Tom Heiffner stood thoughtfully, breathing in the stale, dusty air and staring idly at the rolling hills that were his destiny. The hills were his only friends, as much as he hated them. They brought the rain his crops desperately needed. Sometimes they sent storms that left him standing, smelling ozone, and marveling, yet again, that a man's work - a year's worth of sweat - could be obliterated in one night. One night of frost at the wrong time and it was all for nothing. These thoughts tumbled over each other in Tom's brain. But that was nothing unusual, these circular thoughts were his constant companions. The one thing he could count on. Besides the hills.
The sun was dropping fast as it is wont to do in places where the horizon is a long way off. There were splashes of gold, pink, and a deep red that reached down inside him, twisting, forcing his hand. He turned a plug over in his cheek and spit a long stream toward the hills. Folks called them mountains. Folks were wrong. Tom had seen mountains in Colorado. The years had done little to diminish the impression they'd left him with. Grandeur. He knew that was what the mountains wanted him to see, but he only saw something huge that he couldn't control. There was enough of that at home. Even if the mountains were really just hills.
A man gets to where his stomach is his wristwatch when there isn't anything but work. Tom's stomach was telling him that it was time. His stomach had yet to accept the fact that Myra wouldn't be banging the dinner bell. That he would fill the empty hole with coffee, whiskey and corn pone. Myra. Tom squinted at the hills while he pulled a pouch of tobacco out of his overalls ... he'd been stretching it with chaw, it was about through. He spit out the plug and rolled a smoke without thinking, lit it with a thumbnail match. He pulled the smoke in deep and thought about Myra.
He should have known. Love can only do so much. She'd loved him - he never doubted that. And he'd loved her with everything he had, every bit of his understanding of love, however distorted it was. He chuckled. Damn fool, that's what he was. When he had first seen Myra, she'd been dancing up a storm. He was holed up in the biggest town he had ever seen, and she was the most beautiful woman there. He'd watched her all night. And the next. And the next. Finally, she approached him. Fire in her eyes, dress tight and damp - he wasn't sure if she was going to hit him or ask him to dance. She did neither. She led him upstairs. Days passed. Her expressions grew softer. Her lips more welcoming. And then he'd told her that he intended to marry her and take her back home with him. And she'd smiled like she'd won a beauty pageant - which she had. They were married that Sunday, and they left for the farm the next day, Myra sitting shotgun on the old wagon.
Myra hated the farm as much as Tom loved it and for the same reasons. He thought about that now and felt like a chump. She'd left just about the time he'd started to settle into the thing - he was just figuring out what a husband did when she left. He'd waited for days before he realized that he had made the worst mistake a man can make. Worse than planting early. A damn sight worse than planting late. He'd tried to make a flower grow in the desert. He'd let the lights and the music and the glint off Myra's smile convince him that he could turn her into what he needed - a partner. Hell, she was pretty, though. He'd never seen teeth so white. And she'd had this smell ... a little bit of perfume and womanly magic. He didn't know what it was, but some nights he remembered that smell and the hangover the next day was always worse.
The old dog stirred in the dust. Tom slapped his thigh and the dog sat at his feet. He held the big, rough head in his hands and smiled. The dog would never leave. Myra was gone and the weather was a gamble ... the bank already owned his land, but they would never take his dog. God would do that, and he figured he'd follow pretty close behind, the way the dog had followed him for almost ten years now.
"We're in for it now, Dog. You know that, boy? The worst of it. Ain't nothing left to lose. Ain't nothing to worry about neither. This is the finish line ... well, nearly. We got this land and we'll make it pay somehow. Or we won't. You and me don't got fancy notions, Dog. I should have known. Damn fool."
The dog made a keen heartbreak sound and the old man cuffed him gently.
"I sure didn't mean my whining to catch on, Dog. You and me'll be alright. Near dark, now - get up and move, boy. Let's go get us a drink and something for our bellies."
The dog loped slowly, keeping up with the man's long strides. From a distance, they might have looked downright respectable. Had to be something in a man that walked with such purpose, didn't there? Had to be something in a dog that would watch his man like that. It was like the whole damn place didn't exist, just Tom. The dog rumbled happily, his throaty acceptance. It was just exactly like that. Like the man said. He'd never liked the way that woman had smelled anyway. And he hadn't liked what he did to their land, their home. It wasn't natural, no matter how you looked at it.