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Authors: Larry McMurtry

Tags: #Contemporary Fiction, #Texas

Moving On (9 page)

BOOK: Moving On
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“How careless of you,” Eleanor said. “I hope somebody gets you pregnant. Look in the bathroom and help yourself.”

Sonny did and then came back and stood restlessly on the patio tossing a little vial of pills in his hand. After a moment he stuffed it into the pocket of his Levi’s and came around behind her chair, close enough that she could smell him—his breath always smelled faintly of whiskey and his skin faintly of sweat. She expected him to touch her, to run his hand down inside the robe and rub the furrow of her back. She knew exactly how his hand felt there. Her skin waited for it and the rest of her prepared to twist away angrily, but Sonny didn’t touch her. He walked over to the bedroom door and stood looking at her thoughtfully.

“Thanks for them steaks,” he said. “Tell Lucy she left ’em on a little too long. Still wish you’d come to Phoenix with me. Come on if you change your mind. I’ll be at the Ramada. Nice seeing you even if you ain’t feeling sweet.”

“Oh, go on,” Eleanor said. “Maybe I’ll come, I don’t know. If I do I’ll fly. Why couldn’t you have called me before you came out?”

Sonny shrugged again. “Just never thought to,” he said. Then she heard his heels in the bedroom again and stood up, distressed. He often spoiled things, but when he did he always managed to leave her with the sense that she had only herself to blame. Her back had wanted him to rub it and the skin between her shoulder blades felt itchy and tight. She pulled the orange headband off her head and stood at the railing waiting for him to come out and get in the hearse.

He strode out and paused to kick at the left front tire of the hearse—it looked low. Before he got in he looked up at her.

“Hey, thanks for the pills too,” he said. “I don’t know what us celebrities would do without pills.”

“You’re welcome to them,” she said. “Maybe I’ll see you in Arizona.”

He waved, and whirled the hearse around the driveway. She stood at the railing and watched him while he drove to the barn, where there were gas pumps and an air hose. He filled the hearse up and aired his tires. When he circled back near the house, the sun reflecting off the gold horns on the top of the hearse, things crowded into her head and chest and she stood crying, watching the cloud of white dust stretch back toward the highway. It was a wretched and indulgent thing, her sorrow—or so she felt, for who could be less worthy of pity than a lonely multimillionairess, one, moreover, who still had her looks. But there it was, and she could not help crying, the pride that had made her reject him all gone. The pride had not brought her solace in her whole life, yet she could never put it off. She went in and rinsed her face in cold water for several minutes, and she was dressing for a conference with her ranch manager when Lucy came in and looked at her fondly.

“Well, how’s he?” she asked.

“Particular as ever,” Eleanor said. “He reminded me to tell you that the steaks were overdone.” She was standing in a walk-in cedar closet—she liked the smell of the wood. After a moment’s consideration she took down a brown silk blouse.

Lucy chuckled, then sighed. “Mr. Sonny don’t change,” she said. “Particular ain’t the word for him.”

“It’ll do,” Eleanor said grimly. “I think he wants me to dye my hair.”

She picked a tan skirt and stood musing. Her bra was too tight and she shrugged, trying to loosen it. “If Daddy had only let me date cowboys I might have been spared all this, don’t you think?”

“Naw, Miss Eleanor,” Lucy said and shook her head with such a ponderous assurance of her own wisdom that Eleanor could not help but be amused and a little cheered. She sat down at her dresser and picked up a bottle of coconut oil.

“Naw, honey,” Lucy repeated without elaborating.

“Oh, scram, you fountain of sympathy,” she said, considering the gray streaks. “I’m perfectly all right.”

Lucy sighed heavily again and shuffled off and Eleanor sat at the dresser brushing her hair until the tightness between her shoulder blades had gone away.

6

A
S
P
ATSY HAD FEARED
, Jim wanted to make Phoenix in one long drive. Their alarm went off at two-thirty
A
.
M
. It woke Jim, but Patsy, improvident as ever, had read late and was sleeping unusually soundly. The alarm didn’t faze her. Jim dressed in the dark and made two tiptoe trips down the stairs loading the Ford. While he was peering into the back end trying to be sure he had everything, a light came on in the kitchen window. When he went back in, Roger was at the stove fixing breakfast.

“Sorry if I woke you,” Jim said.

“Oh, it’s might near mornin’,” Roger said.

Jim really wanted to be off, but since breakfast was already half cooked he felt the only polite thing to do was eat.

“Patsy not going to eat?”

“I’ll be lucky if I can get her awake enough to walk to the car.”

“Well, I never cooked her no eggs, anyway. She don’t care much for my fried eggs.”

Jim ate hurriedly, restless and anxious to be off. He was always anxious at the start of trips, even routine trips, and the trip coming up was not routine. Roger sipped his coffee and watched him thoughtfully.

“Well, I hope you get some good photos,” he said. “Seems to me like a long way to go just to take pictures of bronc riders, but then I’m ignorant as a bat about such things.” He got up and stood by the stove a minute staring indecisively at the skillet of bacon grease, trying to calculate whether it was worth saving. Finally he set it in the oven.

“If I had to go to rodeos all summer I’d have to take a room in the loony bin by the fall,” he said. “Never knowed a rodeo cowboy who had any sense. If you-all meet any, bring ’em by sometime.”

Jim carried his plate to the sink and hurried up to wake Patsy. She slept lightly except on those few occasions when he needed her awake, and then she was all but unwakable. Jim pulled her upright and sat her on the edge of the bed, and she sat there sound asleep in a green nightgown, her head lolling over like a child’s. When he finally got her half awake she stood up and stripped off the nightgown, dropped it on the floor, walked over to the bureau, and put her head on her arms and stood there nude, asleep.

“Come on, sweetie,” Jim said. “We’ve got to go.”

Patsy turned reluctantly and found her bra but had difficulty getting it on. She got her breasts in their cups and stood groggily in the middle of the floor, one snap fastened and her arms behind her back. She stood for almost a minute before Jim noticed her.

“Oh, damn,” he said. “Hurry up. Please fasten your other snaps.”

“Why are we leaving at midnight?” she asked. “I just finished reading.”

“It’s not midnight, it’s almost three o’clock.”

“Just as I thought, midnight,” she said and collapsed in a warm sleepy heap on the bed, still clad only in her bra.

“Get up, Patsy,” he said grumpily, his patience slipping.

“You’re grumpy with me,” she said, her face hidden under her hair. “Why are you grumpy? Come and make love to me for eight hours while I get some sleep. I don’t want to go anywhere tonight.”

Jim pulled her up a little roughly and pleaded with her, and she woke up, irritated. She shoved him away. “Get your grumpy hands off me,” she said, going into a short frenzy of activity. She grabbed panties, blouse, and shorts and strode off to the bathroom to brush her teeth. In a minute she was back, dressed, and grabbed her book and purse and foam rubber pillow and stumbled down the stairs.

Roger and his old nondescript dog Bob were standing by the Ford in the faint moonlight. When Patsy saw them she pitched her stuff into the car and went over impulsively and hugged Roger. His brown shirt smelled of starch and tobacco.

“I like your house,” she said. “I wish I were staying here. Thank you for being nice.”

“Bye, honey,” Roger said. “If this vehicle falls apart call me and I’ll come and get you in the pickup. Old Jim can hitchhike back.”

“I wish he’d hitchhike away.” She got in the car, settled her pillow by the window, and went back to sleep. Roger peered in at her a little anxiously.

“I don’t believe she’s awake good,” he said. “You sure she’s all right?” Going off without breakfast was to him a shocking act.

“She’s fine. Thanks for letting us stay. Maybe we’ll get back by in the late summer when our travels are over.”

“Hope so,” Roger said. “Me and Bob will be here, if neither of us don’t die. I guess I’ll go in and drink some more coffee. It’s too early to milk and too late to go back to bed.”

When Jim circled toward the rattly cattle guard he saw Roger going in at the back door. A mile from the house, when he turned onto the highway leading to Vernon, he could still see the light in the kitchen window, as visible as a star in the darkened country. A coyote loped across the road in front of him, his eyes golden in the headlights. He ducked under a barbed-wire fence and vanished into the mesquite.

On the edge of Vernon, Jim pulled up at a cafe called The Big Rig. A thin short young man was leaning against the wall of the cafe, a small traveling bag at his feet and a pile of rigging beside it. He was a rookie bronc rider named Peewee Raskin.

“How y’all?” he said, coming over. “That’s timing for you. I just waked up.”

Peewee was friendly, informative, and broke. Jim had met him three days before and had taken a liking to him and promised him a ride to Phoenix—a promise he had not mentioned to Patsy. She was not very hot on the idea of going to Phoenix, or anywhere where there were rodeos, and he knew that presenting her with Peewee in the abstract would only lead to argument. Peewee in the flesh was harder to resist. They stowed his gear in the back end and Peewee managed to worm his way into the back seat through Jim’s door. He eyed Patsy dubiously. “Snoozin’, ain’t she?” he said, settling himself between a pile of dresses and a cardboard box full of paperback books. He had spent the night in a horsetrailer behind the cafe and smelled of hay and horse manure. When they drove off, Jim left his window down, hoping the smell would blow away before Patsy woke up. As soon as the car started moving, Peewee leaned his head back against the seat and went to sleep, his black cowboy hat covering his face.

Jim angled southwest, driving a steady seventy-five. Though it was quite a bit farther, he wanted to go the southern route, through El Paso; the shorter route, through central New Mexico, held no attraction for him. He drove in darkness for more than an hour, then it was gray, then brightening. As he turned more and more westward the rising sun came up behind him and shone in his rear-view mirror. The country was still and dewy, the fields freshly plowed, and the pastures white with mist. He passed a cluster of oil wells, with a little pumper’s shack just down the road from them, the pumper sitting on his front steps with his socks in his hand, scratching his shins. Patsy was curled in the seat, her face hidden, goose bumps on her slim legs. The sun was well up before she awoke. She yawned, sat up, reached in her blouse to readjust a breast, and hooked a finger inside her shorts to scratch herself.

“Sleeping in cars makes my clothes feel too tight,” she said, looking vacantly at the morning country. “If there are johns in towns in this part of the wasteland find me one with a john, would you?”

“Big Spring will have one.”

Then Patsy caught a whiff of Peewee and turned and looked at him with astonishment. His only visible feature was his open mouth—the hat obscured the rest of his face. His belt buckle was also visible, a huge silver oval with a ruby-eyed steerhead for ornamentation.

“Hey,” she said. “We’ve been invaded by a cowboy. What treachery is this?”

“He was broke,” Jim said. “He barely has the money for his entry fees. I thought we’d give him a ride.”

“Gee, he’s small for a cowboy, isn’t he?” she said, giving Peewee a friendly inspection. “Most of them are immense.”

“He seems to know everything there is to know about rodeo,” Jim said. “He’ll make things a lot easier for me.”

“It would make things a lot easier for me if you’d hurry up and get us to Big Spring, chum.”

When they stopped she hurried off barefoot to the rest room, swinging her black purse by the straps. Jim got out to stretch his legs, had a Coke and went himself, signed the credit card slip, and sat in the driver’s seat fidgeting for five minutes before Patsy emerged looking no different than she had when she went in. She got herself a Coke from a Coke machine, dropped a penny on the driveway and followed it leisurely until it stopped rolling, went and got herself a package of cheese crisps from a candy machine, chatted and laughed for two or three minutes with an attendant in a green shirt, and ambled happily back to the Ford, sipping her Coke and still swinging her purse.

“Got a nickel?” she asked cheerfully. “I want some gum and all I’ve got left is some pennies and a twenty.”

“I’ve got some gum,” Jim said. “Come on and get in. The rodeo starts tomorrow.”

“What kind of gum?” she asked.

“Spearmint.”

“Give me a nickel then, please,” she said, reaching in her hand. “I want some Dentyne.”

Jim only had a quarter in change, so he gave her that and she ambled back and leaned against the water cooler, looking at the sky and idly combing her hair while the attendant finished gassing up another car. Then she got some change, bought her gum, and skipped quickly back.

“Sorry,” she said, biting open the cheese crisps and blowing the little tip of cellophane out the window. “Can’t stand Spearmint.”

Peewee had slept soundly through the stop, but the minute they started moving again he woke up and his hat fell over into the box of paperbacks. Patsy felt a little shy about him but she knew that Jim was annoyed at her for her laggardly qualities and she welcomed something to distract her from his annoyance.

“Hello,” she said, turning around and smiling at Peewee. She saw immediately, once his hat was off, that he was too young to be shy about. He had short reddish brown hair and a slightly crooked nose. He looked about sixteen.

Peewee smiled tentatively. He was blinking and trying to get the sleep out of his eyes, and it took him much aback to be spoken to at a critical juncture in his waking. And the girl who had spoken was so pretty that he just wanted to stare at her. Her eyes were merry and gray, and she had a straight nose that wrinkled a bit when she smiled, and her smile was merry too. She wore no makeup but she had a comb in her hand and now and then ran it through her black hair.

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

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