Ahead in the weed-strangled median, two white crosses—one festooned with cheap plastic roses—leaned against each other in an attitude of gentle repose. Meanwhile, high above them in the turquoise sky, under the iron glare of the New Mexico sun, a single-engine plane droned past the clouds.
Landry was still driving south on the divided highway, and away in the distance a jagged ridge opened before them. Beyond the ridge, on the eastern side of the road, up a steep hill, loomed a great mound of stone and grass.
“Amazin, ain’t it?” Dani said.
“No, the crosses. I’ve never seen so many of em on one little old stretch of road.”
Landry glanced at her. It was as if they’d been moving backward through time since they’d crossed the Colorado border. She seemed like a little girl now, seeing the world for the first time. The smallest things taking on the most extraordinary significance.
“Easy to fall asleep out here,” was all he could tell her. “Stretch of highway like this? You get to drinking, or day-dreaming, or drifting off….“
He put his eyes back on the road, to the mound of stone rising from the plain. Once they reached the landmark, he thought, they would both breathe a little easier.
Dani was a fetching woman. Yes, fetching. She had strawberry hair that was soft and thick, a complexion as smooth as whipping cream, and irises so green and full of light they could have been made of sugar sprinkles. She and Landry had met in Colorado Springs less than a month ago—Christ, had it only been that long?— while working on a turn-and-burn television spot for a local Chevy dealership. Dani had been the talent—half the talent, anyway—and he, Landry, had been the cameraman. Dani’s husband, Tug, had been in the commercial as well, but only because Big Mike Bullock, the dealership’s sales manager, had insisted upon it.
“I want cutaway shots of Tug, roping a steer,” Big Mike said, outlining his expectations in a tar-and-nicotine voice. “Then I want you to go and get interview footage of him and Dani, together, in front the Silverado. Up near the grill, so that gold bow-tie shines through nice and big. Can you do that?”
“What about a shot of Dani on horseback?” Landry said, having learned Dani was a championship barrel racer. “I can probably get some good B-roll in the can. Have her gallop straight at the camera, or maybe do a long lens kind of thing, real compressed, where she comes charging up over a ridge. You know, through wrinkled heat waves and—“
Big Mike gave his balls a quick jog and waved the idea off. He pointed to the month’s sales figures, pinned to a giant corkboard on the east wall of his office. “I’m not hiring the girl to show off her equestrian skills, Landry. She’s here to sex things up.”
Big Mike curled his meaty arm around Landry’s shoulder and began walking him out of the office. His tone was cordial, but firm. “Our demo’s men, son. Horny, hard-drinking men who chase skirts, play fantasy football, and spend their leisure time surfing the net for porn.” He hove up in the middle of the hallway, lowered his chin, and looked Landry deep in the eye. “You know those mud flaps you see on the backs of the big semi tankers? The ones where the chrome girl’s laying back on her elbows, all leggy and naked, waiting for Prince Charming to come along? Well, that’s Dani, okay? She’s the cheesecake.”
The first time Landry had been through this hardpan country was thirty years ago, as a boy traveling with his parents. It was supposed to have been a family vacation (destination Grand Canyon), and because he’d never been west before the landscape had taken him by surprise, ambushing his boring, Midwestern sensibilities. There was nothing here but barren waste—mile upon mile of flat dry prairie, and buttes dotted with low round piñons, the branches of which ran to a green so deep they were almost black—yet it was mesmerizing. An amazing desolation! There were mountains, too, of course. Long, snowy ridges that reminded him of his mother’s crimped piecrusts, stretching north to south in an almost unbroken line. But they were away in the distance. Small and inconsequential. So far off they seemed to have little bearing on the immediate character of the countryside.
“Look, Sammy,” his old man had shouted, pointing across his chest to the fleeting prairie. Look over there. See that?”
Landry had looked up from his book. “What?”
“Way off there. On horseback. An Apache war party by the look of em.” His father nodded and his neatly-parted hair, which gleamed in the hot southwest sun as if it had been turtle waxed, moved up and down in a stiff mass, every strand Brylcreemed into place. “See?”
“There aren’t any Indians.”
“You sure about that? That’s what John Glanton thought, too. Just before the Quechan scalped him.”
Landry got up on his knees and put his elbows on the open window, staring out at the nothing that spoked past his eyes. Miles and miles of scraggly brown grass and highline wires. Wispy clouds that took forever to float across the sky. He spied a herd of pronghorn grazing near a lone railcar far to the east, but that was the sum of it. That was all the life the land was willing admit to. A couple of scrawny antelope. “You’re lying,” he whined. “There aren’t any Indians.”
“Yeah, but there were, once.”
His father’s eyes leapt to the mirror, and he grinned like a bear. His old man was what his friends liked to call a card. Or a joker. The kind of guy who loved to make up large extravagant lies, then swear on the immortal souls of his not-yet-born-grandchildren that every word of them was God’s own truth. Yes, life was one big yuck-fest for his father except when it wasn’t, and when it wasn’t, whoa to the poor sonofabitch who had the audacity to suggest he might be taking himself just a little too seriously.
Landry and his family had lived in Iowa, on the eastern edge of the state. Up where the Mississippi river wound through the hills and bluffs like a silent, slow-moving freight train. Their house, a simple brick rancher, sat only a mile or so from the municipal airport, near a big open cornfield, and his old man (who worked as a tool and die maker at the John Deere plant in Dubuque, and loved airplanes as deeply and desperately as he feared the notion of flying in them) would sometimes take him out to the airfield where they’d sit in the grass and watch the gleaming silver craft take off and land in deep, thunderous rushes of air.
“Are we flying out to the Grand Canyon?” Landry had asked, when his folks announced the news of the family vacation.
“Of course not, dear,” his mother said. “Your father wouldn’t be caught dead on a plane.”
His old man pounced on these emasculating words, frowning, as if Landry’s mother had gotten the whole thing wrong. “Sammy,” he said, “some of us here are men. Real men, like from the old days, you know?” He passed a lashing glance at Landry’s mother. “So, hell no, we’re not getting on a plane. Doing that would defeat the purpose of the trip! I mean, for crying out loud, boy. You want to see the land the way Kit Carson saw it, don’t you? The way Jim Bowie and Billy the Kid saw it?”
“Well then, there you go! Enough of this malarky about airplanes!”
The explanation made complete and unerring sense to Landry’s nine-year-old mind. He was going to see the land the way the men who’d tamed the wild west had seen it. From the back seat of a Cadillac Seville.
Dani sat up now and stretched her neck, glancing over the seatback while Landry’s eyes rose to the rearview. First to the two long ribbons of asphalt receding behind them in perfectly converging lines, then to Dani’s lovely, worried face.
“You all right?”
Landry sighed. “There’s nobody within miles, Dani. I’m telling you.”
“He’s got ways,” Dani said. “He ain’t all that smart, but he’s sneaky. Sneaky as a henhouse fox.”
Landry’s eyes pulled themselves up to the mirror again. He saw nothing. Nothing but the past. Empty road and desolate prairie and desperate matters immune to man’s undoing. They’d been driving hard all night, and except for a pair of headlamps that came roaring up behind them when they were outside of Pueblo (headlamps that followed them, ominously, then angled up an exit ramp and disappeared), the world had left them to their own lonesome doings.
She turned to him. “Are you?”
“I could be.”
“I can go all day on a pot of mud if I have to,” she said.
“Well, you don’t have to. If you want to stop and get something to eat, let me know. I’d happy to pull over. There’s a café the next stop up.”
Dani glanced again, halfheartedly, over her shoulder. Out the window. “Maybe we should wait a while. The more miles we put between us and whatever’s back there, the better I’ll feel.”
In 2007, Dani had been in national television spot for a Manhattan insurance agency where she’d played a cattle drover in tight, faded bluejeans. She’d worn a white Stetson and a gray duster, and was seen riding herd on a prairie-full of housecats, all of whom had been digitally manufactured in some animator’s Avid suite out in L.A..
Big Mike Bullock had seen the commercial during halftime of the Superbowl, catching it as he was coming out of the bathroom, zipping his trousers, and when he lumbered into the dealership on Monday morning, raving about the smoking-hot babe on the Appaloosa, one of the grease monkeys in his body shop put down his rag and told him that the cat-herding girl, Dani, was a local from Calhan, who worked days as a sales clerk at Johnny Bingo’s Tack Shack.
The fuck, Big Mike said, unable to keep himself from making a lame joke about chasing pussy. Let’s throw some money at her. He gave the air an obscene back and forth jerk with his fist. See if she’ll put out for us, too.
Landry had been lounging in the back seat of his old man’s Cadillac, reading a book called The Mad Frontier when his parents started in on one another, this time over his old man’s smoking.
“Must you?” his mother sighed, watching his father fold down the sun visor and allowing a half empty pack of Old Gold’s to drop into his hand.
“Why not?” the old man said. “I don’t see what difference it makes. Not any more.”
His mother bit back the remark she was going to offer. Instead, she sat up and tried a smile. “It’s just that the smoke’s not good for Sam, either.” She glanced over the back seat, as if to make certain Landry hadn’t yet succumbed to the toxic carcinogen, and frowned, instantly, when she saw what he was reading. Between the two of them—he and his father—his poor mother found herself locked in a never-ending struggle against the forces of ignorance. Intellectual entropy. She hated it that he squandered his time and allowance on junk reading, the same way she hated it that his father had squandered his health engaging in habits that were vulgar and unhealthy.
“The kid’s fine, Lois.” His father raised his eyes to the rearview and grinned at him. “Aren’t you, Sammy?”
Landry said nothing.
“Look,” the old man said, demonstrating the obvious error in his wife’s thinking by nodding at the wild stream of blue smoke being sucked out the wing vent of the driver’s window. “It’s going right out the window, see?”
His mother shook her head, muttering, “Yes, like everything else in our lives.” She started to mist up, but the old man saw what was brewing and stopped her before she got very far with it.
“Ah, ah.” He brought his finger to the top of his sunglasses, tugged them down just far enough that his tea-brown eyes were peering over the rim, and said, “Little pitchers have big ears, Lois. Little pitchers have big ears.”
“You got people down here? In New Mexico?” Dani asked in a disembodied voice. Eyes lost somewhere in the passing countryside.
“No,” Landry said. “Not exactly.”
“But you’ve got history with it. The land here.”
He focused on the outcrop ahead. He’d spent his whole life avoiding conflict. Living off the simple grace of the perfectly-timed shrug, the all too easy, Oh, well. You win some, you lose some catch-all concession of barroom philosophers. But Dani had ruined all of that for him when she came trotting up on horseback the morning of the shoot with her agate eyes and gunpowder smile. One look at her sitting there, and the trusty armor of the glib rejoinder deserted him.
“You do much work in town?” she’d asked, looking down from her saddle.
He was loading a fresh battery on the camera. “Here?” He looked up. “In Calhan?”
“No, Silly,” she said. “In the Springs.”
They were outside the county’s Equestrian Center (a Quonset hut fitted out with ancient 4H bleachers, and portable stock pens). Tug and his wrangler buddy, Skip LaForge, hadn’t arrived yet with the roping steers, and Dani had been warming up Tug’s horse with a few quick turns around the arena.
Landry’s eyes tracked their way up the girl’s scuffed riding boots to her muscled thighs, to the cantle and saddle horn that obfuscated an otherwise inviting view of her wide-spread legs. “A little,” he said. “But Denver, mostly.” Her looks got the better of him and he lied. “Might be working a gig out in California in a few months.”
She perked up, and their eyes tangled. She smiled and he blushed, and in the blinding gleam of tooth enamel that followed—a blast of light that announced itself like the muzzle flash of a .45—his heart crumpled.
“Saw you in that cat herding spot for American Home & Life,” he said, doing his best to recover from the wound.
“Yeah. You were good.”
“I wouldn’t say so otherwise.”
It had been so surreal, Dani told him. All the equipment. The people. Everybody scrabbling around, looking through lenses and director’s finders. Or making frames out of their fingers. They must have put up a thousand silks and scrims, she said. They must have hung a hundred reflector boards from a hundred different C-stands. Hell, she told him, there were even two old boys who did nothing but push a dolly down a chrome track, back and forth, back and forth.
She seemed mystified, even now, that they’d cast her in the spot, making it sound just short of crazy. Heck, she told him, all’s I did was sit a horse and swing a lariat. It wasn’t like I had to recite lines or nothin. It was as if she’d never taken a good look at herself in the mirror, or seen what other people saw when she sauntered up and turned on that high voltage smile. It was as if she had no idea who she really was, or the power she possessed in a solitary glance.
“I guess they must’ve liked the way I ride,” she said.
Landry nodded. He’d seen her do it. “Must have,” he agreed. Oh, how he agreed.
“You sure that wasn’t him last night? Outside Pueblo?” she asked for what must have been the tenth time that morning.
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. Sighing, softly. “Hope you’re right.”
Landry may have thought it was Tug, too, back there outside of Pueblo. But if he did it was only for an instant, when it looked as if they might get rear-ended. The moment the truck turned onto the exit ramp and his common sense kicked back in, he knew there was no way it was Tug, because there was no way Tug could’ve known that Dani had hightailed it out of town. Not yet, anyway. And even if he had there was no way he could have known who she’d run off with, or which direction she’d run.
“Tug ever hit you?”
It was a question he felt entitled to ask. One he knew Dani could answer now that there would be no fear of reprisal. But she refused to say, neither acknowledging nor dispelling the possibility.
“No offense meant.” Landry backpedaled when he saw her sull up. “But he seems like the type, you know? He’s got the look of a closet sadist. It’s in his eyes. He reminds me of the kind of guy who tortures cats behind the barn.”
She laughed and backhanded his shirtsleeve.
“You’re bad. You make him sound worse than he is.”
“Maybe. I don’t know.” She pulled a stick of lip balm from the watch-pocket of her bluejeans and uncapped the lid. “He wasn’t much for candy and flowers, I’ll give you that. But whatever else he done, he never laid a hand on me.”
“Swear to God?”
She took the balm and ran it along her bottom lip. Looked at him under half-lidded eyes. “You can check me for bruises, if you like. But not till we get to the motel.”
Landry’s father was under the weather when they’d set out on their vacation that summer. For months he’d been bothered by a persistent cough and a nagging, low-grade fever, and the wild, up and down moods that accompanied these symptoms had made him a giant pain in the ass to be around. Especially for Landry’s mother, who’d wanted no part of the trip in the first place.
Hell, he, Landry hadn’t wanted to go either after he learned there’d be no plane ride. All of his school buddies were hanging around town that summer, and here he was off on some cross-country “educational” holiday—so yeah, he wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea, and would have said so, too, had anybody asked him. The Grand Canyon. Whoop-dee-fucking-do! A thousand miles on the road in a hot, smoky car. And for what? To stand in front of a stupid hole in the ground while your parents took snapshots of you pretending to be happy.
His dad piped up again. “Look at those goddamned cottonwoods, will you? You ever see anything like that? Every leaf’s like a gold coin, isn’t it?”
The old man scanned the rearview. “What do you think, huh Sammy? How’d you like to have a tree blooming with gold coins?”
Landry looked up from his book, shrugged and said, “Yeah, sure.”
His mother sat quietly without speaking. Shaking her head.
The cottonwoods were mostly green, not yellow, and they certainly weren’t gold. They clung to the banks of a dry riverbed in a long raggedy line, far away in the distance, and you could hardly even see them.
“Atta boy,” his dad said. Then he turned to Sam’s mother. “See? Some people in this car know how to have a good time.”
“Yes,” his mother said. “That’s wonderful, isn’t it? Maybe if some people in this car had been having a little less fun, and paying a little more attention to their doctor, other people in this car wouldn’t be wearing a long face, wondering what was going to become of them.”
Sam turned his eyes back on his book. All he wanted was to be back in Dubuque, with his pals.
Tug and Skip arrived late to the shoot. They’d had some trouble loading the steers into the trailer, and the unexpected expenditure of energy had required they stop and fortify their spirits at a nearby watering hole. Did anybody have a problem with that? Landry looked at Dani, who looked away, embarrassed, then turned a pleading glance back on her husband. Tug and Skip were both laughing. They smelled like a brewery.
Landry disliked Tug from the moment the man stepped down out of his pickup truck. But his dislike grew and deepened and matured throughout the course of the day, and by the time they were finished with the steer-roping sequence (which, thanks to Tug’s half-inebriated state, took an hour longer than it should have) and ready to shoot the husband-and-wife interview in front of the Silverado, his hatred had gone from a slow simmer to a rolling boil.
There was something cruel about Tug, and it radiated from every pore of the man’s rough, sun-dried skin, a current of negative energy, short-circuiting everything else around it. In front of the camera he was wooden and belligerent, and when the lens fell on Dani, he shrank her with the withering glare of his mean, close-set eyes.
What do you like about your Chevy truck? Landry asked, working the interview as he would any other. Doing his best to feed his talent a good segue line. Can you tell me a little something about the towing power? How it helps you keep up with those tough chores on the ranch?
Tug raked him with an iron look. One that might have been wrought with a hammer and anvil. It was the fourth time Landry had asked the question, and he was not shy about voicing his displeasure.
How many goddamn times you want me to say it?
I could use a smile, Tug.
Yeah. It looks more convincing if you say it with a smile.
Screw that. It feels stupid, smilin. You’re tryin to make me look stupid.
Dani, mortified, attempted to intervene. He’s just tryin to get it right, hon.
Blood rushed to Tug’s face. I wasn’t talkin to you. Was I?
Landry pulled back from the lens and shut off the camera before the argument could grow legs. Or worse, fists. No, this was his call and he’d had it up to here with Tug Rochelle’s bullshit, and he figured if Big Mike Bullock didn’t like what he saw on tape he could come back out and shoot the sonofabitch himself. Preferably with a Colt revolver.
All right, he said. Let’s call it a wrap.
Dani and Tug each looked at him in turn.
What’re you doing, Dani said, playing the peacemaker. Don’t you want another take? It’ll be okay. Tug’s just tired is all.
No, Landry said with a cool but dismissive wave of the hand. Tug’s right. No point beating a dead horse. We’ve got four takes. We’ll make one of them work.
Landry ejected the tape from the camera, marked it with the date and title of the session, then packed it away in his canvas grip bag. When he’d secured the lenses and broken down the sticks and folded the collapsible reflector panels, he rifled through yet a third bag and found Tug’s and Dani’s model releases and pay vouchers.
So, he said, drifting into the small talk he’d always depended upon when he was obliged to carry a conversation beyond its natural limits, how long you two been married?
Dani took the papers from his hand, smiled bashfully and said, A year and a half.
Landry smiled back, giving with the most insincere nod of approval he’d ever managed to hold forth, publically. Meet on the job?
Dani and Tug turned to one another. Dani laughed nervously.
I stole her off my neighbor, Tug said, torching a cigarette and snapping his lighter shut, sliding it back into the hip pocket of his Wranglers. An acidic grin crept out from under his black mustache. Good thing the camera’s off, huh? Don’t reckon you’ll be able to use that in your commercial.
Dani’s enchanting face gave itself over to a flood of color. As if there were so much more to it than what Tug had just implied. But this was where the conversation ended, abandoned like a piece of rusty machinery whose entire history would go into the ground with it.
She wouldn’t let him stop to fuck her. She was too scared of Tug catching up with them. But when they’d hit the long stretch of highway between Walsenburg and Trinidad, she’d unbuckled her seat belt and offered lip service for the trials and tribulations he’d suffered on her behalf. He hadn’t expected this small, exquisite gift, but he wasn’t stupid enough to refuse it, either. So rather than push her away, he eased back and smiled, thinking of Tug, right to the very end.
“You love me,” he’d said, looking across the seat, steering with a single finger. “You loved me from the first time you saw me.”
“I did not.”
“Did so. That’s why you got in this car. That’s why you left him.”
Dani glanced over her shoulder. Flicked her hair with her small white fingers. “You oughta turn back now, Sam. Before he finds us. You could get off that exit ramp up there and turn this thing around and drive right back to Calhan. Drop me where you found me, at the Walmart. Pretend we never done this. I’ll call Tug from the pay phone and he’ll come get me, no questions asked.”
“I’m not walking away from you.”
“You would if you was smart.”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
She looked up at the sky and watched the droning, single-engine plane circle the sky. “That could be him up there, you know. Spying down on us.” Her eyes fell back, reluctantly, on the prairie. She pointed to the rocky landmass in the distance. The great loaf of stone and weeds and scrub oak rising against the horizon. “What’s it called again? That big rock?”
He told her. He also told her to stop worrying, saying that what she felt on the back of her neck wasn’t the heat of Tug’s hot, alcohol-bitten breath, but the sun. The sun she’d been missing for far too long, and that was hers now, forever.
She said the name of the great stone formation aloud. Wagon Mound. Then she asked him how far it was to the Grand Canyon.
“Still a good day’s drive,” he said.
“A whole day?”
“Eight hours, at least. But it’ll be worth it.”
“How do you know?” she said. “You told me you ain’t ever seen it either.”
His eyes were on the formation.
She turned to the window. “You ever done anything like this before?”
“Run off with another man’s wife?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “No. Hell no.”
“So you’re telling me you don’t see it?” his father shouted, badgering his poor, browbeaten mother.
“I’m telling you,” she said. “I don’t see it.”
His father pointed. “Right there, Lois. Right in front of you. You don’t see it?”
“I told you.”
His old man threw himself back against the car seat, angrily gripping the bakelight wheel. He sneered, slapping the dash, hoping perhaps that a good stiff jolt of hostility might awaken his wife’s imagination. “Come on!”
Sam’s mother looked out her window, not wanting to get into it. But the old man wouldn’t give it a rest.
“You don’t see the wagon?”
“I see no wagon.”
The old man’s agitation grew. He was still laughing, but it wasn’t funny anymore. Frustration had worked its way into his muscles, pulling them as taut and rigid as a metal cable. He stabbed a finger in the air, in the direction of the saddle-backed lump of rock and grass that sat on top of the ridge. The lump that looked like an old pioneer wagon that had lost its wheels and run aground, burying itself up to its jockey box in the stone. It was there, weeds and rocks growing up all around it, and he was determined to have her see it.
“You see no wagon? No prairie schooner? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“For god’s sake, Clarence. What does it matter?”
“I’m just trying to get this clear in my head, Lois. You’re saying you see no wagon.”
“No. Yes. I’m seeing no wagon.”
His father’s face turned red, the veins in his neck threatening to rupture. He’d watched as his old man’s eyes flew back and forth between the road and the woman riding beside him, and he could tell that the longer his father was forced to wait for the answer, the more agitated and inflamed he’d become.
“Tell me you see the wagon.”
“I can’t,” his mother said. “I won’t just make something up and pretend it’s true. I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.”
His father laughed meanly. “Oh, I get it.” He clammed up, but only for a moment. His eyes began to work their way over the landscape. They moved slowly at first, then faster and faster, racing in every imaginable direction until they landed on the rearview mirror. On the book Landry was reading. “Gimme the book, Sammy!” he shouted like madman. “Gimme the goddamn book so I can show your idiot mother here what I’m talking about!”
Landry, petrified, lowered the book. His eyes slipped to the cover, to the comic illustration of Alfred E. Newman—the publisher’s irrepressible idiot-savant anti-hero—sitting on a Conestoga wagon drawn by an ox.
His father shouted again.
The wagon was bristling with arrows, and alongside the smiling, benighted Newman, with a booted foot jacked up on the wagon’s wooden spokes, was a motorcycle cop, writing out a traffic ticket.
“The book, Sam!” his father demanded. “Hand me the goddamn book!”
Landry’s mother began to shout at his father, admonishing him for his boorish language, insisting it didn’t matter what sort of despicable things he did to her, or how angry he was at the world for the awful thing that was happening to him, it was unfair to befoul their poor son’s ears with such ugliness and cruelty.
“Shut up,” the old man yelled. “Shut the fuck up. There’s a picture of a fucking wagon on the cover of that fucking book, and you’re gonna look at it and you’re gonna tell me it’s the same goddamn thing I’m looking at up there on that goddamned ridge.”
The book flew from Sam’s fingers, fluttering upward as if it had been knocked clean away by an invisible hand, and when it sailed over the seatback and struck the dash, falling to the floor, his parents engaged in a frantic scramble to snatch it up. That was when his father lost his grip on the wheel, and the gleaming Cadillac left the pavement.
They were closer to the mound now, and Landry slowed the vehicle so Dani could lean forward and get a better look. “See,” he said. “See how it looks like a wagon?”
Dani studied the formation, taking her time before committing to an answer. “Yeah,” she finally admitted, agreeing with him in principle although in no way sounding as impressed as his would have liked. “I guess it does look like a wagon. If you look real hard.”
“Ha!” Landry smacked the steering wheel in unbridled glee. “It does, doesn’t it!”
“Yeah,” Dani said, “One, maybe, whose wheels fell off. And that grass grew up around.”
Landry grinned in self-satisfaction. Vindicated at last. It had been easy, almost too easy, especially after all these long, miserable years, but here, now, finally, he had it. The answer. See, he told himself in a conversation that seemed strangely two-sided. That’s how it’s done. You start with a civil question, and you end with a civil reply. No shouting. No threats. No muscling one another around. It was that simple, and that easy to do, and guess what? No one had to die!
The moment came in flash, and he wanted to savor it, but his parents were long since buried, and Dani had already lost interest in the odd-looking formation. So the best he could do was take his victory and move on.
In the median ahead stood another wooden cross, shivering in the hot, prairie wind. There was a name was written on it, but the letters were too small to decipher. Dani, whose eyes were already hurrying up the road, pointed to the quaking marker, then chanced another look over her shoulder. Out the back window. “Best we keep moving,” she said. “Tug ain’t one to let bygones be bygones.”
# # #
"Wagon Mound first appeared in the Hawai'i Review.