Two Men in a Pickup
OK, it's Kirk's big weekend. His new friend Rich is coming over from Kearney. At first there's talk of pitching a tent in the backyard. Then Mike says, why not have them go down to the river, where they can play camping-out in the trees with the dog, go swimming in the old gravel pit, run around naked, and stay up late as they want. And where, he may as well add, they'll be out from under foot at the house.
Meanwhile, I'm thinking, Mike and I can have some peace and quiet. I'm already getting ideas about a lazy Sunday morning in bed, mourning doves coo-cooing outside the open window, the breeze from the south lifting the curtains and flowing over our own naked selves, legs wrapped together, and us talking, touching, necking, and reading the Sunday funnies that come wrapped around the Omaha World-Herald. Before one or the other of us instigates still another bout of good old-fashioned sex. Amazed to discover that there's yet one more orgasm left in either of us.
"You got that dreamy look again," Mike says.
"Not me," I say. "Just watching your butt, that's all."
The sun is going down, and we're laying sprinkler pipe in the hay field. Carrying two at a time from where we set them in the morning, over to a new stretch, where they'll work all night, the sprinklers going hist, hist, hist, in slow circles, soaking the dry, dusty earth.
Mike's wranglers are stuffed into the tops of his irrigation boots. He's wiped muddy hands across his back pockets. His bare arms hang from where he's torn the sleeves off his sweatshirt, and he's dropping his end of one pipe to slap at the mosquitoes he's attracting. "Dammit! Sonsabitches!" He whips off his cap and snaps it around in the air a few times.
He's got a new haircut. I can see the back of his neck again. And I'm thinking to myself, I love this guy.
It's pushing on into evening when we finish up. In the velvet blue of the eastern sky, a fat yellow moon is rising, with that benevolent look it gets when it's full.
Back at the place, Rich has arrived -- on a motorcycle. He and Kirk are just standing there by the bike, kicking at the dirt and looking sheepish. Rich is a handsome young man; seems years older, but I know from Kirk they're both eighteen. Could be that Rich has a job with steady pay, working construction with a plastering contractor in Kearney.
"It's a old folks home, sir," he explains to me. "I take the mud from the mixer to the crew." Mud, I'm guessing, is the plaster.
He has dark hair, a smooth face, and a Kirk Douglas dent in his chin. He's reedy and slender, a leather vest hanging over his shoulders, and his jeans hanging on his hips, held up with a shiny, wide black leather belt. He's holding a scuffed helmet by the chin strap, and he's got biker boots, of course. I'm thinking, he'd need to mature some to make the grade with Hell's Angels.
Kirk is grinning at me, with a look of "ain't he cool? ain't he cool?"
Mike comes over to say hello, and he gets the same polite treatment. But with a tad more respect -- for the man who's actually in charge here.
In a minute, the two boys have climbed on the bike and are heading out to the river, where Kirk and I have set up Mike's army-surplus tent in a little grassy patch behind a thicket of silvery Russian olives. Already inside is a cardboard box full of camping gear, flashlights, two sleeping bags, and eats Kirk has raided from the kitchen cupboards, the cooler filled with pop and buried under the ice probably some bottles of beer he thinks we won't miss.
I watch them rumble off into the twilight, Kirk balanced on back and, just as they're rounding the corner of the barn, reaching to put his arms around Rich.
"Think one of us should check on them before we turn in tonight?" I say.
"You can if you want," Mike says. He's shuffling toward the house in his irrigation boots. "I'm so hungry I could eat a buffalo," he's saying. "What we got?"
"Each other," I say, half to myself.
He turns to me and grins. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
A while later, he's in the shower, and I'm scrambling a half dozen eggs in one pan and frying up bacon in another. It's that or open a can of Chef Boyardee.
"Mike, we gotta do a grocery run," I'm telling him when he comes back, in his bare feet and a fresh pair of boxers, his new haircut wet and sticking every which way. I'm dishing up the grub.
As he's reaching into the refrigerator for cold beers, I hear Rusty start barking outside. By the sound of it, someone has pulled off the road and is coming up the driveway. I look out the window, and headlights are sweeping across the front of the barn.
"Who the heck is that on a Friday night?" Mike says, going to the screen door and stepping onto the porch.
Turns out it's an old high school buddy of Mike's, a guy named Don. Works at a feed lot, I learn later, on the other side of town; an operation owned by his father-in-law. Yeah, the guy's married, has three kids. Mike was best man at the wedding.
Mike is calling to the guy to come in. I hear the boom of a big pickup door, the front gate clanging open and shut, and heavy footsteps on the porch floor.
"Hey, buster," Mike is saying. "Long time, no see."
And after a moment, a tall guy comes ducking into the room, like he's been hitting his head all his life on low door frames and light fixtures. He's rangy and broad-shouldered, wearing long-legged sand-colored jeans, dress boots, and a snap-front plaid shirt. Could be headed for church, or a night out. I notice the gold wedding ring on his hand.
He stops and stands there, looking around like he just crash-landed in the Twilight Zone. "Hot damn," he's saying. And I walk over to shake hands because Mike is introducing us. The guy gives my hand a quick grip, but I get the feeling I'm not registering on his radar.
True to his country soul, Mike is already inviting him to sit down and have supper with us. And Don doesn't even say, "Aw, no thanks, you go ahead." He just makes himself at home, pulls out a chair, and parks himself at the table, letting his long legs spread wide. I throw some more eggs in the pan and reach for the Chef Boyardee.
Mike is putting a bottle of Falstaff in front of him. "How's the family?" he says.
Don shakes his head. "Not so good." And before you know it, he's pouring out this tale of woe and mischance. Seems his wife Carol up and moved out three days ago, went back to her folks, and he's been beside himself ever since. She took the kids and the new Chrysler LeBaron.
"Chrysler," Mike says, impressed.
"Well, it's actually hers," he adds. "Her dad bought it."
"Ah," Mike says, is if that explains it all. "How you get along with her old man," he wants to know. "Don't you still work for him?"
"Oh, I'm still there every day learning the business," he says, but like it's not looking so good.
Mostly he just wants to talk about Carol, who (and this is my take on it) had the misfortune to fall for this guy in sophomore year and never shopped around for a better catch. And then had the double misfortune (you'll get the play on words in a second) of getting pregnant the night of senior prom and, after a hasty wedding, presenting him with twins nine months later.
Don is forking food into his mouth and starting on another beer. Mike sits across from him, listening and cleaning his plate with a slice of Wonder bread.
I'm looking at Don, wondering a lot of things. The usual sleazy curiosity, of course, despite his misfortunes: what he looks like naked, what he's like in bed. But more than that, how well he really knows Mike. And from Mike's poker face, I can't get a clue.
"Get some pants on," he finally says to Mike. "Let's go to the Silver Bullet. Shoot some pool. Like we used to."
Mike looks over at me, and I shrug, to let him know it's OK with me. He gets up, his chair scraping on the floor, and puts his dishes in the sink. I can tell he doesn't want to go, but he's not the guy to disappoint an old friend. Even one pathetic as Don.
In a while they're gone, driving off in Don's truck. I'm washing up, and it's so quiet I can hear the fluorescent light humming in the kitchen ceiling. It's well after 10:30, Central Daylight Time, and you're sitting there thinking, now where the heck is this going? What's left to do but catch the end of Johnny Carson or go straight to bed?
Well, trust me. The night has barely started.
I suppose the first mistake I make is deciding to go check on Kirk and Rich. Rusty, who likes going anywhere, comes along. I'm carrying a lantern, the pool of light spilling around our legs and onto the ground. Above, the moon is so bright it dims the stars; I switch off the light, and let my eyes adjust to the milky darkness.
It's a long walk; almost a mile. The air is still and warm; the kind of night my dad likes to say you can hear the corn grow. There's a glow in the western sky, the lights from town. Ahead of me, where the trees are thick along the river, it is deep and dark.
At the tent, the motorcycle is parked under the trees, and the tent flap is open, the sleeping bags in a twisted pile on the floor, and jeans and boots kicked into the corners. But there's no sign of the boys. Rusty and I follow a path that leads over to the gravel pit, and there I find them, splashing and calling out to each other, heads bobbing in the water, arms flashing wet in the moonlight.
They see me as soon as I step from the trees, and they're trying to get me to come in. But I don't have the chops for it; gravel pit water is cold, even colder at night, and the thought of it gives me goose bumps. In a previous life, I must have gone down on the Titanic.
"It's g-g-great," Kirk keeps saying, his teeth chattering.
And Rich is coming toward me, rising out of the water, wet hair in his face, and naked. "It feels warm when you get used to it," he's saying. And before I know it, he's got one dripping cold hand on my arm. "Sir, I'm serious; you gotta come swim with us."
Kirk is lurching to shore right after him, and together they're pulling at me until I finally fall in, boots and all. Rusty is jumping around us, barking, and then I'm going under, the rush of cold water filling my ears. And this is when it happens -- my glasses wash off my face and are gone.
I come up sputtering, and they're both laughing, wrestling now with each other, Rusty somewhere in the middle of it. I'm grabbing at the water for my glasses, reaching down around my feet, raking with my fingers, but I keep coming up with nothing. I step back on dry land to get the lantern and shine the light into the water, but it's murky with mud stirred up from the bottom. I'm fucked.
So I sit down on the ground to pull off my boots, now filled with water and stuck to my feet. My wet clothes cling to me, heavy and cold. By now Kirk and Rich are splashing out toward the middle of the pond again, laughing and whooping, making wild animal noises.
"I'm going back to the tent," I call out to them. But I can't tell if they hear me.
I rummage in the camping gear for a towel, then strip down to dry myself off and crawl into one of the sleeping bags till I get warm. I'm still there when I hear them crashing through the underbrush outside and then dive into the tent, dogpiling on top of me, both of them wet and shivering, giggling and huddling up against me, all cold knees and elbows.
Then the wrestling starts. Only it's two on one. And I'm the one.
I have the best of them for a while, but soon it's all over. In the dark, I'm not sure which is which, but it's Rich I think, with his knees on my arms and Kirk across my legs. And one of them gets the idea to grab my balls.
"Hands off my privates," I say and try to flip over onto my stomach, but they've got me. I can't move.
And that escalates to the next thing.
"Let's give him a blow job," Kirk says, laughing.
"Permission, sir?" Rich says.
There's already a hand around my dick and someone's hot breath.
"Permission, sir?" Rich asks again, sounding gleeful.
"I said hands off!" I say.
They ignore me, and I can feel them taking turns, warm mouths and tongues working along my dick and spit running down over my balls. And, of course, I'm getting a boner.
Finally I'm thinking, oh shit, why am I fighting this? And I let them do it, making their animal sounds, growling, and pressing down on me till I can hardly breathe. The tugging and jerking on my dick is like someone tearing around mountain curves and working the stick shift of a four-on-the-floor.
Then for a minute I sense there's as much kissing as sucking going on between my legs. And not so many hands on me either. And while I suspect they're getting distracted by each other, I make a quick move to pull free.
"We'll have none of that, sir," Rich says. And then they're really all over me, hands everywhere, sucking, licking, stroking without let up until I'm coming all over myself, and they're both laughing their asses off it's so funny, apparently.
"Way to go, sir," Rich says. And then Kirk is suddenly in my face, pressing his lips to mine. Giving me some of my own cum. A by-the-book finish, just the way I taught him. Then Rich is pressing his face in next to Kirk's, and I can tell from the smacking sounds that they're kissing and sucking tongues. They roll off me and start going to town on each other.
I can just barely see them, in the dim moonlight filtering through the open tent flap, and I can tell that they need no lessons in sixty-nining. They've discovered it on their own.
A while later, I've got on my jeans, still pretty wet, and I'm barefoot, carrying my boots in one hand and the lantern in the other. Rusty has stayed behind with the campers; I'm on my own. As I head back to the place, the dusty earth along the end of the cornfield is cool on the soles of my feet. Without my glasses, the distances are soft and blurry, but I'm keeping an eye to the ground, on the lookout for sand burs.
By the time I get back, stepping on the patch of weedy grass by the barn, I see that Don's truck is parked again by the front gate, right next to Mike's. The pole light's been turned off, and so has every light in the house. I kind of wonder at the possibilities. Don is apparently staying over. Who's sleeping where at the moment I can't be sure.
Inside the front gate, which I open and close as quietly as a thief with a combination to the safe, I cut across the lawn to the side yard. There, in the moonlight, I shuck off my jeans and hang them on the clothes line. Then I pull my wet jockeys and shirt from one boot and do the same with them. The night air is cool on my ass, the grass damp with dew under my feet, streaks of fireflies where the dark is deepest.
I switch off the lantern and study the night sky one more time, the Milky Way a silent river of stars, singing the music of the spheres, which tonight goes something like "I Only Have Eyes For You," sh-bop, sh-bop.
Then I realize I can smell cigarette smoke -- the way only a former smoker can smell it, sharp, intense, and achingly rich, triggering desire as strong as love and loneliness.
There in the doorway of the side porch, in the shadows, I see a cigarette burning, flaring brightly for a moment. It's Don.
"Tried sleeping," he says. "Can't make my head stop spinning in circles." As I walk toward him, I can see he's sitting on the top step in his boxers, a bottle of beer on the step between his feet. He flicks the butt of his cigarette past me into the grass. In almost the same move, he reaches for the pack on the porch floor beside him.
When he offers me one, I take it. Then he flips a Zippo lighter -- clink! -- and he has a light for me. In that moment, sucking the flame to the cigarette, I get a look at his long, hairy thighs and, since my eyes will go to a man's crotch in an instant, the gap where his underwear fly has opened.
"Thanks," I say, feeling sinful as I pull the smoke into my lungs. Shit, I've quit for four months, and here I go again.
He lights another for himself, and I watch his face this time, lined and unshaven. "Mike told me about you two," he says.
"He did?" I swallow, not ready for this turn in the conversation.
"It don't matter to me, I guess," he says.
Doesn't sound like it, I want to say, but I bite my tongue. I take another drag from the cigarette. My head is already singing along with the stars, sh-bop, sh-bop.
"Me and Mike, we've known each other since third grade," he says. I pull up a lawn chair, cold on my backside as I sit down, and prop my feet on the step beside him.
If you want to hear the long version of what follows, you can listen to Don tell it sometime, but in short it goes something like this. Seems Mike and him were best buddies from when they were boys, sleeping over, camping and fishing together, 4-H, riding horses, summer farm jobs, target practice (shooting at stop signs and mailboxes I gather), FFA, hunting pheasant in the fall, trips to Lincoln for Cornhusker games, underage drinking, and picking up girls.
He tells me of a summer night over in Aurora, in his dad's Olds 88, meeting two girls at a Tastee Freeze and driving out into the country, where they park behind a haystack and proceed to get lucky. While Don is getting a blowjob in the front seat, he watches Mike in the back, his butt pumping like two pigs in a gunny sack. These are Don's words, of course. Would I come up with something like that?
They often talked, he says, of working their own farm together. Just the two of them. Starting like this, he gestures with one hand toward the barn and the fields beyond, the end of the cigarette making a bright arc in the night air. They'd gradually add ground as it came up for sale; there were a couple old timers around ready to retire.
Listening between the lines, I now know a lot more than he thinks I do. It was supposed to be him and Mike. But here I am. And he's not.
"Ah, if wishes were horses," he says, half to himself.
"You can still do it," I say.
"Right," he says. "You don't know much, do you."
I decide to let him think that. What he eventually gets around to is what I'm thinking all along. When he was younger, he didn't have words or even an idea for it, but he loved Mike.
"He was my best friend," he says and knocks back some of the beer. I sit there smoking the cigarette down to the filter and picking dried cum out of the hair under my belly button.
"Did you ever sleep with him?" I ask, ready to jump from the chair if he takes this the wrong way.
"All the time," he says. Then he adds, "Well, no, not like that."
"Did you want to?"
He is silent for a long time, and I figure he would have hit me by now if he was going to. "I never thought of it," he says finally, as if he wishes he had. "I guess it was always enough just laying there next to him. I'd go to sleep like a baby."
He finishes the beer and flips another butt into the grass. "It was like that the night before I got married," he says. "Bunch of bachelor guys we used to pal around with, you know, got me drunk. I mean shit-faced. I don't remember much. Mike took me home, to his place. He always looked after me."
I think if there was light to see, there'd be tears in his eyes. "And I never missed him till he was gone," he says. "I don't know why he enlisted, right out of the blue like that. Just up and left."
Now it's my turn to be silent for a long time, and then I finally say, "Do you want to sleep with him tonight?"
"Too old for that now," he says softly.
"Do it," I say. And don't ask me why. He just gets to me, this big hunk of a naked married man, sitting there with an empty beer bottle and a truckload of heartache.
Neither of us says anything, and finally he gets up and goes inside. For a while, I think he might come back with another beer. But he doesn't.
What does happen is this. I hear footsteps coming, and they're not Don's -- they're Mike's. He emerges from the gloom to stand in the doorway and say, "Hey, bud, just what do you think you're doing?"
"What?" I say.
"Don't act all innocent," he says. "You put him up to that."
"What?" I say again.
He comes down and pulls me from the chair, and while I'm half expecting him to cuff me, he puts his arms around me and gives me a bear hug.
"He was asleep before his head hit the pillow," he says.
The next morning, we wake up in Kirk's bed. Mike slips quietly down the hall and softly closes the door to our bedroom, where Don still sleeps. We take turns in the shower, and then we stand together in the spray. I'm letting him hold me, and I think I fall asleep in his arms for a few minutes.
"Bud," I finally hear him saying. "I have to get dressed and go to work."
We turn off the water and towel down. And I follow him into the kitchen, where morning light is pouring through the windows and the birds are singing outside. I am nearly blind, partly from not enough sleep, partly from acute myopia. After Mike gets into his truck and drives off, tapping the horn and giving his little wave, I go rummaging in my duffel bag for an old pair of glasses.
And things return pretty much to normal, as they will do. Don gets back together with his wife in time for Sunday church. While they're singing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," Mike and I are sleeping late in our own bed. Rich zooms off that afternoon to Kearney on his motorcycle. We don't have to ask how the weekend went for Kirk and him; they're both grinning from ear to ear.
That night, turning in early, Mike and I make quiet love, and as we lie together afterwards in the dark, I ask him, "Did you have sex with girls?"
"Yeah," he says, his moustache against my ear. "You?"
"Not really," I say. "Did you like it?"
"I thought I did," he says.
"Tell me about it," I say.
"Some other time," he says, letting me go, and smacking his pillow like he does each night when he's about to put his head down on it for the last time.
"Did you ever have sex with Don?" I ask.
He doesn't answer right away, and I can't see the look on his face.
"Only when we were very drunk," he says. And his voice is distant.
It occurs to me, too late, that this is not any of my business.
But Mike goes on. "Next day, we'd pretend not to remember." There's the same distance. And I know without having to ask that he loved Don even more than I thought.
"I didn't realize," I start to say.
"Doesn't matter any more," he says. "Just history."
I know the only reason he's talking like this is the darkness and the night. We can pretend tomorrow not to remember.