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Igms issue 15, p.13

IGMS - Issue 15, page 13

 

IGMS - Issue 15
 


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  All this time Katie didn't take her eyes off Deaver. "Ollie said you know Uncle Royal."

  "No," said Deaver. "I just know about him."

  "I thought you range riders worked under him."

  Was that why she was sitting next to him? Hoping he'd talk about their famous uncle? "He's over the outriders."

  "You want to be an outrider?"

  It wasn't something he talked about much to anybody. Most young men who signed on as rangers were hoping someday to get into Royal's Riders, but the ones who got in usually made it before they reached twenty-five, which meant they had five or six years on horseback before they applied to the outriders. Deaver was twenty-five when he joined up, and he hadn't had four years as a range rider yet. Except for a couple of older guys, most rangers would have a good laugh if they knew how much Deaver wanted to ride with Royal Aal.

  "It's something that might happen," said Deaver.

  "I hope you get your wish," she said.

  This time it was his turn to search her face to see if she was making fun. But she wasn't. He could see that. She really hoped for something good to happen to him. He nodded, not knowing what else to say.

  "Riding out there," she said, "helping people make it here to safety."

  "Taking apart the missiles," said Toolie.

  "Ain't too many missiles now," said Deaver.

  Which pretty much ended the conversation. Deaver was used to that, having his words be the ones that hung in the air, nobody saying a thing afterward. A long time ago he tried to apologize or explain what he said, something to make that embarrassed silence go away. Last few years, though, he realized he probably hadn't said something wrong. Other people just had a hard time talking to him for long, that's all. Nothing against him. He just wasn't the kind of person you talk to.

  Deaver wished he actually knew their uncle, so he could tell them about him. It was plain they were hungry for word about him. If their father'd been feuding with Royal for a long time, they might hardly know him. That'd be strange, for the kinfolk of the best-loved hero of Deseret not to know a bit more about him than any stranger just reading the paper.

  They crested a hill. Toolie pointed. "There's Hatchville."

  Deaver had no idea how long ago they left the grassland and came into the fringe, but from the size of Hatchville he figured this town was probably twelve, fifteen years old. Well back from the edge now, really not fringe at all anymore. Lots of people.

  Toolie slowed enough to gear down the truck. Deaver listened with an ear long attuned to motors from his years nursing the scavenger trucks from one place to another. "Engine's pretty good for one this old," said Deaver.

  "You think so?" said Toolie. He perked right up, talking about the engine. These folks made a living only as long as the motor kept going.

  "Needs a tune-up."

  Toolie made a wry face. "No doubt."

  "Probably the mix in the carburetor's none too good."

  Toolie laughed in embarrassment. "Do carburetors mix something? I always thought they just sat there and carbureted."

  "Ollie takes care of the truck," Katie said.

  The little girl between them woke up. "Are we there yet?"

  They were passing the first houses on the outskirts of town. The sky was pretty light now. Almost sunrise.

  "You remember where the pageant field is in Hatchville, Katie?" Toolie asked.

  "I can't tell Hatchville from Heber," said Katie.

  "Heber's the one with mountains all around like a bowl," said Janie.

  "Then this is Hatchville," said Katie.

  "I knew that," said Toolie.

  They ended up at the town hall, where everybody stood around the truck in the cold morning air while Ollie and Katie went in looking for somebody to give them a permit for a place to set up for the pageant. Deaver figured that this time of morning the only one on duty'd be the night man who did the data linkups with Zarahemla -- every town had one -- so he didn't bother going in on his own business. As for them going in, well, it was their business, not his.

  Sure enough, they came out empty-handed. "The night guy couldn't give us a permit," said Ollie, "but the pageant field's up on Second North and then out east to the first field that's got no fence."

  "And he gave us such a Christian welcome," said Katie. Her smile was full of mischief. Ollie hooted. Deaver was having fun just watching them.

  Toolie shook his head. "Small-town pinheads."

  Katie launched into a thick hicktown accent, full of r's so hard Deaver thought she must have her tongue tickling the back of her throat. "And you better say there till you come back in at nine and get a permit, cause we respect the law around here."

  Deaver couldn't help but laugh along with the others, even though the accent she was making fun of, that was pretty much the way he talked.

  Marshall, though, he wasn't laughing as he stood there combing his sleep-crazy hair with his fingers. "Ungrateful, suspicious, small-minded bigots, all of them. I wonder how they'd like to pass this autumn without a single visit from a pageant wagon. There's nothing to stop us from driving on through." This early in the morning he didn't talk so careful. Deaver heard a little naturalness in his speech, and even though it was only by accident, it kind of made Deaver feel better to know that the real person Marshall used to be wasn't hidden all that deep after all.

  "Now Marsh," said Scarlett. "You know that our calling comes from the Prophet, not from these small-town people. If their minds are little and ugly and closed, isn't it our job to bring them a broader vision? Isn't that why we're here?"

  Katie sighed pointedly. "Why does it always have to come back to the Church, Mother? We're here to make a living."

  She didn't speak harsh or nasty, but people acted like she'd slapped her mother. Scarlett immediately put her hands to her cheeks and turned away, tears filling her eyes. Marshall looked like he was about to tear into Katie with words so hot they could start a brushfire, and Ollie was grinning like this was the best thing he'd seen all year.

  But right then Toolie took a step toward Deaver and said, "Well, Deaver Teague, you can see how it is with show people. We have to make a grand scene out of everything."

  That reminded folks that there was a stranger among them, and all at once they changed. Scarlett smiled at Deaver. Katie laughed lightly like it was all a joke. Marshall started nodding wisely, and Deaver knew the next words he said would be as elegant as ever.

  It was plainly time for Deaver to say thank you and get his saddle off the truck and go take a nap somewhere out of the wind till it got time to report in to Moab. Then the Aals could quarrel with each other all they liked. Parting would be fine with Deaver -- he'd been a bit of painless charity to them, and they'd been a ride into town for him. Everybody got what they needed and good-bye.

  What messed things up was that when Marshall got pretty much the same idea -- that it was time for Deaver to go -- he didn't trust Deaver to have sense enough to figure it out himself. So Marshall smiled and nodded and put his arms around Deaver's shoulder. "I suppose, son, that you'll want to stay here and wait until the offices open up at eight o'clock."

  Deaver didn't take offense at what he said -- he was just hinting for Deaver to do what he already meant to do, so that was fine. Folks had a right to keep their family squabbles away from strangers. But giving him a hug and calling him "son" while telling him to go away, it made Deaver so mad he wanted to hit somebody.

  All the time he was growing up Mormons kept doing that same thing to him. They always fostered him out to live in some Mormon family's house who'd always make him go to church every Sunday even though they knew he wasn't a Mormon and didn't want to be one. The other kids knew right off he wasn't one of them and didn't make any bones about it -- they left him alone and didn't pretend they liked him or even cared whether he lived or died. But there was always some Relief Society president who patted his head and called him "sweetie" or "you dear thing," and whenever the bishop passed him, he'd
put his arm around him and call him "son," just like Marshall, and pretend they were only joking when they said, "How long till you see the light and get baptized?"

  That friendly and nice stuff always lasted until Deaver finally told them "never" loud enough and nasty enough that they believed him. From then on until he got fostered somewhere else, the bishop would never touch him or speak to him, just fix him with a cold stare as Deaver sat there in the congregation and the bishop sat up on the stand being holy. Sometimes Deaver wondered what would have happened if just once, some bishop had kept on being friendly even after Deaver told him he'd never get baptized. If maybe he might've felt different about Mormons if ever their friendship turned out to be real. But it never happened.

  So here was Marshall Aal doing just what those bishops always did, and Deaver plain couldn't help himself, he shrugged Marshall's arm off and stepped back so fast that Marshall's arm was still hanging there in the air for a second. His face and his fists must have shown how mad he was, too, because they all stared at him, looking surprised. All except Ollie, who stood there nodding his head.

  Marshall looked around at the others. "Well, I don't know what I . . ." Then he gave up with a shrug.

  Funny thing was, Deaver's anger was gone already, gone in a second. He never let rage hold on to him -- that only gets you in trouble. Worst of all, now they all thought he was mad because they were sending him away. But he didn't know how to explain that it was OK, he was glad to go. It always ended up like this whenever he left a foster home, too. The family was sending him away because they were tired of him, which was fine cause he never much liked them either. He didn't mind leaving and they were glad to see him go, and yet nobody could just come out and say that.

  Well, so what. They'd never see him again. "Let me get my saddle," Deaver said. He headed for the side of the truck.

  "I'll help you," said Toolie.

  "No such thing," said Scarlett. She caught ahold of Deaver's elbow and held it tight. "This young man has been out in the grassland for I don't know how many days, and we're not sending him away without breakfast."

  Deaver knew she was just saying that for good manners, so he said no thanks as polite as he could. That might have been the end of it except right then Katie came to him and took his left hand -- which was his only free hand, since Scarlett had tight hold on his right elbow. "Please stay," she said. "We're all strangers in this town, and I think we ought to stick together till we have to go our separate ways."

  Her smile was so bright that Deaver had to blink. And her eyes looked at him so steady, it was like she was daring him to doubt that she meant it.

  Toolie picked up on it and said, "We could use another hand setting up, so you'd be earning the meal."

  Even Marshall added his bit. "I meant to ask you myself. I hope you will come with us and share our poor repast."

  Deaver was hungry, all right, and he didn't mind looking at Katie's face though he wished she'd let go of his hand, and he particularly wished Scarlett would unclamp his elbow -- but he knew he wasn't really wanted, and so he said no thanks again and got his arms back from the women and headed over to get his saddle off the truck. That was when Ollie laughed and said, "Come on, Teague, you're hungry and Father feels like a jerk and Mother feels guilty and Katie's hot for you and Toolie wants you to do half his work. How can you just walk off and disappoint everybody?"

  "Ollie," said Scarlett sternly.

  But by now Katie and Toolie were laughing, too, and Deaver just couldn't help laughing himself.

  "Come on, everybody into the truck," said Marshall. "Ollie, you know the way, you drive."

  Marshall and Scarlett and Toolie and Ollie piled into the cab, so Deaver had to ride in back with Katie and Janie and a younger brother, Dusty. The two really old people he saw last night were way in the back of the truck. Katie kept Deaver right up front, behind the cab. Deaver couldn't figure out if she was flirting with him or what. And if she was, he sure didn't know why. He knew his clothes stank of dirt and sweat and the horse he'd been riding till it died, and he also knew he wasn't much to look at even when he shaved. Probably she was just being nice, and didn't know how to do that except by using that smile of hers and looking at him under heavy eyelids and touching his arm and his chest whenever she talked to him. It was annoying, except that it also felt pretty nice. Only that made it even more annoying because he knew that it wasn't going anywhere.

  The town was finally coming awake as they drove to the pageant field. Deaver noticed they didn't go straight there. No, they drove that noisy truck up and down every road there was in town, most of them just dirt traces since nothing much got paved these days outside Zarahemla. The sound of the rattletrap truck brought people looking out their windows, and children spurted out the doors to lean on picket fences, jumping up and down.

  "Is it Pageant Day?" they'd shout.

  "Pageant Day!" answered Katie and Janie and Dusty. Maybe the old folks in back were shouting, too -- Deaver couldn't hear. Pretty soon the news was ahead of the truck, and people were already lined up along the edge of the road, straining to see them. That was when the Aals started pulling the tarp off a couple of the big pieces. One of them looked liked the top of a missile, and another one was a kind of tower -- a tall steep pyramid like a picture Deaver saw in school, the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico City. When the people saw the rocket, they started yelling, "Man on the moon!" and when they saw the pyramid, which they couldn't see till the truck passed they'd scream and laugh and call out, "Noah! Noah! Noah!"

  Deaver figured they must have seen the shows before. "How many different pageants do you do?" he asked.

  "Three," said Katie. She waved at the crowd. "Pageant Day!" Then, still talking loud so he could hear her over the truck and the crowds and her little brother and sister yelling, she said, "We do our Glory of America pageant, which Grandfather wrote. And America's Witness for Christ, which is the old Book of Mormon pageant from the Hill Cumorah -- everybody does that one -- and at Christmas we do The Glorious Night, which Daddy wrote because he thought the regular Christmas pageants were terrible. That's our whole repertoire in towns like this. Pageant Day!"

  "So it's all Mormon stuff," said Deaver.

  She looked at him oddly. "Glory of America is American. The Glorious Night is from the Bible. Aren't you Mormon?"

  Here it is, thought Deaver. Here comes the final freeze-out. Or the sudden interest in converting me, leading up to a freeze-out soon enough. He had forgotten, for just a while this morning, that he hadn't told them yet, that they still figured he was one of them, that he basically belonged. The way that these show gypsies were still part of Hatchville, because they were all Mormons. The way most of the other range riders liked being in town, among fellow Mormons. But now, finding out he wasn't one of them, they'd feel like he fooled them, like he stuck himself in where he didn't belong. Now he really regretted letting them talk him into coming along to breakfast like this. They never would've tried to talk him into it if they knew he wasn't one of them.

  "Nope," said Deaver.

  He couldn't believe it when she didn't even pause. Just went on like nothing got said. "We'd rather do other shows, you know, besides those three. When I was little we spent a year in Zarahemla. I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. Do you know what I've always wanted to play?"

  He didn't have any idea.

  "You have to guess," she said.

  He wasn't sure he'd ever even heard the name of a play, let alone a person in one. So he seized on the only thing he could halfway remember. "Titanic?"

  She looked at him like he was crazy.

  "In the cab. You said you were --"

  "Titania! The queen of the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream. No, no. I've always wanted to play -- you won't tell anybody?"

  He sort of shrugged and shook his head at the same time. Who would he tell? And if it was a real secret, why would she tell him?

  "Eleanor of Aquitaine," she said.

 
Deaver had never heard that name in his life.

  "It was a part Katherine Hepburn played. The actress I was named after. A movie called A Lion in Winter." She almost whispered the title. "I saw a tape of it once, years ago. Actually I saw it about five times, in one single day, over and over again. We were staying with an old friend of Grandpa's in Cedar City. We had a VCR that still ran on his windmill generator. The movie's banned now, you know."

  Movies didn't mean much to Deaver. Hardly anybody ever got to see them. Out here on the fringe nobody did. Electricity was too expensive to waste on televisions. Besides, a former salvage man like Deaver knew there just weren't enough working televisions in Deseret for more than a couple in each town. It wasn't like the old days, when everybody went home every night and watched TV till they fell asleep. Nowadays folks only had time for a show when a pageant wagon came to town.

  They were past the houses now, pulling onto a bumpy field that had been planted in wheat, long since harvested.

  Katie's voice suddenly went husky and trembled a little. "I'd hang you from the nipples, but you'd shock the children."

  "What?"

  "She was a magnificent woman. She was the first to wear pants. The first woman to wear them. And she loved Spencer Tracy till he died, even though he was a Catholic and wouldn't divorce his wife to marry her."

  The truck pulled to a stop at the eastern edge of the field. Janie and Dusty jumped right off the truck, leaving them alone between the set pieces and the back of the cab.

  "I rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus," said Katie, in that husky, quavery voice again. "I damn near died of wind burn, but the troops were dazzled."

  Deaver finally guessed that she was quoting from the movie. "They did a movie where a woman said damn?"

  "Did I offend you? I thought since you weren't a Mormon, you wouldn't mind."

  That sort of attitude made Deaver crazy. Just because he wasn't a Latter-day Saint, Mormons thought he'd want to hear their favorite dirty joke, or else they started swearing cause they thought it would make him more comfortable, or they just assumed that he slept with whores all the time and got drunk whenever he could. But he swallowed his anger without showing it. After all, she meant no harm. And he liked having her so close to him, especially since she hadn't moved any farther away when she found out he was a gentile.

 
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