I did a head of Nola once that looked pretty much like her. Or at least the way she looked when I carved it a couple of years back. Never been able to capture little Junie, though. It always came out bland like a baby’s face. Nola said that's because Junie had a bland baby’s face, even if she was walking around and jabbering hard enough to raise a dust devil.
I passed Mom in the living room. She was folding some sheets and towels and looked sober. Tired but sober. Her cheeks were sorta mashed in—you know, sunken. She’d been over at Uncle Dulce’s and Aunt Aurora’s last night, and she usually didn’t drink around her youngest sister’s family. They were born-again people. That was why I’d been able to get away for a ball game down at the rec center this morning.
Nola, thirteen and big enough to know what was going on, seemed scared. Little Junie wasn’t yet three, and she just looked excited. Of course, every day was an adventure to her. She was a happy baby except when my dad was in the house raising hell.
“Wilam!” she yelled when I came through the door. She called me that because she couldn’t pronounce William when she first started talking. The rest of the family fell into the habit of using that label, and pretty soon I was Wilam to the whole reservation. I patted Junie on the head and gave her a kiss on the cheek before rushing to our room and slinging my things into plastic grocery bags.
We abandoned all of the furniture; it was mostly junk, anyway. That left enough room in the bed of the pickup for the girls and me. Matthew kicked over the motor and made straight for the Mini-Mart at the south end of the reservation for gas and food to take on the road. Dad and Mom went inside while he filled the gas tank and a couple of Jerry cans. I bailed out of the bed of the pickup when I spotted James walking down the road on those long legs of his. I knew he’d seen me, but he veered off around behind the store. I found him sitting at a little picnic table they put back there for customers.
“I heard,” he said.
“Yeah, looks like the Greyhorse family’s off and running again. Man, I get tired of it. I wish we would just settle down somewhere.”
He didn’t have an answer for my wishes, so we went quiet. The loblolly pines flooded the clearing with the sharp smell of resin. Somewhere a woodpecker tapped out a message only he understood. It got a little awkward after a minute. I put it down to the way our leaving.
I sat down on the table across from him and waited. Finally, he said something I didn’t catch.
“What?” I looked over at him. He had on his usual blue jeans, gray muscle shirt, and home-stitched buckskin moccasins. He’d worn those moccasins ever since his feet quit growing. He looked good. That thought was off and running before I could grab hold and pull it back.
“Wish I could figure out an easy way?”
“To do what?” I asked.
“Letting you know how I feel. About you.”
“I know how you feel. We’re friends. We’re about the only friends each other has.”
“Yeah. I guess.” His fingertip traced a set of initials carved into the rough oak table. “We’re both loners.”
“Just a couple of oddballs.” Why the hell did I say that?
“You’re just different because you act like the man of the family and take care of your sisters” There was bitterness in his voice. “Me, I’m a certified oddball.”
“That’s trash talk, James.”
“Okay, here’s some more. I’ve been wanting to do it with you for a long time, but I was scared to let you know.” His voice faltered. “Every…every other guy on the rez who don’t have a girl for the night comes knocking, and I do whatever they want. I do it even when I don’t like them. But you never came around like that. So I just kept my mouth shut, afraid of chasing off my best friend.”
I sat there with my cheeks flaming.
He fixed me with dark, haunted eyes. “Go ahead, say it.”
“S-say what?” I stuttered.
“Whatever you’re thinking. Call me a queer or a faggot. Tell me you don’t want anything to do with me anymore. Or tell me it’s okay, and we’re still friends. Or tell me you’ve been wanting us to do it too.”
“Why’re you saying this to me?” I swatted at a wasp buzzing around my head.
He shrugged and glanced off into the trees over my shoulder. “Because...because I like you. And I thought you liked me.”
My face felt hot. “I do, you know that. But…but….”
“But not like that.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I do. Or could. But we’re leaving. Going away. Probably forever.”
“No, you’ll comeback someday. But I know you’re leaving for right now. Else I wouldn’t of got up the nerve to tell you.” He looked at me again. “You’re taking off in a few minutes, so I can’t chase you away. I can say anything I want.”
“Okay. Now that’s out of the way, is there anything else?” Where’d that stupid question come from?
“Just that you’re the best-looking guy around. That your’re fun and a good friend. And that I want to touch you and do things with you.” He shut up for a moment while he studied those initials enshrined in the picnic table. “That’s all there is, except….” He swallowed hard. “Well, except to say I’ll wait for you if you ask me to. I won’t get with no one else as long as I know you’re coming back for me someday. I can do it. I know I can.”
A shiver went down my back, and my thing started to get stiff in my pants. I couldn’t get my voice past my throat.
His puppy dog look changed to one of anguish. He dropped his gaze to the table again. “That’s okay, I understand. But I gotta let you know something. No matter what happens, I gotta say it.” He lifted his head and met my eyes. “I love you, Wilam.”
I’d have said something to that, all right, but I don’t know what because right then Matthew poked his head around the building. My brother’s glance swept James and then fixed on me.
“Come on, Pissant. The old man’s ready to go.”
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