|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
"I don't know. I don't know what I mean..."
He shifts gently, bringing his knees up into his chest, tipping the cellphone into the little pocket created between his ear and the pillow. Silence rules the miles between them, and he knows she is smoking a cigarette, waiting for him to go on, or not.
"I mean it's almost like a nightmarish... something. At times... out here. Lonely. You know what I mean?"
"As usual, I have little to no idea what you're talking about. It's reassuring."
"Oh, fuck you." He can feel his voice rumbling and cracking deep in his throat as he smiles. He hopes he's not getting sick. Maybe it's just the way he's lying. "I think I'm getting sick," he says.
"Oh, little brother. You are such a hypochondriac."
He doesn't know. Maybe. Or maybe it's something to do with the light here, the way it picks things out, the lines and hollows of a face, or the long shadow cast by a building or a tree. Everything is too sharp, too clear. Stepping out of his trailer in the morning, he feels like a tiny speck, a squiggling city thing that doesn't belong here. He averts his eyes from the mirror when he brushes his teeth.
"So, do you feel like a cowboy yet?" he'd asked Heath, skulking in the shade of the refreshment tent. Heath wiped his mouth on his fist and handed the water-bottle to Jake. It was almost noon, and the sky seemed wider and bluer and emptier than it ought to be. The hairs on Heath's arms showed up gold where he sat, half in and half out of shadow.
"Who knows?" Heath shrugged. "How do you know what a cowboy feels like?"
"I dunno." He traced the plastic thread of the bottle-neck with his forefinger, round and round. He squinted out at the sun and grinned. "I guess you could ask another cowboy?"
"Hey, Jake? Jake, you still there? C'mon, this conversation's kind of died a death. Talk to me!"
"Still here. Just, uh, thinking. Sorry."
"Okay. Well. I'm gonna go now."
"Call me when your thoughts have translated into words, right? Love and whatever."
The phone falls off the pillow and hits the floor with a 'thunk'. He hugs his knees and breathes into the cotton sheets until they're warm and damp. When he sleeps, finally, he dreams of days alone in the wilderness, and of someone to come home to, maybe.