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Authors: Dolores Durando

And Yesterday Is Gone

BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
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Blessed am I for my family…

My daughter Marilane, who has taken the time from her busy schedule to guide me through today's mystical technology, and whose shoulder was always there to cry on.

My daughter Dori Anne, who thinks I hung the moon and makes it so, and for her husband, Bill, a fisherman who would shame Moby Dick.

My son Bill, who is always there for me, strong and steady, and his wife, Cathy, who is all a daughter could be.

For my son Michael, who has listened so patiently and critiqued so gently over cold oatmeal and burnt toast.

And for my “other son” Matt, a big man with a big heart. The keeper of the keys.

This book is dedicated to my family, who have made this journey with me. Without them I would have lost the way. My daughters, who plan that I should lack for nothing. My sons, who help to make it possible. I am blessed.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My deepest appreciation to Barbara Holiday, my indispensible, elegant editor. A salty San Francisco Margarita with a twist of Oregon.

I am thankful for the Rogue River's Writers Guild, who has cheered me on, showing no mercy. You know who you are, Emma Jean.

CHAPTER 1

H
eld by his stepfather's big beefy hand, the collar tightened as he hung suspended, his dirty tennis shoes barely touching the scuffed linoleum.

His head swung from side to side with each backhanded slap, delivered with an almost hypnotic rhythm.

He heard the screen door slam and looked past the man's upraised arm to see his mother pick up the knife lying on the counter, the old wooden handle worn smooth from years of use, the blade still razor- sharp. The chicken-butchering knife.

The man paused, turned his head to look into the eyes of the woman who held the knife just below his rib cage. His gaze dropped to the indentation of his shirt, to the trickle of red that grew to flow freely as though searching for a way out of a bad situation.

The young girl who followed close behind her mother whispered, “Do it, Ma.”

“Put him down. If you ever touch one of my kids again, I'll kill you.”

She spoke in a low, almost friendly tone, almost as though it was an ordinary conversation.

The man released his hold on the back of Stevie's shirt. The boy nearly crumpled to the floor, but regained his balance against the cabinet. He wiped his bloody nose on the back of his sleeve, smearing red across his face.

She held the knife steady, as though undecided. The big man stood motionless, his arm still upraised. Then slowly, her eyes never leaving his, she dropped the knife. It left a splatter of red against the white porcelain as it clattered to the bottom of the sink.

He turned without a word, pulled the bloody shirt from his pants with a look of shock and disbelief as he held it against his side.

The door closed behind him and they heard the pickup start.

“Well, Stevie, what brought that on?”

The boy's eyes teared and he tried to steady his voice as he answered. “I asked him for the fifty cents he said he'd give me if I washed the pickup and I did, but then he said he'd apply it to my rent.

“I told him that the fellas were waiting for me out front, that we're going to the movies. He yelled, ‘Not on my money you're not, you worthless little shit. What in hell are you good for?' All the guys outside heard him.

“I said, ‘Good for nothing just like you, you lying bastard.' ”

Her resigned voice said, “Get it out of my purse. I think there's two quarters there. Sis, run down to the barn and bring that last chicken up and then we'll be done.”

A week later Steve met Ollie on that dark, rainy night driving on a lonely road that led him down a slippery path to another world.

That was the beginning of a process where he learned who and what he really was. The tough shell that he had built around himself rotted off really quickly there on that godforsaken ranch. Out there cleaning sheep shit and digging postholes, he figured he'd start from scratch to find the real Steve McAllister.

There was no one to intercede for him or give a damn if he made it or not, with the exception of the skinny Mexican kid who was worse off than he was, and it didn't matter to anybody that it showed.

The skin that eventually grew tough became his own, and he was stronger than he ever would have dreamed. But he didn't know it then.

CHAPTER 2

I
lay there in the dark listening to the rain splatter against the window. I pulled the covers up higher, hating the thought of going out into the wet darkness. I'd been thinking about making a run for it again—I'd run off once before, but the cops caught me and brought me back. Of course, I was only fourteen and dumb enough to take his pickup. Ma said I could go when I was eighteen, but I knew I couldn't last another year.

I slipped into the clothes I'd laid out last night and felt around for my backpack. I knew he was snoring on the couch in the living room—had been since Ma had taken the knife to him. I grinned as I thought about the look on his face.

The night-light in the bathroom showed me his pants were hung over the back of a chair; it was payday so I knew he had money.

My hands shook as I dug in his back pocket, pulled out the wallet and inched my way to the door.

The wind hit me and blew my hair over my eyes as I stepped off the porch steps. I put my head down, cut across the pasture and headed for the highway. Walking fast, the drizzle of rain felt good on my face.

Stumbling along, my mind wandered back and I thought of the years since Dad had died; how it seemed that everything had spiraled down from there. My self-esteem was at point zero, eroded from years of my stepfather's hateful words that hid beneath my fear. The bruises healed, but the scars in the inside needed more time.

I took it all to school and acted tough.

As a hyper, mouthy, overachieving troublemaker, I was also a straight-A student. I had a photographic memory and retained everything I read—and I'd read every book in the school library. I was captain of the debate team. Sis said I'd never have to repent my sins, that I'd talk my way into Heaven.

I never did a moment's homework.

After three years as editor of the school paper, I was kicked out because the principal maintained that I had questioned the Bible and cartooned the prophets. That was a deadly shot to me. Writing was my love and becoming a journalist was my dream…some day. I knew even then that writing was everything I wanted to do with my life. Because of Ma's tearful pleading, I was reinstated and graduated with an unsigned diploma—to which I promptly signed the principal's name. Better than he could have.

I walked a little faster and pulled my collar tighter, laughing to myself as I remembered how the fermenting mash had blown up in the chemistry room. The odor of beer hung in the air for a long time. That this happened shortly after my expulsion was no coincidence.

My cheeks were wet with more than rain when I thought how Ma was going to feel when I wasn't there in the morning. I was also scared and was wishing I could go back, but knew the die was cast and there was no way.

After I'd been walking a couple of hours, I saw car lights moving up behind me so I hit the ditch. When I knew it wasn't the pickup because of the diesel sound, I stood up and stuck out my thumb.

The truck stopped and I could see by the headlights it was pretty beat-up—looked like an escapee from a junkyard, so I was really surprised to hear the smooth sound of the motor.

A man rolled down his window, stuck his head out and asked, “Where're you headin', kid?”

That's when I heard the bleating of sheep and smelled wet wool.

“Where're you going?” I answered.

“I'm goin' home. I own a sheep ranch up at Camptown, right close to the Calaveras Mountains. So far back in the boonies that God has to look twice to find it. Wanna ride?”

“Yes, sir.”

He leaned over and opened the door and I crawled in—scared to go, scared to stay.

My wet clothes seemed to emphasize the odor of wet sheep and the unmistakably pungent smell of marijuana.

“What are you doing out in the middle of the night in this miserable weather? Cops after you?” came his rough voice.

“No, but if they were, they sure wouldn't have any trouble catching us in this old heap,” I said, trying to act tough.

He laughed. “Yeah? But there's four-hundred horsepower under the hood, kid.”

I thought,
Yeah, in your dreams.

“I'm going to San Francisco to look for work.”

“What kind of work?”

“Any kind.”

“I could use some help. I've got a big garden and about thirty head of sheep. You any good with animals?”

“I was born and raised on a farm and milking cows when I was in first grade.”

“Yeah, and how old are you?”

“In a couple of months I'll be twenty.”

He laughed and lit a cigarette that made my eyes water.

Some of the kids at school had fooled around with a joint or two and messed with their mothers' diet pills so I wasn't totally ignorant. But I didn't dare; Ma would have killed me.

“Mind if I roll the window down,” I asked, “or we're both going to be stoned.”

“How old are you, kid?” he asked again.

“Almost twenty,” I said again.

He laughed. “I know you're lyin', kid.”

I couldn't dispute it. Ma always said I was the world's worst liar.

“Yeah, you're lyin', but if you're a good worker and mind your own business, I could use some help with the sheep. They will be dropping their lambs pretty soon. Room and board—thirty bucks a month. Accommodations aren't great, but it would see you through till spring.”

It didn't take me long to make up my mind.

“You know how to drive?” he asked, slanting his eyes over at me.

“Sure.”

He pulled over and we traded places.

“Just stay on Four till we come to Angels Camp, then I'll drive on in.”

He pinched the end of the joint and stuck it in his shirt pocket, sat back, tipped his hat over his eyes and went to sleep.

We got into Angels Camp just as the sun was coming up. I seemed to be a long way from home in this crummy little place with a gas station, post office and a sleazy-looking bar and grill. I nudged him awake. He sat up and yawned, pushed his hat back.

“You hungry? Let's get a cuppa joe and some flapjacks—sound good to you? Got any money?”

“A few bucks,” I said. I hadn't even counted it. “Yeah, I'm hungry.”

The flapjacks tasted like leather choked in something that resembled syrup and the coffee would have floated a horseshoe. But he picked up the tab and tipped the old guy who was both cook and waiter.

The mountains looked close, but he said it was still a two-hour drive.

“What's your name, kid?”

“Steve,” I answered.

“Oliver here,” he said, “but you can call me ‘Ollie.' ”

Handing him the keys, I leaned back and closed my eyes.

I was jolted awake as he turned into a narrow dirt road that looked as though it had been designed by someone who really loved potholes.

A cabin stood at the very edge of the forest and the dark somber mountains rose protectively around it.

He drove past a long, low building that hugged up against a big, weathered three-sided barn. As we went by, I could see the barn was almost filled with loose hay and a few random bales. He backed up to a loading chute that emptied into a large, fenced pen that contained a sizeable herd of sheep.

BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
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