All I Got and All I Want: Chapter 2
By Zane Twist
Several weeks after Ennis's confession about his nightmares, on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend, he and Jack smartened up and headed out to the Silver Spur for supper. Jack put on his favorite red shirt, Ennis his white shirt with the wide black stripes. Jack always smiled when he saw Ennis in that shirt. Ennis had worn it on that fateful day in June of '67 when Jack had showed up on Ennis's doorstep in Riverton, four years after they had spent the summer herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain.
By this Labor Day weekend, supper at the Silver Spur had become something of a regular event in their life. They had first gone to the bar and restaurant one Saturday evening in the spring. The day before, as they finished supper, Jack had put down his fork, looked Ennis in the eye, and said in no uncertain terms, "Ennis, if I have to eat one more supper of beans and macaroni and cheese, I'm goin' a puke my guts out." He had added, "We been workin' hard, Ennis. We deserve a little fun, a good meal." Ennis, ever practical, had been reluctant, seeing the expense of a night out as unnecessary, but Jack had a way of looking at him that always got around Ennis, and in the end he agreed that Jack was right, that if they didn't get off the place from time to time they would drive each other crazy. The Silver Spur had the reputation for having the best steaks in Signal, and at a reasonable price, so they scraped together enough loose cash and headed on over to the bar.
There wasn't anything special about the Silver Spur. It was just a typical small town bar and restaurant on the outskirts of Signal. When you walked in from the parking lot you first entered a small vestibule. From the vestibule you stepped into the main room. The bar was across the room from the entrance. To the right was a small area with a jukebox that could be used as a dance floor. There was also a small stage for the infrequent evenings when the bar had live music. Farther back, and closer to the bar, stood two pool tables. To the left was the dining room, with booths made of heavy dark wood along the walls and about a dozen tables arranged in two rows in the center.
Signal was a small town. Everybody knew everybody, everybody talked, and everybody had heard about the two young divorced guys who had bought the old Barkley place out on the Dubois road and were living together, just the two of them, in the old ranch house. When Ennis and Jack appeared in the doorway that Saturday night in April the noise level in the room dropped noticeably. Ennis, in the lead, stopped so abruptly that Jack walked into him. Jack saw Ennis's back stiffen in response to the faces staring at him, some hostile, others merely curious, none particularly friendly or welcoming.
Before Ennis had a chance to do anything, Jack took matters into his own hands. He sidestepped around Ennis, strode across the room to the bar, ordered two beers, and tipped Frankie the bartender generously—a piece of information that Frankie made sure to share later that evening with the bar back and with the bar's owner, old Pete Broughan. Ennis had no alternative but to swallow hard and follow Jack to the bar and accept the longneck that Jack, grinning, handed to him. They stood at the bar, drinking their beer, and gradually the noise level in the room rose back up to its usual level. Nobody talked to them, but also nobody bothered them, though some folks were less than discreet in their squinty-eyed curiosity about the two newcomers to the bar. Ennis and Jack put their names on the list for the dining room, and before very long they were seated at a table, covered with a red and white checked vinyl tablecloth, with a candle in a yellow glass jar, an ash tray, a set of salt and pepper shakers, and a small bowl holding paper packets of sugar and artificial sweetener.
Annie Price was their waitress that evening. In her mid twenties, with short blond hair and glasses, she was a single mother of a young daughter doing her best to make ends meet. After the bar closed that night, she shared with the other waitresses and the bus boys that the two guys who were ranched up on the old Barkley place had been unfailingly polite to her, saying "please" and "thank you," calling her "ma'am," and tipping her very well for their two steak dinners. She had heard the rumors, she said, and whether those boys were queer or not, she didn't know, but they had behaved themselves just like ordinary folks to her.
By Labor Day weekend, then, Ennis and Jack had been to the Silver Spur just often enough that most people ignored them, though one or two still glared at them when they entered. They couldn't know that a couple of the regular customers had complained to Pete Broughan about him tolerating those reputed queers in his establishment. Old Pete, however, was mindful that the boys from the Barkley place treated his bartenders and waitresses well. He just said that as long as they behaved themselves and didn't act queer in his place—whatever acting queer was, Pete wasn't really clear—well, then, their money was as green as anybody else's. The complainers took offense at that answer, but in the end nobody stopped coming to the Silver Spur because Ennis and Jack were served.
The joint was jumping on the holiday weekend. Soon enough, the unrelenting cold and dreariness of a Wyoming winter would settle in—already there had been a hint of frost some mornings and a dusting of snow visible on the high mountain peaks of the Wind Rivers—so a lot of folks were out that night for one last hurrah of the summer season. Ennis and Jack had to wait a half an hour for a table. They stood quietly at the bar, drinking their beer, until the hostess called them. They had Annie Price as their waitress again that evening. Jack, affable as usual, said, "Hey, Annie, how are you? And how's Katie?" he added, referring to Annie's small daughter.
"Just fine, thanks," Annie replied, smiling, as she handed them their menus—a somewhat pointless gesture, since she had waited on them often enough since the spring to know that their orders never varied. "Katie's real excited 'bout startin' first grade," she added, answering Jack's question. "She says that now she's graduated kindergarten, she's not a little kid any more." At that, Jack laughed, and even Ennis, who was still not really comfortable in the place, had to smile, thinking of his own daughters.
"You boys need to look at those menus, or you know what you're goin' a have?" Annie asked.
Jack put down his menu. "Well, you know, Annie, I'll have the t-bone, done—"
Annie interrupted and continued, "Rare, baked potato with sour cream, ranch dressin' on the salad." When she finished, she looked at Jack with a raised eyebrow and a suppressed grin.
Jack stared at her for a minute, then he laughed. "Dang, am I that predictable?"
"Same every time," Annie laughed. Then she turned to Ennis. "And you'll have the same 'cept extra butter 'stead of sour cream?"
Ennis smiled at her, laid his menu on the table. "Sure enough," he said.
Annie collected the menus. "Be right back with the salads," she said, smiling and heading off to put in their order.
A they waited for their salads, the hostess brought a group of four men to the next table. Of assorted sizes and shapes, they looked to Ennis to be roughnecks, guys who worked in the oil fields. All four had scruffy beards. Two were burly and broad-shouldered. One, whom Ennis heard addressed by his buddies as Orville, was uncommonly tall and fat. The fourth, whom someone called Leroy, seemed to Ennis to be uncommonly skinny for a roughneck. Neither Ennis nor Jack caught the names of the other two. Each was carrying at least one bottle of beer, and from all appearances these were not the first drinks the men had consumed that evening.
Annie had the roughnecks' table, too. After she put in the order for Ennis and Jack's salads, she distributed menus to the roughnecks, then recited the list of the evening's specials, though the men at the table were more interested in discussing the relative merits of Casper girls compared to women from Worland. After a few minutes, Annie brought Ennis and Jack their salads. Then she turned to the roughnecks. "What'll you have, fellers?" she said pleasantly. "I'll start with you, Honey!" the one called Orville responded. His three buddies laughed raucously. Jack heard the comment, caught Ennis's eye, grimaced, rolled his eyes. Ennis frowned and looked down at his salad. Annie ignored the comment, simply repeated her question. But her back stiffened. By the time she had finished taking down their profanity-laced dinner orders, Jack noticed that Ennis was glowering at the next table.
As Annie was serving Ennis and Jack their steaks, the roughneck called Leroy bawled out, "Hey, where's our dinners? Hurry it up, Sweetie, we're hungry!" Jack looked up at Annie. Her lips were pressed together tightly. She just perceptibly shook her head. Glancing around the room, Jack noticed that diners at other tables were frowning at the roughnecks, too. Their loud, beer-fueled comparison of the physical attributes of some of the women they had known did not make for a pleasant atmosphere in the dining room. Ennis concentrated on buttering his baked potato, but Jack thought he seemed to be breathing harder than usual.
The steaks, as always, were excellent. Sensing Ennis's annoyance at the group at the next table, Jack tried to make small talk about the ranch, but the roughnecks were so loud, telling their off-color jokes and laughing at their own juvenile humor, that he just about had to lean halfway across the table for Ennis to hear him without shouting. After he had to raise his voice just to ask Ennis to pass the steak sauce, he quit trying to hold a conversation. Ennis tried to concentrate on his dinner, but Jack noticed that he kept glancing at the next table. Then Annie brought the salads to the roughnecks. Ennis, a forkful of baked potato in hand, just happened to glace toward the next table as Annie stood next to the roughneck called Orville, balancing a tray with the four salads. "Here's your salads, boys," she said.
"'Bout time," Orville boomed. Then, as Ennis watched, almost as if in slow motion, Orville's hand shot out, and he grabbed Annie on the butt. Startled by the unexpected gesture, Annie gave a little shriek—and dropped the tray holding the salads. The tray and three of the salads crashed to the floor, crockery salad plates smashing. The fourth salad went all over Orville. While his three buddies whooped with laughter at his condition, ranch dressing and lettuce all over the front of his stained tee shirt, Orville didn't find the situation very amusing. "You cunt!" he bellowed at Annie, rising from his chair and brushing lettuce and onion off his dirty jeans.
That did it. Ennis's forkful of baked potato clattered forgotten to his plate. In an instant he was on his feet, one hand on Orville's shoulder. "Mister, I don't want no trouble," Ennis said loudly. "But you need to shut your slopbucket mouth until you know how to talk to a lady." Jack, gaping, was out of his seat in a flash, ready to back up Ennis if needed.
Orville turned on Ennis. He was at least a head taller than Ennis, who was by no means a short man. "What's it to you, asshole?" he snarled, brushing Ennis's hand off his shoulder. By now the dining room had gone deathly silent. Annie, who had stooped down to begin picking up the broken dishes and fallen greens, slowly stood up and backed away a few steps. Jack came around the table to stand next to Ennis.
"Ennis," Annie said, but Ennis ignored her.
"Around here we don't talk like that to a lady," Ennis said, looking hard at the big oil worker.
Meanwhile, a wave of silence slowly spread through the bar, as diners, drinkers, and pool players became aware of the confrontation in the dining room. Fearing serious trouble, Frankie, the bartender, sent Manny, the bar back, to get Pete Broughan from the office. Pete took in the situation at once. He watched intently but said nothing.
"You need to mind your own business, fucker," Orville snarled.
Ennis tensed even further. "And you need to learn how to talk decent to a lady," Ennis responded.
Orville looked Ennis up and down. "You think you can teach me?" he sneered.
"Maybe I can," said Ennis, his fists clenching.
Orville took a look at Jack, standing by Ennis's shoulder. His slightly beer-fogged mind calculated that he and his buddies made four, to the two cowpokes now confronting him. He leaned slightly toward Ennis. "You wanna take this outside?" he said. By now, Orville's three companions had also risen from their chairs, the humorous image of their buddy and ringleader covered with salad and dressing momentarily forgotten. Orville glanced briefly at his buddies, who all nodded slightly to him. As Ennis and Jack watched, the four roughnecks slowly filed out of the dining room, headed out the door.
"Jack?" said Ennis, turning to his partner.
"Ennis," was all Jack said in response, though he nodded his head slightly.
Ennis turned to Annie, who was still standing there watching, the dropped salads temporarily forgotten. "You keep them steaks warm, Annie," Ennis said. "We'll be right back." He turned and started slowly for the door. Jack followed. Right then, you could have heard a pin drop in the Silver Spur.
As Ennis and Jack walked determinedly through the bar and into the vestibule, Frankie turned to Pete Broughan. "You want I should call the sheriff?" he asked.
Pete didn't answer right away. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he watched Ennis and Jack step out the door. Then, "No," he said. "Let's just let this thing play itself out." At that, Frankie gave him a look, but he didn't contradict his boss.
To be Continued.