Some folks, they’re just built to jump.
Sim, you know, he was quick to jump at any opportunity, ‘cause when Sim sees an opening, there was just no other possible steps for him to take. That’s how Sim works. Sim jumps, can’t help but.
So Sim jumped when there was that convenience store. He jumped ‘cause the gun was under the seat in their shitty beater van and the convenience store had a completely empty parking lot and the lights were on and he couldn’t see the clerk.
Isolated, too. You know the type. One of those buildings that sits squat by the side of the road and probably a ton of truckers come through there and the clerks are busy from something like seven to eleven, but it’s not big enough to actually be a 7-Eleven. But then the truckers’ clocks run out and they all go pull over at one of the big TransAmericas down the road where they’ve got the hot showers and the hot meals and the reasonably attractive waitresses in that homey, no-nonsense way, who smirk but never flirt back.
See, one of those places, after the day truckers’ clocks run out and before the night truckers come by, there’s these few hours where everything’s quiet and the clerk is just sitting behind that counter, behind that plexiglass or whatever they put up there, and he could call the cops or state patrol, sure, but he’s far enough away from everything that he was basically told in training a week or two back to let robbers take everything and trust the cameras to get the plate details and only then call.
Sim saw the opportunity, Sim jumped, just how he’s built.
And where Sim jumped, there was Ursula. Sim was the brains, he’d say. He’d run the plan by Ursula three times whether or not she got it on the first time through. And she was the muscle, big old bear like her, nothing getting past if she needed to block the door, and if she need to knock heads, Sim said, she would just have to knock some heads.
But see, this convenience store, something had clearly happened there. Clerk’d been holding it for until all those truckers' clocks ran out because he was too busy and the owner was too cheap to hire anyone else, so he had to steal a moment of quiet at eleven thirty or whatever, and he ran off to the bathroom out around the back of the building. Sometimes you just gotta go, you know?
Sometimes you forget, too. Ever forget? Happens to me, forget little things all the time. Poor clerk, he was good at remembering, only this time he forgot to lock the front door and forgot to close out the drawer.
And this just happened to be the time when a ferret and a bear came tearing down the highway and slipped right up to the front of the store all nice like, quiet, no uncouth squealing of tires under those bright lot lights and the moon beyond. They hop out like maybe they got just a quick errand to run, and clerk, he hears them and figures he’s got enough time to finish up, but they’re in and out real smooth.
“Shit, Ursula,” we can imagine Sim saying with that reedy tenor that can cut through anything like it was paper. “How fuckin' perfect is this? All laid out for us.”
“Grab a snack, girlie, I don’t care. Hell, grab all the snacks, anything you need. You need pills? Grab some pills. Condoms? Hah!”
“Christ, of course grab the drawer first.” A pause, then a high laugh. “Fine, ya big dummy. I’ll get the drawer, you grab our snacks or pills or whatever. Oh, shit, yeah, grab me like a whole box of Snickers or whatever. I’ll mow through those.”
And poor clerk hears his drawer being yanked free and here he is, his drawers down around his ankles and he cusses and cusses and cusses and maybe starts crying, but at this point it’s just too late, so he keeps sitting his skinny ass down on the toilet until he hears the rev of an engine, the thrum and rattle of something with a couple hundred thousand miles on it, maybe got fifty more in it, and then he hears it fade into the dark, and only then does he call.
“Do you see this? Hah! Did you get a load of that take?” says that ferret as the unassuming minivan trundles down the road, no more’n five over the limit. “Shit, poor fella in there probably didn’t even have time to hit the safe after his shift, and where was he anyway?”
Ursula, she keeps her eyes on the road, troops past the fields, past the cars, past the troopers parked on the sides of the highway. Turns once, turns again, on through Sawtooth and then they’re up in the Rockies, poking along through the scrub and the sand and the high desert. Nothing out here, ‘course, not even a tent or trailer. Just a place to park that big old van of theirs out where no one bothers looking.
And Sim, he’s already jumping from the passenger seat. He’s already dancing and twirling around the front of the van, those parking lights catching him only from the waist down — always such a dancer, that ferret — but you can surely imagine him pirouetting along between sagebrush and scrub pine with that raggedy-ass tail of his flip-flopping behind him, laughing away.
“Ursula, Ursula! Come on girlie, come on you big dummy,” he calls. “Come on out. Gosh! Gosh, I love you darling! I love you so much I feel like my whole heart’s gonna burst and you’d have to patch me back up again. Look at this! I didn’t want to freak you out on the road, I know you get all skittish behind the wheel, ‘specially after a job, but gosh I love you. Just full of love from tip to tail. There’s like six thousand dollars in that take. Six thousand dollars and a box of Snickers! What else you grab? Snacks? Get your pills? Hah!”
And the bear is out the van now and parking her backside against the front of the grill and Sim dances around her, taking first one paw and then t’other, lifting her arms up so that he can twirl about beneath them, smacking her belly, hitting her thighs with his tail, kicking up dust into the midnight air.
“We got it made, now.” He finally flops all along the front of Ursula, stretched up long as he can so he can get his skinny arms around the mountain of her shoulders, and sure, she can smell the candy bar on his breath. “We can go straight now, you know? Hit up another small town, Mountain Home or Newsom or something, park our asses, get out of the risky business.
“But listen, my darling, my dear. Hey, hey, listen. You gotta try’n understand my plan. There’s so much to it we gotta do first. Six ‘kay or whatever will buy us a few months, but you know you and you know me. We gotta still earn something so long as we’re not totally on our own, you know? Gotta earn our keep best we can so we can eat and gas and keep up the van.
“I know you been wanting to go straight for years now, get out of the job-to-job life and go do something that’s day-to-day, and I love you, you big oaf, you big dummy, but maybe we hit up just one or two more once we get there, real sly-like without raising any eyebrows, or maybe we do it on the way, just to be sure, and I promise no more cards or dice.
“Ursula, my dear, my love, you okay keepin’ those muscles up for me a few more days? Just a few more. Just a few more runs, just a few more heads to knock together, you understand. I swear on my life, girlie, I swear up and down your body from those ears you know I love to bite to that hot fuckin’ cunt–” this punctuated with a grab at her groin, ‘cause Sim’ll always jump to that, he’s just built to. “–to those big fuckin’ feet of yours, you’ll get to live the straight life soon. We been on the road so many years now — what, like twenty or something? — and sooner or later you’ll bury those feet of yours in some good clean earth instead of in some poor sop’s stomach and that earth will be your very own garden. You’ll have it all for yourself!”
And Sim is off spinning again, spinning into the dark, and surely Ursula’s got a smile or something going on as he calls out to her — “Two gardens! A row of carrots in front cause I know you love those and maybe a whole fuckin’ mess of beets out back” — but we’ll never know, will we? Sim won’t settle his eyes on her long enough, he’s too busy jumping.
And let’s just suppose they managed it. Let’s just picture what that looks like, Ursula dressed in those coveralls that fit her just so, standing up to her ankles in good clean earth, turned over and over with peat and that sheep shit fertilizer that somehow manages to smell like it could grow things even on the moon. We can just imagine, if we like, that Ursula’d plow furrows herself with those handfuls of claws, dropping seeds in their wake. We can suppose that she’d baby those beets until she could cradle them herself, plucked fresh from the earth. Would she kiss them, you think? Would she sing them lullabies? Surely fresh-grown beets make a hell of a stew.
But still, they had got to earn their keep, hadn’t they? That’s what Sim said, kept saying, would always say at the drop of a hat, at the drop of a haul, every time they hopped in the van after a heist or holdup. He’d promise her late at night in bed, and maybe he’d even call out to her across a gas station or over the hood of some poor sop’s car as the fox or cat or whatever shrieked and threw coins at her feet and recoiled in terror.
So with the courage of the sun or the moon or a kite jerking tight at its tether, Ursula might could just keep at her routine, we imagine, still doing her runs in the morning and hauling big old rocks round here and there just to keep those shoulders from getting too soft and brushing her fur out in the evenings. Still crunching on those carrots we all know she loves and buying cans of beets — pale imitations of those in her dreams — to go with cheap chuck so she can cook up a stew on the tailgate of the van, just past the end of their mattress. Still letting Sim push her down onto that very same mattress after every job, cause we all know the ferret’s gotta jump every opportunity he gets and the jobs, they make him jumpy, and maybe she makes a sound or maybe not, ‘cause we already know how taciturn our Ursula is, quiet to her core, and we’ll never know her thoughts as he hunches and curls above her because Sim hasn’t the time to listen after making, he promises himself, love to her, he’s too busy rolling right into sleep.
All supposition, ‘course. All we know, all we know and of course all poor Sim knows, is that our Ursula’s heart beats faster.
We all heard a fair bit of this before in the papers and the gossip and the chatter, ‘cause they caught old Sim, poor fella, caught him in the end. Caught him and he was yelling and wailing and jumping about, rambling to the cops and anyone who’d listen, but the rest only we really, truly know.
Because they never caught our Ursula, never caught the bear and her dreams and her brawn and all her unspoken words and all her unsmiled smiles. Never caught her, and if they never caught her, did she ever really exist, you suppose? Exist and live and ride along all those heists? Did she ever really let Sim push her back onto that mattress? Did she ever haul rocks or run miles or knock heads or crunch carrots?
We know she did, ‘course we do. We really, truly know.
Certainly others did as well. Others must’a seen her, at least as a shadow. Sim and t’other, Sim and the big’un, who’d hit up stores and gas stations and foxes and cats. But did Sim know? Did Sim really know just how very present she was and how often she dreamed of burying her feet in good clean earth, in her own garden? We can surely say he saw her and that he felt her and that he fucked her and that he must be talking to someone, but whether or not he only danced around her and defined her presence or what he imagined it to be by his very unknowing, we can’t rightly say.
All we can say was she snapped that very night. We can’t know how many times she’d dreamed the dream of gardens and beets and moons and freedom any more than we can know just how many times before that lucky take that Sim promised her they’d go straight, had bit her ear, made promises, and kept on jumping, how many months he’d promised her years of freedom or how many years he’d promised decades, how many times had told her that he, he promised himself, loved her.
We can, like Sim, just like the ferret, only dance around that very unknowing and divine by ping-ponging around a hidden center that she must’ve, that night after Sim fucked her and fell right asleep, craved her garden and beets and the moon and freedom more than she might have cared to haul rocks or run miles or knock heads, more than she cared even to crunch her carrots. Defining an absence by walking its muddy shores.
And thus in the wee small hours of the morning we know that Sim, too busy jumping, never kept the batteries in the flashlight charged, so it’s a damn weak light that bobs and bounces its way up the dirt trail from where they’d made their camp that night, that camp up the hills from Sawtooth, and it’s not bobbing from his endless dancing now, ‘cause someone down in town told him they’d seen Ursula heading up into the mountains. Someone there said the bear’d been wandering a fair piece away from where they were camped late at night long after they’d gone to sleep.
Not dancing, no. We can guess our poor Sim is troubled by the way he stomps and skitters, first one then t’other with sage brush and scrub pine casting shifting shadows. Stomping and cussing cause he was afraid of the Rockies, up where the air gets clean and bright in the nose and the throat and the trees practically shine and there’s certainly no hauls to be had or plans to be made. Afraid, perhaps, though we can be sure one such as he would never say so.
“Big dummy. Trespassin’ up these hills, I’m sure, this’s gotta be someone’s land, just gotta be,” he says to that dim circle of light on the ground and to the darkling trees and to the moon up high. “Imagine a big girl like her needing to go for a nature hike, taking those big-ass feet of hers to soak them in streams or bury them in pine needles or — hah! — bearberry. Imagine needing to take a vacation from bein’ stronger’n I’ll ever be. Imagine needing to take a break from having a life so easy as the one I bought for her. Big dummy, I swear.
“Just you wait–” Though who this ‘you’ is we’ll likely never know. Maybe that very same moon. “Just you wait. She’ll be comin’ back looking all peaceful and full of the light of the stars or maybe she’s up there meditating on a rock like some golden Buddha you see in all those shows I’m sure she likes. Just you wait! She’ll come back with a big dumb grin on that big blank face of hers, and I’ll jump up and say, ‘You been rollin’ around in needles again, girlie? You been out there having a romp with the deer? You climbin’ trees and howlin’ at the moon?' And I’ll say, ‘You look a fool like that, pine-cones in your ears. You look a total fool thinkin’ all your peace is bound up in quiet and not in the life I’m buyin'.'”
But far out, miles away by now, Ursula runs her hardest. She plows through the trees because she will not stop, cannot stop, could not hope to stop. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be, she leaves a wake through the carpet of needles.
She runs until the trees run out and she has to make a wake through shale and scree, through stone and snow, and our Ursula keeps on running. She runs until the mountain runs out and the earth yawns open beneath her feet and all she has to make waves in is stars and the good clean black of the night.
And she lets her arms spread away in a flourish of a bow, a genteel curtsy to no one but the moon, and those arms become stars, they become stars of brightest white because what better color could a star ever hope to be? Stars to wrap around the moon.
And she lets her legs drift loose like a garment long past its prime hung out to dry, like those coveralls that fit just so, the ones she’d been mending years and years now, darning by camp stove and headlight and in plain light of day, suspending that baseness. They fall away and burn into that crisp brightness, standing stark as stars against the fabric of the night. They burn as bright as her arms, for every rock Ursula hauled or head she knocked, surely she’d ran a mile.
And she sheds the mantle of the weight of the world, letting her shoulders drop down as easy as could be, sloughing off cares as easy as the skin of beets boiled just long enough, as easy as Sim dancing in the lights of the van earlier that night, back out in the foothills. Shoulders relaxing as easy as it was to jump.
And thus lets her belly fall away like an apron full of boulders, that ever-soft curve no longer held taut to keep Sim from poking fun at it as he fucked her, hunching and curling above her and pretending like she was with child or fat as could be. Those boulders, too, they become stars in the sky, burning as bright as anything.
And at long last she is able to reach up to the moon with the stars that were her, reach up to the moon that one last time, and give the face held within a kiss, leaving behind a twinkle of her eye, one last star, shining bright as all get-out, to show her love for the night and for the moon and for the good clean earth below.
And now there’s nothing left of our Ursula but her yearning, insatiable shadow cast upon the ground as the moon rises ever higher and the stars wheel and dance and Sim cusses his cusses and the lights of the town twinkle below, and all we can do is hope that at last she gets to bury her feet in good clean earth and sow her carrots and beets, and if ever someone hunches and curls above her in labor or in lust or in pain or in joy, all we can do is hope that it will be out of more than a mere promise of love.
Nothing left but a yearning shadow and those stars, ‘cause some folks are just plain built to jump, but some were born to shine.