Saving Skylar Hand

an excerpt

Saving Skylar Hand Excerpt/George Seaton

Skylar Hand, now having had endured almost nine months of nothing but cows, barbed wire, sunup to sunset toil, plagues of gritty dust finding even his ass crack, considered his present fate as an unanticipated unpleasantness. Niagara Falls sweat down his neck, back, and chest comingled with the dust and pooled in his once white briefs. Sassy heifers, rattlesnakes, his daddy's less-than-patient demands, his mamma's hound dog droop, his life on the land had devolved. In spite of the pain of it all, he waved a last good-bye to Cody Pinnt from the seat of the goddamned ancient John Deere that started half the time and the other half didn't. Watched Mister Pinnt's blue SUV with Cody in the backseat kick dust and pebbles as it headed toward College Station, Brazos County, where Cody would begin his matriculation. He sat for a while, let the John Deere sputter a threat to quietude. Felt the stifling presence of another dog day, flinched with the irritating bawl of a calf. Wondered what the hell he'd gotten himself into. He wished he was in that car sitting next to Cody and headed for anything other than what he now found himself immersed within. Realized for the first time since quitting high school that all those summer and spring vacations he'd helped his daddy out, spending entire days, hell, months working the ranch were always tempered by the certainty it'd all settle down to twice-a-day chores when school started up again. Now, as the John Deere did shake itself to death, he believed the call of the land looked fine from the perspective of impermanence. Now that it was permanent...well...

Delores Pinnt raised a hand to Skylar, smiled past the tinted glass, felt the iciness of the A/C against the top of her breasts loosely haltered by her yellow sundress festooned with blue daises and pink chrysanthemums. Felt a twinge of regret that Skylar, her son's best friend, had taken a different road than what she'd early on envisioned for her own baby boy. She flipped down the sun visor mirror, glanced at Cody, saw his gaze focused on Skylar. Feigned a lipstick check then looked at Cody once again, who'd turned his head to keep Skylar in his sight as they sped past him.

Delores flipped the visor up, folded her hands in her lap, and looked straight ahead. Had known for a while, as all mothers in similar circumstances do, that her son's friendship with Skylar Hand existed on a level that defied the notions of manliness that were well-settled and inviolable by Texas standards. She thought it fortunate she'd engineered her son's future to one day get off the ranch, out of Big Spring, and certainly away from the pitiable Skylar Hand. Didn't remember - or chose not to recall? - the eyebrow-raising effect she'd had on the minions of Big Spring when she'd sashayed her way into Calvin Pinnt's life.

Cody knew the John Deere would die on Skylar, seeing as how it always did when he braked the damned thing to a stop for longer than a minute. He saw Skylar take off his hat, wave it half-heartedly over his head as the dust from the SUV enveloped him, the tractor, his now arthritic Blue Heeler, Davy Crockett, and most likely eventually two or more acres of the Iron Hand Ranch itself.

Cody turned his head and saw his father's eyes in the rearview not on the road ahead but on him. His father immediately snapped his focus back to the road when Cody caught his glare. Cody shook his head. Knew his father was having misgivings about this adventure his mother had obsessed about for the past eighteen years of all their lives. Felt a twinge of guilt about leaving his daddy to not really go it alone with the toil the ranch demanded but now to trudge his days without his son by his side; both had enjoyed those times when Cody learned the lessons of the land and the critters his father so thoroughly loved and nurtured. The three Mexicans his father housed, fed, and paid a meagerly sum to undertake the monotonous tasks would still help. Maybe his daddy would hire another Mex to help fill the void. Was I ever capable of doing what a Mex could do in a day? He thought. No, of course I wasn't. If that realization lessened his guilt, he didn't immediately feel it. Maybe later. Maybe later he'd make his daddy proud with a degree in fine arts and then on to law school. That was his plan, anyway. But the guilt? He'd wait and see on that one. A larger guilt still sat in his gut: he was leaving Skylar Hand.

His mamma was happy. He scooted over to the middle of the back seat and looked at her profile. He'd hated it when she'd dyed her hair a rusty-red color a week before. He'd been kind and said it looked, "Okay." His mamma had raised her head slightly (he now stood three-inches taller), and placed her hands on her hips. She had appeared, as she always did in these kinds of situations, on the edge of a fury (exacerbated now by the red hair) that usually sent both him and his daddy out of the house, both seeking shelter from the flow of tempestuous Spanish that invariably commenced with: "Para el amor de dios!" And, for the love of God, she'd not fumed. Her expected fury had instead given way to a smile. "All right. So you don't love it. I accept that," she had said, inching closer to him, wrapping her arms around his chest. "You're going to college, mi hijo! College!"

Cody studied his mamma's face, her hair, the child's dress she'd chosen to wear for this portentous occasion. She's trying to look younger. That she was not yet forty and kept the beauty that had, and probably still, enchanted his father, served only to further confound Cody. She didn't need this self-inflicted gussying up. Cody slid back next to the window. Caught a whiff of some new perfume his mother had dabbed upon herself. He looked out the window. Wondered if he'd have to explain to the roommate he'd never met that, yes, that was his mother, not his kid sister.

Once off the county road and onto the state highway, his daddy gave the vehicle enough gas to ease up to fifty-five. Cody watched the flatland scrub off the side of the road he'd known so well for so long slip past him, just like the image of Skylar Hand waving his beat-up hat had just slipped away, now lost to memory. And all those other images of Skylar? What about those? Would he let those just slip away? He believed he wouldn't. No, he and Skylar to this point had lived their entire lives together. You don't just let loose of a lifetime as if what's ahead will make all the difference in the world. Goddamnit, he thought. God-damn-it! He'd tried to explain to Skylar the consequences of accepting the present circumstances as a fate that had no options.