(Note: This is a continuation of “The Glow” that was posted on October 17.–jrs)
The siren refused to get closer and faded away altogether. It was the first road noise Bob had heard up here in years. He wondered about the timing. It had certainly made the stranger nervous. Questions listed themselves on his internal chalk board as he shrugged and went in the house. The dog wanted to stay on the porch, which added to the list in brain chalk.
Two days later, Bob found another two dollars tacked to the chicken coop door frame. This time, there was a note with it:
“Do you have any .357 or .38 Special ammo you’d be willing to sell?”
Bob’s lips tightened into a thin line. He took the money and the note into the house. Sitting at the scarred oak kitchen table, he penned his own note:
“Still not a store, but maybe. Come to supper on Friday. Day after tomorrow.”
He tacked up the note and spent the rest of the day at his chores, still trying to decide. He also wondered what to have for supper on Friday. The only thing he knew for sure was that it wouldn’t be eggs.
In the morning Bob fed the chickens, the animals, and saddled the horse, who was obviously pleased with the attention. The dog pranced about the yard, ready to go. The note fluttered in the morning breeze, right where he’d left it.
The three of them went out across the expanse of the lower pasture, over the long levee, crossed the creek, and went up into the timber. Bob rode easily and the dog ranged back and forth, mostly ahead, but sometimes behind.
Bob watched the dog carefully. He’d found him as a pup at the top of the levee, nearly starved to death. too young to fend for himself and too stubborn to die. He’d always felt that the dog was a gift, coming four months after his wife of thirty years had died of complications from lupus. Finding the dog had stopped his freefall into an angry loneliness and gave him back his caring. Four months of inattention could put several sizable knots in a small ranch. As he nursed the dog and slowly rejoined his own humanity, he’d untied some of the knots and got the place back into working order. His social contacts had vanished after his wife’s death. They had been sparse while she was alive, but close nonetheless. In the three years since she’d passed, he’d lost his ability to reach out and renew them. Carl, who had the place around a bend in the creek to the east of him, would help with round-up and he would return the favor, but he’d never been much good at talking and the topics with Carl and his wife would always sneak around to churchy things and Bob always had nothing to say. Conversations would just peter out to single syllables and vanish like campfire smoke on a breezy evening.
Bob figured the dog had about another ten years left in him and tried not to think about what he’d do when it was done.
The morning was high and blue and made long shadows as they moved up the slope through the trees. He’d been considering where to go and beyond the short high meadow that peeked just over the western slope and across the broad plain he had not come up with a single idea. He just headed up that way and hoped he could learn something more by watching the dog. He knew that, in the dark, you could see the light coming off the cities on the other side of the high mountains from that meadow. The man who’d called it “The Glow” must have seen it to describe it so well.
When they reached the meadow, Bob found evidence of a small campfire. It was tucked into a small hollow near the ridge. It was not what he liked to call a “white man’s fire,” it was small and would have been quite discrete. There was nothing to show that it had been a camp.
From the saddle, Bob surveyed the view to the west. There was a hint of haze on the other side of the mountains. This was not surprising, considering that several million people lived over there and most every one of them had a car. He hadn’t been on the western side of the mountains since his wife died. There’d been no reason. Before she’d become grievously ill, they had visited that valley twice a year, to experience what his wife had called “civilization.” Bob had laughed at that, but had to admit that he had enjoyed their time together there. He’d discovered that he enjoyed plays and the symphonies. This had surprised him. Even so, he felt no compulsion to renew his acquaintance with culture.