Boone came home from Fort Bragg with tattoos, and a girl named Sara. Her short blonde hair was tucked behind her ears. Long, thin earrings trailed to her collarbone.
Boone pulled back his sleeves to show a thorned cross, ‘Gone to Hell,’ and a snake curled around a woman’s leg. Sara said that was her favorite.
“The scales are as green as lettuce.”
I imagined them in bed, her massaging his inked skin, as if her touch could bring the images to life. I felt that touch later, when Sara rested her hand on my wrist and asked if I had any beer to bring to the quarry.
“I’ve got half a keg of Old Milwaukee left over from a party.”
She smiled, and kept her hand on my wrist until Boone opened the door. She was good at making it look like nothing happened.
I was 4F from a football injury: blew out my knee sophomore year of college. I wasn’t too intent on going to Vietnam anyway. I liked it better here. I wasn’t about to leave. This was our father’s farm: he died when we were in high school. Neither of us had seen our mother since the first grade. Boone never had an interest in farming or any type of slow work. I kept horses and poultry in the back. The horses were for showing, although I had been having problems with one lately.
Sara asked why I didn’t go to war.
“Because he’s a bitch.” Boone closed the hood of the pickup and rested a boot on the bumper.
We’d been doing doughnuts across the quarry, Boone and Sara in the cab, me in the bed. I was hugging the half-keg, trying to keep steady against slouched bags of concrete mix. But then the hood started to steam, and Boone quit.
“You know we could leave it here,” I said. “We can come back after lunch and I’ll hitch it back.”
“You don’t think I can fix the damn truck?”
Sara rolled her eyes. “Who gives a shit?” She sat on the edge of the bed, legs dangling.
Boone parted her knees and leaned into her. “I do.”
I downed my cup. “Let’s walk.”
“And then what?”
“And then you and her can take my Chevy back, hitch this up, and meet me at home.”
He nodded. “That’s right. The way I’ve seen you hitch a truck makes me nervous.”
I turned to Sara and raised my hands. “Guilty.”
I had shit to do, so it didn’t matter to me. But as soon as we got back, I heard Boone screaming at her. She was tired, and didn’t want to go back to the quarry for his “stupid truck.”
He rushed down the stairs and swiped two beers from the fridge. They were still attached to the plastic wrap of the pack. “She’s taking a nap upstairs. She won’t bother you.”
That was fine. Before the long, slow work outside, I usually took a few shots of Jim Beam and then head out on the tractor, settled in the center of the wide yellow field, and just thought for a while.
But Sara didn’t go to sleep. She came downstairs and sat at the table with me. My shot glass was cleaned with a dab of spit worked along the bottom with my thumb, but I washed hers in the sink. We traded shots. I put away the bottle after three rounds. She asked if I could show her the horses.
The youngest horse had been worked up since winter. He gnawed at the top paddock rail like it was sweet.
“Why don’t you move him?” she asked.
I petted him. His breaths were even. “He does the same to the stall. If I keep him in the center he shutters and heaves. Deep breaths, and his side leans like there’s weight against it.”
Sara eased his face away from the rail. She knew horses. Probably from riding, not from keeping. “Why can’t you stop?” she asked him.
“I think he’s bored. The mind tends to wander.” I massaged his throatlatch. “I’m thinking of getting him a cribbing collar. You know, keeps him from chewing and windsucking.”
She shook her head. “Not if you love him.” She explained how her cousin got one for his horse, and how he made the collar too tight. She closed her hand around my neck. “Suffocated it.”
“Then I won’t do it.” I led her inside, hand on her back, and showed her the tractor, the wide wheels fitted with chains, the thick blade beneath. I caught her looking at me when she should have been looking at what I was speaking about. I thought it was only natural; her staring, standing close to me there. Natural, but it wasn’t going to happen.
I put a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t think we should do this.”
She stepped back. She was looking outside. Boone was sitting on the bumper of his pickup. He looked like his service photograph: all man, no smile.
I thought about those photos of their orange trailer with the Texas flag hanging from a gutter. Boone and Sara on the front steps. He’d never taken photos with other girls. Sara was the one he wanted. Sara, who brushed past me as she ran out to him. He had misunderstood. We both had.
She raised her voice but he kept silent, as he did when he was truly angry. He kicked-in the headlights of my truck and left without her. She leaned against the bumper of my truck. Not crying, only staring. I offered her a room, but she started walking. She knew where she was going. As for me, I was going nowhere. Still.