At the ring of the telephone I kicked out of bed, stumbling over a discarded shoe, and fumbled through the kitchen door to where the phone hung, near the sink. “Yes,” I said.
“Yes,” said Milo mocking me. “Yes, yes. It’s only loveable me.” His voice was out of practice – deep, and heavy with weariness.
“Well, that’s good,” I said.
“No, that’s bad,” said Milo, “it’s one AM.”
“That’s bad enough,” I agreed. I leaned against the door frame. There was a ghostly cast to the light coming through the kitchen windows, from the rising moon. “You were working all the time?”
“I got a late start and had my share of trouble. You alone there?”
“Well,’ I said, “you know me and my senseless restrictions. So from where did you just come?”
“From where? Two loads of the onn’rist pigs you’d ever come to meet. Johnson Creek, that’s where from. How did you do today?”
“I did pretty well. Found a cow. Scrubbed a kitchen. Fell into a drainage ditch. Got to bed at nine, that was nice.”
“Found a cow?”
“Yessir, found a cow. Found just the right cow.”
“You got a Brown Swiss! Whereabouts?” (Here is a man who listens. Here is a man who doesn’t interrupt. Quiet, but not the strong silent type. Can this be true? Can this be happening? Keep the pole high, George; you might have a keeper on the line.)
“Nielsen is the name,” I said, wanting to shout. “Ivor Nielsen? This side of Monroe? First cow we looked at. Frank was thoroughly disgusted with me.”
“How come he was disgusted?” Milo asked politely.
“Well, I’m not sure; one thing or another. Too many hormones? I couldn’t cut through it. But the cow is all As, I’ll tell you that.”
“You don’t waste a lot of time,” said Milo.
I pulled out the ladder chair. It has a plastic cover. My bottom was going to stick to it. I said to him, “I didn’t think you would call.”
“Well, it’s late, things happen, people get tired. They forget.”
“No, they don’t,” he said.
There was some silence then, a pause, ten or twenty seconds. I like the acceptance of wordlessness. Nobody’s faking, everybody’s secure. I said then, “The boys, um, the boys will be here at noon for a fish-fry. The trout we caught. We’ll break up by chore time, without a doubt.”
“Without a doubt, huh?” I could hear the tired burlesque in his voice. “You caught some fish, did you?”
“Of course,” I said. “I caught three trout, three brown trout, over nine inches.”
“Or was it ten?” he asked.
“Could have been ten,” I agreed.
“Long day,” said Milo.
“Seen worse,” I said. “Three hours sleep after you ran off last night. And then before ten tonight I was in the sack and I’ll sleep now maybe until five or six.”
“Two more night’s sleep.”
“Three more nights.”
He said, “No fishing tonight?”
“Well….no, nothing on tonight.”
“I have to tell y’,” he said with a sigh, “you’ve been spookin’ me all day today.”
“Spookin’ you all day while you’re loading pigs?”
“Seems like you’re more fun,” said Milo lazily.
“Well, gosh, I don’t know about that. I remember pigs I’ve chased myself. Hard to beat it for fun. Thanks anyway.”
“Don’t thank me,” he said modestly. “You, uh, still like me too much?”
He caught me by surprise. I said, “I don’t think it wears off.”
“Y’know,” he said. “When I dragged in here I wouldn’t’ve driven another mile for any money. Now all I want to do is come over.”
“But don’t,” I said. “But it was very nice to call me.”
“You were very nice to answer,” he said. He let some seconds go by. “I don’t know,” he said. “Day or two. Day or two or three, then I’ll be around.”
“No matter how I treat you now?”
“Yeah,” he agreed with new vigor, “no matter how, that’s right.” It was as if he remembered that song; I couldn’t rightly tell; but it was exciting to think he did remember, and to think that Milo with the cool tongue had possibly been a wild young man when the Mills Brothers had been belting out that sweet song – a wild young man in Wisconsin during that war, when most of us were so confident still of happy endings, and when even sudden death would be acceptable if the correct buzz words convinced us that the cause was just.