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He is not expected home but Dad, in fact, arrives: in his Jeep (retrieved from the airport’s long-term parking lot), in his range clothes (pulled from a duffle bag kept inside the four-wheel-drive vehicle), in the morning (just before sunup, cocks clearing their patriarchal gullets), in defeat (trail cold as that coyote's after it slaughtered last spring’s lamb). He opens the front screen door then the front door itself (both unlocked), pushing the latter gently (so it does not clunk), using his heel to catch the former (so it does not slam behind him). Flo, of course, will not have slept through the roaring engine’s approach, conspicuous as the freight-train cloud of dust raised from the mile-away main road. Ears like a nervous jackrabbit’s (sensitivity-wise) hers will have also detected the ginger gait of her husband’s soft-soled boots, first on the wooden porch, next over the living room’s Navaho rug, lastly crisscrossing the earthenware tiles of a farmer’s-daughter kitchen—ample, plenty of counter space, pots and pans galore, hung with a mind to easy access like a percussionist’s rack of cymbals (pitiful insofar as they see such meager service, Dad and Florence childless, cooking done solely for themselves). Pulverizing coffee beans with an antique hand-cranked grinder, Dad commences the ritual he or Flo (whomever rises earliest) performs daily—whenever he is there, his times away less frequent since committing to semi-retirement. Would that he had retired altogether and spared himself this frustration, this growing sense of embarrassment at his singular non-success.

Two days maximum work has dragged on now for a week. Must be losing it. Whatever knack I had, age has done it in—age and alcohol, no doubt, conspiring to blur my vision. What could be more pathetic than a blind private eye? There must be something somewhere I overlooked.

Dad listens to the drip, drip, wheeze, gurgle, drip percolating under windows facing east, dawn transforming a pristine Utah sky from midnight blue to mourning-dove gray. Motions carried out sans turning on a light recommend one less and less: setting out mugs, a pair of spoons, a pint of half & half—the refrigerator’s flash (on briefly opening and closing) like a strobe, eyes grateful once returned to the semi-darkness; or semi-brightness, in deference to the trend, revealing Dad’s flannel shirt to be a checkerboard of brown and beige, harbingers of the rusty red and orange it will become when day finally breaks, spreads itself like an egg yolk sunny side up poked by a hungry man’s fork, chores ahead, ranching not a suitable occupation if your rise-and-shine comes late—Ranch O’Rourke’s for-pleasure more than for-profit status notwithstanding.

Luxuriating in the knowledge that her man at last is home, having missed the sight, sound, touch, the very smell and taste of him, Flo prolongs her under-the-bedclothes stretch, ironing out the kinks in her forty-two-year-old body, anticipating the love that radiates from his, in proximity, older, greyer, burlier next to matronly, sun-browned, slim, strength juxtaposed to solidity, handsomeness next to homeliness—drab, if truth be told, outside the gaze of her beloved, whose Emerald Isle eyes testify to a beauty few would vouchsafe noteworthy, especially Flo herself, honest about her attributes, a pretty face admittedly not among them, which makes her all the more appreciative of Dad’s robust good-looks, proud to be the envy of many a comely rival, unassumingly flattered by her husband’s sure fidelity.

Scent of brewing coffee, muffled sneeze of genteel spouse, the pop of toast, a rooster’s crow, ravens on the rooftop squabbling, wind chimes tinkling random riffs amid the numerous back-porch bird feeders, faucet leaking (she will add that to the modest list of things for Dad to fix), titmouse chirp, horse whinny—Lancelot or Godiva (?)—the silo’s rusted-out weathervane creaking in a modest wind, peeps from chicks, the smell of rumpled sheets under woolen blankets not yet stale but musty (she will air them prior to sharing them), odors from her nightgown—laundry overdue—odors from her person; should she take a shower, or join his nibs directly?

Padding from their bedroom in a pair of buckskin slippers, undone hair (from its daytime bun) cascading behind her robe, Flo assumes her place at the breakfast nook’s undersize table, acknowledging her helpmate with nary a word or nod, bracketing her mug with both hands as he tips the pot and pours, feeling heat pervade the cream-colored china filled to its very brim with the aromatic brew, comforting, calming, familiar, and unwaveringly delectable.

As a rising sun smelts silver / smelts gold from Dad’s / from Flo’s scalp respectively ♫ make new friends, but keep the old ♫ affirms their promised continuity, she to him and he to her synonymous with lifelong dedication, companionship to the end, till death the two does part, vows  reaffirmed in silence, gestures ample idioms; thoughts Dad might relate, Flo already knows; sentiments Flo might voice, Dad usually can prognosticate; quiet—save their simultaneous slurping—for him / for her suffices.

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