He is following him through the trees, ducking beneath branches and hanging moss, sliding his body sideways through undergrowth. He looks down and there is a kind of worn footpath, but he looks back up at the man in front of him, the set of his head, the broad naked back, the slim hips, the dark jeans, moving assuredly, leading him. They both have fishing rods over their shoulders and, he suddenly realizes, they are both bare-footed. Like boys. He is overwhelmed with a feeling of grand adventure.
His eyelids snapped open, then narrowed as he tried to focus, a bit dream-drunk, in the dark of the room. He sniffed, rolled over onto his shoulder and batted at the lamp on the bedside table, finally finding the switch. He wanted a cigarette and when, on god’s green earth, was the last time he wanted to smoke? It was the god-damned fucking dream. Again. Although, in the dream they were smoking California crop and not Kentucky leaf. He ran his hands over his head, fingers through his hair, stretching his neck one direction then the other.
He threw the thin bed covering off and got up, padding to the bathroom, taking a leak, and avoiding the mirror, the sonogram image of his unborn child taped up at eye level. Avoided the reflection of his face. In the main room, he veered over to the bureau and poured himself a smallish finger or two or – fuck it - three of bourbon into a dirty glass and went back to bed, pressing the pillow into an approximation of a back rest, and then settled in, nursing the drink. Balancing it on his stomach as he mulled over the vestiges of the dream and the dregs of reality.
It had been almost a month since the shooting. The office had settled back down, although he still got bulldogged by badged visitors, ogling the sight of him. He wondered if he lived up to their gossipy expectations.
He had seen neither hide nor hair of Boyd and he had quite simply refused to visit Arlo. Now Boyd was a nightly visitor in his dreams and his conscience had begun to gnaw at him regarding his father. He’d gotten word that Arlo was not himself. And his phone was always blinking with another text or voicemail from Winona. It was alerting him now and that was the last thing he wanted to deal with at any time of the day but especially at, he squinted at his discarded wristwatch, four am.
He reached for the exhausted pack of playing cards neatly stacked beside his handgun and he set the drink down on the table top, lying over on his side again and dealt out a hand of solitaire. There would be no sleep until he passed out and slipped into it unguarded. But he was good with that because sleep meant returning to dreaming and he didn’t feel right about wanting to consciously escape to that place. To the woods of his boyhood, Boyd Crowder his companion. Although in the dreaming, they were men and the woods far wilder then he remembered them to be.
He was, after all, a US Marshal and even though Arlo was his father and had been convicted of gunning down a State Trooper in cold blood, Raylan and Arlo were allowed to sit like men sit in a holding cell. There was no bullet-proof glass, smudged with tears, outraged spittle, and sweaty palms, no crappy plastic phone, no distance between them except for the distance that had always gaped like an infected wound.
“How is Ava?”
“Ava? Arlo, how would I rightly know how Ava is?” Raylan bit his tongue.
Confusion flashed across his father’s face. Raylan noticed the shake in Arlo’s hand as he fingered the collar of his jumpsuit.
“You alright?” Arlo asked, his voice husky with sincerity. He tilted his head bird-like and Raylan was hit with the realization that his father was old. Gone was the predatory look in his eyes, no more menace in the thin shoulders or threat in the ropy forearms.
He one-shoulder shrugged. “I don’t know, Arlo. How can I be alright with all of this –“ He waved a vague hand around the cell, indicating himself, his father, Helen, Boyd, Tom. A childhood of fear and neglect. A manhood of anger and isolation.
Arlo pulled his brows down over his eyes. “I tried to make it all right for you, son.”
“I protected you. Gave you the last of what I had to give.”
Raylan barked out a surprised laugh. “That’s one for the books.”
“You’re young. You got a life to live, boy. My life, I don’t mind this. Just as long as you’re alright.”
Raylan sighed. “Arlo, I am not alright. I’m angry as hell. I don’t really know what to do with this gutful of feelings. This was an end you’ve been moving yourself towards for a long time now. And I’m sorry for it. I’m sure I’ve played my role, returning to Harlan.” He looked down at his hands, wiping them dry on his thighs. “I’m sorry for so many god-damned things these days.”
“I’m sorry that a man lost his life, but a father has a duty to a son. Some day you might find yourself in a similar kind of situation.”
Raylan chewed on his lower lip, looking across the small space at the other man. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I don’t want to have it explained to me either. That much I do know.” He stood.
“Kiss Ava for me.”
Raylan peered at the man in front of him. He had not, in his life, been given permission or much allowance to study his father but he looked hard now. He didn’t recognize the man he remembered, the man he thought he knew.
They were not, in fact, killing a bottle of whiskey as Tim had promised they would do. Tim was not the drinker that Raylan was and he was falling a beer behind for every shot of whiskey that Raylan chased. Neither man was drunk but both were alcohol-mellow and Raylan stretched his long legs out in front of him, relaxing against the chair back, watching the other man across the small table.
“I think Arlo, I think my father, has finally lost his mind.”
Tim nodded. “My old man didn’t live long enough for me to get to enjoy that.”
Raylan smiled, lips closed. “I’m not enjoying it quite as much as I might have thought I would. At one time.”
“Maybe he wants to lose it. You know, not have to account, not have to think about –“
“I’ll buy that if you’re selling it.”
Tim laughed. “If it makes it easier for you.”
Raylan looked through the dim light of the bar at Tim. “Why do you want things to be easier for me? Why do you want that?”
“I don’t know. You’re a good guy, Raylan.”
“Same as you, I suppose.”
“No. That’s not true. You seem to have been marked by god or the devil. I don’t know why it is that way. It just seems to be the hand you were dealt.”
Raylan had no words, nothing but emotion filling his mouth.
“Wish it was different,” Tim said softly.
They drank on, Raylan slowed enough to let Tim catch up with him and when Tim was good and soaked, he stood and set a brotherly hand on the other man’s shoulder and encouraged him to his feet, walked him out to the black car and drove him home.
Boyd produces a blunt in the way a magician presents a rabbit. Raylan laughs at this and suddenly he is filled with a longing to alter himself, smoke the joint down to ash, fill his lungs with the drug, and fly. Boyd nods as though he can read Raylan’s thoughts and Raylan thinks to himself that he probably can. They are seated on a rock sluice older than both their grand pappies combined. The captured creek water is spilling off beneath their bare feet, the summer sun warm on their shoulders. They have leveraged the fishing poles between a fallen cottonwood’s twisted branches. The bobbers float red and white.
The dream wakes him. Again. His life is passing by like the waters of a holler stream. The banks are too steep and rocky to climb down, the still waters too dark to leap into without fear. He is alone.
“Wondered if you were planning on being gentlemanly this evening. Or more correctly, this fine morning.” Boyd’s voice was quiet and clear as crystal when Raylan walked into Johnny’s bar. It was past closing time but the Marshal had been sitting in the Lincoln out in the parking lot for nearly forty minutes. Deciding.
Boyd walked around the far end of the bar with a bottle of Kentucky’s finest and two glasses. He indicated a small table and Raylan cast his gaze in every corner before seating himself across from Boyd.
“It’s just you and me.”
Raylan nodded and picked up the glass Boyd had half-filled with bourbon. He brought it up to his mouth, hesitating. “Remember when we used to go fishin’, that one summer?”
Boyd looked at him, narrowing his eyes.
“When we were-“ Raylan pulled hard and long at his drink, “I dunno, thirteen, fourteen?”
Boyd nodded slowly. “Twelve. We were twelve. And I certainly do remember that summertime. I never showed anyone but you that spot.”
“It was a fine fishin’ hole.”
“The finest. I am surprised to hear that you remember those nights, though.”
“Why? Why would that surprise you?”
“Oh, Raylan.” For a long moment Boyd looked over Raylan’s shoulder nodding. Then he closed his eyes with a languid movement and began to laugh, the sound low and warm, filling the space between the two of them.
Raylan smiled, relaxing into the chair, he wasn’t sure why Boyd was laughing but he wasn’t sure he would understand if he was told. Boyd quieted and reached for the bottle again, Raylan relinquished his glass, setting it on the table. Boyd splashed ample alcohol into both drinks. Raylan watched him settle back into his chair, sipping at the amber liquid. So much separated them and yet there was such little distance between their lives.
Raylan reached for his freshened drink, slowly turning the glass with his fingertips, listening to a new silence, and he let out a breath he had not known he had been holding.