Montana Half Light

Chapter 1.

The door to the bar opens and reveals a tall, slim figure of a man, slightly stooped, of seventy years age or so. Brilliant sunlight floods the room and blinds the lone occupant –a short stocky young man with a shaved head who stands drinking at the bar. The man at the bar attempts to shield his eyes from the early rising sun and squints into the glare of the open door in mid swallow. Recognizing the silhouette of the old man, the man drops his glass and tries to run as the shot-gun flashes twice, hitting him in the side under one arm and once in the middle of his back. The door swings shut and semi-darkness swallows the room again. There is no light except the small halo of half-light which frames the face of the old man as he stares through the small greasy round pane of glass in the door. He watches the body writhe across the floor in a series of involuntary nerve twitches, spilling blood in great pools until there is no more movement. When the old man’s face turns away, the full circle of early morning sunlight arcs across the room and illuminates a prone body.

The bar is the only standing structure in Twain Montana, Population 12, situated between a great reef of rocks jutting from the west and the vast rolling prairie which plunges eastward away from the town. . It is just after dawn on Sunday morning; no cars or trucks in sight on the highway. Except for the lone occupant of the bar the town itself is deserted. The old man casually opens the door of his pickup, slides his still hot double barrel savage shot gun into the gun cover behind his seat, gets in and drives off.

“all I know is Stosh asked Lee if he wanted a job helping him with the horses but Lee told Stosh he hated horses so Lee picked up his stuff and left town for parts unknown. Somebody said they might’ve seen a guy that looked like Lee logging for an outfit in Seeley Lake. Only this guy that looked like Lee had a beard and long hair so I don’t think it was Lee. Lee hated hippies.”

Gene looked across the bar and into the mirror. He understood that Lee would be trying to pass as someone else now. Lee might be wearing a wig or even shaved his head and beard by now. Gene thought about the trouble that Lee was in and how he needed to find a way out of this town. He seethed inside while looking back at himself- disgusted and tired of the struggle already. Gene listened to Pauline tell him again for the umpteenth time that she didn’t know where Lee was. Every time she told him there was a new twist where somebody said something and Gene just couldn’t listen to it anymore.

“Somebody, who?” Gene asked

“I don’t know. Just some guy who rolled into town all drunk and high.”

“what did he look like?”

“Like an asshole.” Pauline said. “He looked like an asshole- just like you and every other creep who comes in here. You all look like assholes to me. You want to know what he looks like? Look in the mirror. That’s what he looks like.”

Gene took another drink and glanced at the mirror. Pauline was right. He did look like an asshole.

Gene walked outside the Bonner Bar and lit a smoke. He wanted somebody to tell him it was going to be alright and that Lee was coming back to town with the money from Canada and he wanted to hear Lee tell everyone that logging was on the rise again but logging was finally dead and Gene knew it.  The mill was closing down and Marvin Purvis at the bar last week said there might be work in Juneau but Gene checked that out and there was no truth to it. Gene sat down on the curb with his beer and his cigarette and watched the sunset across the dirt and gravel parking lot. A cut over hillside glowered across the gash of canyon that led into the valley of the Clark Fork River. With its torn down dam and the dirty brown cliffs still pocked with the old blast scars from the original dam builders, and with the river below in full spring flood creating a froth of brownish white it looked like someone had hit the flush handle on this place as wood debris eddied out into a swirl of backwash and sluiced through the gap toward Missoula.

A train rolled through Bonner every afternoon about now loaded with coal from the coalfields of Wyoming. Gene could feel the rails begin to vibrate as he stood astride the tracks looking east. He unzipped his greasy Carhartt overalls and took a leak right there in front of the train. He stepped off just as it flew past headed to the power plant at Chehalis Washington. The engineer flipped Gene off and Gene returned the favor almost as an afterthought as he staggered toward the neon lights of Finky’s Foods where Bud Light was still on sale 11.99 for 12 can cases. Gene checked his wallet for the last twenty from pawning his rifle. Only fifteen was left as he remembered the five he’d stuck in the keno machine while waiting to talk to that little sweetheart of a barmaid, Pauline.

Gene walked past the kid behind the counter and noticed a young couple yammering happily over the trophy trout that hung above the coffee machine.

“where can we find fish like that?” they asked the bored kid behind the cash register. The kid just shrugged and adjusted his i-pod.

All these summer visitors love to ask locals to help them look for fishing tips as if we were just stupid or something; as if Montana was just one big vacation spot filled with gullible people happy to give up hard won secrets. Gene hated tourists more than Lee hated hippies. He curled his lip in a sneer at the smiling couple, ignored their friendly question and strode past them toward the beer.

1 Comment

  1. […] Montana Half Light […]

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