Broke

by zara hemla :: all the pretty horses :: r :: saltillo chokes deeper than a hanging rope.

(Remix of "Tame" by s.a. For the Silverlake Remix 2.)



      They let Rawlins go just inside the door and he slid to the floor and sat for a moment and then bent slowly forward and to one side and sat holding himself. The guard crooked his finger at John Grady who sat squinting up at them in the sudden light. He rose. He looked down at Rawlins.
    You sons of bitches, he said.
    Tell em whatever they want to hear, bud, whispered Rawlins. It dont make a damn. (166)




A ranchers son ought to be used to hardship. Ranching is nothing but hardship, day after day, baking the sun under your skin until you feel as dried out and flattened as the land itself. Then you are the land, then you are truly home.

John Grady knows where his home is: was used to hard living. He and Lacey spent hours sleeping rough, eating almost nothing, pulling their hats down against the sunset. But now he and Lacey are in Saltillo, a place beyond hard living. Saltillo chokes deeper than a hanging rope.

A few rats skitter in and out of the small holes in the walls. There is no food for them, and the ones that get food usually end up as food later. Lacey and Grady havent started eating rats yet -- but they get hungry enough, they just might. Grady tries not to think about it but he knows that they have been here three days and it might be years before they get out, maybe forever. Don Héctor's fucked them over, and no one's coming for them.

The reality of this hits hardest when Grady sees Lacey trying for bravery in the courtyard, almost afraid of his own shadow, all the fun and devilry beat out of him. Grady fears that Lacey will never be the same, will never recover. They beat him before Saltillo and beat him for three days in Saltillo and Lacey had taken it brave, but he wasnt made for beating. Grady knows Laceys soft places, and it seems like the Mexicans have found them all. And now maybe Lacey is rotting from the inside, like an apple where you cant hardly see the bruise.

He wants to reassure Lacey with touch but he cant. No matter where they are, someone is watching. They might get the wrong idea, might take action, and Lacey dont need more action. Plus there is the way Lacey looks at him now, hurt and angry and all for him and the girl and asking mutely what the hell they are doing here in Mexico anyway, whose fool idea was it that they rode their horses down here. Grady doesnt know how to break through the hurt. They lay on their bunks and the silence settles over them thicker than any feather quilt. It dont keep them warm though.

At night coming on to dawn is the time when Blevins appears most clearly to Grady. That pinche boy who stole his own guns back but stripped scared of a rainstorm. Couldnt of been more than thirteen, and now he was lying in a ditch with his head blown off. In these lucid dreams Grady sees the boy standing barefoot far off in the desert, waving his arms and calling something. Grady cant ever make it out and he wakes in a cold sweat and lays there shaking until the heat of daytime creeps in through the bars.

Often he looks over and sees Laceys set face and open eyes but he doesnt say anything, he doesnt dare. Saltillo has dried up all the words in him and all that is left is a rage that wants to murder. Thats why he dont mind getting beat, as long as he can give a good beating in return. He figures he's earned this payment from Don Héctor, since he loves the girl. But he loves Lacey too, and Lacey dont deserve this. Grady cant apologize, cant explain. He doesnt talk and they sit in the courtyard and Grady stares at the space between his planted boots.

The sun beats down on the top of his head. Lacey sits a few feet away and picks at a lone piece of grass that grew in the shade. Doesnt pull it out though: some things need to survive.

You remember that time, says Lacey, that you broke that horse of your dads?

Grady doesnt answer, squints fiercely down at his boots. Lacey stops for a minute and then asks again. Remember? That big damn horse your dad said he'd beat you if you went near him.

Grady finally spits down into the dirt and lifts his head to eye Lacey. I remember.

You got on that son of a bitch and he tossed you onto your head. You busted it wide open. You was bleedin and you said the world was spinnin around like a merry go round.

Lacey, what the hell does that have to do with anythin?

Your head was busted but you got back on that horse and you broke him. That horse had no chance once you set eyes on him. Lacey leans back and bangs his head softly against the courtyard wall. Grady, horrified, sees that he is about to cry.

Lacey, dont you cry no fuckin tears. What the hell you thinkin?

Shit, Grady, says Lacey and closes his eyes. I cant help it anymore. I'm that horse.

What?

I'm that horse, Grady. I been rode and rode by a son of a bitch with a bloody head. And I'm tired and sore and still he wont - let - me - be. Lacey shoves his head down into his crooked elbow and his shoulders shake.

Oh shit, mutters Grady, surveying the courtyard. The heat has kept most everyone in the meager shade to the right of them, and the prisoners are sitting around smoking and playing their version of poker. They arent looking now but they will be. Grady turns on his friend and hisses at him.

Lacey shut the hell up, they'll see you.

He risks it then, puts his hand on Laceys shoulder, feels the muscle jump under the worn prison denim. Lacey please. Come on. I mean shit if I'd of known you were gonna take on so about a stallion I'd of left him in the corral.

That works: Lacey comes out of his crouch and stares at him with wet eyes. Grady risks another look at the group of men who are still intent on their cards. Then he wipes away Laceys tears with his thumb. Lacey closes his eyes again and his hand comes up and clutches Gradys wrist.

You know it wasnt the horse I was worried about that day.

Well I would hope it was me.

You were so white and you laid so still. I thought you was gonna die and then what would I tell your father?

Just tell him I'd meet him in hell. And to shoot the stallion so's I could have something to ride down there.

Think its funny, huh?

Grady drops his hand and Lacey drops his. They resume staring at their respective boots.

Dammit, Lacey -- says Grady finally, talking to his boots.

The dinner bell rings and Lacey painfully gets to his feet. He watches Grady narrowly, most of the hurt back in his eyes: the knowledge of the girl between them.

I'm sorry too, he says, and walks away toward the mess.

That night Grady finally hears what Blevins is saying in the dream but it doesnt help. Get out, get out, get away from Mexico, thats what the pinche boy is yelling, and Grady tries to answer that its too late, that its no use. He wakes shivering in the desert chill and rolls over trying to find a bit of blanket.

Lacey is awake too but this time he's watching Grady. He smiles crookedly and hunches himself down into his own thin blanket. Grady has a sudden vivid memory of that stallion he broke standing head down, blowing and sweating and wore out and compliant at last. The thought makes him slide out of bed and kneel by Laceys cot.

You aint broke, he whispers, the rage in him so near the surface. You aint broke, dont let no one tell you different.

Maybe not yet, says Lacey, but I will be.

You wont, says John Grady, I wont let you, and he puts a hand on Laceys chest where his undershirt meets his collarbone and feels his heart beating strong. Lacey does the same to him and they put their foreheads together and Lacey kisses him slowly twice and he kisses Lacey back.

Dont break and I wont, whispers Lacey against his mouth.

We wont break, says John Grady back to him, feeling Laceys inaudible sigh. We aint horses, we're Texans. Let em try.

--end--



Notes: If you got through this but are still wondering what the hell I was doing -- I took this story in part to play with the conventions that McCarthy uses in his novel. In fact, if you wanted a book setting, it would be top of page 187 (trade paperback), between the time where Lacey says, "They could kill us any time" and John Grady says, "I know," and the two days later that Pérez calls them up to his "office." If you haven't read the book, please do, it's wonderful. In the book, John Grady goes by "John Grady," but s.a. calls him "Grady," and so that's what I'm doing. Thanks for loaning me the story, s.a. Hope you could get through this. :)



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10.26.03