hell found me
Hell found me. His great snuffling breaths rolling across my cheek and jaw as he pressed his wet nose into my face. I lifted my left hand propped up on my elbow in greeting, unable to lift it any further on account of my shoulder. The night had turned to chill and I was unprepared for it. The fall had happened as I as running Hawk along the plain, faster than I should have at the time of day, unable to see the ground. Hal always said I'd break my neck running Hawk that way. He was almost right, like so many other things. Satisfied he found his mark Hell lifted his head and let out a great baying howl. Our dog, I thought. Then, my dog.
I thought about the coffee I drunk this morning, the steam rising from the rim of the diner mug I drank out of every morning. I thought about the dry toast I ate with the coffee. How I used to make two pieces and every time I pulled them from the toaster Hal would say, “You burnt them again, Old Man,” and I’d grunt in reply. I thought about the wisps of hair around his ears that never laid flat or were satisfied being tucked behind and how is eyes crinkled when he laughed at something on the television set or in the paper. I thought about how he would stamp his cigarette butts with the heel of his boots and how he’d say, “Damn them all!” when I stiffened against his embrace outside of the house. That he never seemed to care about what it looked like for two grown men to share a house together in a small dusty town where people took too much notice. That even after all these years, the sheriff couldn’t meet my eye when he walked up to the porch to tell me about the accident. The awkward conversations at the funeral parlor as mourners gave condolences to members of his family and avoided asking too many questions about us being 'good friends'. Going home, hanging my hat by the door and sitting at the kitchen table, Hell asking my for attention, unsettled by the quiet. Listening to the silence until I couldn't stand it, leaving Hell inside as I went to the barn and saddled up Hawk just to get away from the emptiness inside.
My father had been an out of work ranch hand taken in by roadside construction work. I remembered him stiff and tall with an ice cold in his hand after a long days work talking about the good decent folk being robbed of good decent jobs. My mother never said much but to let us know dinner was ready, too worn out from her days in the diner to do much else. We never had much growing up and learned early on not to expect things to change. One day my father came home complaining about the politicians taking over and changing things for the worse and before we knew it we were heading across the state lines in search of places not gone over to sin.
My grades in school never exceeded expectations and I didn’t make many friends on account of being quiet. More than one gym teacher tried to pull me out of my shell by getting me involved with sports, but one day in the locker room some upperclassmen boys were joking around and not knowing if it was directed at me or not I took a swing at one of them. I mostly kept to myself after that. I wasn’t ever book smart, not like Hal, and I never aimed much higher than my Dad did. Just wasn't in the cards for me, I reckoned.