She had come to his bedroom and he could not figure out why. Blood Land. Chapter 2 – 2
April 9, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
Chapter 2 – 2
The wind takes few holidays in Laramie, Wyoming. It sweeps over and down from the Medicine Bow forest. Right to left; front to back; top to bottom. More often than not, it’s all of them in the same few minutes. One moment it will swirl in place, aimless and punch drunk—as if it’s forgotten what it came for. Then it will suddenly blow all its force directly under a person, rendering them near weightless; as if they will relinquish their belief in the physical laws of the earthbound and fly away.
To the environmentalist, wind is the power of the future. To the physicist, it is not an entity at all but, rather, equalization: air rushing from a zone of high pressure to one of lower.
Pressure and time formed much of the earth. The historian learned the same lesson regarding society. Professor J.W. Hanson knew that history proved society a construct of the various pressures of the ages, both sociological and technological:
For Wyoming it was the pressure between ranchers and free-grazers; the Cavalry and Native Americans; women and the vote.
Most recently, because of the gas boom in many parts of the state, it was between those with mineral rights and those without.
Hanson actually summarized his own theories of the social strife in an interview he did with a reporter from the Laramie Boomerang:
“In every county, township, or parcel, regardless of population or relevance, there is high pressure, low pressure, and the force of greed between.”
* * *
Friday night at the Buckskin, the crowd surged with the explosive release of a week’s tension. A few hardscrabble regulars sat at the bar, but the pool tables and other open areas teemed with young men and women in the prime of their lives.
Professor Hanson sat at his usual table in the corner, near the basement stairs. It was the best observation point in the place and the least likely to suffer the hips and elbows of drunks. One sip into a two-finger whiskey, Hanson noticed Wendy Steele. She was looking at him across the room; a partial smile bent her left cheek, belying the hostility of their first brief encounter.
She walked over, dressed in tight Wrangler jeans, a belt with an oversized rodeo buckle, a white cotton sweater, and red boots. She carried a half-empty bottle of beer; her gait was keen and clearly unaffected.
“May I sit down?” she asked, raising her voice to be heard.
The smile was authentic, so Hanson acquiesced, pointed to the empty chair, and sipped at his drink apathetically. He tried to hide his admiration of her sturdy beauty—tomboyish, unbreakable, she carried both rural curves and soft, womanly swells. Her eyes were haunting, charcoal windows that promised you no access to the complications that lay deep within.
Hanson knew several faculty members who ignored the largely unenforceable rule against teacher-student relations. His own abstinence was far less ethical than practical. Adherence to principle was, in the absence of opportunity, simple mathematical surety. Wendy Steele was a young, beautiful woman with a sovereign intelligence—there was no reason for him to fear the possibility of opportunity, though a strange, oblong throe in his gut made him strangely sorry for the fact.
“As you walked from the midst of my class, you must have been thinking, ‘That asshole is not from Wyoming’.”
“I’ve thought it.”
“Would it surprise you to know I was born in Buffalo?”
Wendy took a pull on her beer. “No, but you graduated from Penn Law. You spent your best years in New York. You’re no more Wyoming than Wall Street.”
Hanson’s ego bristled. Externally, he forced a grin.
“Touché.” Less pithy than he’d intended.
“And yet you came back,” she said.
“This only is denied to God: the power to undo the past,” Hanson said.
“Agathon,” Steele said. “They teach Greek poetry at the state schools, just like in the Ivy League.”
Hanson nodded. “May I add that my evening seemed to be shaping up nicely until your impromptu visit?”
“Look, I didn’t come to continue the fight. I came over to tell you I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Hanson said.
“May I buy your next one?”
“No, thanks,” he said. “I think I’m finished for the night.”
Wendy placed her hand on his.
“One drink. A peace offering.”
Hanson swallowed his whiskey and slid his hand out from under hers. A sting the color of roses climbed Steele’s cheek.
“I’ll see you in class,” he said.
He pushed through the mass of flesh to the loitering coolness of the Wyoming night.
* * *
In class, Hanson purposely skipped over the face of Wendy Steele as he lectured. It was two weeks later when she caught him on his way to the Law School office.
“Could we talk?” she said. “Have a coffee maybe?”
“We’re adults. Coffee seems innocent.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I did apologize. And I wasn’t hitting on you.”
“Imagine my deflation.”
“I don’t know what I was trying to accomplish before. Seems I can’t get the words right with you.”
“Maybe,” Hanson said, sitting down on a short stone ledge, “there just isn’t much to say between us.”
“You don’t believe that.”
“Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
“Dinner tonight,” Wendy said. “Your place. I’m inviting myself over.”
Hanson smiled. “I don’t cook. Epitome of the savage bachelor.”
“Pizza, then. Use your bachelor skills to dial up a pie. I’ll bring cold beer.”
“Grinders,” Hanson said.
“The Buckskin does these delicious meatball grinders. I’ll call down and you can pick them and the beer up before you come upstairs to the apartment.”
“You live on top of the bar?”
* * *
“Nice space,” Wendy said as she flopped down in Hanson’s reading chair. “Not as noisy as you’d think. Being above the bar, I mean.”
“We’re actually in the back. Over the storeroom. It works.”
Hanson felt uncomfortable in his own skin. Or apartment.
Wendy pointed to the wall, inside a nook where a piece of framed art hung in a remodeled space built for a flat-panel television.
Hanson said and put four of the six Railyard Ales into the fridge. “One of the only extravagances I allow myself.”
“That’s a Chardin?” Wendy said, kicking off her boots.
“Glass of Water and Coffee Pot.” He opened the beers and joined her, sitting across from her on the matching leather loveseat. “What exactly are we doing here, Ms. Steele? I don’t generally hang out with students.”
“I’ve never cared for you much,” she said.
“Not exactly fit for print, is it?” Hanson said, taking a long swallow from the sweating bottle. “Not newsworthy, I mean. You more than made that point in the classroom.”
“I’ve always been impressed by you, though. That is, of course, a different thing.”
“Consider me commensurately flattered. But impression is no reason to approach a man and invite yourself to his bedroom loft.”
“Is that what this is?” she said.
Hanson could not categorize her tone. It bothered him. He’d made a career reading people—facial expressions; nervous ticks; eye movements—tone was elementary. Prelude to the coup de maître. With this one he was stumbling amidst the planted fields of his own repertoire.
“Your last test score was abysmal,” Hanson said.
A basic tripwire. Diversion.
Jurisprudence for Dummies.
“Your grade. Down to a C. Even in a state school, that’s not a good sign.”
“I, uh…right. I mean, I know.”
Hanson stood, walked to the kitchen.
He brought the food back on paper plates, along with two more beers; the aroma of sweet marinara tantalized his hunger. When he sat this time, he leaned slightly forward, intentionally stealing a bit of the space between them. She was a strong woman, but still, unschooled.
“Why are you here, Ms. Steele?”
He felt better. Control was back within his grip, gelatinous and unwieldy as it was. He took a large bite of the sloppy sandwich—it was delicious.
Wendy did not answer him. She nibbled at the crust of the baguette.
“I am related to the McIntyres,” she said finally. “Ty is my uncle. So what you said in class, you were speaking of my family.”
“I had no idea. I can see why I offended you, and I apologize.”
“Maybe. I mean, no. You were just talking about it in the way anyone would. But the way it affected me, the way it stung me. Well, it caught me off-guard. I’ve never been close to them. To any of my family, really. My father and I haven’t spoken in years, and uncle Ty…well, like my father, we were nothing alike. I let my emotions get the better of the situation.”
“We’re all vulnerable to a moment.”
Wendy Steele looked away, back to the painting.
Hanson stood and retrieved the last two Railyard Ales.
“He went against the style of his era,” Wendy said.
“Chardin. When most of the others were painting grand masterpieces of ornate, asymmetrical complexity, Chardin did his best to capture the simple, beautiful truth at the core of existence.”
“‘One makes use of colors, but one paints with emotions,” Hanson said, quoting the painter.
Wendy turned from the painting. Tears brimmed on the edges of her exquisite bottomless eyes. A singular drop crossed the barrier of her control, running a true line down her flushed cheekbone and into the darkness of shadow below.
Chapters of the serial are published Monday through Saturday.
You can learn more about R. S. Guthrie’s novels on his Amazon Author’s Page.