I was sitting on my horse out alone in the middle of the night. I like to watch the stars and have no use for company. My horse was old, a gift of the rancher I worked for. I called her White Elephant in private although I knew her name was Lenore.
A single car bisected the darkness on the distant blacktop that cut through the valley. a sprinkling of electric lights and over the horizon, the glow of Butte.
"Nice night for stargazing," he said.
White Elephant whinneyed and pawed the grass. but I recognized the voice.
He was eating something crunchy.
"Howdy Leo," I said
"Howdy Gerry," He said.
i watched the stars some more.
"Doritos?" he said. Extending the crinkly foil bag.
I take off a glove.
"Don't mind if I do, thanks Leo, where's your horse?"
"I walked up, didn't expect to walk this far."
I waited. Nobody, not even a greenhorn rancher like my new neighbour here walked out this far, not without being pushed.
"Howard Hughes? Your cat?"
Leo sighs. It's a long sigh.
"Howard was an old cat and it was his time," he said flatly.
Meanwhile I think about how long it must have taken him to get up here, in the dark. through the tall grass, the rough ground, the soft patches, the holes.
I rubbed White Elephant absentmindedly with one hand. Thinking I'd be walking up here sometime soon myself.
I couldn't see 'em but his boots were surely soaked. Grief takes strange shapes in Montana. It's big sky country, room for strange shapes.
I point White Elephant at the road but I don't have to, she knows the way.
"Want a ride back to your ranch?" I offered. Passing him back the bag.
He takes it. I hear him take a handful and crunch them in his mouth.
I put my glove back on.
"Nah Gerry, it's a fine night for stargazing."
"Sure?" I said.
"Goodnight Leo, sorry about Howard."
"Goodnight Gerry, excuse my interrupting."
Not at all, I was just heading back.*
"Hey Gerry, think I might take you up on that ride? I'm tired all of a sudden."