by Kathleen Eagle
Belle Bridge Books, 2013, ISBN-10: 1611943000, ASIN: B00E9GDB98
NOTE: No part of this material may be reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior permission of the copyright owner.
Can their marriage survive if he can find a way to give her a...
REASON TO BELIEVE
IT WAS THE SONG playing on the radio that made Ben Pipestone tighten
his two-fisted grip on the big steering wheel of his old red and white Chevy
pickup. Somebody up there had to be orchestrating moments like this,
putting “Me and Bobbie McGee” in the DJ’s hands just as Ben was
approaching the newly resurfaced driveway of his former home. Some
all-seeing body who had nothing better to do than to mess with a man’s
head just when the sorry bastard thought he was finally getting it on
He doubted that Tunkasila had much time for him these days. Probably
not Jesus, either, or the Virgin Mary, or anybody in the upper echelon of the
Spirit World. He’d bet on his old buddy, Iktome. It was just like the wily
Lakota Trickster to play on the sentimental bone a guy could have sworn he
didn’t have in his body.
Clara was the one who was always getting sentimental over songs, but
there Ben sat, staring at the house and letting his throat tighten up over
foolish memories. It hurt to swallow, but he actually savored the fleeting
twinge. Yeah, pour on the pain, he told himself. Pain was good. Physical
pain was the kind of a challenge a guy could really sink his teeth into and
hope to beat.
The best way to kill it—well, maybe the second best—was to get busy
and concentrate on the here and now. Forget the past and face the present.
Deal with the condition of the driveway right in front of him. Take note
that the guy who had sold him on the asphalt had done a nice job, which
was good to know since Ben had paid the bill simply on Clara’s terse
approval. No detailed report, no “Thanks, we needed that.” All she’d said
was, “Yes, it’s fine.” So he’d taken what satisfaction could be had in writing
a check for the balance owed on the job. After all, it was still his house, at
least partly, if not his home.
The yard needed some work, though. Clara was a great one for putting
in flowers in the spring, but after the first frost, she’d always left the dead
stuff for him to take care of. Not that he’d minded much. This was the first
house he’d owned, and he’d never had a yard before. Probably never would
again, not one like this. He figured he might as well drive back up to
Bismarck and take care of the fall cleanup next week, sometime when no
one would be home.
The thing he’d liked most about the house was the view of the river
bluffs from the big window in the front room. Clara had had her list of
requirements, but he’d mortgaged his soul so that he could see forever on a
clear day. And in North Dakota you could count on plenty of cloudless sky.
Someday he was going to buy the adjacent farmland, he’d told Clara. Plenty
of room to keep a couple of horses. Some primal part of his brain still
measured his personal worth in horses.
The late afternoon sunlight slanted across the field behind the house like
long fingers reaching for the last biscuit on the table. Don’t reach, Ben could
hear Clara saying in that soft, crisp tone she took when she was being the
authoritative mother. Ask, and it shall be passed.
Ask, and it shall be passed.
How about, ask and it shall be past?
Not likely. Not after what he’d done.
He set the brake and draped his wrists over the top of the steering wheel,
rubbing his chin on the shoulder of his denim jacket. Softly, absently, he
added his deep voice to the song’s final refrain as he gazed out the pickup’s
side window. The backyard had faded to yellow-green, but the autumn sun
had turned the alfalfa stubble to pure gold. The hollow echo of one single
yesterday was all he had to hang on to most nights. It wasn’t always the
same one, but he tried to stick to the good ones. The days when the troubles
were still far away and the nights when he’d slept nearly guilt-free. Those
were the yesterdays he believed in.
Today Clara wanted to talk to him about Annie. She’d said so over the
phone, taking refuge in a tone she’d once reserved for salespeople and bill
collectors. He should have just said, “Talk. I’m listening.” That was usually
the way it was anyway these days. She’d talk. He’d listen. It was always about
Annie. Clara wouldn’t talk to him about much else.
By now she’d have seen his pickup in the driveway, and would be
waiting for him to come to the door. He didn’t have time for a cigarette, but
he sure could have used one.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see her. He did. He always did. Even
when he knew he wasn’t going to enjoy seeing the look that inevitably crept
into her autumn-colored eyes whenever she saw him these days. She always
managed to coat that sad look with something harder—a cool glaze, an
angry sheen—but at the core of it he could see the hurt. It was always there
for him to see, which was as it should have been, for he had been the one to
put it there.
The last time he’d mounted the front steps, all hell had broken loose
when he’d walked right on in and announced his presence. In the interest of
trying to keep the peace, he slowly extended one finger toward the doorbell,
but he couldn’t quite bring himself to punch the button. Granted, she’d
been making most of the house payments since she’d kicked him out, but
before that it had always been “we,” “us,” and “ours.” He couldn’t see
ringing his own doorbell unless he was locked out.
Which, he discovered, he was. The door opened just as he’d thrust his
hand into the pocket of his jeans in search of his key. He was greeted by
enthusiastic paws, nose, tongue, and wagging tail.
“Hey, Pancho. You still remember me, huh?” Ben plunged both hands
into the Border Collie’s plush ruff and squatted to greet his old pal, eye to
eye. “How’s the mutt?” he crooned, playfully shaking the dog’s head.
“How’s the ol’ bruiser?”
“Pleased to see you, obviously.”
Straightening slowly as the smile slid from his face, he tried to remember
how her voice had sounded when she’d been pleased to see him. He dusted
off the warm, soft echo from the annals in his head and let it light a spark in
his eyes. “Hello, Clara.”
Once caught, she couldn’t look away, but her tone didn’t change.
“Thank you for coming. I know how busy you are.”
The stiff greeting rankled. How in the hell could she possibly know
whether he was busy?
But he shrugged it off. “You said the magic word,” he reminded her as
he patted Pancho again, who was whining and wagging to beat the band.
“Yes. The magic word.” A word that was slightly different for her than it
was for him, much like most of the magic they’d shared over the years.
“Anna is going through a difficult time, and I’m at my wits’ end.”
“Your wits’ end,” he repeated thoughtfully. “Can’t imagine anybody
goin’ quite that far, Clara.”
“Of course you can. You’ve driven me there many times.” She gave him
a sharp glare as she stepped aside to let him in. “You and this dog. Go on
out, now, Pancho.”
“Driven you or taken you?” He couldn’t help smiling a little when
Pancho had to be shooed along. “Are we thinking about the same place?
Clara Pipestone’s wits’ end, where thinking leaves off and—”
“Stupidity takes over.”
There it was. The bruised look. Her parti-colored eyes reflected it
perfectly, and whenever he saw it, that small but troublesome good thing
that dwelled deep in his gut got to feeling a little sick. It was the kind of
morning-after sick that made the drinking man head straight for the
refrigerator or the liquor store or the bar—wherever he had to go to find a
can of beer. Ben knew the procedure only too well.
“Wrong subject,” he admitted, stepping into the living room as Clara
closed the door. “Is Annie here?”
“No, and she should be.” She checked her watch. It was a gesture she
used often to convey any number of messages. Ben recognized the
worry-nuance when she glanced at the mantel clock for a second opinion.
“I thought she would be. I had a call at work from one of her teachers who
had trouble with her in class today, and that’s when I called you.”
He could tell the call had been a last resort.
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tell the call had been a last resort.