neath the baithouse water lapped routinely against the wooden piles, and out in the bay motors purred dimly into hearing and then faded out again. On one of the piers a big, one-armed man in a T-shirt stood fishing with a cane pole. Resting a leg against the lowest of the two-by-four railings, he was staring far out across the water and paid little attention to the cork that drifted around below him. After a while he laid his pole down and went into the baithouse and returned with a can of Falstaff. He drank a long swallow, his shoulders jerking with a little inward belch. He seemed to come alive. He slipped the butt-end of the pole under the stump of his arm and held the Falstaff in his big, sun-blistered hand and stood rather squarely on his feet. He began to glance every now and then at his cork. It was as if all that had been needed was some little good thinglike a swallow of cold beerin order for the man to draw together the vague integuments of the day and make of ‘them something he could endure. It was as though he was finally able to say: shoot, let a man remind himself that .he’s just human and he can stand most anything. Rewitettmed The young South Texas rancher waited with his trained fighting cocks, one under each arm, until his friends from Alice and Kingsville had gathered around him in a circle beside the barn. Then he put the cocks on the ground and stepped back. As they fought he moved about them with his muscular, unhurried stepcasually, the way a rodeo performer walks away dusting his hat after he has successfully ridden a brahma bull, or the way a high school football hero leaves the downtown drug store on the Saturday morning after a big game. He moved as though his body were a hugely estimable thingcomparable to a cloud moving along in the sky or one of the seasons changing. He stood there in the clearing, saying nothing, charging the others with the tension of his bullish silence, using it almost as a tangible force the way someone else would use fists or words. And though his manner bordered on a kind of laziness, it was the restrained laziness of a well-fed lion moving idly about. His heavy shoulders and thighs seemed to swagger inside his body, in a careless sloshing about of weight and bulk. He had a match in his mouth, and as he watched the two cocks he lolled it vacantly with his tongue. He was so full of nonchalance and self-assurance that he seemed ready at any moment to lift up his boot and rest it against thin air, the way he would indoors against a chair rung or the railing of a bar. Suddenly, without any apparent cause, he spat away his match and reached down and grabbed both cocks, mastering and quieting them in the same instant. Neither one of them had decisively beaten the otherperhaps he was just piqued at some flaw in their performance. He opened the barn door with a single quick movement of his knee, went inside, and pulled the door shut after him by reaching back and hooking it with his boot. Maybe what seemed to happen next did not really occur at all. It had been a long hot Sunday afternoon, with the drifting hours fading away into a kind of lazy vagueness and unrealityso maybe the group of ,friends just imagined it. Maybe they just succumbed to an August illusion created by too much heat and Carta Blanca beer. But several of them swore it happened: that they were staring straight at the closed door when they saw the whole barn begin to tremble and rise from its foundationlike the cyclone-lifted farmhouse in “The Wizard of Oz”and then fly with theatrical slowness out of sight beyond the trees. Those who were bewitched the strongest say that they could not only follow the barn out of sight but could see right through the doorcould see him standing there behind it, one cock resting under each arm, a new match lolling under his tongue. He seemed wholly unconcerned, just waiting patiently for the barn to land. Well, they say, it did landfar off toward the Gulf in a mesquite and chapparral clearing. But when the barn door opened and the young rancher stepped out, he emerged not with the two cocks but with two beautiful young womeneach of his huge arms circling their slim and graceful waists. And though his friends at the ranch kept straining their eyes eastward, that was all they could seejust the three figures walking away into the brush with the coastal twilight beginning to settle about them in an almost magical swirl. 7ite tOoos It is ten o’clock at night, and three hunters are walking through a hill country woods, slowly. The man in the lead carries a flashlight but he never turns it on to see by; for it is one of those nights when the heavy light of the moon lies across the Austin No man is a nihilist unto himself. But my son, who is six if he’s an inch, is. Indeed, he is a nihilistic necrophile. He and Jessica Mitford should pair up for kicks. Listen. Kevin: Dad, what is it like to die? Dad: Heavens to Betsy, Lad! Ask rather, what is it like to live? Kevin: Don’t put me on. Really, what’s it like being dead? Dad: “The dead have no tears, and forget all sorrow.” Euripides. Bug me not further, Firstborn. We’ll discuss it later, along with the pistils and ‘stamens. land like pale blue sunshine, revealing outlines of trees and grass and sky but not the truth or comfort within them. It is as though the men are walking in a strange blue daylight, or across a dream. The December night air is jarring cold, and though they are all wearing coats the three men walk steadily to keep themselves warm. Every now and then the man second in line passes a whiskey bottle in a paper sack to his two friends. They take a brief swallow, letting the whiskey burn down their throats and hit in their stomachs with a warming burst; then, satisfied, they hand the bottle back and wipe their mouths with their coat sleeves. The man third in line, wearing a small black stetson hat, started out the hunt smoking cigarettes but has stopped now. He gradually succumbed to the mood of the night, to the strange, clear, day-blueness. He feels ill at ease smoking a cigarette without lots of black pervading dark ness for it to glow in. The dogs left the men long minutes ago, striking a scent, and they are now further on in the woods, working. The men listen for them as they walk, and to the big silence of the surrounding land. It is a silence that seems to lay poised on the very edge of sound, ready to break open somewhere at any moment in a sudden small focus of maddened barking. As the men listen for the dogs they smell the cedar trees deeply pungent in the cold woods and they continue to pass the whiskey bottle in its sack back and forth between them. Every now and then they stumble over unseen logs or stop to unsnag their coats from shadowed limbs. They enter into very little talking. Silently, in line, a small steadily-moving troupe, they advance into the woods: walking down into the small ravines of the pasture and then up again into long flat grassy clearings; walking under bare postoak trees with great extended leafless limbs; walking where hidden flint rocks lie scattered in thick needle grass and where every step must be taken with care. But though they do all this walking, steadily, without speaking, a place of rest for them never seems to come nor do they ever hear the dogs. The three men, in the heavy moonlight and the cold, just keep walking steadily forward into the heart of the woods. Kevin : Will a pistol kill an elephant? Dad: Look, can’t we discuss something pleasant? Kevin: Sure, Dad. What’s “overkill”? Dad: It means, “I can kill you to pieces.” Kevin ; That’s silly. Would a stick of dynamite blow this house to pieces? Dad: Verily, to smithereens . . . Ah, Son, what are you studying in Sunday School? Kevin: Love thy neighbor stuff. Dad? Dad: Yes, Son? Kevin: When Matt Dillon kills a Bad Guy, how long does he stay dead? KEITH ELLIOTT April 3, 1964 7 Conversation
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