Bad Boy Campground

The first thing I remember clearly in the dream – that’s what I’ll call it, for lack of another word – is that I’m sitting around a campfire with this old-time cowboy.  I’m naked, which makes sense, because I’m actually sleeping naked in my sleeping bag.  It’s October up in the mountains, but the bag is plenty warm.  The cowboy appears to be from the 1880’s, about 90 years before my dream, on account of the style of his work clothes, jeans, boots, vest, a shirt that must have had a different color when he first bought it.   He looks to be about fifty or so.  I’m twenty-five, a grad student at New MexicoStateUniversity in Las Cruces, about 200 miles east (and 4000 feet down) from where we are, and a newcomer to the Southwest. 

I think, it must have been hard to be gay in the Chiricahua Mountains back then.  It’s a sublimely beautiful place; the mountains rise up out of the desert of southeastern Arizona, and have a wider range of flora and fauna than any other place in the US.  But the area is also, even now, quite remote.  He laughs, seeming to have heard my thoughts, grabs his crotch, and says, “Oh, yeah, it sure was pretty hard.  Not difficult, though.  In fact, I might have lived a lot longer if it wasn’t so easy to bed guys.  We had to be on the quiet, of course, and that’s what did me in, not being careful..

 “I was a blacksmith, a farrier – you know what that is?”  I nod, someone who shoes horses.   He nods. “So I got to meet a lot of men, and they needed what I had, either here” —grabbing the bulge again— “or here,” showing his strong arms.

He moves in a little closer.  “You know, you have a lovely ass.  I’m really gonna like fucking you.”  He sees the way I pull back, because he goes on, “Yeah, I know, you don’t get fucked.  Well, this time you do, and – believe me, son – you’re gonna like it, a heck of a lot!”

So immediately we’re standing up.  That’s what happens in dreams, right?  And he’s standing behind me, that strong left arm of his holding me close, his right hand undoing the buttons of his jeans.  He whispers into my ear, “This is my favorite position.  And I’m so grateful Jeff brought these dungarees back from Frisco.  I don’t know how the hell I’d get this done in overhauls.”

Why not shed everything, I think.  He just snorts to make clear how stupid a question it is, and then bites my earlobe.  By that point he’s finished with the buttons and brings the right arm around me, to pull me in impossibly tight.  Now he’s in me.  It hurts so much, and it also doesn’t.  The campfire scene is gone; it’s dark, but I feel and see fireworks all over my body, inside and out.

I woke up to the earliest hint of dawn, my colleagues all awake, kneeling around me, shaking me.  “Jon!  Jon!  Wake up!”  In addition, then, to the surprising amount of semen I’d left in the sleeping bag, I had to have been making a lot of noise as well.  It took a little time to get back to the present time.  When I did, I asked what I said during the orgasm.  My colleagues, other grad students, were three straight men, so I was a little worried.  It turned out that they were unable to make any sense out of my shouting.  When I got out of the bag, though, the smell of my cum was strong enough so they knew what happened.  It gave them a big laugh, and they made a point of holding their noses. 

 “That goes in the trunk, dude,” the driver said, “and maybe you, too, unless you clean up really good.”  We’d intended a one-night camp-out, so we weren’t expecting to shower, and I had to search for some water source.  I used my t-shirt to wash myself in a sink at a bathroom half a mile away.  When I got back, the shirt went into the bag in the trunk.  

On the way home, they didn’t ask about the dream.  In fact, they managed to keep the talk about everything but the dream.  They knew I was gay, and clearly did not want to hear any story as sexually explicit as mine was.  Just as well!  Given how rough the sex had been, I was surprised I had no pain and could sit easily, with just a pleasant tingling feeling.  In fact, I felt so much at ease that I fell fast asleep about halfway back to Las Cruces and did not wake up till the car came up to my apartment.  There were no more dreams, much to everyone’s relief, including mine.  We made our goodbyes, knowing we’d see each other in the math department on Monday, two days away.

I had to tell someone.  Charlie was the only gay man I knew well enough to chance it.  ‘Cruces was a pretty small town, still is, so there was not a huge pool of gay guys to choose from.  He, too, was in grad school, in anthropology.  I’d met him the previous year at a secret Halloween party put on by the town’s mostly closeted gay Latinos in a huge warehouse shed.  Charlie had only recently been discharged after two years in the Army, and had mercifully been able to avoid deployment to Vietnam.  He looked really fine in his military uniform, and was the center of a large circle of friends.  Even so, when I got up the nerve to ask him to dance, he was happy to do so.  When it ended, he kissed me on the cheek and whispered, “Call me.” 

I had never taken him up on an invitation that could have been merely pro forma; he was so popular I couldn’t see how he’d have time for me.  But now I had an excuse, because I knew his anthropological studies included the spiritual beliefs of the earliest Spanish immigrants to the area.  I called him to say I had a story to tell him.  We met at a Mexican restaurant late that Sunday afternoon.  I told him the whole story, and he consumed it as eagerly as the meal.  And while I was telling him everything, I came to realize how much I liked being with him.  I wanted to kiss him right there in the restaurant, which was absurd, of course, given how little I knew him.

When I finished my story, he said, “You know, there really is a haunted campsite in those mountains.  What I heard was that this guy got shot for being unfaithful to his wife, and he scares away anyone who tries to camp there.  Tree limbs fall down on people camping there, or mountain lions run them off.  They call it El Malcriado.  You know, like ‘Bad Boy.’  Those stories are always a little right and a little wrong, so maybe it was his boyfriend who shot him, and maybe he scares off only the ones he can’t fuck.” 

It was clear that Charlie was far more at ease with the reality of ghosts than I was.  As a mathematician, I had trained myself not to believe in such silliness, but that dream, or whatever it was, had been far too detailed and explicit to let me keep that opinion.  Were there ghosts, really?  Well, Charlie’s story would seem to corroborate it.  At the very least, I wanted to find out more.  And Charlie’s interest I found exciting; maybe it was a way to connect with him.   We were quiet for half a minute, and then we simultaneously said, “Let’s go back and find out.”  We set it up for Friday night, a week from the first encounter.  I said, “Don’t jerk off, Charlie, save it up, and maybe bring a diaper.”  He laughed. 

***** 

On Friday afternoon, Charlie came by in his pickup and we set out.  The road westward is almost entirely along the flat, high desert, and only after crossing into Arizona at Portal does it climb up into the forest of the ChiricahuaMountains. As I said, Charlie and I had never messed around with each other, but I had been unable to get his image out of my mind during the week, and the sexual tension between us was becoming unbearable.  Charlie admitted that he had a stable of what today we call “friends with benefits,” all of whom were, in my estimation, far better looking than I was.  But during the drive, he kept putting his hand on my shoulder, or neck, and when we had to pee by the side of the road, he made a point of looking at my equipment, and gave a ‘thumbs-up’ and a big smile.  If I hadn’t zipped up right then, I wouldn’t have been able to.  I think he knew that, too, and giggled.

“You know,” I told him, “this guy is going to really like your ass.  He thought mine was ‘lovely,’ and I’m in no decent shape at all.  Yours really is lovely.”

He laughed again, and said, “So how come you haven’t tried it out, ese?”  

I stammered a little, and finally came out with, “Well, I always see you with your posse of friends, and they’re all out of my league.  Look how buff you are, and I’m just a fat math slob.” 

“Give me a break, Jon!  You’re fine.  If this ghost doesn’t show up, in fact, we’re going to have to take things into our own hands, eh?” 

I blushed.  And smiled.  He saw it and pointed his finger at my mouth. 

We had to park down the slope from the campground.  I thought I would need to lead Charlie to the campsite, but he knew what we were looking for.  He led the way, and it was nice for me following him to watch his lithe movements.  After an hour’s upward hike, not rough but steady and steep, he led the way to a tree with a large “X” carved into its trunk. “See?” he said. “This is supposed to warn you not to camp here.” 

“I guess we didn’t see that last week.  This was a pretty place, and we were tired.”  It was still a pretty place, too, with a bed of pine needles to park your bag, and birds of all kinds to see and hear. 

We set up a tent and put both our sleeping bags in it, though – I can’t explain why – we didn’t connect the two bags.   We did not make a real campfire, because the sign at the entrance to the National Forest said the fire danger was too high.  So we ate what we’d brought, drank some wine, smoked a little grifa, and talked.  Even though I’d had such an earth-shaking experience the previous week, I was still leery of the whole idea of ghosts, but Charlie was just plain excited.  He kept asking questions, what the man looked like, what his name was – I hadn’t found out – and if he had kissed me.  I could at least report that, while he had nuzzled my ears and neck, and fondled me very tenderly, we had not kissed face to face.  Charlie didn’t like that. “I would have kissed you,” he said, “The only reason I’m not doing that now, ese, is that you’re wanting me to be on the edge for this cowboy ghost.  If he doesn’t show, I’m not kidding about taking care of business ourselves.”  And again I blushed and felt stymied, and again he laughed.  “You know?” he said, “I’ve never made it with anyone as smart as you.”  And of course, I was speechless. 

It was completely dark by the time we managed to get into our sleeping bags.  Even just a week more towards winter, the weather was colder than the earlier experience, so Charlie’s tent was good to have.  We still kept on talking, and then at some point we both – I suppose both – fell asleep. 

He, the cowboy, is in the bag with me, still dressed in his whole outfit, his arms all over me.  And we’re again positioned with my back to his front.  No campfire?  I wonder.  “No time, bud.  I’m gonna love havin’ you again, but I have to make the campfire for him after I finish you off.”  Can’t you kiss me, please?  I think.  He responds, “Maybe some other time.  Let’s get down to business now.”  And there is no way to challenge that, even if I wanted to.  This time is neither so painful nor as all-encompassing.  Comparing it to ordinary sex, this is far more exciting, but it isn’t like the first time.  He seems to understand, and says, “Sorry, sweetheart, I can’t have you shouting and waking up Carlos there.”  Again, he nuzzles me from behind, runs his hands all over me.  And again I come like a banshee, but he has his hand over my mouth.  The last thing I remember before I fall back into a deep sleep is him saying, “His name is Carlos.  A man deserves to be called by his right name.”

What I woke up to was Charlie – Carlos – screaming and moaning, probably exactly as I had the  week before.  I let him go on; unlike my math colleagues.  I figured I knew what was happening, and saw no reason to cut his pleasure short.  Eventually, he sank back into silence, and I reached over and shook his shoulder, and woke him up. 

“¡Ay!” he said.  He seemed to be wavering between Spanish and English, but ultimately said, “Wow!”  We both smiled, and hugged each other.  When we broke free, it was to discover the sticky mess in our bags.  “This is not going into Mama’s washing machine, you know?”  

I laughed.  “He said I have to call you Carlos from now on.  Is that what you want?” 

He said, “Yeah, I’d like that.  Anglos have called me Charlie most of the time, but family always call me Carlos.  And now, yeah, dude, call me Carlos.” 

“Mucho gusto en conocerte, Carlos.”  I said, using up about half my Spanish.  “I’m pleased to know you.” 

“Igualmente,” he replied, which my math background was able to translate, ‘equally, same here.’  “Now, let’s get this cleaned up, okay?”  

We walked down to the pickup, where we had set aside some food for breakfast, as well as some bathing water.  The sleeping bags we piled into the bed of the truck “to air out.”  We walked the area awhile, though, before heading back home.  We often held hands as we looked around; we felt as easy with each other as if the sex had been between us.  Several times we hugged each other tightly, something I realized I had been wanting for months. But we hardly talked at all. 

On the ride home, though, we compared notes.  Yes, Carlos got the whole campfire routine.  His conversation with our ghost – he told Carlos his name was Chase – was entirely in Spanish.  Carlos was able to stand up facing him, could see the bullet hole in his shirt, could ask about what had happened, but was no more successful at kissing than I had been.  Most surprisingly, when I asked how Chase had liked Carlos’ “lovely ass,” it turned out that Carlos had been the one doing the fucking!  Carlos, who was, as he himself put it, 150-percent bottom.  And finally, Chase had asked that we not come back for a month or so, because “there’s just so much ectoplasm to go around.” 

“Did he say that in Spanish?” I asked.  Carlos shook his head as if to say he couldn’t remember.  “Did he talk about how he died?” 

“Yeah, but it wasn’t like the story we heard,” he said.  “Chase did have this boyfriend, Jeff, and yeah, he stepped out a lot, but Jeff didn’t kill him.  Chase says he fucked some guy, about twenty-five, and the guy’s brother shot him.  Jeff ran away after that, and Chase doesn’t even know what happened to him.” 

After a minute, I said, “Isn’t it strange he calls him ‘Jeff’ when he’s so into using people’s right names?” 

That kept us silent for the rest of the drive.  I don’t know what went through Carlos’ mind, but mine kept going from one subject to another – how I should stop feeling so unhappy for having to be so closeted in 1975, how close I felt to both Chase and Carlos, wondering what would happen between Carlos and myself now, wondering when or if we’d go back to El Malcriado.  Just as we got to town, Carlos said, “Oh, Chase said to thank you twice.  First because he doesn’t get much repeat business, and second because you brought him lovely me.”  Carlos laughed at that, and so did I. 

Carlos drove up to my apartment.  “Can we wash our sleeping bags together?” he asked.  So, of course, we filled up the washers in my apartment building with all our dirty clothing.  I told Carlos he could take a shower, so he took off his clothes, put them in a washer, and quickly ran across to my apartment while I got everything started.  When it was all loaded in, I went back myself, and got in the shower with him.  There was no question of having sex, we were just too spent, but we embraced each other in the shower for a long time, and I kept kissing his neck and arms.  He made sure I knew how much he liked my attention 

Since his clothing was in the washer, he had to stay in the apartment while I finished everything.  Once when I brought a load of clean clothing back in to sort, I found him reading some of my  math notes.  He looked at me, shook his head, and laughed.  I shrugged; his was a common response.  “Dude,” I said, “your anthro language isn’t any more comprehensible than math.”  He gave his usual sweet laugh, and nodded his head in agreement. 

After getting dressed and raiding my grad-student refrigerator – we were far too tired to go out to eat – we sat on the sofa and talked about Chase.  “I think we owe him some help,” Carlos said. 

“Help?” I almost shouted.  “Think of it, Carlos.  This guy must have had more sex over the last century than all of your friends combined.  He seems like one happy guy.” 

“Yeah, I know,” Carlos answered, slowly.  “But my abuelita, my grandmother, says that ghosts stick around because there’s something they need to do before they move on.  We could at least ask him, right?” 

It seemed dubious, but it did give us an excuse to go back and visit him again.  Even more important, it gave me an excuse to spend more time with him.  “Okay, but what kind of thing is he looking for?  Like does he have to get 1000 men before he stops?” 

Carlos laughed.  “No, it must have something to do with the way he died.  I’ll bet he’s buried somewhere close to where we saw him, and is looking for a way to leave.” 

“What about asking your abuelita?”  I asked, proud of myself for absorbing another Spanish word. 

“Yeah, man, that’s what I want to do.  I think you should come, too, because you probably have some information I don’t.  She mostly speaks Spanish, though, so I’m going to have to translate.” 

Carlos was clearly committed to this, which was all it took to get my agreement.  Without that, I would have been happy just to make monthly pilgrimages to our campsite.  He used my phone and called her.  I understood nothing, of course, except he did use the name El Malcriado.  And she must have said something serious because I saw his eyebrows knit up.

When he hung up, I said, “She knows you’re gay, right?” 

“Yeah, dude, the whole familia knows.  Their only complaint is that I’m being too wild.  Actually, my grandmother will love to meet you; I know she’ll want us to get together.  You’re so respectable.  Not like the guys she usually sees me with.” 

I was surprised.  It was pretty much a stereotype that Latino families were the nastiest in how they treated their gay members.  But in recent decades I’ve come across more than one case where the concept of familia outweighs everything else, and the gay or lesbian member – and even their partner! – is held tightly inside the family circle. 

Carlos got up and retrieved his car keys.  “Vámonos.”  I was a bit taken aback that this was happening so fast, but there wasn’t anything else I had to do, so I went along.  And to be sure, the only other people I’d spent much time with since showing up in town had been my straight colleagues, and simply being in the same room with Carlos was more satisfying than any activity I’d done with them. 

The grandmother lived in a small house in the barrio on the east side of town, on an unpaved street.  I felt pretty clumsy in the situation, so I just did whatever Carlos told me to do, which was mostly to sit down and shut up, except when he asked me specific facts.  

He turned to me at one point and said, “He never kissed you, right?” and I nodded.  The grandmother nodded approval and said something that was obviously important.  Carlos relayed it to me:  “If a ghost kisses you on the lips, he could take your soul prisoner, so it’s a good thing Chase hasn’t done that.”  I was still feeling dubious about what ghosts could or should do, but I certainly wasn’t going to say anything at that point. 

Our visit, almost an interview, lasted about half an hour.  I rarely picked up what was said.  Carlos was too involved to translate, except when his grandmother motioned him to do so.  Yes, the ghost was looking to complete something.  He might seem happy, but he was still driven to finish whatever it was.  I said, “Well, if it’s some kind of revenge on his killer, I’m not doing it.”  Carlos didn’t have to translate that; the grandmother put up her hands and said, “No, not that.  He wants his friend.” 

I grabbed Carlos’ arm.  “Are we supposed to find Jeff’s body and bring it back there?”  The grandmother nodded vigorously.  “How?”  She shrugged her arms, and then went back to talking with Carlos.  When they were done, we stood up to leave.  

“Is your name really just Jon?” she asked me, surprising me.  “You’re Jew, no? and that’s not a Jew name.” 

“It’s short for Jonathan,” I answered, though almost no one used that name. 

“Jonathan,” she said to me, “a man must be called by his right name.”  The repetition of Chase’s comment sent a shiver through me.  “And you need at least to try….” She couldn’t finish but I knew she meant try to find Jeff’s body.  “Jonathan, for you, for you it’s a misvá.”  If the previous comment made me shiver, this one made the hair stand up on my neck.  A misvá, for Jews, is a good deed that you cannot refuse to do, and her pronunciation of it was specifically Sephardi.  Where did she come up with that?  

But she was already shooing us out the door.  Just before closing it, she called to Carlos, and went back in to get pencil and paper, to write down the name of a bruja, a witch in El Paso who might help us in what was now our quest. 

In the car, Carlos asked me what his grandmother had told me, and I explained it.  “I knew it!” he said, “We’re Jews.  Well, we were, anyway.”  He had spent some of his research on the persistence of Jewish customs among early New Mexico Latinos, descendants of the converted Jews who had come to the New World to escape the Inquisition.  Carlos said, “One of the early bishops of Santa Fe had to insist that there was no Saint Esther in the canon, and that the people who thought they were celebrating her feast day were in fact celebrating…” 

“Purim,” I said. 

“Yes, which was not a Catholic holy day.”  His laugh was almost a snort.  In the years after my story takes place, many Latinos acknowledged their roots, some even converting back to Judaism, but Carlos was ahead of the curve.  

I reminded him that his abuelita had specifically charged me with the mítzvah (that’s the way my Eastern European family says it), and he nodded silently.  “Carlos, how the hell are we going to do this?  Other than that lady in El Paso, what do we have to work with?”  The grandmother’s insistence had the feel of the kind of demand my own bubbeh might have made, and I had the same impulse to follow it. 

“Well, Jonathan, I am the anthropologist, right?  So there’s the old newspapers from 100 years ago.  Maybe there would be some information in them.  I know how to get hold of the microfiches and even some photocopies.  It’ll take some travel time, though; probably most of the stuff is in Arizona.  I’ll want you to come with me sometimes, just so I don’t get lonely.  I don’t think any of my buddies would be interested in doing something like this.  Do you have any free time?” 

I taught Tuesdays and Thursdays, and was otherwise free except when I had to see my adviser a few times a month, so we planned out when we could do trips.  “Let me find out first where the newspapers are, okay? and then we’ll do some snooping.”  I had to admit that it was Carlos’ keenness for this quest that finally shut down any remaining reservations I might have had. 

“We need to tell Chase, too,” I said.  “It’ll be Thanksgiving, though, before we can go back there.” 

On Tuesday, Carlos called me at my office to tell me that there indeed were plenty of newspapers of the period, 1875 or so, from Bisbee, Douglas, Willcox, and places that no longer existed, but that the only places to find them would be in Tucson or possibly Phoenix.  He got a few contacts from his professor. 

“But, Carlos, we don’t even know their last names, either of them!” 

“Yeah, I know.  That’s where the bruja comes in.  We visit her this week if we can; maybe she can point us to where we need to go.” I took a moment to think that most anthro guys didn’t actually participate in the cultures they studied, they only observed them.  But I didn’t say that to Carlos, and he was unnerved by my silence.  “Jonathan, will you do it?  You’re not going to have to do anything crazy, at least nothing crazier than what we’ve already done. And there’s nothing wrong with a happy ending, is there?” 

“Sure, Carlos, I’ll come with you.”  I’d spent so long trying to figure out how to break into whatever gay world existed in Las Cruces, and here Carlos was essentially demanding it.  Sure, I’d go with him.  

So on Thursday after class, we drove down to El Paso.  Carlos was excited because his adviser allowed him to make this detective game a project he could use for his Master’s degree; obviously that would not work for me. 

The bruja’s home was in one of the many poorer barrios in El Paso, close to the copper smelter that polluted the air (and has in recent years been shut down).  She was not particularly old, wizened, or otherwise witch-like.  Her English was good enough so that she insisted on using it exclusively, though it was stiffly formal. 

“Tell me about the campground,” she said.  “What did it look like?  What did you hear?  What did it smell like?” 

I found myself answering, “It’s a beautiful flat place at the top of a steep hill with a trail.  All the way up you can see birds – well you could the first week; maybe they’ve migrated since then.”  Carlos nods his head.  “The ground is carpeted with pine needles, and pine sap is the dominant smell.” 

“And the man, Chase, what did he look like, what was he wearing, how did he smell?”  

Carlos and I looked at each other, and I answered again, “He wasn’t very tall, maybe 5’7”, but with very strong arms – I suppose from his work as a farrier.  You could smell leather on him, and still a little bit of horse.  Most of his clothes were pretty worn; I don’t even know what color the boots must have been originally, or his shirt.  But his Levis were new; he told me they had been a gift from his buddy Jeff.” 

“His lover,” she put in, and I nodded. 

Carlos added, “Each of us experienced being at a campfire the first time we met him; it was very hot but I don’t remember it smelling like anything.  It was quite steady, no little sparks flying off.”  He looked at me and I nodded.  “We couldn’t figure out afterwards where the campfire had been; I mean we couldn’t point to any spot on the campground that seemed to fit it.” 

She said, “The campfire was from so long ago, the vegetation has covered it since then.”  Again, Carlos and I nodded to each other.  “And the only names you have are Chase and Jeff.  And yet he made a big deal about using proper names.  Interesting.  Do you believe Chase’s version of the way things happened?”  We had no answer for that.  “Well, apparently you do.  I can’t tell, myself.  Certainly, the story we’ve heard for generations, the El Malcriado story, is unlikely, but that doesn’t make Chase’s story any more true.  Tell me, could Chase be his family name?” 

We were both so shocked we had to laugh.  Of course, that could be true.  And it would make it easier to locate any newspaper story about him. 

She went on, “I always have doubts about ghosts.  Yes, they have to finish something, and yes, they’ll keep at it till they do.  And they don’t have to be evil, and yours doesn’t seem to be, from what you tell me.  But, still, be careful; he always wants things his own way, true?  and he knows how to be nasty if he doesn’t get it.  We know he scares off campers he’s not interested in, ¿qué no?” 

“But we’ve never heard stories of him hurting anyone,” Carlos said. 

“Maybe no one else has gotten as close to him as you two have, so if you keep meeting him, he may eventually ask for something you don’t want to give him.  Maybe he’ll try to kiss you?”  We shook our heads no, but she said again, “Be careful, chicos.  Let me ask you: would you have been able to say no to his desires?”  We shook our heads ‘no.’  “And did you get to decide what happened in the sex, or did he?”  The question was rhetorical; she’d made her point.  The interview was over.  She turned down the silver dollars she normally took for a session, and said, “I’ll take that when you come back with something I can work with.”  We thanked her and walked out. 

Carlos drove us the forty miles back to Las Cruces, to my apartment.  This time we did our own sex without supernatural help, and I was surprised at how well we connected.  Every kiss, every caress seemed to land on the right spot at the right time, and I became lost in our sex the way I had never done before.  If Chase, or the abuelita, or the bruja had walked in on us, I would not have known.  I kept trying to delay my orgasm just so I could keep on holding on to him, but eventually my body gave me what I needed. 

“You were wonderful!” I practically shouted afterwards.  

He laughed.  “Was this your first time?”  I shook my head no.  “Well, you still haven’t learned, dude, it takes two to tango.  I was wonderful because you were wonderful.  Yeah, go ahead and blush, man, you’re a real sweetie.”  And I knew I was blushing once again.  I had questions I wanted to ask him, more questions than I had about Chase, but I shut up and we went to sleep so I could be awake the next morning for my doctoral adviser. 

But the adviser had left town for a conference, without telling me.  So Carlos and I were free for the day.  Even though it was November by this point, it was not very cold.  We took a short drive out to the mountains east of town, the Organs, and had a picnic.  When he drove back to my place, Carlos laid out what he was going to do.  “So Monday morning, really early, I’ll go to Tucson to check out what’s there.  I have a feeling it will take a lot of time.  So I’ll call you Monday night, okay?”  I nodded, of course.  “I hope I can find somewhere to stay.  My adviser gave me an intro to some of the anthro people at U of A, so maybe that will help.  I’m pretty psyched.” 

I laughed.  “Yeah, you look pretty psyched.  I was wondering, though, what happens when you actually find something.  Like will it be helpful or not?” 

“Oh no, man, you’re not gonna be like the bruja, are you?  I mean, do you think Chase is lying to us?” 

I tried to soft-pedal my doubts.  “Everyone bends the truth a little, right?  But suppose his story is totally on target.  Suppose that Jeff is now buried somewhere in Michigan?  What do we do about that?  And maybe Jeff doesn’t want to re-unite with Chase; like maybe he found a better man, and likes being buried next to him.  What then?  You know Chase won’t want to hear that.  And you know that he can get nasty when he’s angry – at least the stories seem to say that.  So, yeah, I wonder how we’re going to work this out.  But at least you can research it all.  You can add to the story of gay cowboys, make it real.  That’s neat, isn’t it?” 

But that would not satisfy Carlos.  “Oh, man, isn’t it a bit early to hand me the consolation prize?  Can’t we wait till we get there?”  

“Okay.  You won’t get any more doubts from me.”  And we let it go at that, but Carlos was still annoyed, and stood up to leave.  I asked, “Are you too angry to kiss me, then?” so he came over and gave me this bear hug and a long, long kiss.  “Good luck, compañero,” I whispered into his ear.  “For your research and for our quest.  I will miss you; I know that you know that.” 

“I know it because I’ll miss you, too.”  That came as a surprise.  After all, he had a stable of men to play with.  He must have seen my surprise.  “I mean it, Jonathan.  I’ve never met anyone else like you.  I always have to dumb myself down when I’m with the rest of the crowd, but you’re like coffee for my intelligence.” 

I hesitated only a moment, and said, “So, do you want to stay here tonight?” 

He smiled broadly, but sighed.  “This is the weekend with papi and mamá.  I never fuck with that.  Maybe Sunday night.  Yes, definitely Sunday night.  Is that okay?” 

“Oh, I suppose,” I said, and giggled.  We kissed again, and he left.  He was as good as his word and returned Sunday evening, with his packed bags so he could set out the next morning.  Sometimes I wonder how all this would have worked nowadays.  Someone as popular as Carlos would be getting texts and calls on his cellphone all the time, interfering with our chances of slowly building a relationship.  Or if we had been in a larger town, maybe the same thing, and we would not have so quickly turned a one-night stand into something of substance. 

I won’t say much about our sex life, except that Chase had opened us both up to a wider range of roles, both for him and for me, so our time in bed that night was long and varied.  And we both enjoyed it.  We would spend time doing one thing, then stop and just lie there, then go back and do something else, and it went on like that. 

In the morning, I told him to find a place to call me from in Tucson just once, and then I would do the calling – it would be cheaper that way.  Long-distance calling was expensive in those days.  He got in fairly late Monday night, was put up for a few nights at the house of his adviser’s friend, but would have to find something more on his own.  His host was kind enough to let him call long-distance for the time he was there.  Carlos’ time was spent first searching for a sublet for a month or so, then visiting the U of A library and trying to make his way through the maze that led to the information he wanted.  He called each night, and it became my job to reassure him that he was accomplishing something that way.  I looked forward to each night’s call, just to hear his voice.  In fact, I had to make sure I did my thesis work early in the day, because it was the only thing I spent time thinking about other than Carlos. 

By Thursday his luck turned good, and he found another anthropology student who wanted a sublet for a month while he could do his own research in Central America, so he devoted the rest of the day and Friday to the library.  In Friday’s call, he mentioned that he might have to come all the way back to El Paso’s library for some stuff. 

Meanwhile, Carlos’ friends were coming around, asking about Carlos but actually checking me out to see if they could score.  I told Carlos.  “Yeah, that’s typical, Jonathan.  What are you going to do about it?” 

“Nothing.  I’m not interested in them.  Actually – I hope you won’t mind – I don’t really like them that much.  If you took me to one of their parties I’d be polite but I’d probably try to drag you away.” 

He laughed.  “Look.  We haven’t made any promises to each other, so if that lovely ass of yours, or that other part, needs some attention, I’m not going to stop you.” 

“What about you?” I asked.  “Are you getting any action in the big city?”  

He paused.  “No.  I guess right now I’m not so interested either.  The research is taking up a whole lot of my energy right now.  Why, what do you want me to do?” 

“Carlos, we’re not married, so you’ll have to figure it out for yourself.  But you’re the first person I’ve connected so deeply with in a very long time.  I mean, I’ve had lots of one-night stands, but this is something different for me.  If you do stay a month, I’m coming out there.” 

He laughed.  “Okay.  Well, I guess that’s it.  No, wait.  I’ve felt this connection, too, Jonathan, and yes, I want more of it.  If I stay out here a month, you damn well better come visit.”  So it was my turn to laugh. 

Once he had a permanent number at the sublet, I called him every night.  Some days he’d be excited because he discovered a new newspaper from the era, other times he’d be down because he couldn’t find anything in the paper.  One day, though, he called me at my office to tell me he had found a small ad for a blacksmith-and-farrier named Joseph Chase from 1881.  It was targeted at miners in the Chiricahua territory, and offered various services that miners would need.  Now, Carlos knew what he was looking for, and would be tracking down every mention of Joseph Chase. 

“Oh,” he said, “I miss you, by the way.  Whenever I get anything new about this guy, I get a hard-on, and then I remember you.” 

“And what do you do about it?” I teased him.  He snorted, so I re-assured him, “Well, I’m doing a lot of that too, Carlos.  I’m trusting that you’ll be coming back here to see your folks for Thanksgiving, right?” 

“Yeah,” he said. 

“Well, we could leave here after dinner, and I could spend time with you till I have to come back for the Tuesday afterwards.” 

“But you’d have to take the ‘Hound back to ‘Cruces.  Is that cool?” 

“Sure,” I answered.  I’d done the ‘Hound – local slang for the Greyhound bus – often enough.  

Carlos arrived at my doorstep Thanksgiving morning at dawn.  In those days, we didn’t have to lock our doors, so he came in and shook me awake.  We both stank, me from sleep, him from driving, so we went right to the shower, which immediately evolved into sex.  I related to him Chase’s comment about standing up being his favorite position.  

“That’s weird,” Carlos said.  “He said that about getting fucked doggie style – that’s what we did.”  We were too busy to think any more about it.  We were able to actually get clean before the hot water ran out.  “Why don’t you make breakfast for us?” I was surprised that he was ordering me around, and then I saw that he was laying out the photocopies of things he’d found while I was cooking eggs with green chile, onions, and Velveeta, the way he liked it. 

He showed me his finds while we were eating.  Not only the blacksmith ad from 1881, but small bits in the local papers about him, with the last one, from 1886, talking about him being missing, his forge still going, with some editorial comments about the likelihood of foul play.  There was no mention of anyone named Jeff, or anyone else who might have been Chase’s companion.  Chase was described as a good blacksmith, someone people could trust to do a good job, and someone who could keep horses gentle while working on their hooves and shoes. 

“You know what this means,” I said.  “And it’s been a month since we’ve been up there.  We’re going to have to ask the man himself.” 

“Yeah, Jonathan, but all he wants to do is to fuck, or get fucked.  Do you think we can get him to talk?” 

“Well, he seems to read minds pretty well, doesn’t he?” I put in.  “If we just talk about what we know while we’re there, or maybe just think it, we can certainly see.”

So we planned on visiting the mountains on our way west to Tucson the next day, after Carlos’ family Thanksgiving dinner.  He left for dinner with la familia shortly after we talked, leaving all the photocopies at my place.  Later on, though, he called from his parents’ house and insisted that I come for dinner.  “When they found out you had no place for Thanksgiving they chewed me out for not inviting you, so you have to come.” 

My own family wasn’t keen on my sexuality, but just as he had said, Carlos’ folks seemed happy enough to have me there, knowing how close we were.  It gave me a smile I had a hard time removing from my face.  In fact, Carlos’ father asked me, “Do you smile all the time?” and  I told him only where I felt welcome.  He liked that. 

I stayed till late evening, made my excuses, and drove across town to my apartment.  Carlos reminded me that he would be by the next morning.  

He came over early with some heavier sleeping bags.  In the Chiricahuas it was already winter, though Tucson, at a much lower altitude, would be plenty warm.  I packed my own winter coats and long johns, and we headed off.  We crossed an oncoming storm.  It was brief but it laid down a thin coating of ice all over the road.  With the fierce wind blowing the pickup around, we kept sliding out of control.  At one point the truck came to rest facing oncoming traffic.  We had to slide off the road entirely, not really sure we could get back on.  We got out of the truck, tied a tarp onto the bed, put chains on the tires, and were able to be on our way.  And by then the storm was over.  The sun came back out, the ice melted immediately in the sunshine, and we almost took the chains back off. 

It was just as well we didn’t.  Once we got to the base of the mountains, we could see slowly melting snow.  The Forest Service folks had taken down the “No Fires” sign now that the danger had lessened.  At our parking place in the Chiricahuas, tire tracks on the snow revealed that someone else had been there the previous night, and we saw footprints leading down as we ascended.  We thought the footprints betrayed a quick retreat, and that was corroborated by what we found at the campsite – food and utensils scattered all over, a fire still burning.  Carlos said, “Well, it looks like our buddy Chase turned himself back into El Malcriado.”  

I laughed.  “I hope he’s happier to see us, especially since we’re here to ask questions.” 

Carlos asked, “If he wants to fuck you again, will you let him?” 

“Actually, I literally don’t know how I could refuse, just as she said.” 

“Yeah, same here,” Carlos said.  “Anyway, he’s pretty exciting.  Not that he’s competition for you, though.” 

We set about clearing the area but we kept the fire burning.  The sun was out, but it was still cold enough.  We made more than one trip down to the parking area with the last night’s campers’ belongings and back up with our own.  Fortunately, we had set out early, so it was still afternoon when we finished making camp.  Although we occasionally made joking comments to each other, or kissed now and then, we were mostly quiet and reserved.  We brought over some logs to keep the fire going, and one we could sit on to keep warm. 

“You know,” I said, “I don’t think we could ask enough questions to really find out who Chase is, or was.” 

“Is that important?” Carlos asked. 

“I guess it is.  Just like I want to know more and more about you.  Like what’s your favorite bird here, or what kind of flowers to get you for Valentine’s Day.  When I’m intimate with someone, they’re with me all the time.  You know that you’re always with me, don’t you?  Like, I look at a sunrise back in ‘Cruces and think how much you’d like it.” 

He seemed embarrassed.  “I kind of wondered.  I guess I do now, though.  Yes, it’s like that with me, too, but only for you, not for all those other guys.” 

By that point we had a fire and a place to sit near it, which in the cold afternoon moving towards evening was very welcome.  And so we sat for awhile, till we realized the tent had not been set up.  So, we were up again to make sure we didn’t have to work in the dark.  This time we connected the two sleeping bags so we could sleep together, assuming Chase would let us.  Then it was close to dark, so we got out dinner.  We had not brought anything that required a fire to cook on, or any implements to make a fire with, but we were able put the food out near the fire to at least warm up.  Waiting, we talked again about Chase.

“Do you think he’s listening?”  Carlos asked. 

“Of course!” I laughed.  “I think he’s hovering all around us right now.  Can’t you feel him?”  And I thought to myself, where has that skeptic in me gone? 

“Yes, every so often something feels tingly.  I sure hope he’ll at least give us a little time for something other than sex.” 

“Well,” I suggested, “if he’s already here, why don’t we put out all the stuff we want him to know.  We can only hope he’ll pay attention.” 

“Pués, Señor Chase, Jonathan and I have been thinking about you a lot.  We talked with my abuelita, who knows a lot, and she says there’s something you haven’t finished on your life journey, and you can’t rest till you get that done.  She says it’s up to us to help you do that, so we’ve been looking at history.  I found the ad, ‘Joseph Chase Blacksmith & Farrier’ in one of the papers from 1881, and I found later on that you were”—he does air quotation marks here—“missing.  But that’s all.  And we don’t even know Jeff’s full right name so, if you’re looking for him, we need more information.  We came here to see what you want us to do.  It looks like you’ve already had a bad choque with some people last night, and we hope your, uh, ectoplasm, has recovered .  Okay.  Is that it, Jonathan?” 

“Yeah, Carlos, that’s it.  Oh, except, thanks, Chase, for getting Carlos and me together.  I’m so happy I’m getting to know him!”  We both laughed, and leaned against each other. 

After that, we grew quiet again.  I think it was partly an effect of Chase’s presence, though it might not have been through any intention of his, as if his mere presence and our shared history were enough to put us almost into a trance. 

After a while – hours? – Carlos thought we should go to bed, and we did.  Naked again, and embracing, but without any sex.  And we fell asleep. 

We’re sitting on the log by the fire, naked, and Chase is sitting between us with an arm around each of us.  He massages my back and arms, and presumably Carlos’ as well.  For a long time, he doesn’t say anything or invite anything more sexual.  Finally, he says, “Those guys last night?  They were telling queer jokes.  No reason I should have to stand for that sort of shit.  Most of the time, I don’t do anything when people camp here.  I listen to their chatter sometimes.  If someone is gay and alone, I’ll move in.”  He brings his arms more tightly around us then.  “And sometimes with more than one.  Otherwise, I leave them be.  Unless they do something nasty.  About race, or color, or language, or being queer.  Then I let them have it.  El Malcriado.”  He chuckles, not reassuringly. 

He brings his arms down in front of him.  Again, he’s quiet for awhile.  “You know, no one else has gone to the trouble you boys have for me.  It feels so good.”  I find myself putting my hand on his shoulder; he doesn’t react.  “But I think you’re barking up the wrong tree, fellas.  I’m not looking for anything; I kinda like where I’m at now.  There’s not just people, you know, there’s the deer, the mountain lions, and the birds, and all the littler animals – I like being among them.  Course they don’t know I’m here.  Every so often I come across folks of our kind, like you two.  And that is special.  So, all in all, I’m not looking for a change.  And I’m not looking for Jeff, neither.  I was such a bad lover for him, hardly ever gave him what he needed, always looking for prettier men.  I hope he found someone better, and if he did, he’s lying next to him right now, that’s what I hope.” 

He stops then.  After a bit, he suggests, “Why don’t you fellas get down to business with each other, huh?  and let me watch.  Maybe I’ll stick my two cents in or maybe not, but mostly this is for you two.”  And the next instant, we’re in the tent, kissing each other, making love one way and then another.  All the time I can feel him caressing us and kissing our bodies, and each touch pushes us to higher levels of excitement.  Finally, while I’m fucking Carlos, I feel him enter me, and I can hear his chuckle, “What a lovely ass!”  And that sends us both over the edge, to orgasm and then a deep sleep that doesn’t stop till it’s broad daylight. 

We woke up wet, of course, and cold.  The fire was long out.  So our first task was to find stuff to dry out with, which took a lot of scrounging.  We were certainly not going to try to clean our bodies in the cold, so as soon as possible, we packed up and set out for Tucson.  It wasn’t clear anymore why we wanted to go there, but it was much closer than Las Cruces, and warmer.  We showered at Carlos’ sublet, and then went out to a restaurant – our first meal ‘out’ together.  We debated sharing a milkshake with two straws but instead shared each dish between us.  

We had hardly spoken since leaving the mountains, but back in Carlos’ sublet apartment, we began to relive the night.  Carlos said, “So this time, finally, I found out what it was like for Chase to fuck me.  It was just as fantastic as you said it was.” 

“When was that?”  I asked. 

“While I was fucking you.”  My mouth must have gaped open, because he said, “That’s not the way it was for you, was it?” I shook my head.  “Let me guess.  It was just the reverse.”  I nodded.  “What a character that guy is!”  I nodded again.  “Maybe we didn’t even fuck each other.  Like, he was pulling the strings in our brains all along.” 

After a long silence, I asked him, “So what do we do now?  I mean, your search seems to have dead-ended, and we’ll have to tell your abuelita that Chase doesn’t want to be helped.” 

“And he never once tried to kiss us on the lips,” Carlos added.  “One thing we could do is to see if we can find people now in the present who have had contact with him, that is if anyone is willing to say so.  It would be interesting, wouldn’t it?” 

I suggested he could also look through more recent newspapers to see if there were accounts of people at the campground.  “There’s still more to the story than Chase wants us to know.  And if we find it out, it won’t be through him.” 

Carlos nodded.  “Yeah.  I think you’re right.  So, are we ever going back there again?” 

I was surprised to realize that I had been wondering that myself.  “Maybe not.  Something about the way he played us last night feels a little wrong, like he could be capable of something way more deceptive than who fucks who.” 

Carlos countered, “But he did seem sincere in a lot of what he told us last night.”  I nodded to that.  He went on, “The problem is that once he’s in the picture he’s so totally in charge, and we have no way of knowing what his limits are.  And yet…. if it wasn’t for him, I’d never have found your lovely ass.”  And we laughed.  And I suppose I blushed yet again. 

That night in Tucson, long after we’d gone to sleep, the windows rattled, the door shook, and almost every cup, dish, and spoon rocked and rolled.  It wasn’t an earthquake, so we knew it was him.  We both sat up, and we could each hear his voice, distant, “Hernández, Jeff Hernández, that’s his whole name.  He’s from El Paso.  That’s all I know.  Tell him I love him.”  And then all the noise died away.  It must have been quite a strain for him to project himself so far from his home ground. 

Carlos got up and turned on the light.  “I guess we have more to do, huh?  I’ll have to wait till Monday to find out if Jeff is mentioned anywhere in the papers.  I think we’ll have to go back to El Chuco and ask the bruja.”  I already knew that El Chuco was southern-New Mexico slang for El Paso.  And I nodded; he was probably right.  I didn’t like the idea of visiting the bruja again; it seemed just one step over the line in my attempt to come to some peace with the idea of the supernatural.  But, since Jeff was from El Paso, we couldn’t pass up the possibility.  Before this all happened, I had scoffed at everything about “the other side,” but I could no longer do that. 

“You know what I really like the most?” I said.  “He actually said he loved someone.” 

“And he was willing to go to some real trouble to say it.  I think the bruja will like to hear about this.” 

We spent Sunday just exploring the possibilities of being boyfriends, enjoying time with each other, walking around Tucson, eating in restaurants, seeing a movie.  I would have to take the ‘Hound back to New Mexico the next morning, so we went to bed early to make time for sex because we didn’t know how long Carlos would be in Tucson. 

Carlos drove me to the bus stop the next morning, and presented me with sandwiches and a soda to take with me; the rest of my stuff either went down below or would stay with Carlos in Tucson till he got back to ‘Cruces.  This was 1975, and a gay man had just been killed in Tucson – it was in all the papers – so we avoided any kissing in public.  Nonetheless, Carlos was able to make clear how much he would miss me; I don’t know if there were any tears on my cheeks for him.  

Is it even worth talking about the trip back home?  Two buses, and more hours than I care to recall, and for awhile the guy in the seat in front of me with his shoes off and his smelly socks.  Ugh. 

I had not even walked in the door at home Monday night before the phone rang, and of course it was Carlos.  “Guess what?  I found him, just like that!”  Jeff Hernandez (the article did not add the accent) had married this woman from Bisbee, Carlotta Jenks, and they’d gone to live in El Paso, where he was from.  The wedding was in 1887, not long after Chase’s death.  “So, I’m coming home.  Any more information there is will be in El Paso.  I’ll see you tomorrow night.”  We stayed on a bit longer despite the cost of long-distance, then said our good-nights. 

And in fact he did show up at my office on Tuesday morning, much earlier than I was expecting.  He must have set out right after the phone call.  I told him to get some sleep, and I’d be over to his place at night. 

I didn’t knock at his door that night – no need to – and found him solidly asleep.  Rather than wake him up, I got undressed and slid in beside him, still not waking him up.  It was nice just having his warm body, with all the smells I’d learned to know, touching me.  We both slept till morning, when he woke up and found me there. 

“Hey, Jonathan!” he said, as he shook my shoulder, “When did you get here?  Did I miss something?” 

“No, I just came over around ten, and got into bed with you.  I wouldn’t have been able to wake you up even if I’d wanted to.” 

“So, did you take advantage of me?” he asked. 

“What does it feel like?” I retorted, laughing as well. 

“I guess not.  So, do you want to take advantage of me now?  I still have time before the El Paso library opens.”   What follows is left to the reader as an exercise, as my math books would put it. 

It was only a matter of a few days before Carlos tracked down Jeff Hernández’ story in the El Paso papers: children, grandchildren, death and burial.  Carlos then visited the bruja again.  Her name was Jackson, strangely enough; she had married, and divorced, an Anglo.  Carlos arranged for a formal get-together; she also told him how much it would cost, a lot, so I put in half the fee. 

It was a blustery mid-December afternoon when we showed up at her door, both of us in the heavy coats demanded by a continental climate in winter.  Señora Jackson ushered us in to the house, but told us not to take off our coats because the room we would be using was not heated.  “The spirits like it that way,” she said.  I thought of Chase’s love of campfires, but said nothing. 

We sat around a large table, with room around it for whatever other guests might appear.  The bruja began by stating our purpose, again speaking with heavy formality.  “You are here for the sake of the spirit of Joseph Chase, who is buried in Arizona.  He wants to tell the spirit of Jeff Hernández, who is buried in the outskirts of this city, that he still loves him.” 

I nodded, and Carlos answered, “Sí, Señora.” 

“We will use English here.” 

“Yes, ma’am.” 

“Let us join hands, please.”   We did.  Because of the table’s size, we all had to stretch to accommodate this. 

She closed her eyes and was quiet for awhile, sometimes squeezing our hands.  “You are being honest in your quest.  Thank you.”  Her eyes were still closed, so we did not respond.  I don’t know what I was expecting, some call of some kind to the ‘spirits,’ but she was silent throughout, though her lips moved sometimes, and her head sometimes moved backwards and forwards.  

“Jeff Hernández’ spirit is in this room now.  What do you want to say to him?” 

I expected Carlos to respond, but I surprised both of us by saying, “We have been in contact with your old friend, Joseph Chase, in the old campground in the Chiricahuas.” 

We heard a laugh.  “El Malcriado.  Well named, don’t you think?” 

I would have responded directly to the comment but Carlos intervened.  “He came to us to tell you he still loves you.” 

“What, that old lecher?”  and then again a laugh, this time with a bit of real humor in it.  “Did he run you off his property?” 

“No, sir,” I responded, “I think you know what he did with us.” 

“Right.  A good time was had by all.”  Neither of us was capable of a reply, so he went on, “Well, guess what?  I still love him, too, but things have turned out a little different, ain’t they?  I’m married, sleeping peacefully now with my good wife, happy with my children, and theirs.  Did you know I have three gay great-grandchildren?  I’m hoping they can live that life, but I had to choose something else, didn’t I?  I took the best choice I could find, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad.” 

Again, we were hard-pressed to come up with an answer.  There was a silence and then Ms. Jackson spoke up.  “Jeff Hernández, these young men have gone to a lot of bother; they’re not here to trouble you, so you need not be angry with them.” 

“That’s so,” the voice came out.  “I’m sorry, boys.  But I think all that bother might not get you anywhere.” 

Ms. Jackson asked, “If I brought Mr. Chase’s spirit here, would that be satisfactory with you?” 

A chuckle.  “Sure.  I don’t need to make these kids take messages for me.” 

This time, the bruja did actually have to call.  “Joseph Chase, we have the spirit of Jeff Hernández here with us.  He is willing to speak with you.  Are you willing?”  

There was a pause, and then a distant voice.  “Jeff, is it really you?  You know I still love you.” 

“Yes you do,” Jeff seemed to respond, “and quite a few other men as well.” 

“No, I never loved them.  And I never kissed them.  You were the only man I ever kissed.  Isn’t that true, boys?” 

Carlos said, “Well, he didn’t kiss us, that’s for sure.” 

Chase said, “I have always loved you.  Always.” 

“Yes, Chase, I know that.  And I put up with all the times you bedded down with every pretty traveler that came our way, because I loved you too.  But you ran me out of the bed where we were making love when that young whipper-snapper came knocking at the door.  The very bed I myself made for us, hauling lumber up the hill to do it.  And in the middle of our tenderest moment.  I told you he was doing it just to get his brother riled up, didn’t I?  And I was right, wasn’t I?” 

Silence.  Then the distant voice said, “Yeah, I was worthless.  No doubt about it.  When these boys first suggested I oughta contact you, I told them what an awful lover I was to you.  I told them not to bother.  Then I thought it over, and I realized that it didn’t matter what would happen.  If I could just tell you how I felt, how I still feel, how I love you, how I despise what I did, then that might be enough to take the pain away.” 

Silence again.  Then Jeff’s voice, more emotional.  “Chase, thank you.  And thank you, too, boys, for all you’ve done.  But, truly, Chase, that will have to be enough because I will not put aside the woman I married.  I cannot do what you did so often.” 

We could hear the wind whipping around outside then.  We heard no more of Jeff.  As for Chase, we could hear that distant voice weeping.  Ms. Jackson said, “Mr. Chase, is there anything else you need to do here?” 

“No, ma’am,” came the very soft response.  “Thank you all for your trouble.”  And then we knew we were truly alone in the room.  The bruja said nothing for awhile, maybe just to let us take in what had happened, then withdrew her hands, and we did the same. 

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said after Carlos counted out the money in silver dollars.  “I have a different kind of question.  You don’t seem to be bothered by…” 

“Homosexuality?” she laughed.  “No.  You haven’t seen all the strange things that I’ve seen; homosexuality is not the scary thing for me that it is for others.  Be careful, though.  There are the others.  You know about that murder in Tucson, don’t you?” 

We left.  All the way home in Carlos’ pickup, we were quiet, and there was no impulse for sex that night, though Carlos stayed over with me and we slept in each other’s arms.  The next morning, the local news carried a report of an earthquake in the Chiricahua Mountains.  Geologists wondered whether it was a long-delayed after-shock to the famous, well-recorded high-magnitude quake of 1887 which, come to think of it, was right after Jeff’s wedding, and had rocked the area for miles around.  This recent temblor hit only a tiny area near the epicenter, with no one hurt.  But some camping area on a hilltop had collapsed.  I was glad we were both listening when the news came over the radio, so we wouldn’t have to put it in words ourselves. 

During the Christmas break it was cold and windy, as it always is in southern New Mexico at that time of the year.  But there was no snow on the roads, and when we crossed into Arizona at Portal, we saw no evidence of snow in the mountains.  We parked at the usual spot, and could immediately see that some trees had fallen over.  It took a lot of effort to get up to where the campsite had been, pushing through debris, climbing over boulders that had not been there before.  When we got to the spot, the tree with the “X” was missing.  We could not walk very far without getting indications that the land was still unstable.  We left our flowers on the ground, and both of us teared up – how strange.  Then we headed back down, and it took just as long as coming up. 

Over the next few years, as long as we were together, we visited three or four times a year, always bringing flowers, but only once camped overnight, one very cold night, and we high-tailed it out at dawn.  Every time we came by, we said “Hello, Chase,” when we got there, and “Goodbye, Chase” when we left.  They are truly beautiful mountains.

About In a Former Time

This blog is meant as a vehicle to publish my literary work.
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