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Authors: Dolores Durando

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BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
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I knelt, held that woolly body still and told her what a fine girl she was to have produced two such lovely babies. She leaned against me, relaxed, and the lambs found what they were looking for and nursed vigorously. When I left, she was cleaning her babies as though her maternal duties had suddenly come to mind.

Working most of the day cleaning that big shed and carrying manure to a pile that was almost as tall as I was totally exhausted me. Since the harvest had begun, the sheep apparently were not a priority.

Sitting against the barn for a moment's rest, I was startled when I heard that miserable old ram fighting the gate again. I realized it was late and was thankful for the wake-up call.

I ran to let the herd in and worked like hell to get the feeding done before the men came down for supper.

It was almost dark when I saw them at the washstand and I walked quickly to the cabin. Juan grinned and playfully punched me in the shoulder. Carlos never looked my way. We filed in and sat down. Ollie looked at me and asked, “Well, kid, what did you get done today?”

“I cleaned the lambing shed that didn't look as though it had been cleaned for six months, and when I counted those thirty sheep you said you had, my count came to fifty—not counting two new ones born last night.”

He gave me a long, penetrating stare. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I'd stepped in it.

“Don't get mouthy with me, kid. Just keep on shovelin' shit and we'll get along.”

Juan grinned and I figured he knew more English than he let on.

Ollie looked over at Carlos as Lupe started to dish up. “Hey, Carlos—next time I go to Frisco, I'm gonna buy our wife a nightgown. I don't think she's got one. What size do you s'pose?”

Carlos never lifted his eyes from his plate or let on that he heard a word.

“Lupe, bend over and let me look at that fat ass. What size, Mrs. Carlos?”

She gave him a playful swat as he ran his hands over her hips.

“Oh, hell—probably a waste of money now that I think about it. She likes bare skin. What d'ya think, Carlos?”

I watched Carlos' hands clench and unclench. The fork was bent double when he dropped it to the table.

The goose bumps on the back of my neck threatened to explode; my stomach tied in knots.

Ollie laughed as Carlos walked out—quiet as death, his feet never seemed to touch the floor.

Lupe continued to clear the table as Juan and I almost ran out of the cabin and down the path.

“Doesn't that maniac know what shit he's stirring up?” I asked Juan.

He didn't answer.

Ma would have said Ollie was messing with the hind leg of a mule, but I would have said it wasn't a mule—it was a king cobra.

Mealtime was always a miserable experience. Ollie never let up on Carlos except to throw a few words at me.

CHAPTER 3

M
y chores with the sheep had expanded to include digging postholes for a fifty-foot fence. It was backbreaking work—the ground obviously had never known a shovel. Plus I had to dig out the stumps that were in the way. By mealtime I was almost too exhausted to eat and food was hard to keep down. More than once I lost it along the path back to the bunkhouse.

After a couple days, I took a break to clean the sheep shed. Two more lambs had been born during the night and I was putting down clean straw, then pacifying the new mothers.

I looked up to see Lupe watching me as she leaned against the door with an egg basket hung over her arm.

What is she doing here? The henhouse is at the other end of the barn.

But I instinctively knew before she took my hand. I followed her as though hypnotized, stumbling along, my penis trying to undo my zipper—or so it seemed.

She stopped when we got past the wired bales where the loose hay was piled high. She set the egg basket aside, sat down, pulled the dress over her head, gave it a toss and lay back. Her thick brown body, her legs splayed out, those dark-tipped breasts—I could hardly breathe.

The thin sheen of sweat made her almost glow and the scent of her smothered the smell of the fragrant hay. Her voice sounded slurred and guttural as she said, “Come and get it, pretty boy.”

I fell to my knees and tried to unbuckle my belt with ten fingers on each hand.

“Let me,” she said.

As if in a dream, I felt the pants slide off and she moved against me, kissed a part of me that had never before known such affection. The agony was so great I groaned and uncontrollably erupted. Later—much later—I thought I had probably put most volcanoes to shame.

I wanted to die I was so humiliated. I turned away, but she pulled me back; her mouth and hands were everywhere—places I never knew existed.

Shockwaves drowned me as I lay suspended so close to Heaven I could hear the angels sing. Then exquisite agony as the entire universe exploded.

I lay almost unconscious, and still that insatiable member stood erect before I could hardly breathe—as if it was apologizing for its first premature performance.

She laughed as she whispered, “Another time, guapo, must go.”

But I held her fast and in the struggle somehow her legs held me captive again. Then a rustle in the hay and she was gone.

I crawled around in the hay that wasn't stacked so neatly now, looking for my pants, wondering if I had the strength to pull them on. My boots—where are my boots?

The guys got Sunday afternoon off, but the sheep didn't observe Sunday so I took the herd to pasture and did a quick cleanup of the lambing pen. Then I could sneak a couple of hours for myself.

Juan joined me as I drove the sheep out. When they were secure, we found a sheltered place in the brush and relaxed.

Juan produced a baggie with the green stuff, then proceeded to teach me how to roll a joint. I was fascinated to see how expertly those long, graceful fingers could produce so neat a cigarette.

He took the first deep drag and held it for what seemed forever, exhaled, and handed it over.

“Bueno, bueno.”
He nodded.

I tried to follow his example, but thought my time had come as I coughed, choked and my eyes watered. He shook with laughter, then motioned for me to give it another try.

I did, reluctantly, and found that inhaling was easier this time, and I held it as long as I could. It was overrated as far as I was concerned. I certainly didn't feel any different, only hungry—but I was always hungry.

We passed the joint back and forth and talked. Juan was picking up English very quickly and I thought I was doing great with Spanish. We were connecting, and this time I rolled the joint.

I was tempted to tell him—brag, even—about my experience with Lupe, but somehow I couldn't find the words.

He told me of his home, deep in the mountains, where his grandmother cared for him. Later a teacher lived with them and he saw very little of kids his own age in that tiny village. He said he had been lonely all his life.

I talked about my home, of Ma and Sis, and told him about my stepfather's encounter with Ma's chicken-butchering knife and we laughed till we cried. We seemed to get the gist of each other's broken language using our hands to diagram our words.

Suddenly—or slowly—I lost track of time, ranch life got better, the rain wasn't so cold and wet, the work wasn't so miserable, and the sheep smelled good. But I sure was hungry.

Later when we brought the sheep up, I had never been so happy and the beans and rice were the best I'd ever eaten.

At supper that night I even dared to ask Ollie when payday was and, since I knew I'd been there about five months, I also asked about a raise. I didn't sign on to dig postholes. He looked at me and squinted his eyes. “You okay, kid? You couldn't be into anything—you must be gettin' loaded on the smell. Don't worry about money. God will take care of you.”

Juan had sneaked five plastic bags—double-bagged to keep the smell down—of that high-grade Mary Jane. I'd stashed it in a Folgers Coffee can in a corner of the manure pile. I figured if I ever got out of there, I'd have something to compensate me for all those postholes. I knew God would take care of me, but I thought Ollie should help.

I turned my head to see the scared look on Juan's face and I realized the danger I had put us in with my big mouth. So I just looked as stupid as I was and said, “Smell of what? Sheep shit?”

And he laughed then. “Got that fence up yet, kid?”

“Not quite,” I smart-alecked back. “Only got about three more stumps to dig out and about forty more postholes to dig.”

“I hope I don't have to come down there and jumpstart your ass with the toe of my boot.”

Then he looked over at Carlos. “I'm leavin' early in the morning—special delivery. I'll pull the truck around and you two can get it loaded by midnight—so get movin'.”

“Kid, you be ready by sunup to load them sheep—use plenty of hay. And when I get home, I better see a long line of postholes—got that?”

He sneered. “Carlos, it's all yours. Don't wear it out—remember, I'll be back.”

I went down to the bunkhouse and found the baggie Juan had left for me. I lay in my bunk and smoked. I didn't hear them come in, but I sure as hell heard that damned bell clanging at the cabin and it was still dark.

Ollie was gone for two days and a night.

We all slept in—what luxury. The sheep got fed late; the old ram in a rage nearly tore the fence down. Juan helped me nail it back up.

“That old son of a bitch is Ollie's real father. They've got exactly the same hateful disposition,” I snarled as each nail was pounded home.

That tickled Juan. He laughed so hard he couldn't seem to drive a nail straight and I had to pull all those bent nails. Somehow his hand didn't look right curled around the handle of that hammer.

Carlos and Lupe didn't show until just before Ollie was expected back.

Juan and I scrounged around in that dirty kitchen and located the usual beans and rice, and we found the hiding place where a hen had thought her eggs were secure. So we ate all we wanted, smoked, slept and talked.

Juan held a shovel while I dug three postholes one day with a posthole digger that I thought had probably been used to help build the pyramids.

Just before the sun went down behind those tall, dark trees, Ollie drove in, pulled up to the chute and yelled, “Take care of them sheep. Throw a tarp over the truck. I'm dead tired.” Then he walked up to the cabin.

I smelled food—the first Lupe had fixed since Ollie had gone.

I was not surprised to see Carlos and Juan walking down the trail, like always—that big dog that slept by Carlos' bed following like a shadow.

At the table Ollie was quieter than usual. He turned to me. “Got that fence up, kid?”

I said, “Sure, Ollie, piece of cake. I pulled another stump, too—and added thirty-five more holes.”

He looked hard at me, then laughed. “Damn. Sometimes I like you, kid. Any new lambs?”

“No, but I think one's pretty close—that old ewe has been up and down all day. I hope she doesn't have any problems.”

“If she does, you come up and get Lupe. I'm so tired I don't know if I can make it into bed. Be sure to check her every few hours.”

I wondered how or when I was going to get any sleep.

Then he added, “It was cold in San Francisco and I'm glad to be home. I'll have a soft pillow to sleep on tonight. How about it, Carlos? Is it still soft?”

That night I lay there, thinking about that old ewe and couldn't go to sleep. Hell, she'll be fine, I told myself and dozed off. Don't know how long I slept, but I awoke with a start thinking of that ewe.

Disgusted with myself, I fumbled for the lantern, located a couple of matches in my jeans. After a couple of tries, I got it going, then stepped behind the bunk to look for my jacket. Ma had given me that jacket for Christmas—it had a double-insulated, zippered lining. I hated to wear it out in the rain and anywhere near the crap of the sheep shed, but it was warmer by far than Ollie's ragged and filthy cast-offs that Lupe had found for me and that hung on me like an overcoat. Besides, I had my “stash”—thirty-eight dollars from my stepfather's wallet—rolled up the size of a cigarette and securely hidden, pushed up into a seam of that jacket.

The dog growled, but Carlos never opened his eyes. I knew he was awake.

I opened the door to the cold black night and hesitated. Hell, she's had a dozen of 'em. Am I crazy?

I ducked my head and ran to the lambing shed. Making my way through the sleeping sheep, I found the old ewe, stretched out, all four legs stiffly extended, straining with every contraction. I could see one little leg and what appeared to be an ear, bulging with every effort, but nothing was happening. I knew that both the ewe and lamb would be dead in the morning. I weighed that thought against the hell I was going to catch if I woke Ollie.

I couldn't stand to see the agonizing attempts of the old ewe straining to deliver a lamb that was never going to come without help.

Ollie had said to call Lupe. I ran up the path—the long shirt flapping behind me—hoping, praying she would be in her own bed.

I knocked frantically at the kitchen window. Nothing happened. I was desperate as I moved to the door and knocked again. Suddenly the door was flung open. Ollie stood there in his shorts with a double- barreled shotgun in my face.

“Ollie,” I screamed, “it's me. It's me.”

“What the hell are you doing up here? You're lucky I didn't blow your brainless head off. It's the middle of the night—what the hell do you want?”

“It's that ewe. The lamb is coming crooked—they're both going to die.”

He turned and bellowed, “Lupe, Lupe. Get some clothes on and get down to the lambing shed and show this kid how to pull a lamb. Hurry it up.”

Glaring at me, he said, “That ewe better be on her feet in the morning with a live lamb. Now get the hell out of here.”

BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
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