The Final Country

Free The Final Country by James Crumley

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Authors: James Crumley
stretches of solitude with which to consider my life, trying to connect everything from my father’s lovesick suicide to my mother’s aggressive lie that somehow forced me to endure three months of muddy Korean hell before a broken collarbone got me back to the States in time to hear about her drunken suicide drying out at a fat farm down in Arizona. I considered it all: the failed marriages, the drunk years, the boring dry years — and it only added up to anything when I was in the arms of this sad, redheaded woman.
    But I couldn’t make her happy. No matter how hard I studied. Hell, I knew better. A man can make a happy woman sad but he can’t finally make a sad woman happy. Then I studied her sadness until the burden of that became too much for either of us to carry.
    And the sorry truth was that I couldn’t study Texas hard enough to make it home. It remained a foreign country, an undiscovered dimension, too large a place to be one place, a country held together by a semi-mystical history and a semi-hysterical pride. The more it became urbanized, the more it insisted on being country. The politics seemed like a cruel trick played by the rich on the poor. When I read copies of letters sent back home from the first settlers, the lies leapt off the page like billboards advertising hell: no hot weather, no mosquitoes, free land. Like every other place I had been, it was all about money. No more, no less. And even with money, I was still an outsider, more at home with whores, small-time drug dealers, musicians, and winos. And too old to change. It was as if I was spending a thousand dollars a month for a combination of graduate school, therapy, and serious frustration. But I tried and tried until I wore out my try, until it ached like a bad tooth.
    Oddly enough, it was her other uncle who brought my unease to my attention first. Travis Lee drove up to the ranch house one silken fall morning as I sat in a rocking chair on the front porch, an unread novel in my lap, an unwhittled stick at my feet, the sun warm on my face, and Betty asleep in the house.
    “What’s happening, cowboy?” Travis Lee wanted to know as he rolled down the passenger’s window of the huge pickup. “What the hell aren’t you reading?”
    “Something I always meant to read. Anna Karenina,” I said.
    “Ends badly, I hear,” Travis Lee said as he kicked open the passenger door. “Let’s go down to the creek and have a beer.”
    He drove silently down the pasture to the tiny creek and the spring box where I kept a case of Coors cans cooling among the crawdads and mint leaves, and silently drank a beer before Travis Lee spoke.
    “Mind if I piss in your creek?” he said as he unbuttoned his jeans. Except in the courtroom, Travis Lee wore Levi’s, cowboy boots, western shirts, and expensive leather vests, a wide-brimmed Stetson, plus a huge gold belt buckle decorated with what looked like a snake’s head with ruby eyes.
    “Ain’t my creek,” I said.
    “Ain’t mine either, anymore,” Travis Lee said. I raised an eyebrow. “Blue Creek doesn’t look like much here,” the old man said, his large hands lifting his hat and rumpling his thick thatch of white hair, as if it could be any more rumpled, “and over there where it joins the branch that crosses my brother’s ranch, it doesn’t look like too much either, but by the time it drops off the escarpment into Blue Hole, it’s the perfect Hill Country creek.” I didn’t think I was supposed to say anything, yet, so I didn’t, just pulled two more beers out of the cold spring water. “But I guess you knew that. Betty says you’ve become something of a Texas expert.”
    “Self-defense,” I admitted.
    “Hey, I’ve been to Montana,” Travis Lee said. “You people up there can go round and round about being land-proud, too.”
    “Right, but there ain’t so many of us on the dance floor.”
    “I always suspected that too much solitude might make a man a bit cranky,” Travis

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