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Authors: Larry McMurtry

Tags: #Contemporary Fiction, #Texas

Moving On (65 page)

BOOK: Moving On
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From time to time she heard from Sonny. Sometimes she saw him, often she thought about him. It seemed to her that it was time she made a decision about him. It had been a long time since he had taken her away in his hearse to Oak Cliff and brought her into womanhood. She had few regrets, but one regret she did have was that both of them had fought so long against the notion of marriage. She had been almost forty before she got around to admitting to herself that he was, for better or worse, the only man in her life, and by then they had buffeted each other so long and so strangely that neither of them thought a marriage possible. They had something strong—no doubt of that—something essential, but it brought her no peace and could not be exchanged for peace or transformed into peace, and she had begun to want something more like peace. She thought of giving him up, shutting him out, but she never got around to it, and when he asked her to come to Amarillo she was no nearer a decision about him than she had ever been. The ranch was settling into its summer lethargy and she had idly considered and put off a trip to Scandinavia. When he called her the fourth time to demand that she come to Amarillo she acquiesced in five minutes. Peace was not so all-important, after all, and crucial decisions could be made in the fall, or during another spring.

She was a little surprised, after a few days, to discover him so listless. Listlessness was something she had never seen in Sonny. Usually they came together at times when they were both whetted for each other, but Sonny was not whetted at all. He was not even eating much. He had always taken meals as he had taken her, sometimes leisurely, sometimes quickly, but always with a relish that communicated itself at once. Yet in Amarillo he seemed to have lost both appetites, and it worried her.

Jim Carpenter didn’t worry her, not even when it became obvious that the crush he had on her was going to be a serious crush. His infatuation was as obvious to Sonny as it was to her. Sonny took it so for granted that it irked her a little. It was as if he had deliberately procured Jim to pay her courtesies and gallantries and small attentions so that he himself would not have to bother with her at all. Jim’s pleasure in her company was quite genuine, of course, but the fact didn’t lessen her irritation with Sonny.

When Sonny came in from Borger, not long after midnight, he was, as she had expected, more like his old self than he had been since her arrival. Rodeo was his world, and he was the biggest name in it. In Borger he had only to ride a horse into the arena to get a standing ovation; that and a couple of hours standing around the chutes talking to cowgirls and absorbing the adulation of young contestants had restored him. His official function had been to crown the rodeo queen, something he did with aplomb. The kiss he gave her was one of the high points of the young woman’s adolescence. He left the arena feeling good and whirled the hearse back over the plains, the wind whipping his shirt sleeves. When he came into the hotel suite, Eleanor was still sitting on the balcony watching the clouds. He emptied his bladder and pulled a chair up beside her. He crossed his feet on the stone railing and put his hand on the back of her neck.

“You’d have a balcony if you was to live in China,” he said.

“Lots of balconies in China,” she said. “I’ve been there. Did you crown the queen?”

“Yep. Tried to get old Jim a date with her but he wouldn’t have one. At least he got to see the sights of Borger.” He put his hand under her robe and rubbed her leg, squeezing occasionally so that she felt the strength of his fingers. “I think the only reason he went was because he thought you might go. He was talking about how depressed he was that he had to go in and call his wife. Can’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to talk to her, either. Sharp-talking little bitch. If he had slapped her down three or four times when they was first married she might have cut that out.”

“Slapping’s your method, is it?” she said. “Do you think my tongue is properly dulled?”

“Duller than Patsy Carpenter’s,” he said.

Eleanor moved her leg away from his hand. “Pawing’s your method too. That was a stupid thing you just said. Go back to your rodeo queen.”

He reached for her leg again but she scooted her chair out of reach.

“What I meant was that you ain’t ordinarily as mad at me as she is, day in and day out. I know you’re both smart as hell. You both got tongues like razor blades.”

“I don’t like to be compared to her,” she said. “Why is she mad at you, day in and day out? I didn’t know you saw her that often.”

“Ain’t seen her since February.” He scooted over so that he could put his hand on her neck again. She tried to pull away but he tightened his fingers and she couldn’t. She relaxed and he began to rub her gently behind the ears. It was enjoyable, but she was still irritated.

“What did you do to make her mad when you saw her in February?” she asked.

“Well, I never screwed her,” he said, “so why don’t you shut up about it. I came out here to enjoy the breeze, not to argue about her.”

“Fine,” she said, getting up suddenly. “You enjoy it. I’m going to bed. I obviously don’t interest you, anyway. Who
have
you been screwing, if not her?”

He looked away without answering, his expression a little sullen, and she went angrily into the bedroom and yanked the spread down on the bed. The thought of Patsy filled her with fury. She tried to imagine what could have taken place in February—a tussle of some kind, she imagined. She heard him get up from his chair and come into the room behind her, but she didn’t turn around.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asked, catching her shoulder. She shrugged loose and turned on him.

“You’re what’s the matter with me,” she said. “I just realized it. Who do you think I am?”

“A goddamn silly woman,” he said, growing angry but still trying to treat it lightly.

“Don’t call me silly,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m doing in the same county with you, much less the same bedroom. I didn’t come up here to sit on a balcony for a week while you cavort around with starlets and rodeo queens. You’ve hardly even looked at me since I’ve been here. I’m going home. I’m sick of you.”

“Shut up,” he said. “I didn’t come out here to start any fight. You’re too old to be acting this way.”

Eleanor’s arms were shaking. “I’m forty-four,” she said. “Forty-four. And I’ve wasted fifteen good years letting you push me around, just because you got to me at the right time, in the right way. Well, so long, buster, you’ve had me. Maybe it’s time I started on young men, since you’re so good with young women—starlets and bitchy young wives and the like. Maybe I’ll find me someone young.”

“Maybe you’ll get your goddamn teeth knocked out first,” he said, no longer trying to hide his anger.

“Cheap talk,” she said. “Go try and scare somebody else. You don’t have any guts, all you’ve got are big muscles and a big ego and a big mouth. Your heart’s the size of a knuckle and I don’t even think you have a brain. Well? My teeth are still clicking and my razor-sharp tongue is still slicing. I don’t see you doing anything about it.”

They stood quivering, two yards apart, neither moving. Both were filled with such uncertain rage that they couldn’t act. Eleanor was not sure whether to slap him or to run—for all her talk, he frightened her. Every time his arm moved she expected to be hit. For seconds they simply stood.

“I wouldn’t talk to a dog the way you talk to me,” Sonny said. “You call me gutless again and I’ll break your goddamn neck. Wasn’t for me, you never would have been screwed. None of them fairies you was brought up with had the guts to kiss you, much less do nothin’ else.”

“Thanks very much,” she said. “Thanks for fifteen years of your splendid charity. Now why don’t you get out and go help some other poor creature with her womanly troubles? I can get by on my own from now on, thank you.”

“Go on, then,” he said, turning away as if he meant to drop it. “Go back to your ranch and let Lucy get you fat. I guess you’ve worn everything out but your goddamn tongue, anyway.”

“You
bastard!
” she said, tears suddenly streaking her face. A purse of hers lay in a chair nearby. It had a long shoulder strap and as he turned away she grabbed the strap and swung the purse at his head as hard as she could. He had taken his eyes off her for a second and the purse caught him on the neck, but his reflexes were very quick and before she could swing it again he grabbed the strap and yanked her toward him. She tried to cling to the purse but Sonny easily twisted it out of her hands. He whirled and threw it out the door and off the balcony. She tried to slap him but before she could swing her hand, he punched her on one shoulder so hard that she was knocked backwards and fell against the endboard of the bed. After the minutes of quivering, unsupported tension the shock of the hard bedboard against her back was almost a relief. Sonny reached down and caught her by the shoulder, meaning to pull her up, but she writhed and kicked at him and managed to scoot away. “Get out, you bastard,” she said. “I wish I’d broken your neck.” And she did. The
whop
of the purse against his head had been very satisfying. Undignified as it was to be crouched on the floor glaring at him, her shoulder slightly numb and her side aching, still she felt good, felt she had won. He had said the unforgivable, finally, and she had struck back as hard as she could, and she was sure, for a moment, that that did it, finished it, made it over. After that remark he would never be able to reach her again. She looked him in the face, not at all scared, indeed triumphant, proud that finally she had outdone him, berated him into a mistake that he could not undo. Her lips curled. For a second in the battle she was enjoying herself.

But the enjoyment was brief, because Sonny did not understand her, or did not care to. He dropped to his knees and shook her violently so that her head whiplashed. “You don’t kick me out,” he said. “You started this, and for no goddamn reason in the world.”

As she was being shaken the sense of triumph dissolved and the words he had said earlier began to burn. “I . . . had my reasons,” she said. “You . . never give me any hope, you don’t know how I . . . hope for things.”

“Hope for things,” he said, his hands still on her shoulders. One of her shoulders hurt and she twisted, trying to make him ease his grip. “What do you need to hope for? You’ve got half the money in the world.”

“Oh, hell,” she said. “You goddamn child. Quit squeezing.”

“You fucking well better shut up,” he said flatly. She looked back at him, still furious.

“What will you do, throw me off the balcony?” she said. “That purse had a thousand dollars or more in it. What’s in me that you want?”

“Nothing,” he said. “I want you to shut up.”

“I won’t shut up,” she said. “You can’t make me, any more than you can take care of me . . . or give me what I hope for. You treat me like a teenager.”

“You act like one.”

“No,” she said. “I’m acting like a woman scorned. And I scorn you back, you callous son of a bitch. Turn me loose so I can leave. I never want you to touch me again.”

In desperation Sonny tried to kiss her. He wanted her to shut up and he had to kiss her or slug her. She strained back and butted his face with hers, then twisted her face aside. Eleanor’s hair was tangled in her face, they were both panting, and their breaths crossed.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want you to.”

He finally caught her head in the crook of his arm and kissed her, but she killed it by being passive. “I want to go,” she said when he took his mouth away.

“You’re not going nowhere,” he said.

“I am. We’ve done all this. Maybe I liked it when I was young. Maybe I thought it was the way women ought to be wooed. Maybe I was melodramatic.” She could not stop talking and he kissed her again. She met it passively, but it was not so easy. She wanted to do as she had always done—let go, meet him. But part of her refused. “I mean it,” she said. “I’ve changed. I don’t want you.”

Sonny had passed through violent anger into a state of complete exasperation. He tried to put his hand on her and she fought it, and he could not make her stop talking. They had passed the point where their anger usually turned to passion, and she was still talking. He lifted her and pitched her unceremoniously on the bed. Then, before she could move, he went to the lamp and the light switch and turned them off. The room was dark.

“Shut up, Eleanor,” he said. “You’re not going nowhere. I’m coming to bed.”

Eleanor sighed. She stayed where she was. In a moment he was in bed beside her. They were both out of breath. “Turning off those lights was a smart move,” she said in a minute. “I can’t stand the sight of you right now.”

“That’s the way I feel about you too,” he said. He reached for her leg and began to stroke it, but it was not really a caress, it was something he did automatically to calm himself. She scarcely felt it and he scarcely felt her. The tension and fury began to drain out of Eleanor and she lay quietly, feeling beaten but not so bitterly beaten, after all. She had just worn down, she was too tired to go anywhere, and anyway, she had stopped feeling such hatred of him. It might have been her fault—she had cut him terribly. She put her hand on his wrist to slow the stroking.

“Come on, relax,” she said. “I won’t dig at you any more tonight.”

But it was not to be quite that simple. Sonny’s anger was gone, but a tension and a restlessness remained. He was too keyed up to go to sleep. He was not finished with it—or with her. He too lay quietly, but angry statements welled up in him. He never said them, but they turned in his mind. He wanted to say something that would hurt her so badly she would have no strength to fight, no will to attack him again. But he knew her well enough to know that, with her, there was no certain kill. Worn down, beaten, half asleep, and she was still dangerous. So he held his words and when his restlessness did not subside, ceased stroking her leg automatically and began to caress her in earnest. The minute he did he felt fine, for he knew that in desire he was more stubborn than she was, particularly when she was tired. In that state she could be dealt with. When what he was doing reached her she tried to stop him. “No, please don’t,” she said. She felt too spent already, too tired in spirit, to either join him or fight him. And she was tired in body too. For a minute it seemed as if he might revive her, but he didn’t; in her protest she had been right, she was too spent. Sonny was the opposite; the fight had lifted him out of his boredom. He was a long time with her, and Eleanor became sad, tears streaking each of her cheeks, for she loved that strength and if she had not spent so much of hers in fighting they could have had much more from the night. She had wasted herself. When he did grow tired, when he had had enough, she felt tender toward him. She was wakeful in her fatigue and saw by his face in the dimness that so far as he was concerned all was well again. His face closed in some way when he was done. He became his own man again, without need of anyone, and she smiled at him. “Am I really worth the trouble?” she asked, and did not expect a flattering answer. He was getting out of bed to go to the bathroom.

BOOK: Moving On
12.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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