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AFTERWORD Journals BY ELROY BODE ILLUSTRATIONS BY PENNY VAN HORN I REMEMBER CARLTON STOKES In his prime As he drove toward his ranch in the June heat, he looked out at the land and it was almost like an: extension of his body: solid, stable, enduring. The pastures, the fences, the gates all were as they should be: All were. as familiar to him as his hands on the steering wheel. Occasionally he glanced out at the cattle in the fields, at the coloring-book blue of the sky. The sun was shining on the oak trees, and their leaves were like mirrors of light. On this stretch of highway the road toward Harper was straight as a ruler, narrowing to a point on the ridge in the distance. From time to time the road eased down into dry branch crossings where the sumacs grew close to the pavement and towering Spanish oaks bent together in shading arches. Carlton Stokes drove into the brief shadows, then his Plymouth rose again into the sunlight of late afternoon. He drove steadily, without hurry: He was comfortable behind the wheel. His Stetson was set squarely above his eyes: his polished boot was pressed firmly against the gas pedal. He did not feel the 51 years of his life.They had folded naturally, properly into his body, leaving no bothersome trace. He ate well, slept well, bedded well his wife and, occasionally, other women of the ranch community. His livestock had good grass and good water. His fencelines were still stretched tight. And without being told he knew that he was still a fine figure of a man. Thinking of the sliced garden tomatoes, roasting ears, and pork chops that he would be having for supperand then sitting out on the cool porch slab after sundown in his bare feet, watching the deer graze in the oat field down by the creekCarlton Stokes pressed a little harder on the pedal. Past his prime He lay in the bedroomthe blinds shut against the summer sunand gasped for breath. The large white mound of his stomach rose and fell, rose and fell, rapidly, through his unbuttoned pajama top. He turned to look at the clock on the bedside table: 2:30. It was still 30 minutes until he could put on the mask and take his medicated mist treatment. As he leaned back into the pillows the plastic tube from the oxygen tank pinched sharply into his nostrils. At age 84, this was what he was doing now: lying on the bed waiting for the next partial breath, the next partial med ical relief. But no breath was ever enough, no relief lasted. His emphysema and his asthma clamped his chest and would not let go. He reared back with each half-breath, his face and nose distorted into puffy caricatures, his once-handsome features swollen by Prednisone. He could still make it to the bathroom by himself and could still lie for a while on the front room couch to watch a little television. But there wasn’t much left in his life that he could do, or cared to do. He heard his neighbor’s pickup drive up the hill and park out front. Carlton called his wife’s name: not a yell, just a strained burble of cough. He waited, then called again. He heard the door of the pickup slam and then Milton Weatherby’s boots coming up the front walk. As Carlton was calling again, his wife was already wheeling herself slowly out of the guest bedroom that was now her own. She inched forward past the dining table and the TV set toward the front door. Milton Weatherby knocked, waited, then knocked again as he began to open the door. He was carrying a paper sack of peaches he had picked that morning from his trees. He came inside and put the peaches on the table, saying hello to Carlton’s wife as she held out her hand to him from the wheelchair. Milton Weatherby had started talking about the noon weather report when both of them heard the sound and turned, looking toward Carlton Stokes. He had gotten himself out of bedto visit a bit, to be social, but this afternoon the getting up was more than he could handle. He held on to the bedroom doorway, trailing his oxygen tube. He was heaving and gasping, throwing his head back, his white hair wild, his stomach bulging out of his pajamas. Milton Weatherby rushed toward him as Cadton’s wife, her hands together in her lap, began saying over and over, in a level, almost monotone voice, as if speaking to a terrified child, “It will be all right, Carlton”as if she really believed it would be, or as if the time had long ago passed when what she said made any difference. PLAZA PEOPLE I sat underneath the downtown plaza trees in the heat, my library book under my arm. I was prepared to sit and read awhile, to look up now and then at the downtown regulars who made San Jacinto Plaza their daily resting placestheir afternoon open-air homes, their social club beneath the mulberry trees. I was there among them, the El Paso loners and drifters, old men mainly, Mexican-Americans mainly. On a nearby bench, 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/11/03