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From the Trade Paperback edition.
My mother sat in the backseat of Glen's Nash and looked out the window while we drove. My double gun was in the seat between us beside Glen's Belgian pump, which he kept loaded with five shells in case, he said, he saw something beside the road he wanted to shoot. I had hunted rabbits before, and had ground-sluiced pheasants and other birds, but I had never been on an actual hunt before, one where you drove out to some special place and did it formally. And I was excited. I had a feeling that something important was about to happen to me, and that this would be a day I would always remember.
My mother did not say anything for a long time, and neither did I. We drove up through Great Falls and out the other side toward Fort Benton, which was on the benchland where wheat was grown.
"Geese mate for life," my mother said, just out of the blue, as we were driving. "I hope you know that. They're special birds."
"I know that," Glen said in the front seat. "I have every respect for them."
"So where were you for three months?" she said. "I'm only curious."
"I was in the Big Hole for a while," Glen said, "and after that I went over to Douglas, Wyoming."
"What were you planning to do there?" my mother asked.
"I wanted to find a job, but it didn't work out."
"I'm going to college," she said suddenly, and this was something I had never heard about before. I turned to look at her, but she was staring out her window and wouldn't see me.
"I knew French once," Glen said. "Rosé's pink. Rouge's red." He glanced at me and smiled. "I think that's a wise idea, Aileen. When are you going to start?"
"I don't want Les to think he was raised by crazy people all his life," my mother said.
"Les ought to go himself," Glen said.
"After I go, he will."
"What do you say about that, Les?" Glen said, grinning.
"He says it's just fine," my mother said.
"It's just fine," I said.
Where Glen Baxter took us was out onto the high flat prairie that was disked for wheat and had high, high mountains out to the east, with lower heartbreak hills in between. It was, I remember, a day for blues in the sky, and down in the distance we could see the small town of Floweree, and the state highway running past it toward Fort Benton and the Hi-line. We drove out on top of the prairie on a muddy dirt road fenced on both sides, until we had gone about three miles, which is where Glen stopped.
"All right," he said, looking up in the rearview mirror at my mother. "You wouldn't think there was anything here, would you?"
"We're here," my mother said. "You brought us here."
"You'll be glad though," Glen said, and seemed confident to me. I had looked around myself but could not see anything. No water or trees, nothing that seemed like a good place to hunt anything. Just wasted land. "There's a big lake out there, Les," Glen said. "You can't see it now from here because it's low. But the geese are there. You'll see."
"It's like the moon out here, I recognize that," my mother said, "only it's worse." She was staring out at the flat wheatland as if she could actually see something in particular, and wanted to know more about it. "How'd you find this place?"
"I came once on the wheat push," Glen said.
"And I'm sure the owner told you just to come back and hunt anytime you like and bring anybody you wanted. Come one, come all. Is that it?"
"People shouldn't own land anyway," Glen said. "Anybody should be able to use it."
"Les, Glen's going to poach here," my mother said. "I just want you to know that, because that's a crime and the law will get you for it. If you're a man now, you're going to have to face the consequences."
"That's not true," Glen Baxter said, and looked gloomily out over the steering wheel down the muddy road toward the mountains. Though for myself I believed it was true, and didn't care. I didn't care about anything at that moment except seeing geese fly over me and shooting them down.
"Well, I'm certainly not going out there," my mother said. "I like towns better, and I already have enough trouble."
"That's okay," Glen said. "When the geese lift up you'll get to see them. That's all I wanted. Les and me'll go shoot them, won't we, Les?"
"Yes," I said, and I put my hand on my shotgun, which had been my father's and was heavy as rocks.
"Then we should go on," Glen said, "or we'll waste our light."
We got out of the car with our guns. Glen took off his canvas shoes and put on his pair of black irrigators out of the trunk. Then we crossed the barbed wire fence, and walked out into the high, tilled field toward nothing. I looked back at my mother when we were still not so far away, but I could only see the small, dark top of her head, low in the backseat of the Nash, staring out and thinking what I could not then begin to say.
On the walk toward the lake, Glen began talking to me. I had never been alone with him, and knew little about him except what my mother said-that he drank too much, or other times that he was the nicest man she had ever known in the world and that someday a woman would marry him, though she didn't think it would be her. Glen told me as we walked that he wished he had finished college, but that it was too late now, that his mind was too old. He said he had liked the Far East very much, and that people there knew how to treat each other, and that he would go back some day but couldn't go now. He said also that he would like to live in Russia for a while and mentioned the names of people who had gone there, names I didn't know. He said it would be hard at first, because it was so different, but that pretty soon anyone would learn to like it and wouldn't want to live anywhere else, and that Russians treated Americans who came to live there like kings. There were Communists everywhere now, he said. You didn't know them, but they were there. Montana had a large number, and he was in touch with all of them. He said that Communists were always in danger and that he had to protect himself all the time. And when he said that he pulled back his VFW jacket and showed me the butt of a pistol he had stuck under his shirt against his bare skin. "There are people who want to kill me right now," he said, "and I would kill a man myself if I thought I had to." And we kept walking. Though in a while he said, "I don't think I know much about you, Les. But I'd like to. What do you like to do?"
"I like to box," I said. "My father did it. It's a good thing to know."
"I suppose you have to protect yourself too," Glen said.
"I know how to," I said.
"Do you like to watch TV," Glen asked, and smiled.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
|Communist: from Rock Springs||3|
|Reunion: from A Multitude of Sins||21|
|Calling: from A Multitude of Sins||30|
|Selection from Independence Day||60|
|The Womanizer: from Women with Men||70|
|Rock Springs: from Rock Springs||144|
|My Mother, In Memory||167|