Beth H. Piatote
Nathaniel T. Redmoon looked as though he’d been discharged from the Army last week, but it had been nine months already. There were certain things he did to maintain his just-discharged look, including a strict exercise regimen (which he did every morning, hangover or not) and a biweekly visit to the barber to get his head shaved. On this particular Saturday night in mid-February, Nate was fiddling with the top button of his shirt. Button. Unbutton. He wasn’t sure. In the Army, he would perfect the slightest fold of his collar that would make him different from the troops around him. Now, cashing in his college money, he could do as he pleased. Button. Unbutton. Finally bored with it, he unbuttoned the top button, smoothed his hand over his dark head, and reached for his jacket. On the way out he checked himself in the mirror one more time.
Nate stepped out from his basement apartment into a world that seemed still and almost warm. Soon it would begin to snow. He climbed in the driver’s side of the tan 1978 El Camino that was once his uncle’s and eased the door shut, hearing the familiar click as it latched. The auto body guy had never got the doors right. Nate had wanted to take it back, but his mom said it would be more good money after bad, so Nate learned to be gentle. The car had belonged to his uncle, who had moved irrigation pipe the entire summer of 1987 to buy it from a Pendleton wheat farmer. Then last spring his uncle died. It hadn’t been a year yet, so still no one would say his name. Sometimes Nate would just mouth the word, “Uncle,” with no sound coming out. He hoped that he could be forgiven for this.
He had been his uncle, but he had only been two years older than Nate, which maybe would seem that he should have been more like a cousin or a half-brother. But lots of people had uncles and aunts younger than them. Nate’s cousin Modesta had an uncle five years younger than her, and she used to call him Baby Uncle. Even at his wedding she called him that. Nate had grown up with his uncle, playing summer league baseball, smoking pot under the bleachers of the rodeo grounds, riding in together at the Happy Canyon Pageant during the Round-Up. When a girl broke his heart in ninth grade, it had been Nate who found his uncle crying on the