The house really didn’t look that good.
For months I’d given the benefit of the doubt, the way that an unfinished structure takes on excuses when the people building it are in love. They built this house too close to Bill Williams mountain. His girl was tall and when she became pregnant, she didn’t bat an eye. She held joists up to drywall so he could hammer, her stomach round in the cold.
This was in the dusk of winter, when the dry air would go from one world of cold to the next with the drop of the sun. They had a collie who came to visit me at night. Her black, coarse hair was a secret against my coat, but I never felt bad. The man would stand on his unfinished porch, as the cap rails started to freeze over, and form little shapes with his hand, blowing hard, cold air to call the dog nestled under my stoop.
The school bus next door housed a young Osage man named John who worked at the native arts shop along the highway. John said he hated tourists, hated men with cowboy boots, and hated that land could be contractual. He said it was okay that I made a temporary hostel out of the land, because I was observing it, and therefore appreciating it. My survey could only last so long, I might as well just enjoy the time there. The Bureau of Land Management held me on contract for one year. I was supposed to help locate ground water, but I ended up spending far more time at the workbench in John’s bus. He would plug plywood guitars with 4 strings into an oxidized jack and they sounded like lightning bolts. We never built anything that worked well or sounded good.
John never understood my fascination with the man. He thought the couple was clumsy and wanted too badly to be cowboys. John had three books on cowboys. One of them was called Gentleman’s Guide to the Land. It was his least favorite because it wasn’t about the land at all. There were holes from silverfish who had lunch in the pages.
I took it home and read passages about the horrors of wearing the wrong hat or the way to mix rum with purple sage. I would sit on my stoop and watch the man do these things; drink rum, shine shoes, hammer wood. After days of this, what was once a nurturing daydream for me — the house, the dog, the wife — was an excessive practice of something that would never be enough.
The house was blue, and then white, and then brown, and each layer of paint made me angrier. When the baby finally came, the man was more interested in his new short scaled archery range in front of the now varnished porch.
And so finally, I hated this man. I hated the way that the land was at his mercy, the way that jackals no longer ran by the house, how the collie was skinny and cold. How something that once seemed so happy could be dreary frigid even in the Spring.