In Our Lovely Deseret
Edited by Robert Raleigh
Durfey Renews an Interest in Rodeo
Levi S. Peterson
[p.47]As the luncheon adjourns, Henry Ross exhorts us to attend the Richfield rodeo that evening. It’s the second time he’s mentioned it. Someone must have paid him for the publicity. He also reminds us of tomorrow’s activities at Dennis Gundersen’s vacation home in Koosharem Canyon. For those who come early in the morning, there will be a breakfast, which will merge into a lunch for those who arrive at a more comfortable hour. We are to wear clothes suitable to volleyball, hiking, and horseback riding. Our main purpose, of course, will be conversation conducted in lawn chairs beneath the aspens and firs.
I stand a moment after the luncheon with Roger Sheffield and find him a pleasant man. It strikes me as inevitable that Aspen’s husband of thirty-nine years should be handsome and wear sparkling, goldframed glasses and display an unflappable complacency regarding his ability to solve the problems of the handicapped.
I am feeling more and more reconciled to Aspen. All during the luncheon she has played her cards exactly right. She has behaved as if the relationship between her and me was indeed a juvenile episode basically of the same sort as all the other juvenile episodes an adult is supposed to look back upon once in a while with fond nostalgia. I see how dangerous my emotions have been these past few days. I have been [p.48]waiting for something to happen between me and Aspen. I haven’t known exactly what it might be. I feel depressed, yet relieved, to see that nothing is going to happen.
Elaine and I go out to the parking lot and get into the Honda, intending to return to Cedar City in time for the greenshow. Before I start the car, Elaine says, “Aspen Marooney is a very nice person. We have a lot in common.”
“Her name is Sheffield,” I say.
“Yes, that’s what I meant. She and Roger took their turn at keeping their parents in their old age. She says for a time they had both his mother and hers in the house in a helpless condition. For a while she had to put diapers on her mother-in-law.”
“That would be very hard,” I say. “But I’m not surprised Aspen would do it.”
Just then we are diverted by an unhappy incident. Bradford Higley is suddenly standing by my side of the car. He hasn’t been at the dinner, and I’m shocked to see that if he had been he’d have won the prize for baldness. His poor maimed half ear projects from below his bald pate like a ruined weather vane. It’s too bad that a man whose ears stick out so prominently has to lose one of them.
He jerks open my car door and shouts, “Out of there, Durfey Haslam, you son of a bitch! I’m going to kick your ass.”
He’s somewhat drunk, and his wife, Janie Schuster, is clutching at his arm and saying over and over, “Brad, sweetheart, please come home. Brad, sweetheart, please come home!”
I get out of the car and the instant I’ve stood up straight he hits me in the mouth and knocks me against the car and I slide on down and roll out flat on the pavement. I’m not unconscious, but I can’t muster any energy for getting up. Bradford grabs my arm and tries to pull me up so he can knock me down again. I remain limp and he can’t manage it. I’m hoping he doesn’t think about kicking me, but he does and gives me a sharp kick in the ribs. At last Henry Ross and Toby Jackson grasp his arms and pull him back, and Elaine and Janie help me to my feet. Blood is drooling from my mouth. I can feel a big gash in my upper lip. It’s possible I have a couple of broken ribs.
“You’re in trouble,” I say to Bradford. “You’re up for assault and don’t think I won’t press charges.”
[p.49]He lunges against the grip of his captors and shouts, “That bastard went out with Janie when he knew she was my girl.” “You dumb fart,” I say. “She and me weren’t anything but friends. My good hell, she married you, didn’t she?”
“You bit off my ear,” he says. “I hollered uncle but you didn’t stop biting. You chewed it up and spit it out and it couldn’t be sewed back on. ”
A crowd has gathered. Among them is our classmate, John Izatt, Richfield’s chief of police. He’s clad in dark brown pants, a tan poplin shirt, and a high-crowned Stetson. He has worn his shiny gold badge but not his gun to the dinner. He’s an affectionate fellow who deliberates a long time before he acts, and at present he is simply wringing his hands.
Elaine confronts John ferociously and insists he arrest Bradford. She knows about the old fight between me and Bradford because I’ve gone over it with her a hundred times from every possible angle. “He had it coming, getting his ear bit off,” she shrilly insists. “He was pounding Durfey to a pulp.”
“No, don’t arrest him,” I say. “Let’s just forget the matter. I’m truly sorry I bit off his ear.”
Tears are streaming down Bradford’s seamed cheeks. “Thanks to you, I’m nothing but an ugly son of a bitch. Every day I look in the mirror and see I ain’t worth a pile of horse shit.”
John Izatt is now waxing authoritative. “Break it up, break it up!” he shouts to the crowd, waving his Stetson. “This was just a little altercation between friends. Time to go home. See you at the rodeo tonight. Anybody who needs a place to rest up or use a bathroom, come on over to my house.”
Elaine and I get in the Honda and drive away. I’ve never seen her so angry, first at Bradford, and now at me. “Where you going?” she says abruptly when I stop at the drugstore on Main Street.
”I’m going to get a little something for this cut lip,” I say.
“No, you’re not,” she orders. “You’re driving straight down to the emergency ward of the hospital.”
“Gosh, no,” I say, “I’m not hurt anywhere near that bad.”
I’m very close to responding with the same kind of anger, and when I slam the car door, I know she’s sitting very rigid and seething on her side of the car. I will emphasize this is unusual for both of us.
[p.50]I see Roger Sheffield sitting in the car next to ours; it’s a Mercury as big and fancy as a Continental. Its hood ornament is dangling by a tiny cable. Roger Sheffield is the last person I want around to see me get out of this rusty Honda. But there’s nothing to do but give him a friendly wave.
Aspen is inside the drugstore paying for something at the counter. I go up to her and she gasps and covers her mouth with her hand.
“You missed a good scrap,” I say. “Bradford Higley just knocked me down in the parking lot for biting off his ear.” I point to my swollen, bloody lip, which I can see in the mirror behind the cashier.
“You’d better go to the doctor right now,” Aspen says. Just like Elaine. Truly there is an interchangeability within human personality.
“I’ll find something that’ll take care of me,” I say, and head down an aisle and come back pretty soon with a bottle of Tylenol tablets.
“You’ve got to go to the doctor right now,” Aspen says. “Tylenol won’t do any good for a cut like that.”
“For hell’s sake, Aspen!” I say. “You sound just like Elaine.”
“All right, so I do,” she says, starting toward the door. There’s no question she’s angry.
“Aspen!” I say. She turns. I feel dizzy and become aware that bloody saliva is drooling from my mouth.
She comes back, takes my handkerchief, and wipes my chin. She says, “You’re in shock. Please don’t fall down.”
I put my arms around her and lean against her, and for a moment we’re both unbalanced and she has to take a step back to keep from falling.
“That Bradford Higley is a savage!” she says. “He’s still possessed by those old raw animal feelings. He’s missed the whole point of living, which is to get the better of himself.”
Truly Aspen is a woman of standards. But I can’t understand why tears are slipping down her cheeks. My injury isn’t worthy of so much concern.
”I’ll be okay,” I say to her. “This cut lip will heal up fast. I don’t hold it against Bradford. I had it coming. I shouldn’t have bit off his ear. That was a terrible thing to do.”
The cashier has been taking all this in from just across the counter.
“He’s been hurt,” Aspen says to the girl.
[p.51]”I can see he’s hurt,” she says. “He ought to go to the emergency ward.”
“I used to know him,” Aspen says. “We used to be friends.”
“Like hell we were friends,” I say.
I put my hands on her shoulders, and my thumbs massage her throat as if forty years have never happened. She says to the cashier, “Please excuse us. This is the only chance we’ll have to talk.” She takes my hands from her shoulders and leads me down an aisle where a stack of goods hides us from the cashier.
“Do you plan to go to the rodeo?” she asks.
I tell her we’re headed back to Cedar City to see another play with our daughter and her husband and a couple of wonderful grandkids.
She says, in a muffled, secretive voice, “We have a son. Would you like to see him? His name is Gerald. If you go to the rodeo tonight you can see him. He ropes with his boy Donnie. They do team tying. Gerald is very good at heeling. That’s the technical part of the sport.”
Her composure is completely gone. Her voice trembles and there are goosebumps on her arms.
“So you’ve got a boy who’s a cowboy,” I say. I’m surprised by the trivial information she has given me. I’m simply not interested in her children.
She says, more urgently, “He’s not a boy. He’ll be thirty-nine next fall. You fathered him. He’s your son. He couldn’t belong to anyone else. He’s short and big-shouldered like your father. He owns a diesel shop in Salina. He’s not a good man. He smokes, he boozes, he runs with women, he makes fun of sacred things. He’s broken my heart a thousand times.”
I start to make a big, surprised O with my mouth, and then I grimace because of my gashed lip. I have grasped this fact: that, because she and I went to bed one last time on the next to last night of 1951, she had been pregnant for weeks by the time she married Roger Sheffield in the temple. My mental processes have gone berserk; ideas scatter in all directions inside my head. I realize it will take months to sort out all the implications of this new reality. Maybe I won’t be able to sort them out at all.
“It’s been the terriblest burden to bear,” Aspen says. “I especially dread Roger’s dying because then he’ll know. I dread Judgment Day because then everybody will know. Roger can’t understand this eldest [p.52]son he thinks is his. He can’t comprehend why he hated school, why he got in fights, why he took to horses and truck driving.”
I find myself doubting Roger could have failed to know, sooner or later, that he’s bought a package of damaged goods. I begin to wonder what his game is. By now I’m feeling like a third party standing somewhat to the side and observing Aspen Marooney make a tortured confession to Durfey Haslam. I’m thinking she’s reducing her guilt by adding to his.
“You won’t tell anyone?” Aspen pleads. “Go to the rodeo and see for yourself. That is, if they don’t put you in the hospital with that poor battered lip. You’ll know he’s your son. Please don’t tell Elaine. Do you promise me? Please, not a word to Elaine.”
“I just can’t get a handle on this,” I say.
“Have you got it all straight?” she says. “Is your mind clear? He’s your son. His name is Gerald. He’ll be at the rodeo.”
“You wouldn’t tell me a terrible thing like this if it wasn’t true, would you?”
“You don’t have to believe it if you don’t want to.”
“I just can’t get a handle on it!”
“All right,” she says. “Maybe you’re not supposed to get a handle on it. Your face is so grey. I think you’re in shock. Your poor furrowed cheeks! You’ve got old, Durfey! All these years, I haven’t thought of you as getting old. I’m a vain and foolish woman, and I ask you to put out of your mind all this crazy stuff I’ve just told you. Everybody thinks he’s Roger’s son. So let it stay that way. It never happened, it couldn’t have happened. Please don’t mention it to anybody. Especially don’t mention it to Elaine.”
She kisses my cheek. “Elaine is waiting outside. Go out to her. Let her take you to a doctor. Stay close to her. She’s a wonderful woman. I love her already.”
“Yes, Elaine is a wonderful woman,” I say.
She leads me to the door. “Please don’t mention this to anybody. Especially Elaine.”
I nod my head and she hugs me and I lurch out of the drugstore. I scramble into the Honda without looking at Roger, and then I start the engine but let it die and can’t get it to start again for a minute. Aspen comes from the drugstore looking dignified and self-possessed. She gets into the car with Roger and they drive away. I assume one [p.53]of them gives us a wave because Elaine offers a startled, half-hearted wave.
“What did she buy?” Elaine asked.
“I don’t have the slightest idea,” I say. “Maybe some bobby pins.”
“Women don’t use bobby pins anymore,” she says. “Don’t you know that?”
I drive to John Izatt’s house because he has said anyone is welcome who needs to rest or use the bathroom. His wife, Sharmane, gives me a glass of water and I take a double dosage of Tylenol. I ask to use the bathroom. Seated on the toilet, I begin to think more rationally. I begin to doubt I have a son I never knew about. It’s possible Aspen is mentally unbalanced and has told me an outrageous lie. It’s possible she has nurtured herself on romantic dreams all these years, as I have done, and these dreams have unbalanced her, as I do not think they have unbalanced me. I suddenly regret thinking this, because, whether or not we have a son, it implies Aspen is still in love with me.
Next I decide it is possibly I who am suffering hallucinations. That was a hard blow to the mouth Bradford Higley gave me. I came awfully close to passing out. So maybe I’m not in my right mind and have simply imagined the scene in the drugstore. All these years I’ve secretly wished I’d managed to get Aspen pregnant as we both hoped I would during those summer nights in Fry Pan Canyon, and so maybe actually I’m the unbalanced one and have at last made my wish into a deceitful semblance of reality. Suddenly it seems imperative that I go to the rodeo and see whether there really is a roper named Gerald Sheffield and, if there is, whether he really does look like he might belong to me.
In the kitchen Elaine has just hung up the phone. “I left a message for Ruby at the motel that we’d probably get there too late for the greenshow. We just have to go over to the emergency ward at the hospital and let a doctor look at you.”
”I’m feeling fine,” I declare. “You look terrible,” Sharmane says.
“You look as if you’re in shock.”
I wander back into the bathroom and examine my lip in the mirror. Though it hurts fiercely, I probe the wound with my tongue. It feels enormous. I’m chilling some, a bad sign since it’s a hot summer afternoon.
[p.54]I agree to let Elaine drive me to the emergency ward. We sit on a padded bench for forty-five minutes before a doctor can take a look at me. He is reluctant to attempt a patch job on my lip. “I can do it,” he says, “but there’s a real chance when it heals your lip will skew to one side or the other. It’s only a three-hour drive to Salt Lake. I could phone ahead and have somebody who knows his business on hand to fix you up.”
“For hell’s sake, sew it up,” I order. “I want to get out of here in time to make that rodeo. At my age who cares about a skewed lip? I’ve got a grandkid with a scarred lip anyhow. Now he won’t have to feel so different.”
I lie on a table and he gives me a shot of novocaine under the lip on each side of the wound and goes to work, sighing and grunting and cursing under his breath. I keep my eyes closed and I can’t feel any pain.
When he’s about through, Elaine says, “What do you mean, you want to go to the rodeo?”
I can’t reply because the doctor’s hands are still inside my proppedopen mouth. “Ruby and Herman expect us in Cedar City,” Elaine reminds me. “We’ve had tickets for a year.”
“I think he ought to go home and go to bed,” the doctor says. “He’ll be okay in the morning.”
For no apparent reason I’m remembering when Elaine and I cleared out her mother’s house in Altadena following her mother’s death. Altadena is next to the San Bernardino Mountains. It has streets that meander lazily up and down hills and a lot of eucalyptus trees filled with cooing doves. One day after a stint of hard work, Elaine found a cola in the refrigerator and took a break on the veranda, sitting with her feet propped against the railing. Elaine had been very quiet and sober all day. She was mourning and would continue to mourn for a surprising period. I was thinking how cemented people become who live together for a long time, meaning, of course, Elaine and myself. When a couple stands together while, one after another, they bury their four parents, emotions creep into their relationship that they haven’t expected.
It’s six o’clock when we come out of the hospital. Elaine says we can still make the play if we drive hard. She wants to do that even if I decide I should go to bed in the motel instead of going to the play. She [p.55]offers to stay with me in the motel. She doesn’t mind missing the play, she says, but she’s <em>very </em>strong on getting back and letting Ruby and Herman know things are okay.
Elaine and I are strong-willed people who generally <em>behave </em>like passive personalities. Each generally wants peace more than having his or her own way. Now I foresee an irresoluble conflict because I find it mandatory to catch sight of this Gerald Sheffield at the earliest possible moment. I <em>have </em>to settle with myself once and for all whether Aspen has for some wild reason lied to me. I can’t make any other <em>moves </em>in a <em>very </em>complex situation without knowing that.
“I’m very sorry,” I say, “but I want to take in that rodeo in the worst possible way.”
“I don’t understand,” Elaine protests. “All of a sudden you want to go to a rodeo. You never said anything about going to a rodeo before. Not once!”
“I know,” I say, “but something has come up.”
“What’s come up? That’s what I’d like to know! What’s come up?”
She gets behind the wheel of the Honda. “Where shall I take you? Because I’m not going to any rodeo. I’m heading back to Cedar City.”
I have her let me off at John’s and Sharmane’s. Nobody is home but the door is open, and I go in and lie on the sofa and cover myself with an afghan. Sharmane is startled when she comes in the front door and I speak to her. She and John are very gracious to me, and she fixes me an eggnog for supper which I sip with a straw. John says I can ride with him out to the rodeo grounds where he is due to patrol all evening. After drinking my eggnog, I go back to the sofa and am lying there when John’s and Sharmane’s daughter Anne, recently married, comes in with her violin for a twenty-minute practice with her parents for their performance tomorrow at the next session of the reunion in Koosharem Canyon. They sing some mournful old western songs, Sharmane playing an electronic keyboard, Anne her violin, and John a guitar. John takes the lead vocal part and the two women harmonize with haunting voices.
They sing a song I associate with Aspen Marooney because she and I used to sing it, and I turn my face to the back of the sofa and weep. It goes:
The sweetest words belong to lovers in the gloaming,
The sweetest days were the days that used to be.
But the saddest words I ever heard were words at parting,
When you said, Sweetheart, remember me.
I’m astonished to realize I’m also weeping for Elaine. It broke my heart to see her devastation when she let me out at John’s and Sharmane’s. She couldn’t believe I was staying. I see now she thinks something is going on between me and Aspen, as indeed it is. I’m struggling hard but unsuccessfully to clarify to myself exactly what it is.
At the rodeo grounds, John offers to let me ride around all evening with him in the patrol car. I thank him and buy a seat in the grandstand. I’m wondering where all these people I don’t know came from. Some are dressed in boots, jeans, and Stetsons. I take them to be local. Some seem to be tourists on the national park loop; there are four or five tour buses in the parking lot. An entire busload seems to be Japanese. These tourists are all dressed the way middle-class Californians dress on a daily basis—tumble-dry, wrinkle-free, permanent-press casual. I wonder whether there’s a connection between California mores and world-wide tourism.
I hear a friendly voice and see, crowding in to join me, my classmate Jordan Seegmueller, who was on the float and at the dinner but didn’t manage to say hello to me. He’s startled to see my bandaged upper lip.
“I got hit by Bradford Higley,” I explain. “He’s still mad over the fact I bit off his ear. I feel like I had this blow to the mouth coming. I shouldn’t have mangled his ear by chewing it up before I spit it out. Then the doctors might have sewed it back on.”
“That Bradford is a mean bastard,” Jordan says. “He wanted to fight me last winter. I said, I ain’t fighting you so just go ahead and knock me down. He decided against it and went away.”
Jordan Seegmueller has a colorful history. One night fifteen years ago he was driving with some friends out of a logging contract on the Fishlake National Forest, and they saw an alien spaceship hovering in the air about fifty yards off the forest road. According to their description, it was a big, disk-shaped spaceship, something like the one in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The sight put Jordan under a spell, and he got out of the car and approached the [p.57]spacecraft, whereupon a powerful electronic beam swept him up and transported him, squalling and kicking, through the air into the spacecraft. His frightened friends drove away, and the next day the sheriff combed the area without finding a trace of Jordan. Four days later he showed up in a phone booth in Sigurd, still a little out of his head and able to recall only snatches of what had happened to him in the spacecraft. Small bipedal creatures, definitely not human, had tied him in a chair and interrogated him until he had passed out.
He and his friends took lie detector tests and were declared to be telling the truth, and their episode got onto national TV. In fact, I found out about it from a documentary aired nationally just last year. After watching it, I phoned my sister and she said, “Didn’t you know about that? That was years ago. Everybody up here heard about it.”
While we sit in the grandstand, I say to Jordan, “According to that documentary, your life has been made pretty miserable by people who think you aren’t telling the truth about that spaceship.”
“Oh, dadgum!” he says, “you can’t imagine how hellish it’s been. That incident ruined my life. Everybody thinks I’m a liar and a pervert. But honest, I ain’t. It really happened.”
“I believe you,” I say.
As I look him over, I know he isn’t lying. Still, I don’t believe in alien spacecraft and small non-human intelligent beings. So I decide he’s had a hallucination, a massive, four-day hallucination, a part of which he has somehow communicated to his fellow loggers through psychic projection. This makes me decide Aspen could also have had a massive, four-decade hallucination about her first son belonging to me rather than to her legitimately avowed husband. Unnerving as the thought of her mental disturbance is, it’s preferable to the thought that I’ve had an unknown son wandering the face of the earth for thirty-nine years.
It’s starting to get dark and the arena is a brightly lit oval of soft, damp sand. A grand procession, led by a rider carrying Old Glory, circles the arena. Once all the horses and riders and carriages and Coca-Cola trucks and three wheeled motorcycles are inside the arena, the spectators in the bleachers and grandstand stand at attention and the loudspeakers boom with the national anthem. Then come bronc riding, steer wrestling, calf tying, and bull riding, interspersed with entertainments by a clown and his trick donkey and a troupe of trained horse riders. The team roping I wait for is the very last. By the time [p.58]it’s announced, I’m feeling fatigued and dizzy. I say goodbye to Jordan and make my way to the bottom of the grandstand and crowd in at the railing, getting as close as possible to the action.
The third team of ropers is announced as Gerald and Donald Sheffield, father and son from Salina and Price. I nervously finger the opera glasses Sharmane has lent me. It seems very strange to be made into a father and grandfather in a single instant. Images from that next-to-last night of 1951—the gas log burning in the Marooney fireplace, for example—run inexplicably through my head. I’m wondering what difference it might make in the life of this Gerald Sheffield to know his father is not the man he has called father all his life.
They come out of the chute and the steer luckily veers my direction. The lead roper throws a skilled loop over the steer’s horns, and with a sudden flip the rear roper skips a loop across the ground which miraculously encompasses both the animal’s hind feet. The steer falls and the trained horses stop short and begin to back up, tethering the steer out so it can’t possibly rise. The rear roper dismounts and helps the judge release the fallen steer. He takes off his hat and I can see him very clearly in the glasses. He’s bald, short, broad shouldered, and possessed of enormous biceps, very much like my father. His face doesn’t particularly resemble the face of anyone I ever knew—bushy eyebrows, flaring jaw, a small surly, begrudging mouth. He looks every bit of the thirty-nine years old he has to be. As far as I’m concerned, the veracity issue is settled. Aspen is not lying to me. That’s my son.
He remounts and he and the other roper jog nonchalantly toward the chutes. The announcer says their time is fastest so far. I frantically turn the glasses upon the second rider but catch no clear picture of his face. He’s got to be very young, maybe only sixteen or seventeen. They leave the arena and I lose sight of them. I have an impulse to seek them out at the corrals where they will probably unsaddle their horses and load them into a trailer. I remember my promise to Aspen not to share her secret with anyone, but it’s not that promise that fixes me in my tracks. It’s a profound sense that I must let well enough alone, that many truths are much better lost in the dust of history. I have the loneliest feeling, the most lost and desolate feeling I’ve ever experienced. I begin to weep. My shoulders shake, my lungs convulse.
I remain at the rail of the grandstand with my back to the crowd, trying to regain my composure. I feel Jordan’s hand on my shoulder. [p.59]He’s startled to see my tears. “I don’t have any idea why I’m crying,” I say. “That medication the doctor gave me has unhinged me.”
Jordan and I leave the grandstand and find John’s patrol car and climb in. The radio crackles unintelligibly as far as I can make out, but John seems to understand there’s a problem in town. We roar out of the rodeo grounds, and at the south end of town, just past a big new motel, we see a pickup sitting with lights on and turn signal blipping in the turn lane of Highway 89. We get out and find a man passed out over the wheel. His head rests upon his hands, which clutch the top of the wheel, and he seems to be sleeping peacefully. The engine purrs softly and the turn signal clicks with annoying regularity.
“Drunk bugger,” John says as he pries into the man’s pocket and extracts a wallet. “I know this fellow. This is the third or fourth time we’ve caught him driving with a suspended license. He’s got some jail time coming now.”
John pulls the man out of the pickup and lets him thump upon the pavement. Seizing his two hands, he drags him across the highway like a sack of potatoes. Jordan and I help him deposit this dead weight upright in the rear seat of the patrol car, and John drives to the county court complex. By the time the unconscious man is searched and fingerprinted, his wife has arrived at the jail. She is a Goshute Indian from Skull Valley, short and obese and speaking broken English. There is nothing she can do at present for her husband. She’s frightened and distressed, and John and the jail clerk do nothing to make her feel better.
So I see tiny Richfield, like vast Los Angeles, can be accused of police brutality. Those who have no proclivity toward a certain kind of infraction of the law or decorum have little tolerance for it in others. I see the inevitable warfare that goes on everywhere between police and the so-called criminal classes—those whose lives, whether intentionally or not, cut crossgrain to the law. On the other hand, I see John Izatt has been sorely tried and certainly is not a maliciously brutal man. As an insurance investigator, I have a considerable sympathy with him. Though he is annoyed and peevish with this drunk and his timid, inarticulate wife, he is basically a kind, soft-hearted person who keeps dogs and horses and treats them well. He sings sad old western songs with his favorite daughter. He can’t understand chronic breakers of the law and has no patience with them. This fact reinforces my decision [p.60]to make no moves, to say nothing to anyone, about the vast irregularity Aspen Marooney and I are guilty of.
John takes Jordan back out to the rodeo grounds where he has left his car, then takes me home to bed. It is midnight, and I am reeling with fatigue and the effects of my pain medication. John comes into my bedroom to talk while taking off his boots and socks. He thoughtfully rubs his bare, utterly pale feet while responding to my query as to this Gerald and Donald Sheffield, father and son, who have made the best time tonight in the team roping.
“That’s Aspen’s boy,” John says. “Did you know that? That Gerald, he’s a regular keg of powder. Got a fierce temper. I’ve arrested him a time or two. Just shows you the best of families can have a black sheep. The rest of Aspen’s kids, so far as I know, stick to the straight and narrow; go on missions, get married in the temple, don’t screw around, never touch a drop of liquor.”
“What do you think about Jordan Seegmueller?” I say. “Was he really captured by an alien spacecraft?”
“Like the old Danishman said, it might be true, but I don’t seenk so.”
I try to laugh but my lip hurts too much.
I sleep till dawn, then hear someone stirring around in the house and later out in the back yard. I go to the bathroom and take another of the pain pills the doctor has given me. My lip is so sore I can scarcely swallow water. One of my molars is aching as well. Back in my bedroom I peer out the window and see Sharmane in the back yard wearing rubber boots and a housecoat and brandishing a shovel. She’s irrigating the lawns, garden, and orchard. She’s a sturdy, square-jawed Salt Lake girl who has obviously adapted to small town life.
I return to bed and ponder why my wife has resisted small town life. Elaine and I married in Utah, and when I graduated from BYU she said, “Let’s go home to California.” The press of crowds is like a security blanket to Elaine; she doesn’t feel complete if she isn’t surrounded by congestion.
As for me, I consented to California because I wanted to go somewhere that didn’t remind me of Aspen Marooney. Elaine had fine breasts, a tiny waist, wide feminine hips, enticing calves. Having grown up more or less a Puritan, albeit an inconsistent one, I was incredulous that at last a pretty and pleasant and decent woman had given me regular and legitimate admittance to the intimacy of her body. So I [p.61]wanted to be where no penumbra of Aspen Marooney could fall upon and obscure that woman, and I was truly shocked when, about twenty years into our marriage, Elaine informed me that indeed Aspen Marooney had thrown a deep shade across her life.
I am lying abed thinking such thoughts. I’m lying abed thinking about my son Gerald Sheffield. I’m lying abed thinking about Jordan Seegmueller and his alien captors from outer space and about the old Danishman who said, “It might be true, but I don’t seenk so.”
LEVI S. PETERSON is a professor of English at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. He is the author of two collections of short stories, The Canyons of Grace (1982) and Night Soil (1990); two novels, The Backslider (1986) and Aspen Marooney (1995); and a biography, Juanita Brooks: Mormon Woman Historian (1988).