Today I’m posting Chapter 8 of High Pocket. Now it’s Jake’s turn to stand up to Sandy, and for Mary to make a choice that will seal their destiny.
All the way back to the Dry, I kept wondering what Mary told Sandy about us that might have set him off like that. She must have said something. Did she tell him I loved her like I told her she should?
We were at the Latchstring Inn during my vacation last week when I said I loved her. I surprised myself. I’d never said it to anyone before. I’m not sure what came over me. We’d been, you know, in bed together, and she was crying. I didn’t know why she was crying, and I didn’t say I loved her to try and stop her. I said it because I meant it.
“Don’t say that, Jake,” she said.
“Why not? You don’t have to say it back. I’m not expecting it.”
“It’s not that,” she turned her head away from my eyes.
She was trying to slow down her crying, so I waited.
“I knew the day would come,” she said finally. “I guess he knew it, too.”
“What do you mean? Who?”
“My falling in love.”
Then I realized what she was getting at.
“You’re talking about your dad, aren’t you?”
She lifted her head up and half nodded.
“Mary, I know what you said he thinks about miners. But this is different. I love you. Tell him. Go on tell him that. I mean I love you for good and all. He can’t do anything about that.”
“That’s what I mean, Jake. He’s said it a million times, made me promise never to get mixed up with a miner. He said he’d never stand for me ending up with a man like him.”
She started crying hard again. I tried to calm her.
“He can’t mean it. And I ain’t like him,” I put my arm around her. “He may have said stuff like that, sure, but not if it means losing you. You’re all he’s got. You know that.”
Then I shut up because I suddenly knew what she was really crying about. It wasn’t so much that she feared he might disown her or something crazy. It was about her, She was the one saying good-bye to him. She was making the choice away from him and to me. I understood more about the importance of that choice after I got to know Sandy better and learned what the two of them meant to each other. I’m talking about his accident and her taking care of him. All those years of him holding a grudge, and the two of them alone, forming a stronghold against the town and the mine, especially the mine.
He depended on Mary to believe he was right to hate the Homestake for what it did to him. He depended on her to stay by him, even to think like him no matter what happened. Yeah, he was deadly afraid to lose her and what she meant to him. Mary knew now that he couldn’t stop what was happening between us no matter how hard he tried, and believe me he would try plenty, like he was fighting for his life. And in a way, you could say he was.
We left the subject of Sandy just lay where it was on the bed there at the Latchstring Inn. And when I started back to work the next week, I wasn’t sure what I’d do about Sandy. But, hell, when he threatened me at the bit room counter, I had no choice but to have it out with him and damn the consequences.
I drove over to his house after I got cleaned up early evening that same day. The porch light was on. It was a yellow, bug-lite, and I felt like a bug standing there staring at it. I was stalling because I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say. It all depended on what Sandy said after I told him me and Mary were going to go on seeing each other and he could like it or not, whatever, but that didn’t change the fact that we were going to do it.
Since it was hot and humid like always in the summer in Lead, the front door was open, and through the screen I could see the living room. There was a couch and a chair and a standing lamp next to it. I could hear the TV on in the background. I couldn’t see anyone inside. The porch, itself, was pretty small, nothing like at my folk’s. He had a chair set out here and a basket with a bunch of newspapers in it, not much room for anything else. I took a step closer to the screen to look deeper into the house.
It still strikes me strange thinking back on this part of the story that if I’d just turned around and walked away, no one would have been the wiser. Doing that would have changed my whole life, all three of our lives. It’s strange how one thing, like not knocking on the door, could mean so much. But it’s no good thinking that way because I did knock on the door, and the TV went down, and I heard footsteps coming my way.
I knew it was Sandy by the sound of his one foot dragging behind him. He was coming in from the kitchen and taking his sweet time about it. At least it seemed like a long time to me, waiting there and wondering what he would do when he saw my face through the screen. I saw him come into view midway through the living room. There was more light inside than out on the porch; and because of the angle, I don’t think he could see who it was at his door.
He was looking my way when he yelled out a sharp, “Yeah?” like whoever it was, he wasn’t interested.
When I didn’t answer, he kept on coming. Suddenly, he recognized me, and he reacted like he was looking at a ghost. For a second or two, neither of us said a thing. He came up close to the door, practically putting his nose to the little squares of the screen. His voice was as mean as he could muster.
“What the hell do you want?”
“Is Mary here?” I asked.
“No. And if she was, she ain’t here for you.”
When he said no, I felt a little relieved. Maybe we could straighten things out before she got back. After what happened next, though, I knew it wasn’t going to be so easy.
He pushed open the screen door and sort of puffed himself up. I had to about jump out of the way of the screen or it would’ve hit me in the face.
“I don’t think you got what I’m saying, Mr. Garnes. Either you’re a dumb sonofabitch or you’re deaf. So I’m going to make it crystal clear this time.”
He was using his hands to explain as well as his words, like some kind of sign language, pointing me off the porch and into my car. It would have been funny except that he was red in the face, spitting the words out, looking ready to kill me.
“I don’t want you the fuck around here or near my Mary anywhere. Ever! You got that? Do you understand me!”
He wasn’t a big man, maybe 5’8″, and being crippled, he wasn’t much of a threat. But you should have heard the way he said the last words. He left me no room to go from there. I thought about just decking him on the spot and then carrying him into the house to talk it over.
But, hell, I couldn’t hit him. Even if he hit me first, I wasn’t sure that I could hit him back. He was standing in a pair of old shorts, and he had on brown slippers and no socks; and with the watch cap pulled all the way down as usual, he was kind of pathetic. He was a little dog with a big bark as far as I could see.
“Now wait a Goddamn minute,” I said. “You don’t know my intentions. I got…”
“Don’t give me your bullshit ‘intentions’,” he cut me off. “I don’t give a piss about your intentions!”
I could see the sweat running down his face, into his eyes, onto his lips.
“You think you’re Mister Big Man Drifter, don’t you? You no good bastard keep away from my little girl!”
He lunged forward, “Get the fuck off of here!”
I don’t remember doing it, but I must have backed away from him because we’d been toe to toe before. Then he pushed me in the chest with his good hand and was swearing some more. He went to push me again, and I grabbed his hand or he would have pushed me off the porch. He surprised me how strong he was just with one arm. I had to hold onto it with both hands as he tried to pull it away.
We were struggling on the porch, and he was yelling all the while, and I was trying to hold onto his arm and not hurt him at the same time. He stopped trying to get free all of a sudden, and I let up some on my hold. Then he gave one big jerk that caught me off balance, and I fell into him and he lost his balance. We both went headlong, tearing right through the screen door like it wasn’t there, and I landed on top of him on the living room floor.
We landed pretty hard with an ugly thud, but he didn’t seem hurt. The fact is, he was hollering and fighting harder than ever. He had his good arm free now, and he smacked me with it on the side of my head, straight on the ear and it hurt like hell. I just reacted then and thumped him in the chest good and hard. He gave a deep grown as the air came out of him. That slowed him for a bit.
“Now cut it out, man,” I said looking down on his sweaty face. I’ll let you up, but don’t fuck around!”
He nodded in agreement, so I let go of his arms, and damn if he didn’t shove me and buck me quick and high enough to knock me off of him. Then he jumped on my back like an idiot kid riding his dad for a bronco. I was about to throw him off and really let him have it when I heard Mary screaming at the top of her lungs.
“Stop it! Stop! Daddy. Stop it you two! Jake, my God, stop!”
She’d come in the door without either of us hearing, and she was standing over the two of us like a mother breaking up fighting kids. Sandy slid off my back, plopping next to me, leaning back on his hand and looking up at her. He was panting pretty hard. I know I felt like an ass and I’m sure he did, too. We didn’t look at each other, two mutes. Mary had a bag of groceries in her hand, and she set it down.
“I saw the door ripped up like that, I didn’t know what to think. When I heard the yelling…”
She stopped there. Sandy managed to haul himself up and straighten his cap. I got up, too, brushed myself off.
“I don’t want you seeing him no more,” he huffed. “I don’t want it,” he said in a rough voice, but it was almost like he was asking, not telling her anymore.
“Daddy, you don’t know him, he’s…”
“I know him. I know all of them! Drifters, slushers, stopers, millers. The hell I don’t know him. I know every miner that ever lived.”
He looked at me then, and I looked right back at him.
“Now you get the hell out of here,” he said to me, glancing at Mary like she was supposed to back him up.
She didn’t say a word. Sandy walked over to the busted door and pushed it open.
“Out! Get out now!” he said, glaring at me.
It was a hopeless gesture, and he said it loud and fast like it was a simple command I should follow. I felt bad for him now and looked away.
“Tell him to leave, Mary,” his voice was nearly a whisper. “Tell him you want him out of here and not to come back.”
For a long while she didn’t say anything. She looked at me and then over to Sandy, and she began to cry a little.
“Don’t daddy,” she said at last, “Don’t do this.”
“Tell him, Mary. Go on. I’m asking you, honey. Tell him to leave us alone.”
I’m sure you’ve heard stories about people who are just about drowned who say their whole life came to them, every bit of what they’d ever done went before their eyes. I believe it because there seemed like enough time had passed before Mary spoke again for my whole life to pass before me. It seemed to be hours, standing there in silence. Sandy looking at her and she staring straight down at the floor. I could hear the refrigerator working and gurgling in the kitchen it was so damned quiet. Sandy was standing there, holding the door with the screen busted in and the yellow light falling on him. He was still and alone as a man could be.
Mary was trembling, not crying anymore or making any noise. And, hell, I don’t know what I looked like, but it couldn’t have been anything too good. I didn’t know what to expect. It was up to her now.
She wiped her eyes, turned my way.
“Sit down, Jake,” she said.
I hesitated and caught Sandy’s eye.
“Go on,” she said again but no harder, “Sit down.”
She dropped onto the couch herself then, and covered her face in her hands.
I heard the screen slam shut; and when I looked up, Sandy had already walked out.
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