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Authors: Larry McMurtry

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BOOK: Duane's Depressed
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“It’s not against the law, though,” Duane pointed out. “There’s nothing out there that’s going to hurt me.”

“I guess a truck could hurt you if it was coming around the corner real fast and didn’t expect to see a crazy man walking in the road,” Karla said. She was growing indignant at the mere thought of Duane walking around the streets at three-fifteen in the morning.

“No truck is going to come around the corner and hit me and I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” he said, sliding out of the bed and grabbing his new walking shoes.

“Where do you think you’re going to walk to at this hour?” Karla asked. “It won’t even be light enough to see good for three hours.”

“I don’t mean to be walking anywhere but in the road,” Duane said. “I think I can see well enough to stay in the road.”

“If it was summer you might step on a snake,” Karla said—realizing, though, that February was not the summer.

Duane didn’t bother to answer. He quickly shaved and showered, got dressed, and carefully tied his walking shoes. By the time he was ready to leave Karla was sitting at the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee and a stack of health magazines. She felt disoriented, on the whole. It was three-fifteen in the morning and her husband was about to go walking away.

“Suppose one of the grandkids needed a blood transfusion real quick,” she said. “What good would you be if you were walking around somewhere out on the road?”

“Not much good,” he admitted. “I doubt that’s going to happen, but if it does, call nine-one-one. That’s what it’s for.”

“Duane, I’m really upset; you’re just not in your right mind anymore,” Karla said. “You’re clinically depressed, only you’re too stubborn to admit it.”

“We can talk about it later,” he said, not looking at his wife. He had an overpowering desire to be out of the house, beyond questions, speculations, marriage, business, all of it.

He pulled on his gloves and left, leaving Karla sitting unhappily with her pile of magazines.


, Duane immediately felt a huge swelling of relief. He had a feeling he had never had before in his life: that the whole world was there before him and that he was free to walk through it. He might walk through Egypt, if he felt like it, or India, or China. If he had to use airplanes or boats in order to cross the great waters that lay in his way it would only be until he was back on land. From then on he would trust to his two feet again, walking everywhere, in no hurry, free. All that he had been too busy to see or do in his life so far he could now investigate, without haste, at his own pace, on foot. It was a wonderful feeling—he stood by his garage for a few moments, savoring it. There sat the pickup that had been his prison; but it was his prison no longer.

Happily, he set off through the town. Though he felt as if the whole world were spread before him, his actual location was a small town on the West Texas plain, the town where he had lived his whole life. He had never before, even in boyhood, really wandered around it much at night. Walking through it would be, in a sense, to discover it afresh. The wind had died completely—it was no longer very cold. Duane soon warmed up sufficiently that he felt he could do without his gloves, which he stuffed in his hip pocket.

Although most of the houses in town were dark, a few had lights in their kitchens, or bedrooms, or dens. From some the
only light was the glow of a television set, faintly lighting a window. Evidently he and Karla were not the only people awake with things on their minds at three in the morning.

A dog barked at him, here and there—to the south a coyote yipped. From the north-south highway that ran through town there was the drone of a truck—from the sound of the motor Duane thought he recognized it as one of his own.

When he turned north he passed the small house where Lester Marlow, once the local banker, now lived in gloomy penance. Five years back Lester had lost track of the fact that, while he might be president of the bank, he didn’t own the money in it. He began to embezzle; then, in an effort to conceal what he had done from the watchful auditors, he had decided to blow up the bank. He constructed a bomb in his garage, put it in the trunk of his car, and was on the way to the bank with it when the bomb went off, blowing up, not the bank, but a brand-new Cadillac and, to some extent, Lester. The blast in effect scalped him; it also blew him through the windshield and cut off one of his ears. The blast, which occurred only a block from the bank, created such confusion in downtown Thalia that no one noticed Lester had lost an ear. Lester had always been considered funny looking; he had been in the hospital nearly three hours before a nurse noticed that he only had one ear. A hasty search of the bomb site failed to turn it up. The loss of the ear didn’t seem to bother Lester much but he
bothered by the loss of his hair. Much of his time since he had been released from prison was taken up with various experimental hair transplants, none of which made him look any less funny looking.

Fortunately his loyal and attractive wife, Jenny, stuck by him, even though they were now forced to live in much reduced circumstances. The only evidence of their former affluence was a wall-sized television set. When Duane walked past their little house he noticed a glow in the window far brighter than any that emanated from the other houses where only a TV was on. Lester, intent upon regaining his financial position, was probably watching the Financial Channel on his wall-sized TV.

Over the years Duane had come to have a real fondness for Lester Marlow, even though during the terrible oil bust of the
eighties Lester had foreclosed on his deep rig and several other pieces of his property. Even though the embezzlement soon came to light, once the bomb had gone off, nobody in Thalia particularly wanted to see Lester go to prison—he had been absurdly generous with loans, during his years as a banker—but his eccentricities were so pronounced that several thought he belonged in the nuthouse, perhaps permanently. Karla was of that school.

“Duane, he was always good at chemistry,” Karla said. “For all we know he might get broody and set off another bomb.”

Duane paused a moment in front of the small house with the giant, glowing TV, with half a mind to knock on the door and sit a minute with Lester. But it was still only three-forty-five, a little early for visiting no matter how eccentric your host happened to be. Lester could just have forgotten to turn off the big TV before he went to bed.

Duane strolled on through the quiet streets. When he crossed the highway he saw that the truck he had heard droning through town was indeed his own. It was parked in front of the twenty-four-hour Kwik-Sack. The driver, Jimmy Savory, was probably heating himself up a burrito or two in the microwave. Duane hastily slipped across the street and hid in shadows by the Baptist church. If Lonesome Jimmy Savory came out of the Kwik-Sack munching a burrito and saw his boss afoot on the street at such an hour he might have a heart attack, from shock—or else he would run back inside and ask Sonny Crawford, who owned the Kwik-Sack and usually took the night shift himself, what in hell was the matter with Duane.

Long ago, in high school, Duane and Sonny had been best friends. But they hadn’t stayed best friends; now, for no clear or particular reason, they preferred to avoid each other altogether. Sonny hadn’t made any bombs, but he had spent three stretches in the mental hospital himself, and now preferred to see as few people as possible. He owned a small house but kept the shades drawn winter and summer. He worked the night shift at his Kwik-Sack seven nights a week, winter and summer; so far as anyone knew, that was all he did. Duane’s kids all thought of Sonny as an uncle, and Karla, once every month or two, would
discover that she was out of Bloody Mary mix, and would run by and visit with him a little. When Duane asked her how Sonny seemed, Karla had little to say.

“Like he’s seemed for the last forty years,” Karla said. “Depressed.”

Sonny, once a very good-looking man, had been puffy for years, from the various drugs he had been given in the mental hospital. Julie and Nellie had both tried to get him to go to the dentist; his teeth were in dreadful shape. But Sonny resisted all efforts to get him to take better care of himself.

While Duane watched from the shadows, Lonesome Jim Savory, a lanky string bean wearing an old dozer cap and tennis shoes whose loose laces flapped when he walked, came out of the Kwik-Sack, lit a cigarette, got in the truck, and was gone.

Far up the street the town’s one stoplight winked in the inky darkness like a low red star.

Before Duane turned to leave, Sonny came out of the store carrying the long thin measuring stick that he used to check gas levels in the big tanks beneath the two pumps. He moved slowly, and, even from a distance, looked puffy, old, discouraged.

Duane turned away, slipping across the dark parking lot. He had intended to get a half pound of bacon to take to his cabin, but the rapidly rising level of Karla’s gloom had made him anxious to get out of the house as quickly as possible, and he didn’t want to go in the Kwik-Sack and buy bacon from Sonny Crawford. He decided just to make do with coffee, which he had plenty of. When he stopped once more to look back, Sonny was squinting at the long measuring stick, trying to read the gas level. Probably one of the reasons he had to squint was because he only had one eye. Duane himself had put the other eye out in a brief, intense fight over a girl, Jacy Farrow. The fight had occurred when they were eighteen. For much of his life Sonny had worn an eye patch; but in the last few years he had ceased to bother.

Now the cause of that long-ago fight, Jacy Farrow, a minor actress who was the town’s nearest approach to a celebrity, was five years dead, lost somewhere in the snows of the North Slope. She had gone north of the Arctic Circle to film a beer commercial,
fallen in love with a young bush pilot, and flew off with him one morning hoping to spot a polar bear. Though it was a clear morning when they left, neither Jacy nor the pilot was ever seen again. Two years later a pipeline crew found the plane in a snowdrift. The cockpit was empty, except for a small bag containing Jacy’s cosmetics. No trace of the lovers was ever found.

The loss haunted Karla for years—she and Jacy had once been good friends.

“Either she froze or a bear ate her,” Karla said. “I know it was one or the other.”

Duane made no comment, but Karla continued to brood about Jacy’s life and death.

“First her child gets killed and then she goes off and gets eaten by a bear,” she remarked from time to time. “It wasn’t such a fun life, was it?”

Once on the dirt road that led out to his cabin, Duane walked a little faster. He wanted to be out of town, beyond the reach of the ghosts that lived in his memory. He didn’t want to think about Jacy, or about Sonny Crawford as he had once been. He wanted to hang on to the new, uplifting feeling of possibility that he had felt when he first stepped out of his house: the feeling that he had a new life to live, a life of walking, of unburdened solitude, or a different way of looking at the world.

He had just turned the corner past the last house when he and a deer startled each other. The deer, confused, jumped out of the ditch and ran right past him, so close that he could have touched it. He heard it crashing through the dry weeds as it fled. If he hurried he could be at his cabin by first light. The coyotes would be yipping, the quail would be whistling, and nobody would be able to call him on the telephone.


for the hour of seven to roll around, that being the earliest hour that she could feel it would be polite to rally her troops—that is, her girlfriends. However sympathetic her girlfriends might be, they weren’t likely to appreciate being awakened from their beauty sleep before 7
—at least not for any crisis short of a fatality.

Duane wasn’t dead, he was just depressed, so Karla waited, idling away her time by looking through her files of old health magazines. She was hoping to glean some clues about male depression, but almost all the articles in her health magazines were about women, not men. She did find one short piece from years back that claimed men went through menopause too, although, of course, since they didn’t have periods, it was different for them than for women. How different, the article didn’t say. Nonetheless the concept of male menopause provided at least a clue as to what might have gone wrong with Duane.

At 7
on the dot she called her flamboyant redheaded friend Candy Morris, a new arrival to the Thalia scene. Candy hailed from Las Vegas. Not long before, she had married a high-rolling Texas oilman named Joe Don Morris, on the assumption that he lived someplace glamorous and exciting. Thalia had been a big disappointment to Candy, but she hadn’t fled the marriage just yet. Joe Don, very rich, was building her a vast mansion that, he assured her, would combine many of the best aspects of
Las Vegas and New York City. Candy had her doubts about that but, so far, was sticking around to see how the house turned out. It was modeled on the Temple of Luxor, which, Candy understood, was not in America. She made the time pass by drinking a lot of vodka, or perhaps tequila, if she was in more of a tequila mood.

“Candy, have you ever heard of male menopause?” Karla asked, cutting right to the chase when her new friend answered the phone.

“No, but I’ve known a lot of men to pause just when you want ’em to . . ., if you know what I mean,” Candy said. “Joe Don’s bad about pausing just at the wrong time.”

Though Joe Don was a full twelve years younger than Candy she had dropped more than one hint that his energies, in some respects, were not all she had hoped they would be.

“Well, how is Joe Don?” Karla asked. She thought she ought to be polite and inquire before moving along to her own troubles.

“Scared. I just had a fit over nothing,” Candy admitted. “I think the little chickenshit is hiding in the sauna.

“That sauna just got finished yesterday,” she said. “Just in time for my little wimpy husband to hide in it.”

BOOK: Duane's Depressed
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