The bus, its engine screaming, is heading for the

   stop, is coming for her. Her eyes dart to a side

   street and she hurries toward it. Turning the

   corner, she begins to run. It's dark, hemmed in by

   industrial buildings, and her frantic steps echo

   off the faceless walls. Strewn trash and graffiti

   mock her failure—the bus has passed and she

   begins to cry. Slowing to rub her eyes, her toe

   slams a concrete lip and she staggers forward

   and then sees—far up the street—a large vehicle

   turn her way.


   "We better leave," he says, "something's wrong."

   The wind catches the lumps and some tumble

   across the ground, landing in distorted poses.

   They're her puppets. He then hears a voice so

   pleasant he doesn't recognize it at first, and in a

   flash, in a cold wave of dread, he comprehends

   the stupidity of his mistake. The man is standing

   behind them.


   Two children struggle to cope in a drilling town

   within Wyoming's Red Desert, a community beset

   by instability, substance abuse and violence.


        "Bull, get the hell up—y'all are one, lazy dog."

        His legs stop quivering and his eyes open to

   the baking sunlight of his resting spot. He rises in

   time to avoid the rusty pipe thrown by his master;

   it clinks and rolls away in puffs of dust. Cowering,

   he listens to expletives on how worthless he is,

   sleeping day and night. After the man enters the

   shed, Bull sits and exhales a long, slow sigh.

   Panting, tongue out, he looks vacantly about his

   circle, his world, the exhilaration of the dream

   fading from his heart.


   A guard dog is aided by a yellow lab that appears

   one day outside the fence of his compound.




   Behind a remote farmhouse, the sun touches the

   horizon, turning the tops of the piney woods

   orange. Peeper frogs chirp in the cooling air and

   hunched over a picnic table, a father sips from a

   pint bottle, mumbling to himself. The boy knows

   enough not to bother him, but he's excited about

   his magic kit and driving his father's tractor for the

   first time. Will he drive it tomorrow? He creeps

   toward him, wanting to show him a magic trick,

   wanting to ask him about the tractor. "Dad?"


   The Birthday Gift is a tale that defies description

   —like a sudden feeling or scent that carries one

   back to a magical place and time—a place still

   bathed in golden light, a time when a boy could

   still imagine reaching the sun.


         She exposes another roll of negatives and 

   then the last image to be printed appears—the

   shot of the white cat circling around Henry's legs.

        "Yikes!" she says. "What happened here?" 

   The entire scene is out of focus.

        "It must be one of yours."

        She giggles and looks into his grinning face. 

   "I'm going to forget you said that, wise guy." 

   Without thinking, she reaches around him for a

   quick hug but his hands press into her back and

   she's held tight.

        "You can kiss me if you want," she says,

   pushing up on her toes, offering her lips—but he

   only drops his head beside hers, his warm breath

   steady on her neck. "All right," she whispers, 

   we'll just hold each other."


   The paths of two misfits, a depressed housewife

   and the local garbage man, collide during the

   spring of sixty-six in a small Midwestern town.




        A thousand pounds of thrust between her legs,

   her fuel ready to ignite, she circles Star about

   Willie and Morgan in a fast lope. Sitting erect,

   her hips rock with the rhythmic thud of hooves

   and then her entire body tenses as the bluff

   wheels into view. Kicking her boot heels in and

   shouting "he-ya," horse and rider explode

   forward in full gallop.


   A sixteen-year-old daughter defies her father's

   control, engaging in risky thrills such as galloping

   full speed over the rugged plains of Wyoming. But

   behind her rebellion and tough girl swagger lies

   a broken heart.


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