- The Woodcutter
His name was hunter jim. Actually it was Jim Hunter, but once I got it in my head, that’s what stuck. I bought a half cord of firewood from him, and he brought along this big guy in his navy blue pickup to unload it.
Hunter Jim didn’t stay to help, just dropped off the big guy in overalls, then introduced me to a woman who had followed him to my house in her beat-up car. He referred to her as his lady friend, Jean or Marie or something, one of those meek, hippie types with long ashy hair and a macrobiotic diet who looks like she might blow over if you say boo. She held her hands as though she were praying, except with her fingers pointed down.
“I need to see about some business dealings while I’m here in town. I’ll be back in a while,” he said, folding into the car, Jean/Marie at the wheel, and like that, they were gone.
The guy in overalls—Casey, he said his name was—I felt bad for him. He was out there all by himself unloading, and it was obvious Hunter Jim was taking advantage of his nature, shy and simple, with a thick tongue that stumbled through his sentences. I went out and asked did he want some water or something, and he said sure. After he drank, he threw me the pieces of juniper from the bed, and I stacked them in straight rows, one on top of the other, at the head of the driveway.
He didn’t understand why I knew how to stack wood the way I did, and I told him I had done it for years back in Ohio with my dad, rode beside him on the tractor to the clearing at the edge of our property, helped him haul wood back to the house. We got the work done fast and he thanked me, then asked for another glass of water, which I got him, and then he waited there for a good forty-five minutes, sitting on the tailgate swinging his big man legs until the woman and Hunter Jim came back.
“If you could just leave the payee line blank I’d be much obliged,” Hunter Jim said as I wrote him a check, leaning close to watch. I could smell him, white soap. The skin on his cheeks was tanned and soft-looking. “It’s easier to make it payable [End Page 264] to one of my many creditors this way,” he explained, folding the check and putting it in his shirt pocket.
Hunter Jim made me uneasy with his much obliged and creditors and the worked-over fisherman’s cap and deck shoes he was wearing, even though we were in Arizona high desert, nowhere close to any place where you’d need his sort of coastal clothing. He was in his late forties or early fifties, with a moustache like a thick caterpillar that crawled when he talked, outdated eyeglasses with dark plastic rims and thick lenses. He reminded me of someone in a bad disguise.
“If you ever have a need of any kindling, you just give me a call. I’ve got plenty up at my place,” he said, easing himself into the truck. I assured him I’d be fine on kindling, pointing at the ponderosa forest surrounding us.
“Pine doesn’t start very well, and besides, it might get wet. I’d hardly depend on this stuff to get you through,” he said as Casey slammed the passenger door. I glared at Hunter Jim and he straight-stared back at me, the smile of his mouth pulling his face apart into expressions shaded and volatile. I looked at him openly and wouldn’t stop.
I told him I owned this cabin. I knew how to build a fire. I’d be just fine. He looked at me through the open window, his face finally organizing itself into something familiar and human.
“Give me a call. Anytime,” he said as he gunned the engine. The woman took off in her little...