“You’re as blue as the day you was born,” he says.
Rust raises an inquiring eyebrow. Or tries to: his face is so stiff with cold, he’s not sure if he produces any movement. “First I’ve heard of it.”
“Oh yeah. Or at least that’s the way your ma told it. I was still in country then. What she said: you came out, and the doc’s face just kinda fell. She looked at him, waiting for the bad news—couldn’t bring herself to look at you.” Rust doesn’t interrupt him. It's most words Travis has strung together since Rust arrived. “Then, the doc, he peered a little closer, gave you a big ‘ol slap, and said, ‘Well damn me, if he isn’t breathing after all.’” Travis cackles, a sound like icy twigs in the wind, and nails the punchline. “And you’ve been keeping your own counsel ever since, you secretive little fuck.”
Rust laughs too. Travis has a point, though he hadn't known he’d started that young.
Rust tries hard for a while, but he can’t get back to his infant self, can’t remember if a choice was made in that rundown Texan hospital, a choice to leave the beauty of non-being behind and enter this world of pain. Or whether it was only a result of the body’s instincts; the urge to pull in air with the lungs bequeathed it by millions of years of evolution, to cry aloud for food and love.
What does stop him? A line from the Good Book, that’s what—like he was some grandma at a tent meeting. There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. Rust sees the words and the light through the day room windows snakes out and joins the florescents overhead; he's awash in light and it tastes like tears. Rust closes his eyes so it won’t blind him. But when he opens them, he knows. His body is not his own to do away with; he’ll use it to help others who’ve been given no choice about their passing.
The next day, he asks for an assignment in Homicide.
In Alaska, after he leaves Louisiana, he works the fishing boats when he needs money, uses the money for what he needs to fix up his father's house. He’s happy enough with the work, and he and Travis don’t’ seem to bother each other as much as they used to. There’re times, though, out on the boats, when night erases the already faint horizon, and he’ll lose track of the difference between air and water. It gets bad then, starts him thinking about how he could cross over, could step neatly over the equally faint line between being and non-being. It would be so quiet, to just step off.
When that happens, he forces himself to concentrates on lines: the boards of Travis’s shed, flush and straight after his repairs; the metal runners of the sled he means to fix next; the new square bricks of the chimney. The small, solid tasks he’s set himself since coming to Alaska.
And he steps back.
He thinks of all the hours he’s spent staring at pictures of DBs, and his intimation of their last moments, the moments when they realized how easy it would be to let go. He waits for that moment to come to him.
It doesn’t. He can’t feel his legs, but he can still feel the weight of Marty’s hand, trying futilely to stop the bleeding; he can still hear Marty’s voice, though he can’t make out the words. Leaving the rest would be easy enough, but seems hard to leave Marty, this man who believed him when no one else would, who, even after everything, followed him into this maw of horror—who’s pillowing Rust’s broken head on his thigh and stroking back his hair. Who, all expectations to the contrary, isn't going to let him die alone.
Rust wants to tell Marty that, reassure him that he's not going anywhere, but he's long past the point where he can form words. He carries the thought with him into the darkness, though.
It bothers Marty, though. “Oh for Pete's sake. What is it this time? You’ve got that look on your face again, like you’re composing your death haiku.”
“Don’t make light, Marty. Those are beautiful poems.”
“Just getting to be closing time, is all. Ain’t nothing we can do about it, so I'm just heeding the signs.”
“Oh fuck that, Rust. Fuck that Gandhi bullshit. You ready to leave this?”
Rust is getting ready to explain to Marty that Gandhi and the Zen monks had less in common than you’d think, when Marty grabs his ass. Something of a surprise, since they’re in line at the Quik Stop, buying beer. Rust bites back a smile—the look on the good ‘ol boy clerk ringing them up is priceless—and admits that, yeah, some parts of him are still alive.
When they get home, Marty shoves him up against the car and kisses him, his mouth hot and hungry, his hand down the front of Rust’s jeans. “You gonna stick around for some of this, old man?” he asks when he breaks for air.
Rust answers with his mouth, his hands, his heart.