Appointment in Balmorhea Ch. 02


With a little Hispanic sing song creeping into his voice, he softly answered "They get over the pain, but after a mile or so, they start limping. It is literally a pain in the ass to ride a limping horse all day." Then he winked at Bubba Junior.

Sena was smiling, relieved to not be carrying the conversation. She raised her eyebrows at Sierra, as if it was time to explain Sierra's interest in horses. Sierra had no expression.

Sena cocked her head with a questioning look. "Ernesto, you saved that big black horse they had me ride in Big Texan. Tell Sierra about that."

Bubba Junior looked at Ernesto. The older man held his hands up. "Son, you probably never heard about that. It was no big deal."

Ernesto tipped his hat back. "The movie folks brought in this horse for Sena. One day after shooting a scene, the horse came down with colic, and started pawing, rolling, and lying down. I was still in town, messing with Jim Greene.

Again, Doc Adams was working far from Marfa. I passed a stomach tube and drained a lot of fluid from the horse. He would pass gas and take a big piss, and for awhile seem to feel better. Then he would start sweating and trembling again. I sucked on the tube again, and I got a pepper taste."

Sierra interrupted, "You were tubing?"

Ernesto nodded at her, surprised that she knew the term, but not curious enough to ask. He wanted to continue his story.

"I followed the horse's tracks to a large garbage can, full of chili peppers. The horse had eaten chili peppers, and tanked up on water, to put out the fire.

Towards morning, I had just about given up. The horse was just pitiful. But he finally had a good crap, and began to nibble on feed. An hour after sun-up, he was good to go."

Sena smiled. "But, they shifted scenes so that the horse would not have to work awhile."

"Is the vet ever around when you need one?" Sierra asked.

"Sometimes," Ernesto answered. "There is a lot of county to cover out here."

"Old Doc Adams, he died before you could win your argument," muttered Bubba Junior. He was watching two squirrels being acrobats.

Both women wore curious looks.

Ernesto cut an apple. "I tried to convince Doc for years that a bug in the hay sometimes causes colic. He agreed that I knew a lot about horses. But, about that, he thought I was crazy. Since Doc died, they have proven that a bug causes colic bad enough to kill."

Sierra said, "Blister bees, mainly in alfalfa." Ernesto stared at her, mouth ajar.

Bubba Junior stared at Sierra with half closed eyes. "What's the deal?" he asked.

Sierra smiled at him. "I have one year of vet school left at UC-Davis."

Ernesto's mouth fell open. "Hijo!," he said. He grinned broadly at all three in turn, and clapped. Then he leaned forward. He could not stop giggling.

"Really? That is great! Do you know what kind of vet you will be?"

Sierra wore a determined look. Her eyes flitted between the two men. "Big animal," she said.

Bubba Junior had guessed vet was a possibility. Also, he had guessed big animal, because of the weight work done on her shoulders. The few female big animal veterinarians graduating from A&M worked on their arms and shoulders.

Ernesto slapped his knee, but was calming down. His smile faded slowly.

"A big animal vet earns a lot of windshield time in this part of the country, and long hours. I bet even in California you'll be up a lot of nights."

Sierra nodded yes. "I'm ready. I'm overbanked on sleep in my life to date."

Sena chimed in, "I've read, and Sierra says also, that most animals are born in the middle of the night. Why is that?"

Sierra held her hands toward Bubba Junior, as to hear his thoughts.

He studied a boot. "Most popular theory is that a mother in labor and a newborn are at their most vulnerable giving birth or right after. In the dead of night and darkness, they are most shielded from predators."

Sena grinned. "Sierra was born at 3a.m.."

Ernest pointed at Bubba Junior. "He was born at 4a.m.."

Ernesto gazed at Sierra. He said, "Do you realize that for hours, you may have your arm up to the shoulder in a cow, for pregnancy testing, turning a stuck calf, and so forth? Besides the shoulder ache, the acid will make your arm tender."

Sierra smiled. She curled her arm up, showing her bicep. "I am working out. And I have interned between semesters. A week ago, I finally managed to turn a calf's head, wedged in the birth canal. The mother had fever. When the head turned, scalding hot urine burned my arm and upper body. But, that Hereford baby calf was the prettiest thing I have ever seen."

Bubba Junior grinned from ear to ear. It reminded Ernesto of something he could not immediately remember. Finally it came to him. Bubba Junior was four or five the first time Bubba Junior had seen a newborn baby calf, also a Hereford. Bubba Junior had worn the same grin back then.

Sena did not want to exhaust this topic so early. She asked about the Marfa banker who wheedled himself a cameo in Big Texan. This tapped a series of stories about the banker from Ernesto.

Now and then Bubba Junior glanced at his watch. Finally he said "Ya'll excuse for a few minutes." He looked at Ernesto. "I told Paco to be by the telephone around one. I'm going to check on Sis."

Sena looked concerned. "Is there something wrong with your sister?"

Ernesto smiled. "No, we have a horse called Ceasar Sis, that we call Sis for short. She will drop a colt in the next day or two."

Bubba Junior headed for the pay phone. A few feet out, he stopped, and looked at the ground. Slowly he turned back. He looked at Sierra. "Would you like to come with me?"

In a half second, she was walking with him.

Sena and Ernest silently watched them walk the hundred yards to the phone. Bubba Junior kept glancing at Sierra's shoulders. These Andrews men like a lady's shoulders, Sena reflected.

"That boy has talked more in the last two minutes than he does in a week." Ernesto pointed at Sena. "We always have a shortage of vets in these parts. And one is seventy-five, and has to retire soon."

Sena made a face, and shook her head disapprovingly. "Now, don't put a hex on them. They have just barely, how do you say, got out of the starting gate?"

Bubba Junior was on the phone only moments. They watched the couple chatting as they walked back.

"Paco said everything is okay. But, I'm gonna go back. She is coming with me."

"Mom, will you be okay here for awhile?"

"Sure, no problem. Ernesto and I have a lot to catch up on."

Bubba Junior looked at Ernesto. "If you can, be by the phone around seven, if we are not back by then."

The younger couple headed for Bubba Junior's pickup.

Ernesto looked at Sena. "We could follow them back in your car."

Sena placed her chair next to his, and sat down. She patted he arm. She shielded her eyes to catch a glimpse of the fading pickup.

"Let them have as much time alone together as they can stand."

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The next few hours flew by. Ernesto in roughly chronological order explained the locals' reaction to Big Texan, Jim Ed courting and marrying Janet, the adventures of Nancy, and most of all, the exploits of Bubba Junior.

When Ernesto asked questions, Sena answered. As gently as possible, she shifted the conversation back to Marfa.

The afternoon was broken up by two long strolls around the grounds. They peered at the fish, deep in the clear pool. Bubba Junior called at seven. Ernesto grinned and grunted a few times.

"They are going to spend the night there. Sis will probably have her colt tonight."

Ernesto explained the sleeping arrangements. Bubba Junior would put her up in the small but neat house. He explained that Bubba Junior slept outside, beside the barn, close to the lake.

They headed for one of the two cafes in town.

"I forgot that Mexican food in Texas, your Tex-Mex, is all its own, even different from the rest of the Southwest," Sena mumbled, between bites.

Sena thought it fair that she tell Ernesto some movie stories and gossip, which most people loved. He was interested, but less than most.

Around nine, they arrived back at their folding chairs, close to the spring-fed pool. It was a crisp but clear night.

Sena lay down on a small quilt, facing the heavens. "There must be thousand stars out tonight," she said. She identified a couple of constellations and stars.

Ernesto said, "That is correct. When did you learn that?"

Sena giggled. "Jim Ed taught me, close to this spot."

Ernesto asked her his first personal question. "Do you have a boyfriend back home?"

She pulled herself upright, besides him. "I have not had a serious relationship since my second husband."

Ernesto waved his hand, palm facing out. "You know what you should do?"

Sena leaned over and hugged his knee. "What should I do?"

"You should find a solid, dependable man, perhaps someone you already know. You should work at it. You know, love takes work. When you get back home, you do that."

Sena smiled in the darkness. She was pleased. And disappointed.

After a few moments, he said, "It is past my bedtime. You want me to see you to your cabin?"

"No, I'll be okay. I want to watch the stars for awhile."

Ernesto reminded her that he needed to be by the pay phone around eight a.m. He would take her to breakfast after that. They said good night.

Sena lay back again. She thought of Bubba Junior and her only child, up on the high Marfa grasslands. She lifted up a small prayer. While admiring the stars, she dozed off....

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Ernesto banged on her door the next morning. He was grinning. "Sis had her colt in the middle of the night. Everything went fine. Bubba Junior says they will be back by noon, with food from Hermalinda."

Sena watched him. "Do you have any idea where they slept?"

He chuckled. "Around midnight, he took her up to the house, and showed her the layout again, and left her. Shortly, she shows up again at the campfire. She asks if he has another sleeping bag. She slept on the other side of the fire, at least until they were up with Sis."

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Balmorhea Springs, Texas , May 25, 1985, 3:15 p.m.

Ernesto shifted in the grass. Children's laughter in heaven could not beat the sounds bouncing his way from the nearby, two acre pool.

Again he studied the cottonwood trees that towered above. Why did the Apaches call them loving trees, he again considered. They provided the only shade for miles around for the Indians for a long time, and now for the visitors. But, perhaps their name came from something else.

One tree took the morning sun, and shaded the tree planted to its west. Then, in the afternoon, the west tree partially provided shade for the tree to its east. The trees helped each other, one providing shade and relief in the morning, and the other tree returning the favor in the afternoon.

Ernesto remembered times when he should have helped others, but did not. Often, he wanted to, but did not know how. He wanted to comfort a young, grieving Jim Ed, but what could he do?

"Forgive me Father, for the times when I could have been more loving, but was not," Ernesto prayed.

From the pool, a woman laughed. Ernesto wondered whose voice that was. Bubba Junior laughed. Sierra shrieked, and laughed again.

"Dear God," Ernesto prayed, "I have not asked you for much. I have mainly thanked you for my many blessings. But God, please let these two young people [they were not that young, but he chose to not remind God] find happiness together. Please dear God, I ask of you."

Ernesto gazed at the sky. He closed his eyes and dozed, half dreaming, half remembering...

He left Maria for the first time, for more than two days, to travel with Tom Andrews. Yearlings, stocker calves, and mixed heifers were sold in El Paso. Afterwards, Tom visited his favorite whorehouse in Jaurez. Ernesto only joked with the senoritas that visited his table. He nursed a couple of beers. The three piece Mariachi band was decent.

A Hereford bull purchased on the return in Van Horn helped their bloodlines.

Food warmed on the stove when Ernesto returned home. But supper waited. Ernesto and Maria barely made it to the bed-his haste cost Maria's blouse a couple of buttons.

Ernesto loved Maria's cooking. But, every time he was gone more than two days, even if camped on an Andrews Ranch section, Ernesto first took Maria to bed. Supper came later.

He did not know how much time he had left on this earth, perhaps many years, perhaps not. He wondered if Maria and he could do it in heaven. He remembered the smell of her hair, the touch of his lips on her neck and shoulders.

Ernesto wanted to pleasure a woman again, the way he pleasured Maria. He wanted a woman to hold him, bite his neck, and clutch his back. He wanted a woman to whisper again how blessed, and how big he was. He wanted to hear again how lucky she was to be with him.

He thought you should only do these things with a woman you love. He could love again, perhaps at least Sena. But what would Maria think?

A man should be married, before he got a poke. Did God make allowances for widowers?

Someone bounced up and down on the diving board, jumped, and yelled "Cannonball!" Bubba Junior yelled, evidently splashed by the dive.

Ernesto realized that he had dozed. He felt a throbbing erection. He concentrated on trying to lose it. He dared not shift his head on the soft thigh on which he lay. He pretended to still be asleep.

He smelled perfume. That did not help. He barely opened one eye. Twin peaks in a white blouse above him did not degrade his erection, either.

Fingers ran over his temples and through his hair.

The pain in his loins grew worse. An eight inch, thick cylinder of heat pressed against the inner part of his right leg. He felt the tension against his jeans.

The fingers stopped. They rested on his head.

Without moving, he barely opened one eye.. He searched a face, leaning down, turned halfway toward his.

Beautiful eyes were framed by an olive skinned face. Quick breaths were moving the white blouse.

Sena's eyes were fixed on his right leg, just below the belt. Finally, Sena looked up at the cottonwoods, as if searching for meaning. A small smile crept across her face. Her gaze went back to his pants. Then, her eyes slowly crawled up to his. His eyes waited for hers. She bent down a little more.


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