I was sittin' out back nursing a Lonestar longneck—yeah, it's hard to find in the Wine country—listening to my iPod. Faron Young started crooning "The Other Woman (In My Life)" and I thought, damn, that's a sad song. Feeling a jolt of the Texas born alcohol and feeling melancholy from the music I took pen to paper...
Don't accuse me of being without feelings
If you do, you know that you're wrong
For it was you who was careless
And you drove me into another's arms
Love, oh love, oh careless love
You see what love has done to me
- "Careless Love" Traditional
The bartender shot me another aggravated look as I slid the bottle of Lonestar around in circles on the counter—the sweat from the cold bottles lined up in a careful row mixed with the ashes carelessly shed from the first pack of cigarettes I'd bought in over twenty years were mixed together in a sloppy mess.
Every time he came closer with his rag, I shooed him away with another sawbuck and a wiggle of the latest installment of my attempt to drown in my misery. He was good at bringing a new cold one but, damn; he did have a thing for cleanliness.
Looking into the flyspecked mirror—I guess it was just the bar he had this cleanin' fetish about—I saw this pushin' middle aged (and pushing very hard!) man peeking with red rimmed eyes through the nest of long necks. Being honest with myself—something I hadn't done about Dottie for a long time—I conceded that I wasn't like the handsome, virile young man I'd seen my "lovin' wife" with last night.
Yeah, I could see a gleam of reflected light through the thinning hair on my head and the wrinkles around my eyes showed the effects of all those years working outdoors in the sun and weather at the ranch tryin' to keep Dottie happy. I nodded to myself thinking once again that money (nor hard work) didn't buy happiness.
I heard the clink of coins dropping into the jukebox and through that mirror I looked over to see the only guy in the place more pathetic than I leaning on the source of that sad music. I swore, if Hank Thompson started playing that damn "Wild Side of Life" again, I was gonna stick one of these longnecks where it'd do the most good.
Sure enough, as I gave a deep and lonely sigh, the music cried out:
I might have known you'd never make a wife.
You gave up the only one that really loves you.
And went back to the wild side of life.
Tears came to my eyes as I wagged the empty, asking for more solace.
It wasn't anything grand. I mean I didn't suspect anything ... hell, I didn't even have a clue. I almost never left the ranch in the evenings—I was always too damn tired. Jerry had called me and said he really needed some of the casing pipe I had left over from puttin' in a well a few weeks back. He had a leak in the well for one of his stock tanks and "would I do him a big favor?"
So I loaded up the truck with what I had and drove into Uvalde. My ranch was a few miles southwest of Sabinal. We shared a beer and I started back. I was tired and still thirsty so I pulled into Jake's Place—a few blocks before pickin' up highway 90—on the way back. It was a new place, more of a dance hall than a bar. I pulled up and was shocked to see Dottie's Jeep in the parking lot. She told me she was goin' up to Hereford to help her friend Nancy who's youngest was down with the colic. She'd said that she would probably stay overnight.
I sat there in the hot summer night, the pinging of the cooling engine an offbeat counter point to the dance music coming through the open doors. The sweat was making tracks through the dust on my face and I could smell the long day of backbreakin' work on my clothes.
Gathering myself I got out and walked over to the door. The music was louder here and I stopped inside by the rest rooms looking around. Finally I saw Dottie and this kid—hell, he couldn't have been more that twenty-five—movin' in the shadows by the back door. The band was playing a fast two-step but they were dancin' somethin' slower than a waltz ... if dancin' is what it was. His hands were all over her and she sure weren't complainin'!
I watched for a minute, undecided, when she put her arms around him and gave him a big kiss—sure looked like she was trying to ream out his tonsils. Breaking the hug she took his arm and dragged him out the door—left open in the misguided hope of a fresh breeze. I knew then it was gonna be bad.
I walked back outside and around the building as they were getting' in the back seat of a big crew cab truck. I slowly walked up to the truck. It was hard to see in—the truck was high off the ground. When I saw her dress carelessly tossed over to the front seat I knew there was nothin' I wanted to see anyway.
I dragged myself back to my truck and sat there watching that damn red Jeep of hers. Feelin' childish I grabbed the tire iron from under the seat and broke her windshield and headlights. Damn, it felt good though!
I headed home and drove out to an old line shack we kept stocked with food and such about four miles west of the ranch headquarters. I weren't hungry but I knew there was most of a bottle of my old friend Jack Daniels there that I needed to renew my acquaintance with. The first couple of glasses—I was sittin' out front on the grass under the big cottonwood tree—took the edge off my anger and I took a long hard look at my marriage.
By the time I heard the crash of the bottle broken on a rock by a lethargic throw, I came to understand I just didn't give a shit anymore.
Come to noon, I fixed some bacon and eggs and decided I needed a lot of something cold and wet. As I drove past the ranch house I didn't see her Jeep—hell, I bet she never even saw it herself last night.
I drove down towards Knippa to Willy's Tavern just short of town. And here I was listening to more from Hank:
And I dream of kisses you traded for my tears
And no one will ever know how much I love you
The beers were adding up so I stumbled back to the restroom. Plumpin' back down on my stool, I saw the bar was clean, the bottles were gone and the bartender had a vindictive gleam in his eye. I was strainin' to think of some smart-ass comment to hit him with when I felt a rustlin' next to me.
I turned my head and saw with some surprise Little Annie was sittin' there. Now I'd known Annie for a long time but I hadn't seen her since her husband Bill was buried—killed when a blowout on the oilrig he was workin' on over by Odessa caught on fire.
Annie—the Little Annie came from her bein' an even five foot tall (she claimed!)—was the sister of one of the hands I had helpin' me for seasonal work once in a while.
She looked over at me with a small smile and asked, "Hey, Bobby, buy a girl a drink?"
I looked her in the eye and mumbled, "Annie, I ain't such great company right now. I'm kinda down, ya know?"
Looking down at the bar and rubbing a spot with her finger, she answered, "Yeah, Bobby, I know. I've been feelin' like that for two years now. Damn! I miss the hell out of that asshole!"
Lookin' in the mirror, I could see her eyes were cloudin' up, maybe threatenin' rain. I took stock of her though I knew her well. She was sure 'nuff small but I knew she had a hellacious temper and a huge heart in that tiny body. She'd always had a big smile but I sure didn't see one now.
I held up two fingers and waved them at the bartender. We sat and drank in silence for a while—each lost in our own lonesome thoughts.
She spun around on the chair and looked at me, as if suddenly thinkin' of somethin'. "Hey, whatcha doin' here this late on a week night? Why ain'tcha home with Dottie?"
I waggled my empty again and talking to that homely mug in the mirror I told her about what I'd seen last night. As I was tellin' her, she took my arm in both her small hands and leaned into me.
When I finished, we sat there for a quiet, long time. Somebody put the money in for a slow song and Annie dragged me off the stool onto the small dance floor. We kinda moved slowly around, not really dancin'. She felt good in my arms. She was about a foot shorter than me but I could feel somethin' firm pressin' into my stomach. She felt so delicate—I was afraid I was gonna break her.
She looked up at me and laughed, "Don't worry, cowboy, you ain't gonna break anything." She pulled me tight and we just leaned back and forth with the music.
When the song ended, she took my hand and led me out to the parkin' lot. She looked hard at me and said, "Just don't say a damn thing, Bobby."
So she got behind the wheel of my truck—I guess she felt I was in no shape to drive—and drove to her small house a little south of Sabinal. She pulled me into the house and opened a couple of icy cans of Shiner Bock and led me into her bedroom.
"Bobby, I haven't slept with a man since Bill died and I don't want to sleep alone tonight. I miss having a man in my bed! I don't want to do anything ... I just ... I just want to have a man hold me."
She ran into her bathroom and I stood there thinkin' about her. I guess I understood what she needed and surprisingly I felt like I maybe needed the same thing. She came out in a long white cotton gown and, if it weren't for the curves pushing out all over the place, I'd of sworn she was sixteen.
She lay on the bed and I went in to take a shower. She'd found a tee shirt and some underpants of Bill's somewhere and left them on the bathroom counter. I got my odoriferous clothes off and threw them in a corner. After a long hot shower I put the stuff she left me and went in to lay with her.
We finished our beers and she turned the lights out. She put her head on my shoulder and I swear she was asleep instantly. I lay still for a long time—thinking of Dottie and her asshole friend and realizing how hard it had been for Annie.
I fell asleep and woke up around two with my arm asleep. I gently disengaged her head from my shoulder and turned away from her. As I fell back asleep, I could feel her snuggle up to me. Maybe it was a dream but those curves sure felt good against me. Dottie had slept in a separate bed for several years because "her back hurt."
I woke up early needing to find that bathroom right away. After relievin' myself, I went back to the bedroom to find that Annie wasn't there. I washed up and put my dirty clothes back on over Bill's underwear (I threw my underwear in the trash). I wandered into the front of the small house and found Annie in the kitchen making flapjacks and frying a big ham steak.
She looked at me, embarrassed kinda, but didn't say anything. I walked up behind her, my hands on her shoulders and smelled her hair—maybe a faint apple blossom aroma. I kissed the top of her head and said quietly, "Thanks, Annie. I needed that. You're a good woman and I hope things work out for you. I know now how hard it is.
She turned in my arms and held me tightly but didn't say anything. I felt tears in my eyes ... I didn't know what to say or do.
Annie turned away and put the breakfast on the table. We talked about the ranch—she knew a lot about it from her brother—and about how hard it had been for her.
"Dammit, Bobby, just because my man died, every jerk in the area thinks I'm dying for their manly charms. I've been pinched, pushed and squeezed until I'm black and blue. Thanks for not takin' advantage of me last night."
She hesitated, and continued, "You could have, you know. I'm just so darn lonely..."
She jumped up and ran back to her bedroom. I got another mug of coffee and went out onto her porch in the early morning coolness. I looked at the risin' sun, an ominous bloody red risin' over the dusty West Texas sky, and thought about Dottie and Annie. Dottie and Annie, yeah!
I knew I was through with Dottie but I wasn't sure how to handle it. Did I like Annie? Yeah, I had to say I did. I respected the pain she had gone through and didn't want to hurt her. I had never really understood women and it surely didn't look like I was goin' to start understandin' them now.
I waited for Annie but she didn't show for a longish time. Finally I took the empty mug in and walked to the back of the house to find her. She was lying sprawled out on the bed, her skirt enticingly high, sound asleep with a gentle girlish snore quietly filling the still air of the bedroom. I looked at her legs and felt a stirring in my body but saw the damp spot under her face where her tears had wound up.
I felt a lump in my throat and quietly backed out. I wrote her a note:
Annie—thanks for everything—you were just what I needed last night. If it's okay, I want to call on you when I get it all figured out with Dottie. I gotta git back to the ranch and make sure the hands are gettin' the chores done.
I'll come over later so we can pick up your truck.
I drove back to the ranch to see what was goin' on with Dottie.
THERE CAME A WOMAN
There came a woman
Into the house
And life was ... changed
Two weeks after I had completed my degree in Range Management at Texas Tech in Lubbock, my dad had a heart attack and died that night in the hospital. My mom had died while I was in high school and suddenly I was alone in that big ranch house.
The funeral was a lonely time for me. Sittin' on the porch a couple of weeks later I knew I was at a crossroads. It would be a big challenge to manage the ranch but I was sure I could do it. I did have a good offer for the place but what the hell would I do? I loved the place and always felt comfortable there.
Mostly the place produced cattle—and that was what I loved. The ranch was 4,000 acres that was all deeded land. I had a few hands and hired seasonal workers as needed. The ranch had been in the family since the 1890's and I felt some obligation from that to keep the property. A couple of sons would be nice...
A rising plume of dust caught my eye and I watched it come down the long ranch road coming off Highway 1049. A two-year-old Caddy pulled up and parked on the asphalt area in front of the large garage with brakes squealin'. As I stared at the car, shakin' my head a little, a tall blonde showed a generous amount of thigh as she slid out.
Lookin' up at me through dark sunglasses, she asked, "Are you Robert Morse?"
"Yeah, I'm Bobby—ain't no one ever called me Robert but my mama ... and that was only when she was well and truly pissed at me. Can I ask what brings you out here in such a hurry that it was necessary to stir up all that dust on a hot day like this?"
She lifted her sunglasses, raised her eyebrows in askance, dropped the glasses back down and walked up on the porch—the short, tight skirt risin' seductively as she made her way up the steps.
Ignorin' my comment, she continued in a brisk, business-like voice, "I'm an appraiser hired by the bank in San Antone. Your dad had several loans with the bank: some on the property, a mortgage on the house, and two separate ones on the ranch equipment. I need to do a complete inspection on everything covered by the loans before the bank can roll over all the paperwork from your dad to you."
"Okay, I can see that. I have two questions: how long is this going to take and who are you?" I said this last with a little sarcasm dripping off my tongue. I figured she should have introduced herself before she asked who I was.
She laughed a little, and replied, "I'm sorry! I'm Dottie Dutcher. I don't work for the bank; I have a small business of my own, called 'Appraised by Dutcher.' I took it over from my dad when he retired last year. Based on the size of the ranch and the amount of equipment, I'd guess three or four days. Maybe a little less if I didn't have to spend all that time drivin' back and forth from the city."
With a saucy shake of her long hair—well past her shoulders—she added, "Of course if there were a place to stay close to here I could do it in less time." The last was said with the emphasis on close.
It turned out she stayed a week. She started on the house and when we got to my bedroom we kinda got sidetracked for the rest of the day. It was like that all week: she'd appraise for the bank in the mornings and we would appraise each other in the afternoons. Evenings we'd go out to dinner and dancin' and by the time she left we were engaged. I never did figure out exactly what happened. All I know is three months later we got married in San Antone.
Most of the time, it was a pretty good marriage. The sex was better than anything I'd ever had before—which was mostly the college experimentin' stuff. But there were little naggin' things—she was fixated on money and could never get enough. She'd run up to Dallas to places like Neiman Marcus and get the latest fashions two/three times a year.
She seemed to like to party a lot and I didn't like the way she dressed—or undressed as it looked to me ... and I liked it less and less as the years passed. She seemed to want to dance with about anyone but I got all the dances I could handle so I couldn't complain too much.
I was all set for a couple of kids but it seemed she wanted to "have a little fun" first. I guessed we should have talked about it before we got engaged but that first week when she was at the ranch, she had me in such a sexual daze, I didn't know which end was up ... unless she told me.
I got fed up with her flirtin' ways and finally stopped goin' out with her much. She didn't go as much either—maybe a couple times a month with her girlfriends. But it did seem that she would visit her friends more and more over time. There was always some good reason: a bridal shower, a quiltin' bee, some sick kid ... just always somthin' that kept her runnin'. Her shopping trips to Dallas, and now Houston seemed to happen more and more often. It also seemed like she had to do out-of-town appraisin' a lot too.
I asked myself once in a while whether I still loved her or not. After convincin' myself that she still loved me, I'd always get back to wonderin' if I was so sure and all why did I keep askin' the question?
The sex got better and better—I guess you could say it was hot. But it did seem like it wasn't as often. After four or five years of marriage, she got a back problem so we had to get separate beds. A year or two after that, she complained my snoring was so bad she wanted to move into the guest suite downstairs.
Ya gotta understand this was all happenin' so gradual I liked to not notice at all. It was just ever so often somethin' would happen and I would stop and take stock. I wasn't getting' any younger—pushin' forty, hair thinnin', maybe a little beer belly. Life had been full of sunshine when Dottie came into my life ... now it was all shadows and dark places.
Did I love her? Hell, I didn't know!
NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
"It is better to be unfaithful than to be faithful without wanting to be."
- Brigitte Bardot
I left Annie's place and with some resolve I headed home. Love was on my mind—what did it mean? What was it all about? I remembered something Joan Crawford said once:
"Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell."
It sure felt like my house was on fire!
We'd had some good years but could they be brought back? Did I really want to try to start over with Dottie? One thing for sure I wasn't goin' to put up with any shit from her. I didn't know; I felt so tired.
I pulled up to the ranch house and her Jeep was parked there. It was a little after noon on a bright, sunny Saturday. I walked in the kitchen door and she was sittin' there with a mug of coffee in her hands. She didn't look too happy with me and immediately proved it.
"God damn you, Bobby! Where have you been all night? Your clothes look like you slept in them. I've been really worried. Were you with some woman? Dammit, you were, weren't you? If you think you can get away with that shit..."
She was all red and looked ready to bust a gut. I just looked at her for a minute, kinda neutral like, and walked over to the fridge. I really needed a cold one. I drank half of it down and asked her, quietly, "Dottie, you know anyone that has a white, year-old F-250 crew cab with stakes on the back?"
I downed the rest of the beer and tossed the bottle in the general direction of the trashcan. From the noise of breakin' glass I guess I missed. Dottie had sit down, lookin' a little greenish like the time I tried to get her to eat escargot at that French restaurant in San Antone. I gave her a glare like the one she gives me when I come in from shovelin' the horse stalls and forget to clean off my feet.
I just walked out the door makin' sure to shove the screen wide open so it would give a nice satisfyin' slam. I jumped back in my truck and drove right back where I came from. I was thinkin' of a line from an old Don Rich song: " ... I'm gonna find somebody that's gonna love me like I once loved you."
When I got to Annie's place, she was doin' the same thing I'd been doin' earlier—sittin' on the porch sippin' from a mug of steamin' coffee. I sat down on the bench next to her and gave out what musta been the loudest, saddest sigh ever. She didn't say anything—just went inside and came out with a mug for me. Handin' me the coffee, she sat down, givin' her own sad sigh.
With a small smile, she looked up at me, "We're a likely lookin' couple, ain't we?"
I gave her a small smile back and took her hand in mine. "Wal, I don't know, Annie. I'm sittin' here with the purttiest gal west of San Antone. I know a great place for a picnic and I betcha I can find a good place to go dancin' tonight. Do you think that gal would like to do this with me?"
She looked at me for a long minute—lookin' like she was tryin' to make up her mind—then scooted over close, took my arm in her tiny hands and leaned into me. "Sure, Bobby," she said in a quiet voice, not lookin' at me now. "I ... I've had a hard time. I'm not ready to ... you know. But I'm lonely and I know you're hurtin' too. And, Bobby, I do like you a lot. You never knew it but I had the most godawful crush on you before I met Bill."
I turned to her, taking her small frame tight in my arms. I kissed her on the top of the head, buryin' my face in the thick curls. She smelled like those yeller flowers that bloom in the spring on the mountain meadows.
"Annie, I just need a friend now. Someone that can make me smile a little. I've got this big empty place where I used to have a lot of love ... and it hurts a lot. I like you—maybe more than a friend—but I do respect you and how you feel right now.
"Hey? If you give me a big smile, I'll take you on a picnic. Okay, Annie?"
We stopped by the market in Sabinal, pickin' up fried chicken, potato salad and a six-pack of Shiner Bock. I kept a cooler in the back of my truck so we put the lunch there with a bag of ice. Annie had brought some plates and stuff from her kitchen. We would pick up her truck on the way back.
I knew a place I'd been fishin' a lot on the Frio River up by Concan. It was about a quarter mile hike from the road but there was a big live oak leanin' over a still, deep pool of water. There was a fair sized grassy meadow and all in all it was a quiet and pretty place.
I put down a quilt she'd put in the truck and she got the lunch ready. That was one of the best meals I'd ever had—sittin' on that quilt with Annie. The food was simple but good. Afterwards we lay down with her head on my shoulder.
She was quiet for a long time—I thought she'd gone to sleep when I heard her whisper, "Do you still want to go dancin' tonight?"
"Yeah, I do, but my clothes are kinda mussed."
"Oh, that's nuthin'. I can fix that when we get back to my place. Bobby, this place you want to go. Do you think Dottie is gonna be there?"
Damn! I hadn't thought about that. "I guess she might. Is that a problem for you?"
"Well, are you tryin' to use me, Bobby? Tryin' to get back at her or make her jealous or somethin." She sounded a little mad with this.
I considered that for a long minute. "No, no, I don't think so. It's a nice place with a great band and I wanted to take you somewhere nice. I don't deny I'd like to see her dancin' with this guy and maybe let her see I'm not home alone."
"Just don't use me, Bobby. Just ... please don't."
I could feel her shakin' a little—I guessed she was cryin'. I put my arms around her holdin' her tight. As I thought about what I wanted ... and maybe what I didn't want, she fell asleep. I was thinkin' that, no, I wouldn't hurt her as I fell asleep too.
It was late in the day when we woke. We gathered everything up and walked back to the truck. I dropped her off at the bar so she could pick up her truck and followed her home.
She rummaged around in the closet and found a box of Bill's old things. The pants were fine but the shirts were a tad tight in the shoulders but were okay... 'cept the shirt was a lot flashier than I liked to wear—all flowers and things. There was a fine Stetson on the shelf in a plastic bag that fit fine. While Annie pressed the clothes, I shined my boots and took a shower. I used her razor to shave with but kept gettin' this image of her shavin' her legs while takin' her shower. Damn!
I finished the last beer while she got ready. I have to say she cleaned up real well! She had on some newish cowgirl boots, a full denim skirt and a pretty shirt with even more flowers than Bill's had.
We drove over to the same dance hall I'd seen Annie at those two nights ago. It was pretty late, maybe nine-thirty when we got there. I saw Dottie with her 'friend' and another couple sittin' close to the band. I grabbed a table maybe three or four tables down from the band from where she was. I wanted her to know that I was here but I didn't want to have to look at her with her friends.