The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Thirteen
Thoughts Before We Begin
I make no excuses for this story. This is a story of hope, and love, and if, at times it seems all “Waltony” then so be it, I can live with that description. I think we need more love, and hope, and so my stories will continue to sprinkle them both liberally.
Settle back and let’s see what Max and Katie are up to in Montana.
Trouble in the Rockies
West Yellowstone, Montana. The dead of winter. In need of a fuel pump for the Ford Ranger.
Repair estimate: $320.
It might as well have been ten-thousand.
Sure we had it, but if we spent it on the pump we’d have no money for food the rest of the way.
Six of one, half-dozen of the other. Screwed either way.
We were standing on the corner of Firehole Avenue and North Canyon Street, the hub of the town, snow drifting down, hardly any wind, drifts totally obscuring some businesses, and ten below zero. Gilbert at Gilbert’s car repair had just delivered the bad news.
“We can have the part here in two days, have you on the road in three,” he told us. We thanked him and asked for an hour while we talked it over. “Take your time, folks. The truck ain’t going nowhere,” he told us as he walked over to his next patient.
Katie’s nose and cheeks were pink as we stood in the God-forsaken cold, looking for answers among the pine branches and overhead gray.
“What do you think, Max?” she asked me for what felt like the thousandth time, like I had some clue how to navigate the waters of normalcy in a world I didn’t recognize or understand.
Traffic had backed up down the block, an honest-to-goodness traffic jam of snowmobiles and pickup trucks, their exhaust drifting skyward, the heavy thrum of their engines shattering the winter scene, a bison lumbering along the road, probably wondering what all the fuss was about, in no damned hurry at all.
“I think we should spend the night, sleep on that decision, Katie. The same problem will be waiting for us tomorrow, and maybe the solution will be clearer to us.” Katie nodded, and we went back to Gilbert’s and told him we’d see him the next day.
Home Sweet Home
Winter rates, the young Latina told us, sixty plus tax for a queen bed and cable, sold I told her and the room was as advertised, comfortable and warm. The previous cold drove us to the shower, no waiting one after another, both of us peeling the clothes off, turning on the warm, and stepping in as one. A vehicle with a lot of miles will show its wear and tear, bumps, dents, rust, it’s all there, a roadmap of every pothole and tossed stone it has faced. I thought of that as Katie gently ran her hands over my body, tracing scars, the suicide bomb, shrapnel from ricochets, jagged reminders that the human body is not designed for warfare.
“Does this hurt?” she asked, touching a welt where a round had hit its mark back in the desert, and I swear her touch was enough to make me forget my past for a moment, just a moment, but sometimes a moment is all you have, and I kissed that woman, gentle at first but then with all the pent-up frustrations boiling out, and the water beat down on us, mixing with the tears, washing away the dirt of the road . . . the dirt of the past . . . and I carried her, wet, to that queen bed and told her I loved her.
“Oh, Max,” was all she could say before I smothered any other conversation, and drowned myself in her loving womanhood.
Nighttime in the Mountains
“I know what we should do, Max,” she said after we woke up from a nap, her head on my shoulder, one leg draped over mine, a mop of hair brushing my cheek.
“I think it’s time to call home, Max. I think it’s time to tell your mother and father you love them. There’s no shame in making that phone call, Max. There’s only love.”
There was a kid in my platoon near Kabul, a kid from Cooley, Texas, big old boy, six-four, weighed in at maybe two-fifty, the son of a cattle-rancher, Toby Elias was his name. Good soldier, fearless, always had your six in hairy situations, the kind of guy you felt safe around. One day we were taking sniper fire from a building two-hundred yards away, had us pinned down pretty well, our cheeks down in the sand, keeping low, the grit stinging our eyes. We were weighing our options, yelling to each other across a courtyard, working out logistics, when all of a sudden Toby Elias, he screams “Fuck it”, gets up off the ground and charges straight at that sniper, a big bull of a kid pounding forward, making up the distance, two-hundred yards down to one-hundred, then fifty, bullets hitting in front of him, behind him, the sniper having a difficult time with the range and motion. Five minutes after Toby Elias burst from cover, the sniper was dead, and fifteen minutes after that we were all standing around asking Toby what the hell he thought he was doing.
“Hell, boys,” he said to us. “There’s some problems in life you just can’t hide from. Besides, I’ve faced meaner bulls than this little bitty guy,” he told us, pointing to the body of the sniper.
I kissed my Princess Kate, brushed hair from her face.
“Maybe you’re right, Katie. Maybe you’re right.”
I knew the number by heart, of course. It was the same number we’d had since my Little League days, living in that old Craftsman one block north of Green Lake on Northeast Seventy-Eighth in Seattle, almost eleven years to the day since I last stepped foot in that home, me wondering if anyone was alive to answer, hitting “send” and saying a silent prayer as Katie held me tight.
One ring, two, three and then the voice I first heard rushing out of the womb, the voice I heard every night, singing me songs before bed, telling me everything would be all right as she mended my bumps and bruises, it all rushed back to me with a simple “Hello!”
And she said it again, “Hello,” and again I couldn’t seem to muster up that simple response, my throat tightening, like some noose around it choking off all sound, and a third time she said it and all I could say was “Mom,”. . . but that was enough.
“Max? Honey, is that you?” When still I couldn’t answer I heard her calling for my dad, “Dale, Dale, get in here. Max is on the phone, my baby boy is calling,” and then the screen door slammed and my father’s voice came on, “Max? Max? Ah Jesus Christ, Max my boy, is that really you?” and emotion just overwhelmed me, and Katie had to take the phone from my hand and carry on for me.
“Hi, this is Katie, a friend of your son’s, yes, yes, he’s perfectly fine, just overcome with emotion right now, yes, I promise he’s fine, just give him a minute. What? Oh, West Yellowstone, Montana, we’re on our way to see you, if you don’t mind the company.” And my redheaded sprite of a woman laughed at the response, and she squeezed my hand tight and whispered she loved me, and I have to tell you, never has a human being felt more loved than at that moment in time.
The Next Day
The decision had been made, plans finalized, my parents would wire us money, enough for two bus tickets, and I told Gilbert we were looking to sell that truck and right then and there he took it off our hands, five-hundred cash, thank you very much, and suddenly we had more money than we needed, and the snow stopped, and strong winds overhead broke apart the clouds, swiftly moving clouds, and an honest-to-God patch of blue sky opened up, first blue sky in over a month, no sun yet, but the blue promising more as we went back to the motel to check out.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor