Some Sweet Life

"If you can't fix it, you've got to stand it. …"

The years rolled by. Ennis del Mar continued to move from ranch job to ranch job, wherever he could find work. Whenever he could, he spent a lot of time alone in the mountains. His elder daughter, Alma, Jr., married. His younger daughter, always smart as a whip, finished high school, won a scholarship to college, graduated, moved to Denver, married a lawyer.

Alma, Jr.,'s husband did right by her, giving her three kids in five years, two girls, then a boy, named Ennis for his grandfather, at Alma, Jr.,'s insistence. Ennis doted on his grandkids as he had on his daughters. When the boy was seven, Alma, Jr.,'s husband was killed in an accident on the job. There was some life insurance, some money from his employer, but Alma, Jr., had to take a job as the secretary at the high school in Riverton to make ends meet, and Ennis stepped in to do what he could as a surrogate father to his grandson. He taught the boy to ride, hunt, fish, and shoot, found more pleasure in teaching these things to his grandson than he had known since Jack Twist died.

When he was in his early fifties, Ennis finally got lucky on the job front. He got a job as manager and caretaker of a small spread in Washakie County that had been bought by a movie producer, who thought it would be fashionable to own a working ranch in Wyoming, with horses to ride on long weekends and vacations, and a small herd of cattle, mostly for atmosphere. Despite his Hollywood pretensions the producer was a decent sort, smart enough to know that he didn't know squat about running a ranch, pretty much left the running of the place to Ennis. He even agreed to the hiring of a couple extra hands to help run the spread. Ennis was able to keep his own horses on the place, and the job came with a small cabin on the property.

During these years, Jack Twist continued to appear in his dreams. Occasionally, they were bad dreams, filled with images of tire irons, and Jack crying out in pain, then, unconscious, drowning in his own blood, and Ennis would awake in grief with his face wet. Mostly, though, they were good dreams, dreams of that long-ago summer on Brokeback Mountain, with Jack smiling and showing off his old bull-riding belt buckle, and then Ennis would awake with a pleasurable feeling that wasn't quite happiness but came pretty close. After the waitress at the Wolf Ears bar in Signal gave up on him, there were no other involvements. Alma, Jr., worried about her father, said from time to time that he should get married again, but Ennis was content with his life. He had his horses and his ranch work. And he had the two old shirts and the postcard of Brokeback Mountain. He kept these relics with him through these years, finally hanging them up in the bedroom of the cabin on the producer's spread.

Once, when he was out of work and staying with Alma, Jr., and the kids, Alma, Jr., found the postcard and the two old shirts, asked him if he wanted the shirts washed. He just said, no, thanks, let 'em be. Not sharp, not angry, but Alma, Jr.,'s good sense told her not to mention the shirts again. She noticed, though, that wherever her father was living, he kept those old shirts with him, along with the postcard of Brokeback Mountain.

The daily cough started when Ennis was about fifty, no surprise in someone who had been smoking since he was twelve. Ennis just spit up the phlegm and went about his work. When, however, as he neared sixty, Alma, Jr., caught him coughing up blood, she insisted he see a doctor, took him to one herself to make sure he kept the appointment. The doctor took one listen to Ennis's chest and sent him right off to the hospital in Casper for tests. When the diagnosis came back, Ennis took it stoically: Lung cancer, advanced and inoperable. The doctor said there was some chemotherapy that might help, and Ennis gamely agreed to it, mostly to please his daughter, but the treatment made him feel so goddamn awful that as soon as he was recovered enough from it, he checked himself out of the hospital against his doctor's advice and without telling Alma, Jr., and headed back to the ranch. He knew what he had to do, where he had to go. He told the hands he was heading into the mountains to do some fishing for a couple of days, needed to be alone to think. He gathered his gear and some provisions, loaded his favorite horse into the back of his pickup, and took off. He took with him the two old shirts from the summer of '63 on Brokeback Mountain.

It was already late in the afternoon when Ennis got to the bridge at the head of the trail up Brokeback Mountain, so he set up camp for the night right there. He pitched his tent, picketed his horse, gathered wood, built a fire. He heated a can of beans for supper but found he had no appetite and instead just opened the quart of whiskey he had with him. He never made it into the tent, fell asleep by the fire wrapped in an old horse blanket.

It was the sound of a horse whickering and of a bridle jingling that woke Ennis up the next morning. It was full daylight, and it felt unusually warm for June. Though he had had nothing in his stomach the night before except a few spoonfuls of the beans and probably half the quart of whiskey, he felt better than he had felt in quite some time, almost light, even. And, he noticed he wasn't coughing like he usually did on awakening. Must be the mountain air, he thought to himself.

Behind him, a voice said, "Rise and shine, cowboy. You goin' a sleep all day?" A familiar voice. Jack's voice. Ennis slowly stood up, turned around. "Jack Twist," he said, for it was, indeed, Jack, smoking a cigarette and mounted on a bay mare that looked somehow familiar. Not Jack as he was in his latter days, but Jack as he had been in that long-ago summer of '63, when they had tended sheep on Brokeback Mountain, same old bull-riding belt buckle, same old battered Resistol with the eagle feather in it tilted back on his head.

Jack flicked his cigarette butt away, grinned at Ennis. "Now, who else would it be, Ennis del Mar? Get a move on, now, Ennis, we got some travelin' a do to get to that camp site up on old Brokeback." Ennis said nothing, thought nothing, just nodded agreement, but he noticed that his pickup seemed to have disappeared. There was no sign of his own horse, either, but Jack held the reins of a big chestnut that reminded Ennis of Cigar Butt, the horse he had ridden in the summer of '63. Two pack mules loaded with camping gear and supplies were lined up behind the bay mare. Saying nothing, Ennis mounted the chestnut, and in companionable silence he and Jack, trailed by the pack mules, started up the trail up Brokeback Mountain.

The ride was long. Jack didn't stop at the first place they had pitched camp in the summer of '63 but kept on to the place where they had first come together in that long-ago summer. Saying very little, for they had little need of words between the two of them, they set about making camp. They picketed the horses, Ennis feeling more and more certain that his mount was, indeed, old Cigar Butt, and unloaded the mules. Jack pitched the tent and organized the camp, making sure the food supply was secure from any wandering bears, brought up buckets of water from the nearby stream while Ennis chopped a supply of firewood, set up a fire ring, dragged in a log and put it by the fire so they could use it as a back rest, just as they had done those long years ago.

All day Ennis had certainly not been unaware that there was something peculiar about riding up a mountain and pitching camp with someone he knew had been dead twenty years, and who moreover looked twenty years younger than the last time he had seen him, but whenever his mind started to work on this puzzling train of events, he stopped himself. Something told him not to go there. Instead, he just let himself take pleasure in Jack's companionship. It had been a long time since they had been together.

As the last of the June light faded, they had a grand supper by the fire, just like old times: fried potatoes, beans—somehow, this night, neither minded the beans—biscuits, and this time they even had bacon to go with the beans and potatoes. Supper ended, they both stretched out, backs against the log, boot soles toward the fire. Jack produced a quart of whiskey, unscrewed the top, took a healthy pull on the bottle, passed it to Ennis. Ennis took a swig, passed the bottle back to Jack, who set it down between them.

Ennis eyed Jack silently for so long that Jack finally said, "What? You got somethin' a say, friend, say it."

Rather than ask what the hell was going on, how it was that he was sharing whiskey with a dead man, Ennis instead said, "Jack, you know I visited your folks up in Lightnin' Flat, after your wife told me what happened? Offered to scatter your ashes here on Brokeback, like your wife said you wanted?"

"Yes, Ennis, I know," said Jack.

"You know your old man wouldn't have none of it? Said he was puttin' you in the family plot?"

"Yeah," said Jack.

Ennis stared at the fire for a long while before he spoke again. "Jack, you know your old man told me how you used a talk 'bout how you was goin' a bring me up to Lightnin' Flat with you, how we was goin' a build a cabin and whip the ranch into shape?"

"This goin' somewhere, Ennis?" said Jack.

Ennis looked at him. "Your old man told me that spring you was talkin' 'bout bringin' up some other guy, some ranch neighbor a yours from down in Texas, and how you was goin' a leave your wife, and the two of you was goin' a build a cabin and help run the ranch."

Jack said nothing.

"What was that all about?" Ennis said quietly.

Jack didn't answer right away. He looked away, looked up at the emerging stars, looked at the fire, looked at his own belt buckle, looked just about anywhere but at Ennis while he considered. When he finally looked at Ennis and began to speak, his eyes were solemn.

"I'm sorry 'bout that, Ennis," he said quietly. "Biggest mistake I ever made, gettin' mixed up with that fella. Prob'ly what got me killed. But, you remember how I always used a tell you how bad it got some times, wantin' a be with you, missin' you so bad I could hardly stand it? I guess I lost my head, got my back up, maybe did it for spite, maybe thought if I couldn't have what I wanted with you, I could have it with somebody else."

Jack paused a moment, looked into the fire instead of at Ennis, then said quietly, "Truth is, deep down I didn't never want it with nobody but you."

Ennis contemplated this carefully, stared at the fire, chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. He reached for the whiskey bottle and took another drink. Finally, as if he had come to some conclusion in his own mind, and without even looking at Jack, he nodded, said quietly, "All right." That was that, nothing more needed to be said.

They sat in silence for some time, while Ennis stared at the fire, considered carefully what he now felt he needed to say. When he finally turned to Jack and spoke, there was a slight quiver in his voice, as though the words cost more effort than usual in the saying of them. Even after nearly forty years, it was still difficult to say it.

"Jack, you remember all those years ago, you wanted us a get a spread together, and I wouldn't go for it? Told you 'bout those two old guys that ranched together down home, and how one a them ended up beat a death with a tire iron?" Ennis paused and swallowed, thinking of Jack's own fate. Jack said nothing, so he took a deep breath and continued. "I was wrong, Jack. Maybe just scared a what was happenin' a us, I don't know, maybe scared a my own feelin's, maybe just plain scared. But I was wrong. Ain't never been nobody else I wanted 'cept you. And I can't say how sorry I am, bud." At the end, his shoulders shook a little, and he bit his lower lip to still its quivering.

Jack got slowly to his feet, reached down and pulled Ennis to his feet, also, gripped him by the shoulders. As the firelight played over them, Jack looked into Ennis's eyes. "It's okay, Ennis," he said. "It don't matter no more."

Ennis took Jack by the shoulders now. "Jack, you know I found those two old shirts that you kep'? Yours and mine from that summer?"

"Yes, Ennis, I know," Jack laughed a little, softly, looked down. Ennis followed his lead, also looked down, and for the first time it registered that he and Jack were wearing those two old shirts from that long-gone summer.

Ennis looked deep into Jack's eyes. "Jack Twist," he said, finally asking what he had avoided asking all day, "am I dead, or am I just dreamin'?"

Jack smiled at him, put his arms around Ennis's neck. "What a you think, Ennis del Mar?"

Ennis smiled back at Jack, nodded his head, laughed a little, softly.

"Besides," said Jack with a smile, "what the fuck difference does it make? We got each other, and we got Brokeback Mountain, and its goin' a be some sweet life."


When Alma, Jr., learned from Ennis's doctor that her father had checked himself out of the hospital, she hit the ceiling, told the doctor exactly what she thought of him for letting her father leave the hospital. Then, when Ennis didn't answer his phone at the producer's ranch, she drove up to the place. The two ranch hands could only tell her what Ennis had told them, that he was going into the mountains fishing for a few days, but they had no objections when she took the key from under the mat and let herself into Ennis's cabin. Everything seemed in order, but when she saw the two old shirts missing from their usual place on the nail underneath the old postcard of Brokeback Mountain, she knew. She phoned the state police from the ranch, reported her father missing, gave a description of Ennis, his horse, and his pickup truck. Then she headed home.

By the time she arrived home, she already had a message from the state police. When she returned the call, a sympathetic state trooper told her that two days before, some hikers at the base of Brokeback Mountain had found the body of a white male, about sixty years old, fitting the description of Ennis del Mar, along with a horse and a vehicle fitting the description of the missing man's horse and pickup. There were no signs of foul play.