SOUTHWEST TEXAS—LATE MARCH 2007
Topping the rise the javelina herd, a sow and seven half-grown pigs, saw the six assembled people then quickly disappeared like ghosts as they ran squealing through the cedar shrubs, greasewood, and tall grass brought by the generous winter rainfall. The group’s white-haired aging man hesitated briefly, then continued the task as the wild pigs’ grunts echoed through the brush, their noises ceasing as they descended on paths along the steep walls of the mesa.
Tears rolled down the man’s weather-beaten face, dripping off his chin like dewdrops falling from a wilted tropical flower as he continued distributing ashes from a tin urn. Finished, he sat on a paint-peeled wooden bench beneath a large live oak tree, his western straw hat crown down beside him.
“It’s done,” he said, not looking at the others gathered there. Eyes glazed, he stared at the threatening sky in the distant west. “We would like to be alone now if you don’t mind,” he said.
Nodding, the gatherers passed by the man, expressing their condolences. There were five: a long-faced preacher who the man hardly knew, the man’s wife’s middle-aged niece and her husband, a baggy-eyed grocer friend from town and a middle-aged Mexican-American hired hand. The grocer and preacher departed first in the grocer’s red 1995 GMC pickup. Soon after, the niece and her husband left in a tan 2006 Chevy Suburban, the husband giving a two-finger wave to the hired hand who had stood outside a black 1992 Ford pickup parked 30 yards away from the man sitting on the bench.
“You okay boss?” the hired hand shouted, gazing westerly at the multiple lightning strikes descending from dark green clouds. “Looks like a pretty bad storm’s brewing up.”
“Give me a couple of minutes,” the man replied, his voice muted by thunder.
Not hearing the answer, the hired hand nervously got in his truck and waited.
Undaunted by the oncoming storm, the aging man spoke in a quiet raspy voice. “You’ve been the mainstay in my life since we were kids. I’ll visit you at least once a week, honey. By coming here, maybe I won’t miss you so much.” As he spoke he could feel her presence and the spirits of others, people from another time he had never known but had known that they were there.
Lightning bolted with a deafening crack nearby and the man, hat in hand, hurried to the truck where the hired hand, the old man’s best friend, waited. As he shut the passenger-side door, wind-blown rain pelted the windows.
“I’m ready to go to the house now,” he said. As the pickup turned, his blurry eyes focused on the oak tree and bench he could barely see through the passenger-side window. Marble-size hail enjoined the rain, rattling the truck’s roof and hood as they drove away.