A man inherits a ranch and it has a clause that he takes care of a boy with down Syndrome.
| THINGS CHANGE
A faint reddish pink glow crept out onto the dark and deserted street and it was emanating from the faded neon Open sign which was attached to a large painted wood sign hanging in front of a building sporting a log cabin façade. The neon alternatingly flickered bright and dim where it sat on top of the one with the flaking gold and green paint barely clinging on to it. The name spelled out was Murphy’s Tavern and the front door was ajar with a colorful group of men and women revealed through the crack. The men were wearing cowboy shirts and fancy boots in contrast to the women who wore sequined blouses and brightly colored silky skirts. They loosely huddled around an antique jukebox and were attempting to sing along to the sounds coming out of it. The men pounded their feet to the beat while the women clapped along and it was unlikely that any of them could hear the sound of their own voice over the top of the noise they were making. The clock started chiming the twelve chords leading up to the New Year and when the twelfth chime proclaimed it was midnight it triggered kissing and hugging among the town folk who know each other all too well. In the midst of the reveling a raggedy dressed old man stumbled into the bar to the obvious annoyance of the partiers.
“Old man Anthony is dead! I just heard that old man Anthony has died!”
The group halted the celebration and they quietly stood and stared at the old man. They were silent for a moment and then turned to blankly look at each other. An unspoken agreement was reached and they started singing again, this time to Auld Lang Sine which began playing on the jukebox while the old man was making his announcement.
Meanwhile in a different town another New Year’s Eve celebration was in progress in a small apartment occupied by a handsome, but somewhat disheveled appearing young man and two attractive young women. One woman had on a bright red sequined dress and the other was wearing jeans and a tee shirt with a faded logo. They were holding glasses of champagne and making cheery gestures toward each other as the television announced it was midnight. After they finished their toasts the flashily dressed woman gave the man a sly look and the two of them began singing Happy Birthday. The other woman gave them a look that revealed little enthusiasm.
“Isn’t it exciting to turn thirty on New Year’s Eve Karen?”
“Not particularly since my birthday has occurred on New Year’s for the previous twenty nine years. You two are making ‘much ado about nothing’ and I feel the same as when I was twenty nine one minute ago. You probably wish you were still thirty don’t you Tom?”
“Not really, life would still suck just it has been for all of the previous years so why would I wish to go back and live it over again?"
“What a lovely attitude you have.”
“Can’t you two be nice to each other for one evening? What is wrong with you two? It seems like all you do anymore is fight and it’s getting very old.”
“You mean old like me Tina? Besides, if I wanted your opinion I’d give it to you!”
The empty bottles of cheap beer littering the kitchen floor at this small party seemed to indicate that the trio was experiencing hard times. There were more bottles sitting on the kitchen counter next to a cake that was decorated with children’s toys. They started singing and dancing as the alcohol began to exert its influence on the party.
"Hey girls, check out this joke, why did the chicken cross the road?”
The women both immediately glared at him.
“You have got to be kidding with a chicken joke. Don’t you need to dust it off first?” Tina snidely remarked.
"Can’t we skip lame jokes?" Karen said with a not now look in her eyes.
"Lame you say? Surely you can come up with something more insulting than that. I wasn't trying out for the night talk show. I guess I mistakenly thought a little bit of humor might be kind of nice for a change. I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt by laughing!”
“Why start thinking now?" Karen challengingly threw out.
“You girls have no sense of humor. It actually is a good joke but you'll never know and now it’s your loss."
Tina gave him a dirty look and went to the bathroom. Tom reached over and grabbed Karen's hand.
“This hasn't been that bad of a birthday has it?"
“I guess not.”
“I wish I could afford to give you a decent gift.”
“It doesn’t matter because I don’t really need anything. You really were never very good at buying me presents I liked anyway.”
"It’s nice of you to say that even when I am not broke I can’t make you happy with a gift anyway. I must be a pretty crappy boyfriend so why are you still with me?”
"Not all gifts cost money. There is something I’ve been wanting for a while. I was waiting until things got better but I may be waiting forever if I wait for that to happen.” She tentatively said.
“Please tell me what that gift is and I’d be happy to oblige.”
“I would like for us to have a child.”
Tom dropped her hand as if she was on fire. "You have got to be kidding. Didn’t you just say what a loser I am, and then you jump light years forward into wanting to have a child with me?”
“Well I’m not getting younger while waiting for our situation to improve and time marches on.”
“I don’t recall us ever having any conversations about either one of us wanting a family. We could barely afford to buy champagne for your birthday, how are we supposed to support a family?” Tom couldn’t believe what Karen said.
“It is stupid of me to think that you would want to get a job and become responsible like everyone else. I’ll be old enough to be grandmother before I’m ever a mother.”
“That’s ridiculous and you have got to be kidding about wanting us to have a kid feeling the way you do about me.”
“I should have known better than to bring it up.” Karen got up from the couch and went to the bedroom and shut the door.
Tom couldn’t believe Karen would suggest their having a child when they couldn’t get along or support themselves. The sound of the toilet flushing brought Tom back to reality, Karen’s sister was still there and missed the baby conversation.
“Where’s Karen?” Tina looked curiously around the room.
“She’s in the bedroom, the party ended in a mistrial while you were in the bathroom.”
“Very funny, what really happened?”
Tom shrugged his shoulders. “You will have to ask her.”
”Fine, tell Karen I will call her in the morning. I hope things are better than they seem to be right now.” She grabbed her coat and left the apartment.
Tom went to the refrigerator and grabbed another beer. He went back to the couch and soon passed out.
The next morning the light streaming through the apartment highlighted the mess from the previous evening and managed to make the room look even worse than it did before. Tom was still sitting on the couch in the semi upright and sideways position in which he was sitting with his beer when he passed out. To his amazement the beer was still upright sitting between his knees. When he moved to get up he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his neck from the unnatural position he spent the night in. He stood up, stretched and went into the bedroom where Karen had retreated to the night before but the room was empty. The apartment wasn’t very big but he checked the bathroom anyway and when she wasn't in there he went in to see if he looked as bad as he felt but he looked worse. The tattered jeans and old sweatshirt did nothing to improve his appearance. He ran a comb through his hair, slipped on tennis shoes and grabbed a coat and headed out the door. He stumble walked down the stairs leading to the sidewalk and he joined the crowd of people walking by. He wove his way through the horde in no apparent hurry to get anywhere. He got to the first crosswalk and started across even though Do Not Cross was flashing. A taxi came around the corner and barely missed hitting him. The driver slammed on the brakes, honked the horn and then he rolled down the window and yelled at Tom.
"Hey asshole, get some glasses!"
Tom responded by flipping him off and continued across the street. He turned at the next corner and then turned again. He entered a narrow walkway which ended near a doorway with a small OPEN sign the word BAR was painted on the side of the building. He continued around the side of to the next door which was marked ENTRANCE/EXIT. Tom entered a one room bar with six tables and a counter which extended the length of the room. There was a small but inclusive selection of liquor was stacked behind the counter next to a small grill. Tom grabbed a newspaper from the counter and sat on a stool. The bartender came out from the back room and looked at Tom and poured a glass of beer and set it on the bar in front of him. Tom was looking at the newspaper while holding a pen in his hand, job searching perhaps?
"When did you learn how to read?" The bartender said with a wry smile.
"Very funny, I can get attitude at home and it's free!"
"Well, considering how big your tab is, what's different with you getting it here?"
"In that case can I get a shot of Tequila to go with my beer and attitude, please?"
"It's been over two months since you've paid me anything on your tab. It seems to me that it would be cheaper just to give you the beer and keep the tequila."
Tom looked at the bartender and his face clearly showed the despair he was feeling.
“Yeah I know, it seems like my luck has got to change one of these days...wouldn't you think?"
The bartender grabbed a bottle of Tequila and poured a shot and set it next to the beer.
"I try not to think too much, it’s too much effort and doesn't do any good.” He then turned and walked away.
Tom downed the shot of Tequila and as the warm glow of the booze made its way through his body he smiled towards the disappearing bartender.
"Thanks man. The only good things I still have to look forward to are straight shots with a beer chaser.”
Tom picked up the beer and quickly drank it as well. He looked around for the bartender but he was still in the back room so he got up and walked out of the dark bar and back in to the brightness of the day.
Tom left the same way he came in but turned the opposite direction when he got to the sidewalk. He walked along with the rest of the pedestrians and appeared to be walking aimlessly. He stopped in front of a small gate that led into a playground which had a well-manicured lawn and a sandy area with a swing set.
The day was cold and there were only a couple of people sitting on one of the benches and there were no kids playing anywhere. Tom walked down a small path that wound through the play areas and ended at a wading pool surrounding a fountain. He picked up some rocks and started trying to skip them. Tom appeared ready to leave but then picked up a few more small rocks. Karen suddenly appeared and walked towards Tom.
“Sorry I’m late but we actually had enough customers for me to get an extra hour of work. After our party went so badly last night I wasn’t really sure you would even show up.”
“Late isn’t a problem because I didn’t have anything else to do, unfortunately. Unfortunately only because I wish I had a good reason not to be here, like a job.”
Karen sat down on a bench as Tom tried to skip one last rock.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said last night.”
“And what are you thinking?” Karen implored hopefully, her dark blue eyes were glistening with a hint of tears.
“That having a baby for any reason is a very bad idea and I don’t believe you don’t know it!”
Tom started walking a tight circle around Karen while keeping his eyes fixed on hers.
“That’s what I figured you would say.” Disappointment was written on her face.
“Why are you taking this so hard? If we aren’t making it without a kid how could we be better with one?”
“Our relationship and our lack of money continue to stay the same. I think being a father could be the best thing to happen to you. It would give you a reason to step up.” Her unspoken words were louder than the spoken ones.
“That’s ridiculous Karen, if I can’t take care of myself how can I take care of you and a child? I just don’t buy that you don’t know that deep down inside somewhere!”
“You don’t need to be so negative about my feelings even if you don’t share them.”
“Okay, let’s say for a moment that I share your dream for a child, and I pretend that this is a rational conversation. How do you propose we feed the kid?”
“Our child would have loving parents which is more that most children have these days. You could get a job if you really wanted one.”
“Love can’t buy you money and we don’t have enough to raise a child. Being a loving parent is over rated and it is not going to pay the bills. You are not in the real world and since you think I am a loser, why would you want a child with me anyway?”
“I guess I don’t really have an answer for that. I really do love you and I think that you love me but maybe I don’t really know what love is. You are correct that I am delusional and have been lying to myself. I think that you will miss me someday but you are right in that I need to get out of here!” Karen leaned over and kissed Tom lightly on the cheek and walked away.
Tom watched her walk off, feeling sad and relieved and he walked back to the apartment.
Darkness came and the apartment looked better now that the light was disappearing. Tom was lying on the couch drinking a beer and surfing through the channels. He belched loudly and for a moment he expected to hear a reprimand from Karen but then he remembered that if she was true to her word that won’t be happening again. He felt a pang of sadness so he turned up the volume and went to the refrigerator and returned with a fresh beer.
There was a light knock on the door and before Tom could sit up the door opened and Karen entered. She immediately began yelling at Tom.
“What a mess! It looks like a pig sty in here!”
“What do you expect? I let the maid take the day off since I was supposed to be home alone tonight!”
“That’s so very funny! I find it really amazing how lazy you are, you do nothing all day long! You’ve been this way for months. You could at least clean up the place a little since I'm paying the bills.”
“I was going to clean it up after I met you in the park but then when you said you weren’t coming back I lost my motivation.”
“Everything is always later! You have the same old excuses every time I think you will change.”
“So what’s your point? You already said goodbye at the park so what are you doing here?”
“Since my stuff is here I came to tell you that maybe I was a little harsh earlier but after seeing the same old shit going on I guess I wasn’t harsh at all. I am tired of this. Why are you so lazy?”
“Why don’t you just leave like you told me you were going to do?”
“I don’t know what I was expecting when I came here this evening.”
“Don’t put things off until later that you can do today, isn’t that what you always tell me?”
She glared at him and left the apartment and slammed the door.
Tom sat up on the couch and angrily kicked the coffee table which knocked his beer and an ashtray onto the floor. He kicked the table again because he was mad at his stupidity which made even more of a mess. Instead of cleaning it up he took a shower.
He walked out of the bedroom wearing clean clothes but his new clothes didn’t look much better than his old ones other than being less wrinkled. He grabbed his jacket off the chair and left. He walked down the sidewalk that ran in front of the apartment building and appeared to be walking nowhere. The noise was tremendous from the rush hour traffic combined with the sounds of horns being used by frustrated drivers. Tom stood at a corner and was approached by a man who appeared to be homeless.
“Hey buddy, can you spare some change? I haven’t had anything to eat for two days.”
Tom doubted the two day part but grabbed his cigarettes and held one out. “You’ve caught me at a bad time and this is all I have to offer.”
The man grabbed the cigarette and gestured for a light. Tom lit the cigarette and the man nodded his head in a gesture of gratitude. Tom noticed that the man immediately hit up another pedestrian. Tom then muttered under his breath. “Who knows? Maybe someday I will end up like him.” Tom had a feeling that day might not be too far away considering he was living in an apartment that his girlfriend paid the rent on and he had just run her off.
Tom had only left the apartment because of the fight he had with Karen so he took a turn on the sidewalk that led him back the apartment. He cleaned up the beer and ashtray mess he made before he left and turned on the television and laid on the couch.
Tom woke up early the next morning with the television still on but the station off of the air. He once again had slept on the couch right where he had been sitting. It was the second night in a row though last night had been a choice, unlike the night before. He got up and made a cup of instant coffee and took it into the living room near the only window so he could enjoy the morning sun.
There was a light knock on the door and Tina walked in before Tom could get up to open the door. She walked over and sat on the sofa with her back turned to the window. She gave Tom what he perceived to be a disapproving look which he knew he richly deserved. Neither of them said anything for a few minutes.
“So what did your sister have to say? Does she plan on coming back?”
“It is doubtful as long as you are still here. Last night she came over to my house in an extremely bad mood and said you guys needed to take a permanent break from each other. When she went to work this morning she said something about going to our mother's house and that you were a lazy bum.”
“Yeah, I may be a lazy bum but she is totally delusional. She is right about us needing to take a break.”
“You haven’t been very nice to her lately. She asked me to grab some of her clothes if you were still here.”
“Why does everything seem to be going wrong? I guess I don’t deserve anything good since I don’t do anything good.”
“What happened to those dreams you had about going off to some tropical paradise to live? Weren’t you going to sail across the water and open up a nightclub on a tropical island?”
“Yeah, well you know what they say happens with dreams, they are a lot like promises, here today and gone tomorrow.’’
“That’s too bad, your eyes used to light up whenever you talked about it.”
“Well that dream is gone and there is no point in thinking about it.”
“I think my sister misses the way you used to be. Maybe it was only a dream, but at least it was a nice one.”
The doorbell rang again and Tom went to answer it. Tina walked over to the television and picked up a picture sitting on top. It was a photograph of Tom and Karen in better times. Tina stood there looking at the photo.
Tom returned to the room with an envelope. “That was a mail delivery service.”
“Good news or bad news?”
“It’s a certified letter telling me that my grandfather has died.”
“That’s too bad, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s no big deal. We were never very close and I haven’t seen him since my mother died eighteen years ago. She sent me on a bus to stay with him the summer before she died of cancer. The last time I saw my grandfather was at her funeral, not long after the summer I spent with him. The three months I spent in the country with my grandfather were pretty cool. It was the first trip I had ever taken by myself. This letter says I have to go to the town he lived in to find out what he left me. I have nothing better to do so I guess I should go there. You can tell Karen I won’t be here so she can stay in the apartment since she told you she doesn’t want to come here as long as I am here.”
“A change of scenery might do you good. I’ll tell her she can come and get her own things since that was the reason she sent me here.”
“It certainly won’t hurt anything for me to get away from here for a while. Could lend me a few bucks until I get back?”
She opened her purse and hesitantly handed him some money. Tom took the money and gave her a grateful look.
“Thanks for being so understanding. If this turns out to bring me any money I promise I will get this back to you. I know you think I am a loser and I am fairly inclined to agree with you, maybe this is a sign that my luck is changing.”
“Well nobody hopes that more than I do, except maybe my sister, so I will keep my fingers crossed. Have a good trip and I really do hope something good comes of this.”
Tom went to the bedroom to pack for the trip he was about to embark on and Tina left with Karen’s things she had already gathered together.
The bus trip from the big city to the small town took about four hours longer than it would have taken by car but it finally arrived in the town Tom's grandfather had lived in early in the afternoon. The bus made only one trip a day from the northern part of the state to the southern end and stopped at every city or town in between which was referred to as the milk run.
Tom was the only person to get off the bus when it stopped alongside a bench on the sidewalk that was in front of a small market inside a converted warehouse. It was the brightest part of the day but the sky was darkening and dust was starting to swirl on the side of the road. Tom’s backpack was hanging over one shoulder and his jacket was draped over the other one. The bus stopped just long enough for his feet to touch the ground before the driver put the bus in gear and Tom watched the bus vanish into the horizon.
Tom’s hippie-like appearance was in total contrast to the rural setting he had just arrived in. A young farmer with a large cowboy hat drove up on a tractor and stopped next to where Tom was standing. His cheek bulged with chewing tobacco and he spit juice on the ground in front of Tom and then revved up the engine and drove on down the road. Three old men wearing coveralls and baseball caps were sitting on a bench a few feet away and they were watching Tom with curiosity. Tom figured there probably wasn’t much to do in this town so the arrival of someone new was probably pretty exciting. The men just sat and stared at him without saying a word to each other.
Tom approached them. “Can someone tell me where the county clerk’s office is?”
No one responded at first and then all three of them pointed at the same time to a nearby building. Tom found this amusing and chuckled. “You guys sure make one hell of a greeting committee, thanks for your help.”
The men stared and the only movement they made was to put their arms down after pointing out the building. As Tom walked to the building a strange feeling came over him as if someone was watching him. He glanced around and he noticed an older woman staring at him.
She was leaning out of a window in a building ahead and it appeared as if she was trying not to be noticed as she was partially hidden behind a curtain. An involuntary shudder ran up his spine as he made eye contact with her when he passed by the window and she quickly pulled the curtains closed.
Tom hadn’t felt very welcome from anyone he had encountered since his departure from the bus. The town he remembered from when he was a teenager was of a much larger place than the one he had encountered so far. It did appear that there a lot of empty buildings that looked like they had been recently abandoned.
The building the old woman was lurking in looked as if it was possibly vacant as well. Tom felt a sinister aura radiating from the woman, she was dressed in black and he felt an ominous sense of foreboding exuding from her.
Tom entered the building he was pointed to and inside of it was a large warehouse with a small office inside of it. Tom stood just inside the building and a slightly built man with a large mustache who looked to be in his early sixties came out of the office.
“What can I do for you Sir?”
“I think I should be the one calling you Sir. You have just spoken the most words I've heard from anyone in this town since I arrived here. I am Antonio Vargas’ grandson and I received a letter that I am to see someone here about his will.”
The building was fairly empty with odd pieces of office furniture placed about it. There were several rows of file cabinets lining one wall and many more loose files stacked on shelves. The man motioned Tom over to a conference table and walked to one of the cabinets. Tom sat and watched as the man retrieved a folder and brought it to the table. He opened it up and looked at Tom briefly and then looked at the papers in the folder.
“I, Antonio J. Vargas, residing in Phoenix, Oregon, being of sound mind and body do hereby declare this instrument to be my last will and testament. I give all of my estate which consists of a bank account, a twenty acre ranch with a house, a barn and one hundred acres of land, adherent with the enclosed conditions; to my grandson, Thomas L. Simonsen.”
The man looked at Tom, who looked like he was in shock.
“There are some conditions listed in the will but what I read aloud is the major intent of what is written here, except to describe the property in more detail. I doubt you want to hear the ‘fine print’ so to speak, do you?”
“Only what you think it is necessary.”
“Your grandfather made out this will about two months ago, so as far as I know these are his final wishes.”
“I am not complaining,” Tom whistles and leans back in his chair. “but why he left this to me is a surprise since I haven’t heard from him for about eighteen years, neither of us has been in contact with each other. I can’t believe anyone even found me, which is usually a good thing, but I certainly am glad I got ‘found’ this time! Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”
“I can’t tell you why your grandfather named you his heir but since he is gone it will be his secret forever.” The man said while giving Tom what he perceived to be an odd look.
“I remember he had a very nice ranch when I stayed there many years ago.”
“It’s a beautiful ranch with some of the finest grazing lands in the entire valley. They are presently being leased out, and you are entitled to receive the rent money from them, should you decide to stay.”
The man took a deep breath and continued reading, “There are two conditions established in the will.”
“Well go ahead and tell me what they are?”
“First, you will not be able to sell any part of what has been willed to you, this includes the house with the twenty acres known as PARADISE RANCH and the adjoining property that is leased out, for a period of twenty years. At the end of that period the beneficiary of the will becomes the official owner and will be allowed to keep or sell any part of the properties.”
Tom started laughing. “So I guess it really isn’t mine for twenty years then, is that correct?”
“I am not sure what you mean but it is yours only you can’t sell any of it. Secondly are responsible for Ignacio as long as you live on the ranch. The last item is your grandfather’s money, it is set up at the bank in a trust with a monthly stipend as well as an account you can withdraw a set amount every year to cover any repairs, a vehicle or any other expenses you wish to incur up to that amount. I will go get the information you will need to get the account information from the bank. There is a lawyer that has paperwork with all of the details if you should ever need them.” The man got up and left the table and went into the office.
“So what is Ignacio?” Tom received no answer and the man had his back turned as he retreated into the small office and was getting something out the desk. He returned with two envelopes. He took a key out of the smallest envelope and handed it to Tom.
“There may be more keys at the ranch but this is the one your grandfather had put with his will. When you go out of the office door take a left and keep on the main road until you get to a wooden sign over the driveway that has PARADISE RANCH carved into it. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.”
“I came here on the bus. How far is the ranch from here?”
“It is well within a reasonable walking distance.”
“It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” Tom stretched out his hand to shake. The man handed Tom a larger manila envelope.
“Here is information about the bank account that is already set up so you can go make arrangements to access the account when you are ready.”
Tom took the second envelope. “Thanks for everything. I can use a good meal and a stiff drink to celebrate my good fortune!”
“I guess the good part will be up to you but it is indeed a small fortune.”
The man talked in the same monotone voice that he had from the very first words they exchanged.
Tom walked out and headed in the direction he was told to go. He is anxious to revisit the place he has so many vague and happy memories of. He remembers there was a large house, a barn and a pond but not much more. Maybe he should have asked how far down the road it was since his car was the shoes on his feet but the man did say the ranch was reasonably close, whatever that meant in these parts.”
As he passed by the store the bus had let him off in front of he went inside and bought a few things to eat and drink to take to the ranch. He hadn’t eaten since before he got on the bus which was beginning to feel like it was a long time ago and that it happened on a different planet.
The road started out as asphalt but turned into gravel fairly quickly and before too long he was walking on a dirt road. He got to a wooden fence alongside the road and could see a driveway with a sign up ahead that he figured was most likely his new home.
There was also a large field with cattle grazing on it surrounded by some large oak trees lining the driveway. The wind gusts were getting stronger and forcefully shaking the branches of the huge trees. At edge of the driveway there was a small gate with a small faded sign hanging on it which read Welcome just before the large wood sign hanging over the top of the gate into the driveway. Tom walked through the gate and there was the beautiful log cabin home from his memories. The yard that surrounded the house seemed to be well taken care of he noticed the barn behind the house sounded like there was a dog inside of it barking at him. He thought this was a little strange considering his grandfather was dead but maybe a neighbor had been taking care of it. Maybe this was Ignacio so after checking out the house he would go out to the barn.
To the right of the house there was a garden with a tall fence and rock partitions within it that were designed to keep rows of plants separate from each other. Behind the house there was a small hill, it was barren of any tall plants or trees and was covered in clover. The wind swirled the smaller branches of the trees in a circular motion, they danced wildly around as if a giant was inside shaking them. Tom took the key out and walked on to the porch and slipped the key in and opened the door.
Tom threw the door wide open and walked through the house. He turned all of the lights on even though there was plenty of light. The act of turning the lights on without there being anyone to tell him not to filled him with a sense of power and ownership. He hadn’t ever owned anyplace he had lived in before this and it felt really good. Even if it had been given to him and not earned. He spent some time looking around the house of time and looking in the various rooms and then went out to the barn to locate the animal he heard barking.
The barn was close to the house and he entered it through a small side door instead of opening the larger hanging doors, time to do that later. The dog was inside the first stall and when he opened it the dog almost knocked him down he was so excited. He noticed there was almost a half bowl of food and a completely full bucket of water in the corner. The dog is obviously being well taken care of even if he acted like he hadn’t had any attention for a week. The dog appeared to be a mixed breed with the obvious appearance of a Labrador in it somewhere which is probably why it acted so needy. Tom left the dog in the barn since he was going to walk back to town and go to the bank try to find a bar to get something to eat and drink. There were a few other animals in the barn that he would have to check out later.
Tom returned to the house, wiped the dust from his jeans and went into the living room and sat on the large leather couch.
“Man I just won the lottery!” Tom said aloud as he looked around the room.
He woke up still sitting on the couch exactly where he sat down.
“I can’t believe I keep doing this!” He exclaimed and jumped up.
Tom looked at his watch and he had only been asleep for an hour so he still had plenty of time to walk to town and get to the bank before it closed. He put his coat on and left his backpack on the couch after first grabbing the envelope with the bank information in it. The clouds had moved back in and the wind was blowing even harder than it was when he first got there.
He walked around the side of the house to the driveway and as he approached the gate he noticed someone was standing outside the window by the living room. It appeared they were attempting to look inside the house. Tom figured he was probably the reason the person was trying to spy inside the house. Whoever it was couldn’t be much of a threat since they hadn’t noticed the person they were trying to look at was outside the house watching them look in the window. Tom couldn’t see the face of the stranger since he had his back turned to him. Tom tried to walk quietly so he could sneak up on the man but he stepped on something that made a loud cracking sound. Since there was no longer any chance of sneaking up on him he yelled out instead.
“Hey, what do you think you are you doing?”
The intruder took off running towards the small hill behind the house without ever looking back. Tom had no hope of catching him and so he watched as the figure disappeared behind the hill. He walked back to the front door and locked it just in case the prowler decided to come back. He turned and started walking towards town again and he wondered why the dog wasn’t barking this time.
As Tom walked to town the weather continued to get more miserable. He noticed when he arrived there weren’t any people out on the street but he soon noticed the lady who was dressed in black was watching him once again. Tom felt strong negative feelings radiating towards him as if she disapproved of his presence by the way she was evilly staring at him. Tom saw a crow fly overhead and this sent another involuntary shudder up his spine, the feeling that is frequently described as “someone has just walked across your grave."
Tom continued towards the end of the block and saws a sign over a doorway with the name of the town on it and after that the word "Bank". Tom figured that had to be the only one in town and he walked up to the building and entered. There was a tall and somewhat portly middle aged man with a cheap suit sitting behind a desk. He motioned Tom towards a chair next to him.
“I’ll be with you in a minute.” The man said and got up from his chair and disappeared through a door in the middle of the room. A few minutes later the man emerged and walked back to the desk and looked at Tom with a bit of curiosity.
“I set up an account as per Antonio’s instructions through his lawyer a couple of weeks ago and have been waiting to see if his heir had been found. Today I have been waiting for you to show up ever since John Peters came over here after you were at his office. He gave me your name and told me to expect you this afternoon.”
“Boy, I have heard that secrets are hard to keep in a small town but given I have only been here a few hours this is rather amazing. Doesn’t anyone in this town have anything else to do but to stare at the stranger and talk about him?”
“Not really, I don't see why you are surprised given that probably only three hundred people that live within fifteen miles of here. Why don’t you think you wouldn't be the talk of the town?”
“When you put it that way I guess you have a point, I haven’t ever been this big of a deal to anyone in my entire life. I am not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing. So how much money do I have in my bank account?”
“Well, that will vary a little from month to month and year to year because of the way the funds are set up. Your grandfather had the account set up like a trust fund sort of. So every month there is a set amount of money automatically deposited into your account as well as a portion of the yearly stipend that you can use for repairs, vehicles and other necessary expenses besides food and utility type things. He wanted to make sure the money will last. There will be two thousand dollars a month added to your account and an additional twelve thousand a year added at a thousand a month. You will receive this amount for the twenty years that is bound by the stipulations of the will. You have any other questions?” The banker then handed several things to Tom.
Tom looked at the checkbook and debit card and just stood there.
“Is there anything more I can help you with today? I imagine you would probably like some real money as long as you are here wouldn't you?”
Tom was still stunned and he mumbled a quick thank you and a yes to wanting cash. He watched as the man opened the cash drawer and came back and handed him the money. Tom finally smiled and took the money and walked out and headed down the street towards MURPHY’S TAVERN.
Tom arrived at the tavern quickly since every place in town was located pretty close together. He was feeling dazed and it seemed like he had been pushed from the bank to the tavern by the strong wind that was still blowing. He couldn’t believe the amount of money he was going to have to live on every month, what a wealthy and generous man his grandfather was.
He entered the tavern and the patrons seemed to be made up of all men and they were scattered around the bar but the main point of interest was a noisy game of pool going on in the middle of the room. Tom walked towards a table at the corner opposite from the front door. The place became quiet as everyone turned to check him out so he walked directly to the bar instead. No one else was sitting at it so he sat down in front of where the bartender was standing.
Tom had the attention of everyone in the place so after he sat he looked around and addressed the patrons. “Good afternoon.”
Nobody acknowledged his greeting. When the bartender asked him what he would like to drink Tom tried to strike up a friendly conversation.
“What’s with this crazy weather, the wind hasn’t stopped blowing all day, is it always this way in the afternoon?”
The bartender also seemed to be ignoring him. Tom lost his patience, “Is everyone in town mute or just plain rude?”
Once again there was no response. The men continued playing pool but they were playing a bit more quietly. Tom faced the bartender and laid a twenty dollar bill on the bar.
“Young man, how about pouring me a beer and then give me a shot of whiskey to go along with it. I also need a pack of cigarettes as well, please?”
The bartender poured a beer, grabbed a shot glass and a pack of cigarettes and placed all three items in front of Tom and walked away. He grabbed a bottle of liquor and was getting ready to pour some into the shot glass he set on the bar in front of Tom. Tom quickly snatched the bottle out of the bartender’s hands before any liquid had started to flow out of the bottle.
“It is probably a good idea if you just leave the bottle here with me because I have a feeling that this could be a lonely afternoon and I might need this bottle to keep me company.” Tom laughed.
The bartender gave him a startled look and took the money off the counter where Tom had set it and returned with the change.
“I didn't answer your question about the weather earlier because I have been inside this place all day so I don't have any idea what the weather is like outside. I wasn't trying to be rude."
"That's alright, I really didn't care about the answer and I was just trying to get someone to talk to me. Thanks for giving me an answer, since no one else seems to be willing to talk to me around here." Tom pushed the change the bartender put in front of him back towards him.
He picked up the bottle, the shot glass and the cigarettes and then he winked at the bartender and made a growling sound to the room. He headed to the table he originally was going to sit at. It was a small distance away from where the other customers were sitting, which was in front of the fake fireplace, but it was still close enough that he could watch the men that were playing pool.
“Howl!” He again announced to the room.
Tom noticed that his howling seemed to make the bartender nervous but he didn’t say anything and kept himself busy behind the counter.
Tom filled the shot glass with whiskey and quickly drank it. He spent the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening alone at his table drinking the rest of the bottle and watching the men play pool. The ashtray in front of him became full of cigarette butts and the bottle of whiskey was getting emptier and the hands on the clock kept advancing.
The men eventually stopped playing pool and gathered at a table in the middle of the room and started to play cards. This continued throughout the evening until there were only a few embers left glowing in the faux fireplace and most of the customers had gone home.
Tom noticed that very few new customers had come in to replace the ones that left. Tom got up from the table to leave after he had emptied the bottle of whiskey. It was quite dark outside and time to head back to the ranch. He also has a good buzz from drinking the evening away on an empty stomach. He carefully walked to the door but he was staggering and could feel the eyes of the men watching him. They continued to ignore him as he walked by on his way to the door. He was almost to the door when a colorfully dressed young man brashly walked in. He was also drunk and Tom had a bad feeling as he observed the man’s swaggering gait upon entry. He looked to be around twenty five and was wearing a very gaudy outfit of an alligator skin jacket and ostrich hide cowboy boots with gold tips. He had a large gold cap on one of his front teeth and when he smiled it looked more like a snarl than a smile. The remaining men in the bar were playing pool and Tom observed their responses to the man seem more perfunctory than respectful. Tom wasn't sure how he should react to this dandy but in his inebriated condition he hoped he would not have to react at all. The bartender was busy pouring him a drink out of a bottle of liquor that he had retrieved from under the counter.
The man looked at Tom with disdain. “Well look what we have in here now.”
Tom tried to take a menacing step towards him but he isn't stable enough to take any steps without staggering. “What in the hell is your problem? You are the only guy in this place that has talked to me all day and then you turn out to be an asshole. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
The men had stopped playing pool and tension filled the air.
“Randy, you should be more selective about who you let drink in here. You shouldn’t serve losers.” The newcomer addressed the bartender after he was handed a drink.
Tom moved closer. “From where I stand the only loser I see is you.”
There was silence as the men standing around the pool table watched the confrontation unfold.
“You should watch what you say jack-ass. You don’t know who you are talking to."
“I know exactly who I am talking to, an asshole!” Tom replied and stumbled towards the door again.
“I have some advice for you; you need to get out of this bar and leave town, because if I see you around here again you will live to regret it.”
Tom stared at the man and glanced over at the bartender, then at the group of men, “Growl, Howl!” He laughed and stumbled out the door.
The young man was infuriated and turned to the men watching him. “I had better not see any of you hanging out with that guy or you will be sorry!”
The men tried to avoid making eye contact with him and then they noticed Tom had returned to the bar and was standing in the doorway. The men attempted not to look at Tom as he waited for the other man to notice he was standing behind him.
“Possibly you are the one who should watch what you say since you obviously don’t know who you are talking to.” Tom said softly.
“You had better leave this bar right now because you are not wanted in here!” Tom’s adversary quickly replied.
Tom stared at him for a moment and turned around and made a final exit.
The wind was much calmer than when Tom first walked back to town. The daylight had been replaced by the light from the moon. Tom tried to navigate the bumpy country road and slowly staggered his drunken way back to the ranch. The trip was accentuated by a great many brief encounters with the ground.
He arrived at the gate leading to the front walkway and as he approached he heard a strange sound coming from behind the house. He walked around back and could vaguely make out a shadowy figure on the hill in the dark. He heard strange throaty sounds that seem to be coming from that silhouette. As he approached the shadow it suddenly started yelling at him and then he felt objects hitting him.
“Get away from here. Leave!” These words came from the moonlit apparition.
Tom was too drunk to deal with a “ghost throwing rocks” though he didn’t actually know for sure if the “ghost” was really throwing anything but it sure felt like it. He then became frightened and he lost the ability to behave rationally and ran to the front door. After a great deal of difficulty he managed to get the key for the door out of his pocket and slipped inside the house.
Once inside he struggled to get the door locked and then he leaned against the front door breathing hard. He could hear the sound of someone approaching the house. He yelled out to the figure he imagined was standing outside the door. “Leave me alone, you lunatic.”
He went into the pantry and rummaged around until he found something to use as a weapon but all he could find was a baseball bat. He calmed down a bit but continued to stumble about and eventually worked his way up the stairs to his grandfather's bedroom. He entered it without turning on the light and he immediately went to the window and opened the curtains.
He looked behind the house but the silhouette was gone and there weren’t any sounds coming from outside any more. All he could see was the full moon providing a backdrop for the dark hill. He went to the bed and took off his shirt and jeans and sat on the bed. He kept the bat close in case the stranger came back.
As soon as he lay down on the bed he felt the room start spinning and he made a mad dash for the window and threw it open. The liquor he had been drinking all day made its exit from his body in a violent upheaval and fortunately Tom got his head out the window just in time. He returned to the bed, slipped under the covers and quickly lost consciousness.
The morning sun shone brightly through the window and Tom slowly woke up with a richly deserved hangover. He heard a noise and he jumped up and grabbed the bat. “Who the hell is here? I can hear you in the hall so show yourself.”
As commanded a figure appeared in the doorway, it was a teenaged boy whom Tom was sure he hadn’t ever seen before although for some reason he seemed familiar. The youngster had a medium build and brown hair about the same color as Tom’s and Tom recognized that the boy had the features of someone with Down syndrome.
He was standing quietly staring at Tom when Tom made a threatening gesture with the bat and the boy took a couple of steps backwards. Tom stood up next to the bed holding the bat.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?”
The boy glanced towards the open window and Tom remembered his quick dash to the window the night before. He realized how stupid he looked threatening a boy with a baseball bat while only wearing only his underwear. He sat down on the bed and put the bat down. He reached over the side of the bed in search of his clothes but couldn’t find them. All of his clothes as well as his backpack were missing. “Where in the hell are my clothes?”
The boy yelled angrily. “Get away from here, this house is not your house. Leave!”
The boy turned and ran down the stairs. Tom ran after the boy and watched as he ran out the door. By the time Tom got there he could see no sign of him in the yard. He started to go outside but he realized there was no way he was going to catch him. He heard a noise out by the barn and spotted the boy running past it and up the hill behind the house.
Tom felt foolish and noticed his clothes and backpack were scattered on the other side of the fence. Tom yelled out at the disappearing figure. “You little jerk; you could have just hit me with the bat while I slept!”
He then got hit with a heavy dose of nausea and felt a strong urge to go lie down to stop the spinning inside his head. He didn’t wish to experience again what happened the night before so he gathered up his things from out in the yard and headed back to bed. He would deal with the boy later, much later with the way he was feeling.
Tom woke up after getting some much needed sleep. He had recovered from having been startled awake earlier. He got dressed and looked around the house to see if the boy might have returned while he was sleeping. He saw no sign of him so he left the house in search him.
He started by walking beyond the hill the boy ran behind when he ran off. He continued to go further from the house until he came to a pond hidden beyond the crest of the hill behind the house. He found the boy sitting on top of a large rock on the hill above the water.
When Tom approached the boy started nervously looking around for a way to escape. He was trapped on the rock unless he came down the trail he walked up on because Tom was standing at the base of it. He was afraid the boy might jump to avoid having to walk by him. He waved his hands to get the boy’s attention. “Get away from there! You’re going to hurt yourself!”
The boy moved to the edge of the rock and yelled. “Leave! This is not your place.”
“You are mistaken about that, I am the new owner, my grandfather owned this place. Do you know Antonio?”
The boy stared at him attentively and he no longer looked as fearful as he did earlier. Suddenly it dawned upon Tom who this might be.
“Are you, is your name Ignacio?” The boy kept staring at the water below. Tom realized he had been pretty stupid not to have figured out who the boy was from the first time he saw someone looking into the house.
“Damn it!” He picked up a rock and threw it across the water. “I’m sorry. I should have known who you were and I shouldn’t have yelled at you, come down from there and talk to me please?”
The boy appeared calmer and spoke slowly. “You, you are Tom?” Tom nodded and the boy smiled. “Uncle Tony said you would come here and help me take care of the ranch and then he went away. Is he coming back?”
“I was told that you are right that the man you call Uncle Tony, who was also my grandfather, is not coming back. That’s why he sent me a letter asking me to come here.”
The boy was still standing up above him on the rock and he was looking at the end of the pathway where Tom stood. Tom moved over to the edge of the pond away from the end of the path and looked out at the water. He watched Ignacio from the corner of his eye but the boy was still not moving. “Ignacio, get down off of that rock up there and come back down the trail. You are making me nervous up there.” The boy obeyed him and stepped back a few feet and jumped to the ground below the rock and started down the trail.
“What would you say to us going back to the house and having some lunch and we can get to know each other?”
“I am hungry. I haven’t eaten any food since yesterday when you left for a long time and didn’t come back until it was really late. I was going to eat breakfast this morning but when I went to talk to you in Uncle Tony’s bed I thought you were going to hit me with that stick so I left and didn’t get to eat.”
“I’m sorry about that. I didn’t realize who you were but that was no excuse and I acted very stupid. I apologize for yelling at you and threatening you. Will you forgive me?”
Ignacio watched him warily. “Okay.” He walked towards the house and Tom walked alongside him.
“Tom, Uncle Tony called me Nacho. Can you call me Nacho like Uncle Tony?”
“Of course.” Threatening the boy with baseball bat was not one of his finer moments but it was done and he couldn’t take it back.
“I have to go let Paco out of the barn before I come in the house.”
Tom started to ask about Paco but figured out it when Nacho entered the house with the dog from the barn on his heels. He walked past where Tom was sitting at the table and sat in the chair nearest the corner of the kitchen. Tom looked at the cast iron wood stove and remembered it from when he spent the summer there. He had found it intriguing at first but he remembered that he never was able to master cooking on it. Tom looked at Nacho who was intently watching him as he stared at the stove.
“Do you want me to put some wood in the stove so we can cook some breakfast?” Nacho cheerfully asked.
“Sure that would be great, the last time I used this stove was probably before you were born and I didn’t do very well so I can definitely use your help.”
After having woken with a ferocious hangover after having spent the previous afternoon and evening drinking, besides not eating much, his head and stomach were now telling him how bad an idea that had been.
He went to the refrigerator and took out some of the items he purchased the day before on his first trip to the ranch. He managed to find a frying pan which he placed on the stove next to the food. Tom had noticed there was food in the refrigerator the day before when he put the things he bought at the store away and now that he knew Nacho had been living there he realized it was quite likely the food that was in there was good but he will cook what he bought this morning.
“So how hungry are you Nacho?”
“A little.” He rubbed his stomach. “Well, maybe a lot.”
Tom started the task of trying to cook breakfast for him and Nacho. He put the skillet on a burner and poured in some oil. He started cracking eggs into a bowl, but the eggs were a lot harder to break open than he remembered them being the last time he did so and he ended up with a lot of egg shells in the bowl. He continued his effort but he was still having problems with the eggs, the mixture he poured into the skillet started to explode and threw hot bits of raw egg from the pan that landed on his hands and burned his skin. He cursed and pulled the pan off the burner and threw his hands up in a gesture of surrender. He stepped back and surveyed the unfolding disaster, trying to decide if it was worth trying to salvage the rest of the eggs.
The eggs that remained in the skillet started cooking while he was contemplating what to do next and were beginning to burn so he grabbed a plate out of the cupboard and scraped the eggs onto it and set the plate in front of Nacho, who had been quietly sitting at the table watching Tom’s performance. Tom grabbed a fork and handed it to Nacho who just stared at the plate of eggs Tom placed in front of him.
“Would you like a glass of milk to go with the eggs?”
“You’re a pretty weak cook, huh?” Nacho innocently inquired.
Calling his cooking weak was a polite understatement. Tom pretended to be angry and snatched the plate from in front of Nacho.
“Well then I guess I will take this plate of eggs and you can make your own and we’ll see how much better you do, smarty pants! I am sure the dog will be happy to eat the eggs I made for you.” Tom turned away from Nacho and took the plate over to where the old dog was lying on the floor and when Tom set the plate down on the floor his tail started thumping. A few egg shells won’t spoil the eggs for Paco.
Nacho got up and grabbed the frying pan, wiped it out with a paper towel, put it back on the burner and neatly cracked an egg into it and did the same with three more. Nacho did a successful job of cooking them and scooped them out onto a plate. “Want me to make some more for you?”
“I’m not hungry anymore.” Tom’s hangover has set in with full force and he doesn’t feel like being a good sport.
“Okay. I will eat these then.” Nacho voraciously ate the eggs he had cooked.
Later on in the evening Tom sat on the front porch in a big rustic wood rocking chair, which he discovered was quite comfortable, and he watched as the sun began to disappear behind the row of trees that lined the outer border of the wood fence. The weather was amazingly warm down in the southern part of the state Tom had noticed, there would have been no way he would been this comfortable sitting outside where he came from. He was beginning to like this little slice of paradise.
Nacho was sitting on a big decorative rock a few feet away that was underneath one of the enormous oak trees.
“What are you doing buddy?”
“I’m looking at the sun in the trees, it looks really pretty.”
“Yes it certainly is pretty, what you are thinking about?”
“Nothing, I am just looking at the grass and the trees with the birds in the sun. Uncle Tony and I used to sit out here a lot.”
“I see, those are some pretty bitchin’ birds all right and it is a very nice view!”
“You talk dirty.”
“What do you mean?” Tom said defensively.
“You swear a lot.”
“Yes, I probably do, especially when compared to you. Who died and made you the head of the grammar police anyway? I didn’t see the rules posted in the house anywhere Señor Cervantes.”
Nacho looked at Tom and was clearly confused. “Who is Cervantes?”
“He was some guy who wrote a book called ‘Don Quixote’, it is about some crazy fool who ran around fighting windmills as I recall. Have you heard of him?”
“Well, I don’t know him since I have never been out of town. I don’t know about windmills. Why was he fighting with them? Are windmills bad people?”
Tom realized that it he was being too sarcastic. “No, forget about what I said. I was just being a smartass for no good reason.”
“Do they live in town?”
“I said to forget about it, I was stupid to say what I did. I was just being a jerk because you were right about my using bad words and I will try to do better.”
“I don’t know any bad words because Uncle Tony said that it wasn’t polite to say them. The only place I go to is to the church on Sunday and they don’t say bad words there. Uncle Tony told me that there are some mean people in town and those people might use bad words.”
“My grandfather was right that there are some mean people in this town, just like in the other towns. They don’t always use bad words but they sometimes do bad things when you don’t expect it which might be worse.”
“I don’t understand. What bad things are they going to do?”
“Nothing, I shouldn’t have said that either. Let’s change the subject, whatever you are cooking for dinner sure does smell good, what is it?”
“I am making soup the way Uncle Tony taught me to.”
“If your soup tastes as good as it smells it is going to be delicious.”
After dinner Tom and Nacho sat in the living room on the couch together looking out the front window. The beautiful evening ended with both of them staring at a large oak tree enjoying the beautiful sunset.
“Is it alright if we go to bed right now? I drank a too much alcohol last night and there was some strange creature creeping around here that kept me from getting enough sleep.”
“I am sorry I threw those rocks at you but I was afraid that someone was trying to steal this place since I was all alone here, I won’t ever do anything bad to you ever again.”
“It’s alright Nacho, I am just teasing you. I know you were just scared. I am not mad and you don’t need to apologize since it was my fault and not yours. Tomorrow we start out as friends and you can show and tell me about everything on the ranch.”
“We are going to be very busy.”
“How long have you been living here on this ranch with my grandfather?”
“I don’t know, I only remember always living here. I really miss him. I loved him very much and he said he loved me too.”
“It sounds like you had a good life here with him. I hope you will as happy here with me as you were with him. Good night Nacho.”
“Good night Tom.”