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Authors: Larry McMurtry

Tags: #Contemporary Fiction, #Texas

Moving On (6 page)

BOOK: Moving On
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“Hey, sweetheart,” he said, shaking her foot. “Wake up and tell me where you live. Time you was getting home to your regular feller.”

May mumbled something in a complimentary tone, but it wasn’t her address, so Shanks pulled his Levi’s up and climbed over in the driver’s seat, leaving the mattress to her. It had begun to sprinkle. He turned the hearse around and drove slowly back to The Hole in the Bucket. A red Pontiac convertible was parked directly under the neon sign, and the top was down. Sonny parked the hearse beside the car and went around and opened the rear doors. His conquest was sleeping soundly, nothing on but her bra and a four-dollar bracelet. He reached in and eased her out, bare-assed and limp, and plopped her quickly in the back seat of the Pontiac. There was a bridle and a six-pack of Pearl beer on the seat but he managed to shove them onto the floorboards. He quickly crawled into the hearse and gathered up what he could find of May’s clothes and took them back and piled them on top of her. She had begun to wake up and was mumbling vague complaints.

“What the hell–Monroe?” she said, looking at the Pontiac in sleepy astonishment. The neon sign flashed green and lit her body for a moment.

Sonny was tickled. “You need a shower, honey,” he said. “Just stay there, one’s comin’.”

Before she had her eyes open good he was in the hearse and gone. In a few miles the rain met him, soft and slow at first and then a little heavier. He had taken a couple of pills after his ride and felt good. About halfway back to Vernon he saw a car stopped on the shoulder of the road. A young man and his girl were both out in the rain trying to change a tire. The girl was holding a flashlight and looked to be pretty—slim and black-headed and already soaked. Her boy was straining over his tire tool. Shanks swished on up the highway for half a mile, letting the hearse gradually lose momentum, and then he turned and went back. There was no point in not helping a man who had a pretty girl. He eased the hearse onto the slick shoulder and up behind their car, an old green Ford that looked as if it had been driven cross-country around the world. When he stopped the hearse he bent over the back seat and dug around in the litter in the back until he found an ivory-handled umbrella he had stolen from a TV producer in L.A.

The young man was having trouble getting his lugs unscrewed. He had three off and in the hubcap, which was rapidly filling with water, but the last two lugs weren’t budging.

“Hi, boys and girls,” Sonny said, sloshing up to them. He was barefooted. “Let’s take shelter under here,” he said, opening the umbrella.

“Thanks, but there’s not much need now,” Patsy said. Water dripped off her hair, her green dress was soaked, her bra sodden, and her bra straps clearly visible through the thin wet dress. She was annoyed and, since Sonny had appeared, embarrassed as well. Jim slipped in his effort to wrench loose a lug, and went down on one knee in the mud.

“Shit,” he said. “You wouldn’t have a good lug wrench, would you, mister? I can’t get enough leverage with this miserable thing.” It was a short lug wrench, of the sort that doubled as a jack handle. The footing was getting worse and worse and he could not keep the wrench on the lugs.

“It’d take a week to find mine,” Sonny said. “Let me have a try. I’m fresh and you’re done exasperated.”

He grinned and handed the umbrella to Patsy. Jim gladly yielded the wrench. It had only been raining a few minutes and yet his pants and shirt were already smeared with mud. Shanks squatted by the tire bracing his elbow on his knees. He jammed the wrench onto the top lug, held it there with the heel of one hand, and put his arm and shoulder into the push. The lug gave, and the other one did likewise. He took them both off and dropped them with a splash into the brimming hubcap. “That’ll get ’em,” he said. The back of his red silk shirt was already as wet as Patsy’s dress.

“Thanks,” Jim said. “This isn’t my day. I guess it’s time I bought some new tires.”

“Might buy a car to go with ’em,” Sonny suggested. “This one looks like it’s seen too many road signs.”

He grinned at Patsy, but she didn’t grin back. She was of precisely the same opinion where the Ford was concerned but managed to refrain from saying so. She sluiced the water off her hair with one hand and gave Sonny back his umbrella.

“You’re Sonny Shanks,” she said.

He nodded, looking at her more closely. He had a feeling he should know her, but he couldn’t come up with a name. The two of them were not rodeo, obviously. The green dress was stylish, even if wet, and her husband’s tone was a city tone.

“I’m Patsy Carpenter and this is my husband Jim,” she said. “I recognized the hearse of course, but actually we met a few times years ago. I guess I was about twelve then. You used to know my Aunt Dixie.”

“Dixie McCormack?” he asked, but it was a superfluous question. There was only one Dixie—or only one that counted.

“She’s my aunt,” Patsy said.

“My god,” Sonny said. “I know her okay. The only thing that keeps us apart is that I ain’t got the energy I once had. She cost me a world championship and I never went with her but three weeks. That woman’s crazy. She could foul up a two-car funeral.”

“She takes some keeping up with, okay,” Patsy said. Jim let the tire slip as he was lifting it off the spokes and it splashed muddy water on their ankles and calves.

“I think a coincidence like this here calls for a drink,” Sonny said. “I got a little bar in the hearse. Let’s have a drink to Dixie while your husband finishes changing his tire. I been out of touch and ain’t heard her recent exploits, anyhow.”

He took Patsy by the arm, held the umbrella over her as jauntily as if they weren’t both soaked, and led her along the edge of the wet pavement to the hearse.

“You look awfully smart to be a niece of Dixie’s,” he said. “Not that she’s what you’d call dumb.”

Patsy was annoyed with him for leading her away, and annoyed with herself for allowing him to, but he had done it so smoothly that she had not thought to stop him until it was too late.

“Nobody thinks of Aunt Dixie in terms of smart or dumb,” she said. “Fast or slow, maybe.”

“I’d like to see her sometime when she’s slow,” he said. “I’ve seen her other speed. Hop in.”

He helped her in the back of the hearse and switched on a small light. A narrow mattress and box spring took up one side of the rear, and the other side was filled with an incredible litter: clothes, ropes, boxes of tapes and gauze, a case of whiskey, bridles, and chaps. A large saddle with what seemed to be a golden saddle horn was propped against the front seat. At the rear, near the door, was the tiny bar.

“It’s kind of a mess,” Sonny said ruefully. “My maid quit last week. What’ll you drink?”

“A Coke if you’ve got one and if not, a little bourbon. About an inch.”

Sonny stood at the rear, still in the rain, and reached inside to fix the drinks. He even had ice. “Make it bourbon,” he said. “Soda water ain’t good for a pretty girl’s complexion.”

There was a green high-heel shoe laying on the bed, and without thinking, Patsy picked it up and looked at it. It was cheaply made—the strip of inner sole was about to curl. Sonny handed her a glass. She put it to her lips politely and the odor of whiskey prickled her nose. She took a small sip and, when she put the glass down, became aware of another smell, which the smells of rain and mud and liquor had covered until then. It was faint but unmistakable and it came from the sheet on which she was sitting. When she realized what it was, anger and shock hit her almost at the same time. She pushed herself indignantly off the bed and one of her knees hit Sonny’s hand. He had just finished fixing his own drink and the glass slipped out of his hand and fell into the mud. Patsy scrambled awkwardly out of the hearse, almost falling. She was embarrassed and very angry.

“Damn
you,” she said. “What do you mean, forcing me into your hearse when you’ve just . . . done something in it. You didn’t even give her back her shoe.”

She sloshed halfway to the Ford, crying, then remembered that she still had the green shoe and sloshed back and threw it angrily into the hearse. Sonny watched her. He was mildly disgruntled, but more at himself than at her. He had completely forgotten May.

“Well, kick me,” he said. “I’m awful. I should have tidied things up. It ain’t no reason for you to run off, though. It’s messy everywhere tonight.”

“Not like that it isn’t,” Patsy said. “This was a nice rain until you came along.”

She turned and walked away, furious with her aunt for having had anything to do with such a person.

“Have a good swim,” Sonny said, mostly to himself. He crawled into the hearse out of the rain, opened himself a beer, sniffed at the offensive sheets, and sat on the bed sipping his beer and watching Jim Carpenter wrestle the muddy tire into the back end of the Ford.

In a minute Jim came to the hearse.

“Thanks for the help,” he said. “I guess we’ll have to skip the drink. The rodeo and the flat seem to have tired my wife a little.”

“Don’t matter. Where you headed?”

“A stepuncle of mine has a ranch not far from here. I imagine we’ll see you again. I’m a photographer and I’m going to be traveling the rodeo circuit for a while.”

“Oh, yeah,” Sonny said. “You’re the guy who got clobbered in Merkel.”

“Right,” Jim said. “However, I got through Santa Rosa without being beat up.” He was a little awed to be talking to Sonny and would have liked to prolong the conversation, but, though Patsy hadn’t said a word to him, he knew she was furious about something, and the longer he lingered the more difficult she was apt to become.

“Going to be in Phoenix?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” Sonny said. “If your car makes it, look me up. Your wife’s a little peeved at me but she’ll get over it by then. We’ll have a party or something.”

“Fine,” Jim said, flattered. “I certainly will.”

When he left, Sonny rolled one of the big windows down and sat with his back propped against the front seat, drinking beer. The rain was slowing down. The clouds had already broken to the north, and stars were visible. He bent over and got himself a handful of ice and sat crunching it. Now and then a car or a diesel swished by, but there was not much traffic. Noticing May’s one green shoe, he picked it up and looked at it a minute before tossing it out the window. Then he took off his shirt and stretched out to sleep for a while. He had decided to go visit the love of his life, and she wouldn’t be awake for several hours.

4

P
ATSY COULDN

T QUITE STOP
crying, and the reason she couldn’t was because Jim refused to understand why she had started crying in the first place. He was annoyed with her and told her she was old enough to be able to control herself better. She was almost twenty-five, and it was quite true, but it didn’t help. She was not crying freshets, but her eyes kept dripping and she felt wronged and her breastbone hurt from it. They had turned off the highway and were on a little dirt road that led to the ranch house of Jim’s stepuncle, Roger Wagonner. As they drove west, the rain had slackened, but the shower had been heavy enough to make the dirt road a little slick.

“I didn’t smell anything,” Jim said for the second time.


You
weren’t sitting on the mattress.”

“All right!” he said. “I still don’t see that it was so terrible. What different did it make, you’re not a prude. You could have sat somewhere else. I wanted to talk to him.”

“You’re offending me,” Patsy said grimly. “So I’m too delicate. I’m still not going to spend the evening in a puddle of sperm just so you can talk to some stupid bull rider about a lot of stupid bulls.

“It was very unsanitary,” she added. “Much as I’d like to get pregnant, I don’t want to do it by a mattress. Especially not his mattress.”

Jim was silent. He was pretending to be very careful with his driving. Her abruptness annoyed him as much as her crying, and she knew it. His annoyance annoyed her. She would have liked him to be light and joshing—if he had been she might have become convinced that the whole thing was funny. But she had deprived him of a pleasure, and he wasn’t immediately ready to let her forget it. They had been married over a year and a half and she had still not learned to control either her abruptness or her tears. He had just better get used to them—and the sooner the better, she felt.

“I am too a prude,” she said in a small tone, wiping her cheeks with her hands. “It’s my only distinction. I may be the last prude. You’re a cruel beast to want to deprive me of my prudery.”

“Oh, shut up,” he said loudly, making her jump.

“I’m going to see him in Phoenix,” he added, more quietly. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“I certainly don’t,” she said, perking up a little. She saw that he was ashamed of having yelled at her.

“If he was good enough for your aunt I don’t see why you need be so snooty. After all, he’s been World’s Champion Cowboy three times. That saddle in the hearse was a championship saddle.”

“That wasn’t a saddle,” she said. “It was an altar. I bet he deflowers a virgin on it every week.”

They crossed a cattle guard and circled the dark ranch house. Jim parked by the back-yard gate and began to collect his cameras from the back seat. His annoyance would not subside. Patsy had a genius for fouling up evenings, but she did it in such a way that it was never clearly her fault, and he could never feel really justified in his annoyance.

“If he liked your aunt he couldn’t have much taste for virgins,” he said.

Patsy drew herself up. “Such remarks are not apropos,” she said. “I love my Aunt Dixie and don’t you be snippy about her. She just happens to have a weakness for organs, that’s all.”

It had rained more at the ranch house than it had on the road leading to it. They squished across the wet back yard, Patsy gradually getting her mood in hand. There was a towsack on the back porch for them to wipe their feet on. Jim wiped his, but Patsy merely slipped off her shoes.

The house was completely dark, and though it was the third night of their stay they were still unfamiliar with its layout. They bumped things and stepped on a great many squeaky boards. Patsy felt very tired. Jim offered her the bathroom first but she declined it and merely dried her wet hair on a towel from her suitcase. It was one of those times when she didn’t feel like taking care of herself, and she undressed and got into her nightgown hastily and was in bed when Jim returned from the bathroom.

BOOK: Moving On
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