That's what the ranch is called now, she said. But the road under the snow was rough and got rougher, until he was bucking along over boulders and slanted rock and knew wherever he was, it was not right. His thoughts clogged as if a comb working through his mind had stuck against a snarl. He ties up the back legs, hoists it up and sticks it, shoves the tub under to catch the blood. He never returned to Wyoming to visit his father or.
In the bathroom he mixed the packet of instant motel coffee and drank it black, without ersatz sugar or chemical cream. That was why he'd missed it, that and a clump of sagebrush that obscured the gap. He heard the amazement in her voice, knew she was plotting his age, figuring he had to be eighty-three, a year or so older than Rollo, figuring he must be dotting around on a cane, too, drooling the tiny days away -- she was probably touching her own faded hair. Pallid flakes as distant from one another as galaxies flew past, then more, and in ten minutes he was crawling at twenty miles an hour, the windshield wipers thumping like a stick dragged down the stairs. He watched the nature programs on television.
In the long unfurling of his life, from tight-wound kid hustler in a wool suit riding the train out of Cheyenne to geriatric limper in this spooled-out year, Mero had kicked down thoughts of the place where he began, a so-called ranch on strange ground at the south hinge of the Big Horns. I hope they eat pies better than the ones you make, said Rollo, who didn't like the mouthful of pits that came with the chokecherries. The roots of his mind felt withered and punky. The lock button stood high. He describes himself in his youth as a hustler. Shoes slipping, coat buttoned awry, he might find the mythical Grand Hotel in the sagebrush. A star-spangled Band-Aid over his nose, he watched his crumpled car, pouring dark fluids onto the highway, towed away behind a wrecker.
She had long, gray-streaked braids; Rollo could use them for reins. He got down on his hands and knees and pointed out more, a few dozen. The half-skinned steer of the title is a symbol of bad fortune and ultimately of death. There was a cradle-sized depression eaten out by the spinning tire. The wind was sharp and his ears ached. But he a forced to return to what he was running away from and forced to remember thing from his past.
The old man's eyes were murk brown. The duck tumbled through the trees and into deadfall trash, and the hawk shot away as swiftly as it had come. Now he remembered that the main entrance gate was on a side road that branched off well before the Banner place. So one time he's out there by the barn, and he hits the steer a good one with the ax, and it drops stun down. His incoming tracks twisted like rope. The wind bellowed around the house, driving crystals of snow through the cracks of the warped log door, and all of them in the kitchen seemed charged with some intensity of purpose.
My Lord, she continued, Tin Head is just startled to pieces when he don't see that steer. He was out of town and running north in a few minutes. The breeding herd was down to eighty-two, and a cow wasn't worth more than fifteen dollars, but they kept mending fence, whittling ears and scorching hides, hauling cows out of mudholes, and hunting lions in the hope that sooner or later the old man would move to Ten Sleep with his woman and his bottle and they could, as had their grandmother Olive when Jacob Corn disappointed her, pull the place taut. He put on his gloves and buttoned his coat, got out and locked the car, sidled around to the rear, bent down. But he hated to quit when he was close enough to spit, hated to retrace black miles on a bad night when he was maybe twenty minutes away from the ranch. He dismissed the ten-mile distance to the Banner place: it might not be that far, or maybe they had pulled the ranch closer to the main road.
Proulx was born in Norwich Connecticut, on August 22, 1935 Defenitive statement You can't run away from your past. It played like a joke the way he imagined it, with Bob Banner opening the door and saying, Why, it's Mero, come on in and have some java and a hot biscuit, before he remembered that Bob Banner would have to be 120 years old to fill that role. Beyond the barbwire something moved. The wind's blowing pretty hard. A diagonal banner warned, Open May 31. Had a little ranch, some horses, cows, kids, a wife.
They're saying it could maybe snow. He wore it at the table listening to the woman's stories about Tin Head, steadily emptying his glass until he was nine times nine drunk, his gangstery face loosening, the crushed rodeo nose and scar-crossed eyebrows, the stub ear, dissolving as he drank. He had listened to her damn story and the dice had rolled. He was maybe three miles from Banner's gate, and the Banner ranch house was another seven miles beyond the gate. He and Rollo had shot two early in that winter, close to the overhang with the painted vulvas. He tethered the horses in the shade of a stand of limber pine and led the anthropologist up through the stiff-branched mountain mahogany to the overhang. Two or three flat ones might get him out, or small round ones -- he was not going to insist on the perfect stone.
Were they all crazy out there? He looks around for tire marks or footprints but he don't see nothing except old cow tracks. Four days; he would be there by Saturday afternoon. His Cadillac, boxed between semis with hissing air brakes, showed snuffling huge rear tires in the windshield, framed a looming Peterbilt in the back window. The protagonist compares his present life to a story he remembers hearing from his father's girlfriend while he lived on the ranch. He had a metal plate in his head from falling down some cement steps. Rollo said in a greedy, hot way. It was bad luck, but that's all.
Dinner is chicken and dumplins, one of them changed-color chickens started out white and ended up blue, yessir, blue as your old daddy's eyes. Well, well, she said, tossing her braids back, every year Tin Head butchers one of his steers, and that's what they'd eat all winter long, boiled, fried, smoked, fricasseed, burned, and raw. She'd balanced that broad butt on the edge of the dog-food chest, looking at the old man and Rollo, now and then rolling her glossy eyes over at Mero, square teeth nipping a rim of nail, sucking the welling blood, drawing on her cigarette. He saw neon, traffic, and concrete, but he knew the place, a railroad town that had been up and down. He was half an hour past Kearney, Nebraska, when the full moon rose, an absurd visage balanced in his rearview mirror, above it a curled wig of a cloud, filamented edges like platinum hairs.