SHORTLISTED FOR THE DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE • 2017 PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD HONORABLE MENTION
A construction worker on the run from the shady local businessman whose dog he has stolen; a Custer’s Last Stand reenactor engaged in a long-running affair with the Native American woman who slays him on the battlefield every year; a middle-aged high school janitor caught in a scary dispute over land and cattle with her former stepson: Callan Wink’s characters are often confronted with predicaments few of us can imagine. But thanks to the humor and remarkable empathy of this supremely gifted writer, the nine stories gathered in Dog Run Moon are universally transporting and resonant.
Set mostly in Montana and Wyoming, near the borders of Yellowstone National Park, this revelatory collection combines unforgettable insight into the fierce beauty of the West with a powerful understanding of human beings. Tender, frequently hilarious, and always electrifying, Dog Run Moon announces the arrival of a bold new talent writing deep in the American grain.
Praise for Dog Run Moon
“[An] excellent first book of stories . . . One of the great things about Dog Run Moon is how resilient and funny [the characters] are. They’re at the end of their ropes, but they can still howl about the joy and pain each day brings, as if the young Levon Helm were singing their stories. . . . This is Thomas McGuane territory, and also that of writers like Joy Williams and Jim Harrison.”—The New York Times
“Wink is definitely not a writer of half measures; each of these stories demonstrates his ability to lay life bare. A significant collection highly deserving of the spotlight.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Myth and history color these highly satisfying fictions about the way men and women struggle to shape their lives.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The perils of work and the weight of bequeathal fuel these stories, and each one holds a lasting, unshakable image. Sometimes grace is bestowed upon the characters in a sidewindering, not altogether fabulous fashion; sometimes it’s not bestowed at all. Callan Wink seems to know well the stratagems and delusions of men’s hearts. He also seems born and bred to short-story mastery.”—Joy Williams, author of The Visiting Privilege
“Callan Wink’s debut is impressive indeed. Fine, old-fashioned, rich and juicy fiction. Weeks later I’m still living with the characters.”—Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall
“Callan Wink’s fresh, urgent stories have an energy and propulsion that set them well apart from the cerebral finger painting of so much literary fiction. Here is a writer with a great big horizon.”—Thomas McGuane, author of Crow Fair
“Callan Wink’s stories remind me of expertly tied trout flies—beautifully crafted, true to reality, and barbed. What a fine young writer.”—Ron Rash, author of Above the Waterfall
“As in all the best collections, each and every story in Dog Run Moon sings in the essential registers of love and death, work and nature. Callan Wink has the wisdom to write only of the things that matter, and the talent to make these stories as fresh as the literary headwaters from which they come.”—Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Dog Run Moon
Sid was a nude sleeper. Had been ever since he was a little kid. To him, wearing clothes to bed seemed strangely redundant, like wearing underwear inside your underwear or something. Sid had slept in the nude every night of his adult life and that was why, now, he was running barefoot and bare-assed across the sharp sandstone rimrock far above the lights of town. It was after two in the morning, a clear, cool, early June night with the wobbly gibbous moon up high and bright so he could see the train yard below—-the crisscrossing rails, a huge haphazard pile of old ties, the incinerator stack. He was sweating but he knew once he could run no more the cold would start to find its way in. After that he didn’t know what would happen.
The dog was padding along tirelessly, sometimes at Sid’s side, sometimes ranging out and quartering back sharply, his nose up to the wind trying to cut bird scent. Not for the first time in his life Sid found himself envying a dog. Its fur. Its thick foot pads. A simple untroubled existence of sleeping, eating, running, fucking occasionally if you still had the parts, not worrying about it if you didn’t. Even in his current predicament Sid couldn’t help but admire the dog. A magnificent bird dog for broken country such as this, no two ways about it. Sid kept going, hobbling, feeling the sharp rimrock make raw hamburger out of the soles of his feet. When he turned he could see smears of his blood on the flat rock shining black under the moon. And then, the shafts of headlights stabbing the jutting sandstone outcroppings. He could hear the shouts of Montana Bob and Charlie Chaplin as they piloted their ATV over the rough ground.
Sid hadn’t stolen the dog. He’d liberated the dog. He firmly believed this and this belief was the fundamental basis for the disagreement between himself and Montana Bob. Montana Bob thought ownership meant simple possession. Sid thought otherwise. He’d been in town for two months and his path to and from work took him twice daily through the alley. The dog would follow his passing through the chain--link and Sid would whistle and the dog would raise its ears without getting up.
Sid worked at a sawmill that processed logs brought down from the mountains. The logs came in massive and rough, smelling like moss and the dark places where snow lingers into July. They entered one end of a screeching hot pole building, met the saw, and came out the other side, flat and white and bleeding pitch into the red--dirt lumberyard. The men that worked the logs and the saw were Mexicans mostly, wide, sweating men who worked in dirty white tank tops, their inner arms scabbed and raw from wrestling rough--barked logs. They spoke their language to each other and Sid did not know them. He kept to himself and did his work. He was a scrap man. All day he took cast--off pieces of aspen and pine, and cut and stapled them into pallets that were eventually piled with boards to be shipped out. All day he measured and sawed and stapled. His hands were pitch--stained and splintered. All day his mind ran laps, and after work he walked back through the alley, whistled at the dog on his way by, and drank three glasses of water in quick succession, standing at the kitchen sink in the empty trailer he rented by the month and hadn’t bothered to furnish. Even with the windows open the trailer smelled like a hot closet full of unwashed clothing, and Sid couldn’t stand being there unless he was asleep.
In the evenings he drove. Sometimes over to the next town, sometimes for hours until he ended up in the river valley at the base of the mountains where it was always ten degrees cooler. She lived there now and he knew her house but he never drove by. He couldn’t bear the thought of her looking out from her kitchen window to see his truck moving slowly down the street. He could imagine how his face would look to her. Sun--dark. Gaunt. Too sharp down the middle like it was creased. Sometimes he got a milkshake at the diner and nursed it for the drive. No matter where he drove, he took the same way back, the route that took him around front of the house with the dog. The house where the east--facing windows were covered with tinfoil and Sid had never seen anyone outside.
At the mill one afternoon a full pallet of eight--inch--by--twelve--foot boards broke free of the loader and crushed the legs of one of the Mexicans who had been standing by the truck, waiting to tighten the straps. Sid, eating his lunch, saw the whole thing, heard the man’s hoarse screams over the shriek of the saw until the saw was silenced, and then it was just the man, pinned to the ground and writhing, his eyes bulging, with sawdust coating the sweat on his bare arms.
That evening, Sid drove straight to her house, still in his work clothes. When he got there her car was in the driveway and there was a pickup truck parked behind it. Sid pulled in sharply and got out, not bothering to shut his door behind him. He was striding fast, halfway up to her porch, before he noticed the dried smears of blood on his pant legs and boots. At the mill, he and everyone else had rushed to the man, frantically teaming up to move the heavy boards from his legs. There had been blood everywhere, making the sawdust dark, making the boards slick and red and hard to hold. Now, standing in her front lawn, he looked down at his hands. He tried to clean out the rust--colored crescents under his fingernails, tried to rub the pine pitch mixed with dried blood from the creases in his palms. He was rubbing his hands frantically on his stained jeans, when he saw movement in the curtains over the kitchen window. And then he ran, sliding into the open door of his truck, spinning gravel up onto vehicles in front of him as he backed out at full speed.
Sid’s route home took him past the house with the dog, and, as usual, there was no sign of life outside. The truck that was often parked in front of the house was gone. Sid passed slowly and then turned around. He thought about it for a minute and then pulled over and let his truck idle. He went around back where the dog was lying on a pile of dirty straw, chained to a sagging picnic table. The dog didn’t bark, didn’t even get up, just watched Sid with its muzzle resting on its front paws. Sid unhooked the chain from the dog’s collar, and when he turned to leave, the dog followed him to his truck, jumped in, and sat on the bench seat, leaning forward with his nose smudging the windshield. Sid drove up to the flat, windswept bench above town and let the dog run. In the hour before it got dark they put up three coveys of Huns and two sharp--tails, the dog moving through clumps of sagebrush and cheatgrass, working against the wind like some beautifully engineered piece of machinery performing perfectly the one, the only, task to which it was suited.
Sid was afraid of Montana Bob. As he ran he could feel the fear lodged somewhere up under his sternum, a sharp little stab of something like pain with each inhaled breath. It was a healthy thing, his fear of Montana Bob. You should be afraid, Sid, he thought. You should be afraid of Montana Bob like you should be afraid of a grizzly bear, a loose dog foaming at the mouth, anything nearsighted and sick and unpredictable. Sid stopped behind the wind--twisted limbs of a piñon pine and listened. He could hear the low growl of the ATV coming behind him and then the different, softer sound of the engine idling, stopped, no doubt, so that Montana Bob and Charlie Chaplin could branch out on foot to look for his sign. Sid was above them and he could see the shapes of their shadows, tall and angular, moving across the headlights, cloaked in swirling motes of red dust.
“I know who you are, Sid. I know it’s you out there. We’re still out here, too.”
Montana Bob’s voice came up to him, reverberating off the rock.
“You got the dog and I think that is a damn stupid reason to go through all this trouble. I got Charlie Chaplin here with me. He too thinks this is a lot of stupidness just for a damn dog. Also, he has a big goddamn pistol. I bet your feet hurt something fierce. You’re bleeding like a stuck hog all over this lizard rock and me an’ Charlie Chaplin are going to drive right up on you before long. We will. Also, you were a big damn fool to run out the back door like that. Charlie saw your naked ass. We were just coming for the dog. You can’t argue my right to it. You have that what belongs to me. You catch up that dog and bring it down to me. Also, hell. You know what? We’ll even give you a ride back down into town. We will.”
Sid started out again, moving up and away from the voices and lights. He found a long piece of slickrock that stretched out farther than he could see into the darkness and he ran. He could hear the rough whisper of the dog’s pads on the rock, the click of its nails. The dog’s coat shone in the moonlight; what was black in sunlight became purple--blue, what was normally white now glowed like mother--of--pearl.
Would Montana Bob do as he said? Let Sid go if he came down with the dog? Sid was unsure but he thought not. The small oblong little organ of fear under Sid’s sternum pulsed each time his feet slapped the rock. He kept going. The moon overhead was a lopsided and misshapen orb that at any moment might lose its tenuous position and break upon the rocks. That might be a good thing. A landscape of blackness into which he could melt.
The dog had been his for a week when Montana Bob found him out. Sid was in the Mint having a happy--hour beer before heading home, and he’d left the dog in the truck. He had his back to the door and as soon as the two men came in he had a bad feeling. The bar was pretty much empty but they sat right next to him, one on each side. Plenty of stools all up and down the bar but they came and crowded in on him. The big one wore a sweat--stained summer Stetson with a ragged rooster pheasant tail feather sticking out of the hatband. His hair was shaggy and flared out from the hat brim. He wore a leather vest with nothing underneath it save a mangy pelt of thick blue--black hair. His companion was considerably smaller and extremely fair skinned, nearly bald except for a few blond strands grown long on one side and then combed over. He wore a button--up Oxford shirt and corduroy pants. Sperry Top--Siders. On his belt he had a large knife in a sheath, its handle made of a pale--yellow plastic that was supposed to look like bone. They ordered beers, and when the beers arrived the big man in the hat drank deeply, and then leaned toward Sid, a pale scum of suds covering his upper lip.
“I don’t believe in beating the bush.”
Sid picked at a loose corner on the label of his bottle of beer. He thought about bolting, just getting up like he was going to make his way to the bathroom and then sliding right out the back.
“I don’t beat the bush so I’m going to get right down to the tacks. I believe I recognize a familiar dog in that blue Chevy out front and also since you’re about the only one in here I figure that’s your vehicle so I figure that I’ll need to ask you where you happened to come across that dog.”
The man pushed his hat back on his head and swiveled on his stool to face Sid. He smiled.
“Also, I’m Montana Bob.” He extended his hand—-which Sid shook, not knowing what else to do—-and nodded toward his companion seated on Sid’s other side.
“And that’s Charlie Chaplin. Shake his hand.”
Sid turned and shook Charlie Chaplin’s pale proffered hand.
“I’m a local businessman and Charlie Chaplin is my accountant. Also, he provides counsel to me in matters of legal concern.”
Sid considered Charlie Chaplin and when their eyes met he felt something skittering and cold move down his spine. Montana Bob was the bigger man, menacing even, with large bare arms and small pieces of pointed silver at the tips of his boots, but it was this one, small and waxen and pale, who made Sid shift uncomfortably.
Sid found himself speaking, too quickly, his voice high.
“I picked up that dog at the shelter. Bought and paid for. Got him his shots, rabies, distemper, all that. I got the paperwork in the truck. They said at the shelter that he was a canine of misfortunate past. Meaning his old owner used to stomp him. Kind of a mutt but he seems loyal. Likes to fetch the tennis ball. My kids are crazy about him.”
Montana Bob nodded as Sid spoke. Charlie Chaplin nodded too. Montana Bob motioned the bartender down to them and ordered another beer for himself and Charlie Chaplin.
“Two more. Also, a large pitcher of ice water. No ice.”
The bartender went away and Montana Bob spoke to Sid’s reflection in the mirrored bar back.
“Likes to fetch the tennis ball does he? Well, I’ll be. Did you know that that dog was given to me by a Frenchman? The dog is a French Brittany spaniel and he comes from France. Born in France of royal French Brittany stock. Also, that dog was a gift from a French count. Guy St. Vrain made me a present of that dog when it was just a pup in payment for services rendered by yours truly. You don’t know Guy St. Vrain but that doesn’t matter. That’s how he likes it. He’s in the movie business. Also, he’s in the dog business.”
The bartender came with the pitcher of water, and Montana Bob took off his hat and set it on the bar top. He poured half the pitcher into the hat and then replaced it on his head, the water streaming down his face and neck, matting the thick shiny hair on his chest.
“You stole my fucking dog.” He was still looking at Sid through his reflection in the bar mirror. “Also, I had a hot and dusty day out on the trail and I come here for a drink only to find my possession in someone else’s egg basket.”
In the mirror Sid saw his hands go up, saw his shoulders shrug.
“The shelter. I don’t know anything about any of this.”
He slid from the stool and caught the bartender’s eye.
“I’ll take one more. Be right back. Gotta take a leak.”
In the bathroom he ran the water and splashed some on his face. He had his keys in his hand when he hit the door and then he was out in the last evening rays of sun, firing the truck, the dog standing anxiously with its front paws on the dash. Sid drove without looking back. He drove all the way down the river road and let the dog out. He walked a path through the thickets of tamarisk and Russian olive and when he stopped, the dog perched delicately at the water’s edge, standing on a rock, lapping up the muddy red water. Before Sid had burst through the bar doors to start his truck he’d glimpsed the bar room—-Montana Bob sitting astride his stool like a swayback steed. Charlie Chaplin up standing in front of the jukebox. He was flipping the discs as if looking for a particular track, a song whose name he couldn’t remember or one whose tune existed solely in his head.
Sid had no clear idea where he was heading. It was a strange mode of navigation, more like divination, taking the smoothest path through a shattered nightscape of jumbled rock—-watching for the wicked gleam of prickly pear and jagged cones from the piñon pines. If he turned he could still see the shafts of light from his pursuer’s ATV, and he thought about circling around back toward town. The problem was the dog. Sid would have to cut a wide path around to keep the dog from straying close to the lights and if the dog was captured then what was the point? Another thought, might the dog return to its former owner willingly? Sid was unsure. He kept running. The dog spooked a small herd of mule deer out of a dry creek bed and they bounded past him, covering great lengths of ground in each leap, their forms backlit against the sky now lightening in the east. Sid had never seen the desert deer move this close before. At the apex of each jump they seemed to hang, suspended, vaguely avian, a group of prehistoric nearbirds not quite suited to life on land, not quite comfortable with their wings’ ability to keep them aloft. Just then he had the thought that if he could keep going until the sun came up he might be okay.
After the encounter at the Mint, Sid had broken down and called her. She hadn’t answered and he’d left a message in which he hated the sound of his voice. Tinny with the fear he’d wanted her to feel. I’m not calling to try and get you to come back and be mine again I’m just calling to tell you that if no one ever sees me around anymore it’s because I ran afoul of some bad people in a matter concerning a dog. And I never meant for you to grow against me like you did. That’s it. Sid hung up in self--loathing. He folded an old blanket on the floor at the end of his bed for the dog and when the knock on the door came—-at two in the morning, three days after Montana Bob had called him out in the Mint—-Sid couldn’t say exactly that he hadn’t been expecting it. He felt briefly the relief of the fugitive who finally feels the handcuffs encircle his wrists.
Montana Bob spoke to him on the other side of the door, his words just barely whiskey‑softened around the edges.
“You, sir, are in possession of my royal French canine. Charlie Chaplin and myself come to you as missionaries. Also, as pilgrims and crusaders.”
When Montana Bob kicked in the flimsy trailer door Sid had already slammed out the back, catching Charlie Chaplin off guard. The accountant was standing on the trailer’s rickety back porch and the door handle hit him in the midsection, doubling him over. Sid ran down the sloping trailer court drive and across his neighbors’ weed--choked lawns, down the alley across the dead main street and through the train yard, his bare toes curling around the cold iron track as he gathered himself to hurdle over the crushed--granite railbed. It wasn’t until he reached the barren lots at the base of the rimrock’s upslope that he realized the dog was running beside him, occasionally stopping to lift his leg on a rock or clump of sagebrush. Back toward the road Sid could see the lights of an ATV coming fast. He waited until he could see the shape of Montana Bob’s hat and the pale, bare arms of Charlie Chaplin wrapped around his midsection—-and then he started scrabbling his way up the slope, the dog flowing effortlessly through the rock above him.
She was a small woman, pale, so much so that the desert hurt her in ways that Sid would never fully understand. Like Sid, she was a nude sleeper. When he found this out it became one of those happy little intersections of shared personality, the slow accumulation of which is love. With her it was years of nights spent bare back to bare chest. Sometimes, when it was hot, they woke up and had to peel themselves apart, their tangled limbs stuck together like the fleshy segments of some strange misshapen fruit.
They were alike in other ways as well, and at one time these things had seemed natural and unaffected, important even. They both liked the river. Sid got inner tubes from the tire store and when the heat got unbearable they would float, keeping their beer cool in a mesh bag trailing in the river behind them. And, if she never fully came to love the desert, Sid was pretty sure she came to understand why he did. Once, Sid took her up to see the hoodoos in Goblin Valley. It was midnight on a full moon and they were half-drunk and a little high. They played tag and hide--and--seek around the hulking sandstone formations, laughing, hooting and shrieking, the sounds careening, giving voice to the rocks themselves. For a while after this if one of them initiated an impromptu game of tag, the other would have to follow suit, no matter the location—-the grocery store, the front lawn, the movie theater, at a neighborhood barbecue with half the town watching, everyone laughing and shaking their heads. Things were good this way for a long time and then one night he woke to the sound of her crying in the bathroom. And the next night she came to bed in one of his T--shirts and boxer shorts. And the next night Sid slept alone.
As he ran Sid could clearly see her, laid out on their bed, a night--blooming moonflower, her white limbs like petals unfolding finally in the absence of light. He remembered the first house they’d ever lived in, the way the door latch was broken and how the wind would blow the door open if they didn’t remember to throw the bolt. They’d be sitting in that little dining room, eating dinner, a table full of mismatched cups and plates and silverware, and all of a sudden the door would swing open like someone pushed it in. She’d always flinch like someone was breaking in on them, uninvited. Sid used to tease her about it but now he found himself wondering who exactly it was she thought was coming unannounced into their home. Who was the man with his hand on the doorknob ready to push his way into their kitchen like the wind?
Sid ran and the rocks cut him; the piñon pines clutched and tore at him. Dried sweat crusted his bare torso and thighs and any moment of rest brought cramps, the muscles of his legs twitching and popping of their own accord. He found himself moving his cracked lips, making strange utterances with each painful footfall, the desert a silent observer, an expressionless juror to whom he tried to make his plea. I ran afoul of some bad people in a matter concerning a dog. Irana foul. Iranafoul. I ran, a foul?
It sounded melodramatic and desperate, a wild call for attention. Best to leave the dog out of it. Get right to the point.
Since we dissolved I’ve been a specter running blind and naked in the desert. Is that melodramatic? Well, that’s what is happening to me now.
He imagined driving to their old house and stepping up onto the porch. She’d be alone and come out to meet him in one of the sundresses she always wore in the hot months, the fabric like gauze, like a soft bandage laid over healing flesh. She’d offer him a cool drink and they’d sit in the shade and the words, all the right ones, would flow from him, an upwelling, an eruption of cleansing language.
Remember when we went way up north that winter and rented the cabin and there was a hot spring not too far away? We’d go out at night and shiver down the path to the water and slip in the warmth like pulling a hot sheet around us. My feet in the sulfur--smelling mud of the pool, your legs twined around mine like white, earth--seeking roots. Remember that? The way the deer would come down when it got really cold just to stand in the steam rising up from the water? And then, the day we left for home? How cold it was? We went outside and our eyes started to freeze up at the corners and you, southern girl, had never seen anything like it and took a picture of me standing next to a thermometer that was bottomed out at forty below. In that picture I’m standing on the cabin porch and behind me there’s the river frozen solid, or so it seemed.
Here Sid imagined moving in a little closer, putting his work--rough hand on her smooth one.
I’ve been thinking about that picture and that river on the coldest day of the year. Underneath that ice, the river was still moving. Forty below, but even then the water closest to the riverbed will be moving, cold but unfrozen. It’s like a river exists in defiance, or has a secret life. Everything above is frozen and stiff but down below it moves along, liquid over the rocks, like nothing happening on the surface matters. On a day like this you could walk across the river like crossing the street. But you can’t forget that just below that shell there is current. That is my love for you.
And that would be it. She’d come with him, push up next to him on the bench seat of his pickup, and he’d drive with the windows down, her hair tossing into his face and mouth and eyes. Dust and the scent of her shampoo in his nose. They’d pick up right where they’d left off.
He was moving up a dry creek bed, shuffling through the soft red sand deposited by spring floods in years past, when he had had the feeling that the creek wasn’t dry after all, that he was splashing through the ankle-deep current of muddy red water. He was thirsty. Christ was he thirsty, but when he scooped a great double handful of water up to his cracked lips it turned back to sand and flowed through his fingers. This seemed like a particularly cruel joke and he had thoughts of finding a dark place to curl up inside, a rock for a pillow and a soft blanket of sand. But there was the matter of the dog, the matter of Charlie Chaplin’s vacuous eyes and pistol, which in Sid’s mind, had achieved magnificent proportions. Charlie Chaplin rode it like an evil old mare with cracked hoofs and faded brand. It was the gun itself in pursuit, half horse, half instrument of percussion and death. A spavined nag whose blued flanks were singed and smoking.
At first, running on the sand was deliriously comfortable, the soft ground like an answered prayer for the raw soles of Sid’s feet. But then, the farther he went the harder it became, the sand shifting and giving way under his feet so that each stride required more effort from his already screaming calves.
When the twisting and turning of the creek bed became unbearable Sid clambered out onto the exposed rock. From this vantage point he watched the now greatly diminished moon drift down toward the far black horizon like a pale phosphorus match head broken off in the striking. If Montana Bob and Charlie Chaplin were still in pursuit he had no evidence. In fact, some small, dislodged part of him was unsure that they had ever existed. Sid couldn’t see the dog most of the time. Sometimes he forgot about it all together. It ran ahead silent and unperturbed as the earth itself.
It was a loud dawn. Sid had never seen or heard anything quite like it, the sun breaking the horizon line with a sound like a dull knife ripping a sheet. He was walking stiffly now, moving his arms in great circles, slapping his thighs and torso to fend off the cold. He looked down and for the first time could see himself clearly, the angry red whip welts on his calves from branches, the purple cracked toenails and raised blue lines of engorged veins and capillaries, over everything a grimy patina of sweat crust and desert dust and leaking blood.
He crested a small hill where, on the backside of the slope, there was a rusted stock tank fed by a leaning windmill that rose out of a clump of acacia. He didn’t believe in the stock tank. It was like a river of muddy water, a thing that would dry up and slip through his fingers. He sat on a flat rock and looked. The windmill was missing some slats and he knew there was no water in the tank. This was a definite truth and Sid felt it like gravity. After a while the dog emerged from a tangle of sagebrush and with no fanfare proceeded to lap from the tank, its tail fanning slightly in a breeze that did not reach Sid.
Down the slope in jerks, his muscles and ligaments tightened like catgut tennis racket cord. Sid submerged his entire head, eyes wide open, into the water, metallic-tasting, gelid with the flavor of the past night. The bottom of the tank was lined with a slick layer of electric green algae over which a single orange carp hovered blimp-like. Sid wanted to get in, to live with this carp alone in this desert within a desert. But the water was cold and he knew the carp did not want him. He drank for so long that points of black began to form at the edges of his vision, small, black--legged forms like water striders skating the clear pool of his periphery. He broke for air and collapsed with his back against the tank, the rivets pressing his flesh. From this position he could see into the twisted inner workings of the windmill, the busted--sprung parts, the pieces held together by coils of baling wire. The dog was moving around the base of the acacia trees, its snout plowing last year’s dead grass, the fur ends around its paws just slightly reddened by the touch of the desert rock. Above the dog, in the twisting acacia branches, Sid could make out two sparrows, dead and skewered on thorns.
When Sid woke he found Charlie Chaplin squatting next to him, his Oxford shirt stained desert red, his corduroys dusty. His pale cheeks were streaked with twin rivulets of what looked like tears and his eyes were leaking and red. He had his knife out and was poking Sid’s bare thigh, raising bright little beads of blood, a ragged collection of blood drops like pissants gathering on his skin. From the number of them it looked like he’d been at it awhile. Seeing that Sid was awake, Charlie Chaplin swiped at his cheeks with his sleeve. He gave Sid one more poke and then sheathed his knife and went to stand beside Montana Bob, who held a length of chain he’d hooked to the dog’s collar. The dog lay at Montana Bob’s boots with its muzzle resting on its paws.
“What the hell. Why?” Montana Bob tilted his hat brim down against the sun.
Sid considered this for a moment and then put up his hands and shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ve always liked running.” Realizing as he said it that it was true.
“You look like something from another planet. More dead than alive. Also, Charlie Chaplin isn’t happy with you. He wears contact lenses and, seeing how you kept us out here all night in the dust, his eyes are in poor shape. He wants you to know that that’s why he’s tearing up. He’s not actually crying. He suffers from the dust. Also, he lost his pistol. Fell out of his waistband on the ride. I know he feels badly about that.”
Sid found himself nodding in agreement with Montana Bob. It was a nearly involuntary movement and he had to force himself to stop.
“You dumb bastard. I don’t even know what to do to you. But, also, I guess you done it plenty to yourself. What do you think, Charlie Chaplin?”
Sid looked up into the pale, dirt-and-tear--streaked face of the accountant. He tried to read what was there but came up blank. Charlie Chaplin knelt creakily and untied his Top--Siders. He kicked them off his feet toward Sid and then turned to climb on the ATV, his socks startlingly white from the ankle down. Silently, Montana Bob took his seat in front of Charlie Chaplin and drove away, his accountant clinging to his waist from behind, his dog padding along at the end of the chain.
It was a long time before Sid could get to his feet and walk, slowly retracing his bloody tracks. It was even longer before the pain made him slip the Top--Siders over his ruined soles, feeling when he did, at once something like balm and betrayal. With the shoes he was somehow more naked than before, and he faced the reality of shuffling back to town, no longer unfettered, just exposed. He thought then about going for it, turning east and just continuing on till he either evaporated or made it, collapsing in a heap on her porch. Begging her to wash his feet.