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Igms issue 15, p.14

IGMS - Issue 15, page 14


IGMS - Issue 15

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  "I just wish you could see the movie," said Katie. "Katherine Hepburn is -- magnificent."

  "Isn't she dead?"

  Katie turned to him, her face a mask of sadness. "The world is poorer because of it."

  He spoke the way he always did to a sad-looking woman who was too close to ignore. "I guess the world ain't too poor if you're in it."

  Her face brightened at once. "Oh, if you keep saying things like that I'll never let you go."

  She took hold of his arm. His hand had just been hanging at his side, but now that she was pressed up against him, he realized his hand was being pressed into the soft curve of her belly just inside her hip bone. If he even twitched his hand he'd be touching her where a man had no right without being asked. Was she asking?

  Toolie, standing on the ground beside the truck, pounded one fist on Deaver's boot and the other on Katie's shoe. "Come on, Katie, let go of Deaver so we can use him to help with the loading."

  She squeezed his arm again. "I don't have to," she said.

  "If she gets annoying, Deaver, break her arm. That's what I do."

  "You only did it once," said Katie. "I never let you do it again." She let go of Deaver and jumped off the truck.

  For a moment he stood there, not moving his hand or anything. She just talked to him, that's all. That's all it meant. And even if she meant more, he wasn't going to do anything about it. You don't answer folks' hospitality by diddling with their daughter. After a minute -- no just a few seconds -- he swung himself off the truck and joined the others.

  Except for picking the exact spot to park and leveling the truck, the family didn't set to work right away. They gathered in the field and Parley Aal, the old man from the back of the truck, he said a prayer. He had a grand, rolling voice, but it wasn't so clear-sounding as Marshall's, and Parley said his r's real hard like the Mormons Katie made fun of back in town. The prayer wasn't long. Mostly all he did was dedicate the ground to the service of God, and ask the Lord's Spirit to touch the hearts of the people who came to watch. He also asked God to help them all remember their lines and be safe. So far only Katie knew Deaver wasn't Mormon, and he said amen at the end just like the others. Then he looked up and in the gap between Toolie and Katie, he could see part of the sign on the truck. Miracle, it said. Then they moved, and Deaver read the whole thing. Sweetwater's Miracle Pageant. Why Sweetwater, when everybody in the family was named Aal?

  Unloading the truck and setting up for the show was as hard as the hardest work Deaver'd ever done in his life. There was more stuff on that truck than he would ever have thought possible. The tower and the missile had doors in back, and they were packaged tight with props and machinery and supplies. It took only an hour to pitch the tents they lived in -- four of them, plus the kitchen awning -- but that was the easy part. There was a generator to load off the truck on a ramp, then hook up to the truck's gas tank. It was so awkward to handle, so heavy and temperamental, that Deaver wondered how they did it when he wasn't there. It took all the strength he and Toolie and Ollie and Marshall had.

  "Oh, Katie and Scarlett usually help," said Toolie.

  So he was saving Katie work. Was that why she was treating him so nice? Well, that was all right with him. He was glad to help, and he didn't expect payment of any coin. What else was he going to do this morning? Call in to Moab and then sit around and wait for instructions, most likely. Might as well be doing this. Best not to remember the way her body pressed against his hand, the way she squeezed his arm.

  They carried metal piping and thick heavy blocks of steel out about fifteen yards from the truck, one on each side of where the audience would be, and then assembled them into trees that held the lights. They kept tossing around words that Deaver never heard of -- fresnel, ellipsoidal -- but before long he was getting the hang of what each light was for. Ollie was the one in charge of all the electrical work. Deaver had a little bit of practice with that sort of thing, but he made it a point not to show off. He just did whatever Ollie ordered, fast and correct and without a word unless he had to ask a question. By the time the lights were wired, aimed, and focused, Ollie was talking to Deaver like they were friends since first grade. Making jokes, even teasing a little -- "Do they make some special horse perfume for you range riders to spray on?" -- but mostly teaching Deaver everything there was to know about stage lighting. Why the different-colored filters were used, what the specials did, how the light plot was set up, how to wire up the dimmer board. Deaver couldn't figure what good it was ever going to do him, knowing how to light a stage show, but Ollie knew what he was talking about, and Deaver didn't mind learning something new.

  Even with the lights set up the work was hardly started. They had breakfast standing around the gas stove. "We're working you too hard," said Scarlett, but Deaver just grinned and stuffed another pancake in his mouth. Tasted like they actually had sugar in them. A gas stove, their own generator, pancakes that tasted like more than flour and water -- they might live on a truck and sleep in tents, but these pageant wagon people had a few things that people in the fringe towns usually had to do without.

  By noon, dripping with sweat and aching all over, Deaver stood away from the truck with Ollie and Toolie and Marshall as they surveyed the stage. The missile had been taken down and replaced with the mast of a ship; the side of the truck had been covered with panels that made it look like the hull of a boat; and the machinery was all set up to make a wave effect with blue cloth out in front of it. A black curtain hid the pyramid from sight. Dusty raised and dropped the curtain while the men watched. Deaver thought it looked pretty exciting to have the pyramid suddenly revealed when the curtain dropped, but Marshall clucked his tongue.

  "Getting a little shabby," said Marshall.

  The curtain was patched a lot, and there were some tears and holes that hadn't been patched yet.

  "It's shabby at noon, Daddy," said Toolie. "At night it's good enough." Toolie sounded a little impatient.

  "We need a new one."

  "While we're wishing, we need a new truck a lot more," said Ollie.

  Toolie turned to him -- looking a little angry, it seemed to Deaver, though he couldn't think why Toolie should be mad. "We don't need a new truck, we just need to take better care of this one. Deaver here says it isn't carbureting right."

  All of a sudden the cheerfulness went right out of Ollie's face. He turned to Deaver with eyes like ice. "Oh, really?" said Ollie. "Are you a mechanic?"

  "I used to drive a truck," said Deaver. He couldn't believe that all of a sudden he was in the middle of a family argument. "I'm probably wrong."

  "Oh, you're right enough," said Ollie. "But see, I take all the huge amounts of money they give me to buy spare parts and use it all up in every saloon and whorehouse in the fringe, so the engine just never gets repaired."

  Ollie looked too mad to be joking, but what he was saying couldn't possibly be true. There weren't any saloons or whorehouses in the fringe.

  "I'm just saying we can't afford a new truck, or a curtain either," said Toolie. He looked embarrassed, but then he deserved to -- he had as much as accused Ollie of doing a lousy job with the truck.

  "If that's what you were doing," said Ollie, "why'd you have to get Teague here on your side?"

  Deaver wanted to grab him and shout straight into his face: I'm not on anybody's side. I'm not part of your family and I'm not part of this argument. I'm just a range rider who needed a lift into town and helped you unload eight tons of junk in exchange for breakfast.

  Toolie was trying to calm things down, it looked like, only he wasn't very good at it. "I'm just trying to tell you and Father that we're broke, and talking about new curtains and new trucks is like talking about falling into a hole in the ground and it turns out to be a gold mine. It just isn't going to happen."

  "I was just talking," said Ollie.

  "You were getting sarcastic and nasty, that's what you were doing," said Toolie.

  Ollie just stood there for a secon
d, like some really terrible words were hanging there in his mind, waiting to get flung out where they could really hurt somebody. But he didn't say a thing. Just turned around and walked away, around the back end of the truck.

  "There he is, off in a huff again," said Toolie. He looked at his father with a bitter half-smile. "I don't know what I did, but I'm sure it's all my fault he's mad."

  "What you did," said Marshall, "was humiliate him in front of his friend."

  It took Deaver a moment to realize Marshall was referring to him. The idea of being Ollie's friend took Deaver by surprise. Was that why Ollie worked so close to him so much of the morning, teaching him how the electrical stuff was done -- because they were friends? Somehow Deaver'd got himself turned from a total stranger into a friend without anybody so much as asking him if he minded or if he thought it was a good idea.

  "You need to learn to be sensitive to other people, Toolie," said Marshall. "Thank heaven you don't lead this company, the way you do what you like without a thought for your brother's feelings. You just run roughshod over people, Toolie."

  Marshall never exactly raised his voice. But he was precise and cruel as he went on and on. Deaver was plain embarrassed to watch Toolie get chewed on. Toolie did kind of pick a fight with Ollie, but he didn't deserve this kind of tongue-lashing, and it sure didn't help matters much to have Deaver standing there watching. But Deaver couldn't figure how to get away without it looking like he disapproved. So he just stood there, kind of looking between Marshall and Toolie so he didn't meet anybody's eyes.

  Over at the truck, Katie was sitting on the top of the pyramid, sewing. Dusty and Janie were setting up the fireworks for the end of the show. Ollie had the hood open, fiddling with something inside. Deaver figured he could probably hear every word Marshall said, chewing out Toolie. He could imagine Ollie smiling that mean little smile of his. He didn't like thinking about it, particularly knowing that Ollie thought of him as a friend. So he let his gaze wander to the pyramid, and he watched as Katie worked.

  It seemed an odd thing, to sit so high, right in the sun, when there was plenty of shade to sit in. It occurred to Deaver that Katie might be on top of the pyramid just so he'd be sure to see her. But that was pure foolishness. What happened this morning didn't mean a thing -- not her talking to him, not her pressing close to him, meant nothing. He must be a plain fool to imagine a smart good-looking woman like her was paying heed to him in the first place. She was on top of the pyramid cause she liked to look out over the town.

  She raised her hand and waved to him.

  Deaver didn't dare wave back -- Marshall was still going strong, ragging on Toolie about things that went back years ago. Deaver looked away from Katie and saw how Toolie just took it, didn't even show anger in his face. Like he switched off all his emotions while his father talked to him.

  Finally it ended. Marshall had finally wound down and now he stood there, waiting for Toolie to answer. And all Toolie said was, "Sorry, sir." Not angry, not sarcastic, just simple and clean as can be. Sorry, sir. Marshall stalked off toward the truck.

  As soon as his father was out of earshot, Toolie turned to Deaver. "I'm sorry you had to hear that."

  Deaver shrugged. Had no idea what to say.

  Toolie gave a bitter little laugh. "I get that all the time. Except that Father likes it better when there's somebody there to watch."

  "I don't know about fathers," said Deaver.

  Toolie grinned. "Daddy doesn't live by the standards of other men. Mere logic, simple fairness -- those are the crutches of men with inferior understanding." Then Toolie's face grew sad. "No, Deaver, I love my father. This isn't about Ollie or how I treat him, just like what I said to Ollie wasn't about the truck. I'm too much like my dad and he knows it and that's what he hates about me." Toolie looked around him, as if to see what needed doing. "I guess I better head to town for the official permit, and you need to get in there and report to Moab, don't you?"

  "Guess so."

  Toolie stopped with his mother to see if she needed anything from town. Scarlett recited a list, mostly staples -- flour, salt, honey. Things they could get without paying, cause it was their right to have it from the community storehouse. As they talked, Ollie came by and tossed a dirty air filter at Toolie's chest. "I need a new air filter just like that one only clean."

  "Where are you going, Laurence?" asked Scarlett.

  "To sleep," he said. "I was up all night driving, in case you forgot." Ollie started to walk away.

  "What about brake linings?" asked Toolie.

  "Yeah, see if they've got a mechanic who can do that." Ollie ducked into a tent. Anger was still thick in the air. Deaver noticed that Scarlett didn't even ask why.

  She finished telling her list to Toolie, sometimes talking over what they would probably get donated by the audience in a place like Hatchville. Then Toolie set out, Deaver in tow. Deaver wanted to take his saddle with him, but Toolie talked him out of it. "If they tell you to get a ride today, your cab driver can come out and pick it up. And if you end up riding to Moab with us day after tomorrow, you might as well leave the saddle here." As if he was holding the saddle hostage to make sure Deaver came back.

  Deaver wasn't sure why he didn't just say no thanks and then pick up the saddle and carry it with him anyway. He knew they hadn't wanted him in the first place, and it was just good manners or maybe guilt or embarrassment or something that made Toolie want to keep the saddle so Deaver had to come back at least one more time. Funny thing, though: Deaver didn't mind. It had been a long time since anybody went to any trouble to try to get him to stay with them. Them saying he was Ollie's friend. The way Katie treated him. That was part of it. A lot more of his feeling came out of just working alongside them, helping unload the truck and set up for the show. Deaver had enough sweat spilled in this field that he really wasn't hoping to leave for Moab today. He wanted to see what all the fuss was about. He wanted to see the show. That's all it was, nothing more.

  Yet even as he reached that conclusion, he knew it was a lie. Sure, he wanted to see the show, but there was something more. An old hunger, one so deep and ancient, so long unsatisfied that Deaver mostly forgot he was even hungry. Like some part of his soul had already starved to death. Only something was happening here to wake up that old hunger, and he couldn't go away without seeing if somehow maybe it could be satisfied. Not Katie. Or not just Katie, anyway. Something more. Maybe by the time he left for Moab, he'd find out what it was he wanted so bad that it made his dream of joining Royal's Riders seem kind of faint and far away.

  He and Toolie walked a direct route to the town hall, not winding through the whole village the way they had that morning. There were still children excited to see them, though. "Who are you!" they called. "Are you Noah? Are you Jesus? Are you Armstrong?"

  Toolie waved at them, smiled, and usually told them. "No, my daddy plays that part."

  "Are you Alma?"

  "Yes, that's one of the parts I play."

  "What's the show tonight?"

  "Glory of America."

  All the way through town Deaver noticed how bright-eyed the children were, how daring they thought it was to talk right to somebody from the pageant wagon.

  "Sounds like your show's the biggest things they ever see" Deaver said.

  "Kind of sad, isn't it?" said Toolie. "In the old days, a show like this -- it would've been nothing."

  Deaver went with Toolie into the mayor's office. The secretary had neat, close-cropped hair. Plainly he was the kind of man who never spent a week without a barber -- or a day without a bath, probably. Deaver wasn't sure whether he despised or envied the man.

  "I'm with the pageant wagon," said Toolie, "and I need to change our temporary permit to a regular one." Deaver saw how he put on an especially humble-but-cheerful tone, and he couldn't help but think that his own life would have been a lot easier if he'd only learned how to act like that toward his foster parents or the bishops of the wards he lived in. Of cour
se, Toolie only had to act like that for a few minutes today, while Deaver would've had to keep it up for days and weeks and years on end. Like crossing your eyes -- sure, you can do it, but keep it up too long and you get a headache.

  And then he thought how when he was little, somebody told him that if you cross your eyes too often they'll stick that way. What if acting all humble and sweet worked that way? What if it got to be such a habit you forgot you were acting, the way Marshall's and Scarlett's fancy acting voices came out of their mouths even when they were picking up a range rider in the middle of the night. Do you become whatever you act like?

  Deaver had plenty of time to think about all this, because the secretary didn't say a word for the longest time. He just sat there and eyed Toolie up and down, not showing any expression at all on his very clean and untanned face. Then he looked at Deaver. He didn't exactly ask a question, but Deaver knew what he was asking anyway.

  "I'm a range rider," Deaver said. "They picked me up out on the road. I need to call Moab."

  A range rider -- town people pretty much despised them, but at least they knew what to do with them. "You can go right in there and call." The secretary indicated an empty office. "The sheriff's out on a call."

  Deaver went on into the office and sat at the desk. An old salvage desk -- might be one of the ones he found and brought in himself in the old days when he was a kid. Not ten years ago.

  He couldn't get an operator -- the line was tied up -- and as he waited, he could hear what went on in the other room.

  "Here's our family business license from Zarahemla," Toolie was saying. "If you just look us up in the business database --"

  "Fill out the forms," said the secretary.

  "We are licensed by the state of Deseret, sir," said Toolie. Still polite, still humble.

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