It was the time of the Sun Dance and the Big Tractor Pull. Freddy-in-the-Hollow and I had traveled three days to be at the river. We were almost late, what with the sandstorm and the raid on the white settlement over to Old Dallas.
We pulled in with our wrecker and string of fine cars, many of them newly-stolen. You should have seen Freddy and me that morning, the first morning of the Sun Dance.
We were dressed in new-stolen fatigues and we had bright leather holsters and pistols. Freddy had a new carbine, too. We were wearing our silver and feathers and hard goods. I noticed many women watching us as we drove in. There seemed to be many more here than the last Sun Ceremony. It looked to be a good time.
The usual crowd gathered before we could circle up our remuda. I saw Bob One-Eye and Nathan Big Gimp, the mechanics, come across from their circles. Already the cook fires were burning and women were skinning out the cattle that had been slaughtered early in the morning.
“Hoo!” I heard Nathan call as he limped to our wrecker. He was old; his left leg had been shattered in the Highway wars, he went back that far. He put his hands on his hip and looked over our line.
“I know that car, Billy-Bob Chevrolet,” he said to me, pointing to an old Mercury. “Those son-a bitch Dallas people stole it from me last year. I know its plates. It is good you stole it back. Maybe I will talk to you about doing car work to get it back sometime.”
“We’ll have to drink about it,” I said.
“Let’s stake them out,” said Freddy-in-the-Hollow. “I’m tired of pulling them.”
We parked them in two parallel rows and put up the signs, the strings of pennants, and the whirlers. Then we got in the wrecker and smoked.
Many people walked by. We were near the Karankawa fuel trucks, so people would be coming by all the time. Some I know by sight, many I had known since I was a boy. They all walked by as though they did not notice the cars, but I saw them looking out of the corners of their eyes. Music was starting down the way, and most people were heading there. There would be plenty of music in the next five days. I was in no hurry. We would all be danced out before the week was up.
Some of the men kept their strings tied to their tow trucks as if they didn’t care whether people saw them or not. They acted as if they were ready to move out at any time. But that was not the old way. In the old times, you had your cars parked in rows so they could be seen. It made them harder to steal, too, especially if you had a fence.
But none of the Tractor Pullers had arrived yet, and that was what everybody was waiting for.
The talk was that Simon Red Bulldozer would be here this year. He was known from the Brazos to the Sabine, though he had never been to one of our Ceremonies. He usually stayed in the Guadalupe River area.
But he had beaten everybody there, and had taken all the fun out of their Big Pulls. So he had gone to the Karankawa Ceremony last year, and now was supposed to be coming to ours. They still talk about the time Simon Red Bulldozer took on Elmo John Deere two summers ago. I would have traded many plates to have been there.
“We need more tobacco,” said Freddy-in-the-Hollow.
“We should have stolen some from the whites,” I said. “It will cost us plenty here.”
“Don’t you know anyone?” he asked.
“I know everyone, Fred,” I said quietly (a matter of pride). “But nobody has any friends during the Ceremonies. You pay for what you get.”
It was Freddy-in-the-Hollow’s first Sun Dance as a Raider. All the times before, he had come with his family. He still wore his coup-charm, a big VW symbol pried off the first car he’d boosted, on a chain around his neck. He was only seventeen summers. Someday he would be a better thief than me. And I’m the best there is.
Simon Red Bulldozer was expected soon, and all the men were talking a little and laying a few bets.
“You know,” said Nathan Big Gimp, leaning against a wrecker at his shop down by the community fires, “I saw Simon turn over three tractors two summers ago, one after the other. The way he does it will amaze you, Billy-Bob.”
I allowed as how he might be the man to bet on.
“Well, you really should, though the margin is slight. There’s always the chance Elmo John Deere will show.”
I said maybe that was what I was waiting for.
But it wasn’t true. Freddy-in-the-Hollow and I had talked in English to a man from the Red River people the week before. He made some hints but hadn’t really told us anything. They had a big Puller, he said, and you shouldn’t lose your money on anyone else.
We asked if this person would show at our Ceremony, and he allowed as how maybe, continuing to chew on some willow bark. So we allowed as how maybe we’d still put our hard goods on Simon Red Bulldozer.
He said that maybe he’d be down to see, and then had driven off in his jeep with the new spark plugs we’d sold him.
The Red River people don’t talk too much, but when they do, they say a lot. So we were waiting on the bets.
Women had been giving me the eye all day, and now there were a few of them looking openly at me; Freddy too, by reflected glory. I was thinking of doing something about it when we got a surprise.
At noon, Elmo John Deere showed, coming in with his two wreckers and his Case 1190, his families and twelve strings of cars. He was the richest man in the Nations, and his camp took a large part of the eastern end of the circle.
Then a little while later, the Man showed. Simon Red Bulldozer came only with his two wives, a few sons, and his transport truck. And in the back of it was the Red Bulldozer, which, they say, had killed a man before Simon had stolen it.
It’s an old legend, and I won’t tell it now.
And it’s not important anymore, anyway.
So we thought we were in for the best Pull ever, between two men we knew by deeds. Simon wanted to go smoke with Elmo, but Elmo sent a man over to tell Simon Red Bulldozer to keep his distance. There was bad blood between them, though Simon was such a good old boy that he was willing to forget it.
Not Elmo John Deere, though. His mind was bad. He was a mean man.
Freddy said it first, while we lay on the hood of the wrecker the eve of the dancing.
“You know,” he said, “I’m young.”
“Obvious,” I said.
“But,” he continued, “things are changing.”
I had thought the same thing, though I hadn’t said it. I pulled my bush hat up off my eyes, looked at the boy. He was part white and his mustache needed trimming, but otherwise he was all right.
“You may be right,” I answered, uneasily.
“Have you noticed how many horses there are this year, for God’s sake?”
I had. Horses were usually used for herding our cattle and sheep. They were pegged out over on the north side with the rest of the livestock. The younger boys who hadn’t discovered women were picking up hard goods by standing watch over the animals. I mean, there were always some horses, but not this many. This year, people brought in whole remudas, twenty-thirty to a string. Some were even trading them like cars. It made my skin crawl.
“And the women,” said Fred-in-the-Hollow. “Loose is loose, but they go too far, really they do. They’re not even wearing halters under their clothes, most of them. Jiggle-jiggle.”
“Well, they’re nice to look at. Times are getting hard,” I said. The raid night before last was our first in two months, the only time we’d found anything worth the taking. Nothing but rusted piles of metal all up and down the whole Trinity. Not much on the Brazos, or the Sulphur. Even the white men had begun to steal from each other.
Pickings were slim, and you really had to fight like hell to get away with anything.
We sold a car early in the evening, for more plates than it was worth, which was good. But what Freddy had been talking and thinking about had me depressed. I needed a woman. I needed some good dope. Mostly, I wanted to kill something.
The dances started early, with people toking up on rabbit tobacco, shag bark and hemp. The whole place smelled of burnt meat and grease, and there was singing going on in most of the lodges.
Oh, it was a happy group.
I was stripped down and doing some prayers. Tomorrow was the Sun Dance and the next day the contests. Freddy tried to find a woman and didn’t have any luck. He came through twice while I was painting myself and smoking up. Freddy didn’t hold with the prayer parts. I figure they can’t hurt, and besides, there wasn’t much else to do.
Two hours after dark, one of Elmo John Deere’s men knifed one of Simon Red Bulldozer’s sons.
The delegation came for me about thirty minutes later.
I thought at first I might get my wish about killing something. But not tonight. They wanted me to arbitrate the judgement. Someone else would have to be executioner if he were needed.
“Watch the store, Freddy,” I said, picking up my carbine.
I smoked while they talked. When Red Bulldozer’s cousin got through, John Deere’s grandfather spoke. The Bulldozer boy wasn’t hurt too much, he wouldn’t lose the arm. They brought the John Deere man before me. He glared at me across the smoke, and said not a word.
They summed up.
Then they all looked at me.
I took two more puffs, cleaned my pipe. Then I broke down my carbine, worked on the selector pin for a while. I lit my other pipe and pointed to the John Deere man.
“He lives,” I said. “He was drunk.”
They let him leave the lodge.
“Elmo John Deere,” I said.
“Uhm?” asked fat Elmo.
“I think you should pay three mounts and ten plates to do this thing right. And give one man for three weeks to do the work of Simon Red Bulldozer’s son.”
Silence for a second, then Elmo spoke. “It is good what you say.”
“Simon Red Bulldozer.”
“You should shake hands with Elmo John Deere and this should be the end of the matter.”
“Good,” he said.
They shook hands. Then each gave me a plate as soon as the others had left. One California and one New York. A 1993 and a ’97. Not bad for twenty minutes’ work.
It wasn’t until I got back to the wrecker that I started shaking. That had been the first time I was arbiter. It could have made more bad trouble and turned hearts sour if I’d judged wrong.
“Hey, Fred!” I said. “Let’s get real drunk and go see Wanda Hummingtires. They say she’ll do it three ways all night.”
She did, too.
The next dawn found us like a Karankawa coming across a new case of 30-weight oil. It was morning, quick. I ought to know. I watched that goddammed sun come up and I watched it go down, and every minute of the day in between, and I never moved from the spot. I forgot everything that went on around me, and I barely heard the women singing or the prayers of the other men.
At dusk, Freddy-in-the-Hollow led me back to the wrecker and I slept like a stone mother log for twelve hours with swirling violet dots in my head.
I had had no visions. Some people get them, some don’t.
I woke with the mother of all headaches, but after I smoked awhile it went away. I wasn’t a Puller, but I was in two of the races, one on foot and one in the Mercury.
I lost one and won the other.
I also won the side of beef in the morning shoot. Knocked the head off the bull with seven shots. Clean as a whistle.
At noon, everybody’s life changed forever.
The first thing we saw was the cloud of dust coming over the third ridge. Then the outriders picked up the truck when it came over the second. It was coming too fast.
The truck stopped with a roar and a squeal of brakes. It had a long lumpy canvas cover on the back.
Then a woman climbed down from the cab. She was the most gorgeous woman I’d ever seen. And I’d seen Nellie Firestone two summers ago, so that was saying something.
Nellie hadn’t come close to this girl. She had long straight black hair and a beautiful face from somewhere way back. She was built like nothing I’d seen before. She wore tight coveralls and had a .357 Magnum strapped to her hip.
“Who runs the Pulls?” she asked, in English, of the first man who reached her.
He didn’t know what to do. Women never talk like that.
“Winston Mack Truck,” said Freddy at my side, pointing.
“What do you mean?” asked one of the young men. “Why do you want to know?”
“Because I’m going to enter the Pull,” she said.
Tribal language mumbles went around the circle. Very negative ones.
“Don’t give me any of that shit,” she said. “How many of you know of Alan Backhoe Shovel?”
He was another legend over in Ouachita River country.
“Well,” she said, and held up a serial number plate from a backhoe tractor scoop, “I beat him last week.”
“Hua, hua, hua!” the chanting started.
“What is your name, woman?” asked one of Mack Truck’s men.
“Mary Margaret Road-Grader,” she said, and glared back at him.
“Freddy,” I said quietly, “put the money on her.”
So we had a Council. You gotta have a council for everything, especially when honor and dignity and other manly virtues are involved.
Winston Mack Truck was pretty old, but he was still spry and had some muscles left on him. His head was a puckered lump because he had once crashed in a burner while raiding over on the Brazos. He only had one car, and it wasn’t much of one.
But he did have respect, and he did have power, and he had more sons than anyone in the Nations, ten or eleven of them. They were all there in Council, with all the heads of other families.
Winston Mack Truck smoked awhile, then called us to session.
Mary Margaret Road-Grader wasn’t allowed inside the lodge. It seemed sort of stupid to me. If they wouldn’t let her in here, they sure weren’t going to let her enter the Pull. But I kept my tongue. You can never tell.
I was right. Old man Mack Truck can see clear through to tomorrow.
“Brothers,” he said. “We have a problem here.”
Hua Hua Hua
“We have been asked to let a woman enter the Pulls.”
“I do not know if it’s a good thing,” he continued. “But our brothers to the East have seen fit to let her do so. This woman claims to have defeated Alan Backhoe Shovel in fair contest. She enters this as proof.”
He placed the serial plate in the center of the lodge.
“I will listen now,” he said, and sat back, folding his arms.
They went around the circle then, some speaking, some waving away the opportunity.
It was Simon Red Bulldozer himself who changed the tone of the Council.
“I have never seen a woman in a Pull,” he said. “Or in any contest other than those for women.”
He paused. “But I have never wrestled against Alan Backhoe Shovel, either. I know of no one who has bested him. Now this woman claims to have done so. It would be interesting to see if she were a good Puller.”
“You want a woman in the contest?!” asked Elmo, out of turn.
Richard Ford Pinto, the next speaker, stared at Elmo until John Deere realized his mistake. But Ford Pinto saved face for him by asking the same question of Simon.
“I would like to see if she is a good Puller,” said Simon, adamantly. He would commit himself no further.
Then it was Elmo’s turn.
“My brothers!” he began, so I figured he would be at it for a long time. “We seem to spend all our time in Council, rather than having fun like we should. It is not good, it makes my heart bitter.
“The idea that a woman can get a hearing at Council revolts me. Were this a young man not yet proven, or an Elder who had been given his Service feather, I would not object. But, brothers, this is a woman!” His voice came falsetto now, and he began to chant:
“I have seen the dawn of bad days, brothers.
But never worse than this.
A woman enters our camp, brothers!
A woman! A woman!”
He sat down and said no more in the conference.
It was my turn.
“Hear me, Pullers and Stealers!” I said. “You know me. I am a man of my word and a man of my deeds. As are you all. But the time has come for deeds alone. Words must be put away. We must decide whether a woman can be as good as a man. We cannot be afraid of a woman! Or can some of us be?”
They all howled and grumbled just like I wanted them to. You can’t suggest men in Council are afraid of anything.
Of course, we voted to let her in the contest, like I knew we would.
Changes in history come easy, you know?
They pulled the small tractors first, the Ford 250s and the Honda Fieldmasters and such. I wasn’t much interested in watching young boys fly through the air and hurt themselves. So me and Freddy wandered over where the big tractor men were warming up. The Karankawas were selling fuel from the old Houston refineries hand over hose. A couple of the Pullers had refused, like Elmo at first, to do anything with a woman in the contest.
But even Elmo was there watching when Mary Margaret Road-Grader unveiled her machine. There were lots of oohs and ahhs when she started pulling the tarp off that monster.
Nobody had seen one in years, except maybe as piles of rust on the roadside. It was long and low, and looked much like a yellow elephant’s head with wheels stuck on the end of the trunk. The cab was high and shiny glass. Even the doors still worked. The blade was new and bright; it looked as if it had never been used.
The letters on the side were sharp and black, unfaded. Even the paint job was new. That made me suspicious about the Alan Backhoe Shovel contest. I took a gander at the towball while she was atop the cab unloosening the straps. It was worn. Either she had been lucky in the contest, or she’d had sense enough to put on a worn towball.
Everybody watched her unfold the tarp (one of those heavy smelly kind that can fall on you and kill you) but she had no helpers.
So I climbed up to give her a hand.
One of the women called out something and some others took it up. Most of the men just shook their heads.
There was a lot of screaming and hoorawing from the little Pulls, so I had to touch her on the shoulder to let her know I was up there.
She turned fast and her hand went for her gun before she saw it was me.
And I saw in her eyes not killer hate, but something else; I saw she was scared and afraid she’d have to kill someone.
“Let me help you with this,” I said, pointing to the tarp.
She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t object, either.
“For a good judge,” called out fat Elmo, “you have poor taste in women.”
There was nothing I could do but keep busy while they laughed.
They still talk about that first afternoon, the one that was the beginning of the end.
First, Elmo John Deere hitched onto an IH 1200 and drug it over the line in about three seconds. No contest, and no one was surprised. Then Simon Red Bulldozer cranked up; his starter engine sounded like a beehive in a rainstorm. He hooked the chain on his towbar and revved up. The guy he was pulling against was a Paluxy River man named Theodore Bush Hog. He didn’t hook up right. The chain came off as soon as Simon let go his clutches. So Bush Hog was disqualified. That was bad, too; there were some darkhorse bets on him.
Then it was the turn of Mary Margaret Road-Grader and Elmo John Deere. Elmo had said at first he wasn’t going to enter against her. Then they told him how much money was bet on him, and he couldn’t afford to pass it up. Though the excuse he used was that somebody had to show this woman her place, and it might as well be him, first thing off.
You had to be there to see it. Mary Margaret whipped that roadgrader around like it was a Toyota, and backed it onto the field. She climbed down with motor running and hooked up. She was wearing tight blue coveralls and her hair was blowing in the river breeze. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I didn’t want her to get her heart broken.
But there was nothing I could do. It was all on her, now.
Elmo John Deere had one of his sons come out and hand the chain to him. He was showing he didn’t want to be first to touch anything this woman had held.
He hooked up, and Mary Margaret Road-Grader signaled she was ready.
The judge dropped the pitchfork and they leaned on their gas feeds.
There was a jerk and a sharp clang, and the chain looked like a straight steel rod. Elmo gunned for all he had and the big tractor wheels began to turn slowly, and then they spun and caught and Elmo’s Case tractor eased a few feet forward.
Mary Margaret never looked back (Elmo half turned in his seat; he was so good working the pedals and gears, he didn’t need to look at them) and then she upshifted. The transmission on the yellow roadgrader screamed and lowered in tone.
I could hardly hear the machines for the yells and screams around me. They sounded like war yells. Some of the men were yelling in bloodlust at the woman. But I heard others cheering her, too. They seemed to want Elmo to lose.
Mary Margaret shifted again and her feet worked like pistons on the pedals. And as quickly as it had begun, it was over.
There was a groaning noise, Elmo’s wheels began to spin uselessly, and in a second or two his tractor had been drug twenty feet across the line.
Elmo got down from his seat. Instead of congratulating the winner (an old custom) he turned and strode off the field. He signaled one of his sons to retrieve the vehicle.
Mary Margaret was checking the damage to her machine.
Simon Red Bulldozer was next.
They had been pulling for twelve minutes when the contest was called by Winston Mack Truck himself. There was wonder on his face as he walked out to the two contestants. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.
The two had fought each other to a standstill. When they were stopped, Mary Margaret’s grader was six or seven inches from its original position, but Simon’s bulldozer had moved all over its side of the line. The ground was destroyed forever three feet each side of the line. It had been that close.
For the first time, there had been a tie.
Winston Mack Truck stopped before them. We were all whistling our approval when Simon Red Bulldozer held up his hand.
“Hear me, brothers. I will accept no share in honors. They must be all mine, or none at all.”
Winston looked with his puckered face at Mary Margaret. She was breathing hard from working the levers, the wheel, the pedals.
She shrugged. “Fine with me.”
Maybe I was the only one who knew she was acting tough for the crowd. I looked at her, but couldn’t catch her eye.
“Listen, Fossil Creek People,” said old Mack Truck. “This has been a draw. But Simon Red Bulldozer is not satisfied. And Mary Margaret Road-Grader has accepted. Tomorrow as the sun crosses the tops of the eastern trees, we will begin again. I have declared a fifth night and a sixth day to the Dance and Pulls.”
Shouts of joy broke from the crowd. This had happened only once in my life, for some religious reason or other, and that was when I was a child. The Dance and Pulls were the only meeting of the year when all the Fossil Creek People came together. It was to have ended this night.
Now, we would have another day.
The cattle must have sensed this. You could hear them bellowing in fear even before the first of the butchers crossed the camp toward them, axe in hand.
“Where are you going?” asked Freddy as I picked up my carbine, boots, and blanket.
“I think I will sleep with Mary Margaret Road-Grader,” I said.
“Watch out,” said Freddy. “I bet she makes love like she drives that machine.”
First we had to talk.
She was ready to cry she was so tired. We were under the roadgrader; the tarp had been refolded over it. There was four feet of crawlspace between the trailer and the ground.
“You drive well. How did you learn?”
“From my brother, Donald Fork Lift. He once used one of these. And when I found this one . . .”
“Where? A museum? A tunnel? Or some . . .”
“An old museum, a strange one. It must have been sealed off before the Highway wars. I found it there a year ago.”
“Why didn’t your brother pull with this machine, here, instead of you?”
She was very quiet, and then she looked at me. “You are a man of your word? That must be true, or you would not have been called to judge, as I heard.”
“That is true.”
She sighed, flung her hair from her head with one hand. “He would have,” she said, “except he broke his hip last month on a raid at Sand Creek. He was going to come. But since he had already taught me how to work it, I drove it instead.”
“And first thing off you defeat Alan Backhoe Shovel?”
She looked at me and frowned.
“I . . . I . . .”
“You made it up, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” She bit her lip.
“As I thought. But I have given my word. Only you and I will know. Where did you get the serial plates?”
“One of the machines in the same place where I found my grader. Only it was in worse shape. But its plate was still shiny. I took it the night before I left with the truck. I didn’t think anybody would know what Alan Backhoe Shovel’s real plate was.”
“You are smart,” I said. “You are also very brave, for a woman, and foolish. You might have been killed. You may still be.”
“Not if I win,” she said, her eyes hard. “They couldn’t afford to. If I lose, it would be another matter. I am sure I will be killed before I get to the Trinity. But I don’t intend to lose.”
They probably would like to kill her, some of them.
“No,” I said. “I will escort you as near your people as I can. I have hunted the Trinity, but never as far as the Red. I can go with you past the old Fork of the Trinity.”
She looked at me. “You’re trying to get into my pants.”
“Let’s smoke first,” she said. She opened a leather bag, rolled a parchment cigarette, lit it. I smelled the aroma of something I hadn’t smoked in six moons.
It was the best dope I’d ever had, and that was saying something.
I don’t know what we did afterwards, but it felt good.
“To the finish,” said Winston Mack Truck and threw the pitchfork into the ground.
It was better than the day before — the bulldozer like a squat red monster and the roadgrader like avenging yellow death. On the first yank, Simon pulled the grader back three feet. The crowd went wild. His treads clawed at the dirt then, and the roadgrader lurched and regained three feet. Back and forth, the great clouds of black smoke whistling from the exhausts like the bellowing of bulls.
Then I saw what Simon was going to do. He wanted to wear the roadgrader down, keep a strain on it, keep gaining, lock himself, downshift. He would dog his way into the championship.
Yesterday he tried to finish the grader on might. It had not worked. Today he was taking his time.
He could afford to. The roadgrader was light in front; it had hardrubber tires instead of treads. When it lurched, the front end sometimes left the ground. If Simon timed it right, the grader wheels would rise while he downshifted and he could pull the yellow machine another few inches. And could continue to do so.
Mary Margaret was alternately working the pedals and levers, trying to get an angle on the squat red dozer. She was trying to pull across the back end of the tractor, not against it.
That would lose her the contest, I knew. She was vulnerable. When the wheels were up, Simon could inch her back. The only time he lost ground was when he downshifted while the claws dug their way into the ground. Then he lost purchase for a second. Mary Margaret could maybe use that, if she were in a better position.
They pulled, they strained, but slowly Mary Margaret Road-Grader was losing to Simon Red Bulldozer.
Then she did something unexpected. She lurched the roadgrader and dropped the blade.
The crowd went gonzo, then was silent. The shiny blade, which had been up yesterday, and so far today, dug into the ground.
The lurch gained her an inch or two. Simon, who never looked back either, knew something was wrong. He turned, and when his eyes left the panel, Mary Margaret jerked his bulldozer back another two feet.
We never thought in all those years we had heard about Simon Red Bulldozer that he would not have kept his blade in working order. He reached out to his blade lever and pulled it, and nothing happened. We saw him panic then, and the contest was going to Mary Margaret when . . .
The black plastic of the steering wheel showered up in her face. I heard the shot at the same time and dropped to the ground. I saw Mary Margaret holding her eyes with both hands.
Simon Red Bulldozer must not have heard the shot above the roaring of his engine, because he lurched the bulldozer ahead and started pulling the roadgrader back over the line.
It was Elmo John Deere doing the shooting. I had my carbine off my shoulder and was firing by the time I knew where to shoot.
Elmo was trying to kill Mary Margaret, he was still aiming and firing over my head from the hill above the pit. He must have been drunk. He had gone beyond the taboos of the People now. He was trying to kill an opponent who had bested him in a fair fight.
I shot him in the leg, just above the knee, and ended his pulling days forever. I aimed at his head, but he dropped his rifle and screamed so I didn’t shoot him again. If I had, I would have killed him.
It took all the Fossil Creek People to keep his sons from killing me. There was a judgement, of course, and I was let go free.
That was the last Sun Dance they had. The Fossil Creek People separated. Elmo’s people split off from them, and then went bitter crazy. The Fossil Creek People even steal from them, now, when they have anything worth stealing.
The Pulls ended, too. People said if they were going to cause so much blood, they could do without them. It was bad business. Some people stopped stealing machines and cars and plates, and started bartering for food and trading horses.
I wasn’t going to get killed for anything that wouldn’t go 150 kilometers per hour.
The old ways are dying. I have seen them come to an end in my time, and everything is getting worthless. People are getting lazy. There isn’t anything worth doing. I sit on this hill over the Red River and smoke with Fred-in-the-Hollow and sometimes we get drunk.
Mary Margaret sometimes gets drunk with us.
She lost one of her eyes that day at the pulls. It was hit by splinters from the steering wheel. Me and Freddy took her back to her people in her truck. That was six years ago. Once, years ago, I went past the place where we held the last Sun Dance. Her roadgrader was already a rustpile of junk with everything stripped off it.
I still love Mary Margaret Road-Grader, yes. She started things. Women have come into other ceremonies now, and in the Councils.
I still love Mary Margaret, but it’s not the same love I had for her that day at the last Sun Dance, watching her work the pedals and the levers, her hair flying, her feet moving like birds across the cab.
I love her. She has grown a little fat. She loves me, though.
We have each other, we have the village, we have cattle, we have this hill over the river where we smoke and get drunk.
But the rest of the world has changed.
All this, all the old ways . . . gone.
The world has turned bitter and sour in my mouth. It is no good, the taste of ashes is in the wind. The old times are gone.
Copyright © 1976 by Howard Waldrop
Copyright © 1976 by Howard Waldrop
Author’s note: I was born in 1946, and I’ve been getting published since 1969, and in all that time, I’ve been given three stories, ones that just came to me, from the Story Place, whole and unbidden. “Mary Margaret Road-Grader” is one of them. I was at a friend’s house, sleeping on a couch. I got up to put on some coffee (they were all upstairs doing Fun Stuff) and as I passed the stereo I turned it on. The song was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Before I got the water in the pot, “Mary Margaret Road-Grader” came to me — nearly all of it, just like that. By the time everybody came down about noon, I was finishing the first draft. That was 1974. I was thankful. If writing were always that easy, anybody could do it.
“Mary Margaret Road-Grader” originally appeared in Orbit 18, edited by Damon Knight (Harper & Row, 1976).