Jake was a big man. From his large head through his broad shoulders, deep torso, meaty buttocks, and thick thighs, to his big hands and feet, he was big. Six foot two. He was also a happy man. He was proud of the work he did, felling trees, helping provide the lumber his still adolescent nation needed to continue growing until it took on its rightful place on the world stage Jake knew it was destined for.
His one great regret in life to date was that he was too young to join the military at the time, so he only learned about future president Teddy Roosevelt’s famous ride up San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War by reading about it in the newspaper. He very much wished he had been old enough to have ridden with Teddy.
The closest he could come was to vote for Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912, when he turned 21 and was old enough to vote. Taft was plainly Roosevelt’s one big mistake, in Jake’s opinion, and did not deserve a second term. He really wanted Roosevelt to win, but Wilson was better than Taft. He was more interested in individual men than the political party they represented.
But not much that went on at the other end of the continent had much impact on Jake, living and working as he did in a timber camp in the other Washington, the state on the west coast, not the city on the east coast. He had grown up in the vicinity, son of some of the first European settlers in the area. He spent his childhood avidly exploring the forest that was the most obvious geographical feature of the place, and of his life, as it would turn out.
Chad caught Jake’s eye on his first day in the camp. Jake had a keen eye for the young men who showed up regularly to work with him cutting timber. They were always robustly healthy and well muscled, as the work required. No effete, shallow chested men working in the timber camps. The timber camps had a well developed tradition of intimate relationships between older and younger men that the participants knew about, but mostly escaped official notice.
Chad was more attractive than most. He was young, boyish, and blond. A bit shorter than Jake and compact, well muscled, for Chad Jake felt an emotional tug as well as the physical attraction he often felt for new men in the camp.
“Who’s the new guy?” Jake asked the foreman.
“Name’s Chad. Got your eye on him?” the foreman replied, laughing.
“Look at that butt. Who wouldn’t?” Jake replied. “He’ll make a good lumberman.”
“If he survives,” replied the foreman. “He’s one of those kids who is too smart for his own good.”
The foreman was not wrong. Work in the lumber camps could be very dangerous, especially for new men who had not yet learned the routines of felling and removing huge trees, any of which could easily kill a man if it landed on him. The large saws they used to fell the trees could also be treacherous.
Since Jake was an old hand, relatively speaking, he often tried to keep an eye out for new men, helping them avoid death or serious injury as they learned the job.
Keeping an eye on Chad was especially easy since he continued to find the younger man unusually attractive.
And a good thing, too, because on his third day as a lumberman, Chad failed to heed a warning and was standing directly in the path of a falling tree. Jake saw the event unfolding and reacted quickly, rushing over and tackling Chad, moving him out of the path of the falling tree, such that they both suffered only scratches from the branches instead of being crushed under the trunk.
In the moment when they landed on the ground together, necessarily in an embrace, covered by tree limbs, Jake felt the physical attraction he would have expected, but he also felt an unaccustomed wave of intense emotion wash over him. He felt lust for Chad, but he also felt love.
“That was close,” Jake said.
“Yeah. Thanks. You saved me,” Chad replied, slowly, his voice husky. It seemed that Chad reciprocated the emotion as they looked into each other’s eyes.
Fully aroused, Jake pressed himself hard against Chad and relished the heft of his buttocks, sneaking in a feel during the seconds they had before they appeared from under the branches, mostly unscathed, to go back to work.
Jake had long participated with a group of fellow lumbermen who would congregate in town on Saturday night, have dinner, then retire to a hotel and spend the night enjoying each other sexually. Jake relished these weekly meetings. Being a very healthy young man, he had enormous sexual energy and found very gratifying the opportunity to satiate his sexual urges with like minded men. They tried to keep a low profile, especially after hearing about a similar group of men getting arrested and prosecuted in 1912 down in Portland, but that’s a big city. The town nearest the timber camp was a small town where everyone mostly knew everyone else. The town had a somewhat complicated relationship with the timber camp. Everyone knew that the timber men usually spent most of their income in the town, but having a group of mostly young men nearby without direct supervision, some of whom were pretty rough around the edges, sometimes had results that the people in the town were less than thrilled with. From that perspective, the antics of Jake and his group of buddies were entirely inoffensive. They paid for their hotel room and used it quietly and without tearing anything up.
Still, they were well aware of the potential hazards of nosy police officers and over zealous prosecutors, so they were at some pains to keep their activities secret. They typically sounded prospective members out for a while before inviting them. After a few years, they had not had any problems.
Jake immediately resolved to introduce Chad to the group as an easy way to begin to indulge his sexual attraction more directly. He had taken every opportunity since their introduction under the tree to chat with Chad and get to know him, taking him on as an older brother would a younger brother. In the slightly awkward, blundering way of two young men, they had established their interest in each other to the point of knowing that they wanted to find more ways to express their mutual affection. The only problem with Jake’s plan was that the group had a rule that any new man had to have sex with every other member of the group who wanted to over the course of his first weeks as a new member. Jake could enjoy Chad as his own the first night, but then would have to leave him to the ministrations of the other men in the group for the first nine or ten weeks following. He very much looked forward to the prospect of seeing and penetrating Chad’s naked buttocks, but he loathed the idea that Chad would then also have to spend several weeks engaging in the same or similar acts with the other members of the group.
During a quiet moment, away from work, Jake explained it to Chad.
“See, we got this group of guys who get together on Saturday nights and mess around with each other,” Jake said.
“Sounds like fun,” Chad replied, excitedly. “I haven’t messed around with anyone very much.”
“Okay,” said Jake. “Here’s the deal. The first night, it’ll be just you and me, but after that, you have to mess around with any other member who wants to before you can go back to just messing around with me.”
“Okay. That’s fine with me,” Chad said eagerly.
“So you like that idea?” Jake asked, trying to hide his disappointment.
“Sure. There are plenty of hot guys around here. I’ve seen several I want to mess around with.”
“Okay, but after that, I want you to come back to me,” said Jake.
“Oh, well, sure, like we’re boyfriends, you mean?” asked Chad.
“Yeah, like that,” said Jake, somewhat relieved.
So Jake was very eager on the first Saturday night after their conversation on the topic when Chad joined the group for the first time. They had dinner together at a restaurant in town, as usual, except with Chad sitting next to Jake, pressing their knees against each other under the table, then repaired to the cheap hotel they preferred.
The group filed into the room and Jake took Chad into a corner, practically tearing his pants off, relishing the sensation of his bare buttocks, leaning down to kiss them, spreading them to look at the puckered hole where he expected soon to insert his hard member. Chad turned around and avidly opened Jake’s pants to fondle his rapidly hardening dick. He knelt to touch it with his lips and tongue, enjoying the sight of it quivering under his attention.
Jake gently pushed Chad onto the floor and mounted him, slowly pushing his tumescence through Chad’s anus. Knowing that he could cause pain with his impressive physiology, he tried to take his time despite his enormous excitement.
“Ouch!” Chad exclaimed.
“I’m sorry. Do you want me to stop?” Jake asked.
“No,” Chad replied, laughing, and proved his sincerity by pushing himself back into Jake and causing the member to penetrate him further.
They fucked eagerly, reaching orgasm quickly. Then they rested for some time. Then they repeated the act. This went on for some hours, until they fell asleep, exhausted.
Over the next weeks, Jake endured with deep ambivalence Chad’s compliance with the rule of the group that he spend the evening mostly having sex with whoever wanted to. Most of the group’s members were nearly as eager to enjoy Chad’s charms as was Jake. Jake alternated between watching in fascination and trying to ignore what Chad was doing. His mood varied quite a bit. Sometimes he took considerable pleasure in watching Chad involved with another man and watched avidly. Sometimes it literally pained him and he went to some lengths to avoid seeing what was going on. Chad seemed blissfully ignorant of Jake’s vacillations, simply enjoying whatever came his way in the smorgasbord that was the group.
During the vast majority of their time, when they were not having sex in a hotel room, Jake and Chad fell into a routine of spending as much time together as they could, eating lunch together and dinner. They were somewhat careful about showing their affection for each other, knowing as they did that some people, too many with enough power to enforce their opinions, considered the relationship between Jake and Chad to be either pathological or illegal or both. Jake had heard a few years before about a group similar to theirs who suffered arrest and prosecution in Portland, Oregon, to the south, as “homosexuals,” whatever that meant. Jake was not much interested in other people’s definitions of his person or how he lived his life, but he recognized the dangers, so he kept a low profile. Most importantly, he was very much in love with Chad and Chad was very much in love with him. As Jake wished, they clearly had become boyfriends.
It was not the details of their relationship that produced some disagreement between Jake and Chad. Jake was a very practical man, not much given to philosophy or other forms of speculation. His interest in politics did not extend much beyond his high opinion of Teddy Roosevelt as an exemplary man. He worked hard, but he liked to work hard, and he had enough to eat and a reasonably comfortable place to sleep, so he saw little point in objecting to the terms of his employment. Chad was more intellectually inclined and heard the Wobblies argument that whoever owned the timber company he worked for could make profit only If they paid workers like him less than the full value of their labor. Chad became increasingly active in the local chapter of the Wobblies, which had an office in town.
This caused Jake some concern. He realized that, like these “homosexuals,” Wobblies were a group of people many powerful persons in their society condemned, whether with good reason or not mattered little to Jake. If anything, around the timber camps, the Wobblies were more widely reviled than “homosexuals,” which most people had never heard of. He and Chad argued the question.
“You have enough. Why rock the boat?” Jake asked.
“This system works okay for men like you and me, who have no wife or children, but what about married men who have mouths to feed at home? The system always needs more workers, but it doesn’t provide the people who supply new workers with enough income to support them. Also, it’s simply unjust that they should fail to pay me what my labor is worth,” Chad replied. “What happens to you if you get injured? What happens when you’re too old to work?”
“Somebody has to organize all of this activity. The people who do the organizing deserve compensation for their work as well,” Jake replied.
“I don’t mind paying managers. The problem is profit for the owners. They contribute nothing, but they take the most out of the system.” said Chad.
“The foreman was right. You are too smart for your own good,” Jake muttered.
The Great War was already well underway when Chad began working at the lumber camp. Soon the question of U.S. involvement in the war arose.
“Ordinary workers should not support this war. It is just capitalists fighting capitalists and we should not fight for them,” said Chad.
“But Wilson says we can make the world safe for democracy. If we don’t fight the tyrants in Europe, we’ll have to fight them here. I say we should intervene as soon as possible,” Jake replied.
As it happened, of course, their argument in a timber camp in Washington State had no impact on the actual events. The United States declared war and entered on the side of the allies in 1917. Chad was too young for the draft yet and Jake was too old, so the war mostly just meant more work for the two of them as demand for lumber increased.
With the end of the Great War in 1919, however, and a return to “normalcy” under President Harding the next year, the fight came home. The Socialist candidate for president in 1920, Eugene V. Debs, ran his campaign from federal prison, where he was serving a term for having vocally opposed U.S. participation in the War. The year before the election, in Centralia, in southern Washington, a gun battle had broken out involving the Wobbly chapter there. Jake was very worried about widespread efforts, under the direction of the attorney general, to eradicate domestic radicalism. The red scare saw the attorney general deport a large number of radicals who were not citizens, and local prosecutors go after radicals who were citizens.
With one Wobbly suffering a lynching at Centralia, it was no surprise that prosecutions of labor radicals were not always very scrupulous affairs, and in early 1920, Jake’s worst fears came to pass. The continuing hostility towards radicals in general and the Wobblies in particular resulted in a raid on the local Wobbly chapter, with the police seizing membership records on a flimsy pretext and handing them off to the district attorney. For no reason either of them could discern, the prosecutor chose to charge Chad with sedition. Jake was no longer as much satisfied with his income when he learned that he could not afford to hire a lawyer to defend Chad. Neither man knew much about legal proceedings, so Jake watched helplessly as the court convicted Chad.
His sentence: ten years in the state penitentiary.
Ten years! Jake was aghast and despondent. How could he live for ten years without his beloved? Chad seemed mostly stoic at the news. He was unsurprised because he did not expect justice from the courts of the capitalists. Chad’s conviction and sentence came as a profound shock to Jake, however, who suffered a severe loss of faith in the nation he had always felt considerable pride in. He was certain Chad had done nothing wrong and found the prosecution and penalty to be stunningly unjust. Jake found his entire worldview completely upended as the result of Chad’s prison sentence.
Jake resolved to stay true to Chad, wait until the sentence was complete, then take Chad as far away as possible and live with him, just the two of them, for the rest of his life. He could no longer tolerate the idea of enduring a society that could inflict such injustice on Chad and such deprivation on him. But under the circumstances, Jake’s simplicity and stolidity served him well. He was a man of simple needs and few ideas, and the thought of spending ten years waiting for something did not much trouble him. What made him unhappy was the fact that he would be without the only man he had ever loved for those ten years. But he knew Chad was worth waiting for. They were both still young men. They could have a lot of time together after all of this was over. Jake resolved, once Chad was free, to move deep into the woods and avoid other people as much as possible. They both had the skills to survive in the woods. Alone together, deep in the woods, they could be happy.
Jake watched in despair as the police led Chad away to begin his prison term. After he left the courthouse, he lingered in town, paying more attention to events there than he ever had before. The shock of seeing Chad sentenced to prison had given him a new awareness. He was entirely unaware of the national argument over allowing women to vote, and of the important role his home state had played in that argument. Washington State had early allowed women to vote, only to see the law reversed by the state supreme court. Jake was oblivious when women again won the vote in Washington in 1910, making the state an important beachhead in the ongoing national battle for woman suffrage.
In early 1920, while Jake was preoccupied with Chad’s ordeal, the woman suffrage debate was culminating, with an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting discrimination in voting on the basis of sex up for ratification by the states. The day of Chad’s sentencing also saw a woman suffrage parade through the town. Jake watched in fascination, and with a newfound sympathy for the women in the march as he had just suffered his own introduction to the potential injustices of his native land. He had no strong opinion on a subject that he had been, until that moment, entirely unaware of. He could see no good reason why women should not be allowed to vote. He had not spent much time around any women at all as an adult, mostly working as he did in timber camps where few women ventured, and having no interest in them emotionally or sexually. But he knew his mother to be a strong, intelligent woman and thought she should have as much right to participate in politics as anyone else.
Feeling depressed and at loose ends, Jake found himself helping the women from the suffrage march clean up after the event, taking down the stage they had erected for speakers and generally ensuring that they left no mess behind. He fell into an avid conversation with one of the women, Olivia.
“Thank you for your help. I’m Olivia. I feel as if I owe you a favor. Will you come to my boardinghouse for dinner?”
“Thank you, Olivia. I’m Jake. I’d like that very much. I’m sort of at loose ends right now and company for dinner would be nice.”
“Very well, follow me.”
They walked through town to a large, handsome, white clapboard house. Jake followed Olivia up the steps, across the ample porch, in through the front door.
“Sophonisba! Are you here?” Olivia called out.
A woman appeared in the front hall. “Of course I am here. How was the march? Who is this?”
“Jake helped me clean up after the march, so I thought I should invite him to dinner. I hope there will be enough.”
“There is plenty. Why don’t you two sit on the porch and I’ll bring out some lemonade,” said Sophonisba.
Olivia and Jake went back out and sat down on the porch. Sophonisba brought out a pitcher of lemonade and glasses. She poured glasses for the three of them and sat down.
“So you support woman suffrage?” Olivia asked.
“I suppose. I never much thought about it. I work in the timber camp and don’t know many women, but I don’t see why not. Can’t do any worse than what we have, might do better.”
“Just so. We expect the quality of our politics to improve dramatically once we get the woman suffrage amendment ratified. Washington is an important state since women can vote here.”
“Is that so? I did not realize that.”
“Excuse me. I need to make sure my chickens don’t burn,” Sophonisba said as she rose and returned to the interior of the house.
“Sophonisba is an excellent cook. We hear that men come to our boarding house because of the quality of the food. I think you’ll like what she serves for dinner.”
Over dinner and coffee, Jake gradually felt more comfortable with the two women and came to recognize some affinity for them. The similarity of the relationship between Sophinsba and Ophelia to his relationship with Chad was obvious.
“Jake supports votes for women,” Olivia said when they had retired to the porch after dinner.
“Oh, so you ARE a good man. Olivia is an excellent judge of character. Tell me again how you met.”
“I was in the courthouse today because a man I am very close to just got sentenced to ten years in prison for sedition. I don’t think he did anything wrong. I plan to wait for him,” said Jake.
“Oh, dear,” replied Sophonisba. “I’m very sorry to hear that. You must be very close to wait ten years for him.”
“I love him like a brother. The whole thing is just outrageous,” Jake said. “I can’t understand it. I thought this was a great country. I guess I was wrong.”
“There are many forms of injustice all around us,” replied Ophelia. “Why should all women not have the right to vote?”
“Of course. I’m glad you get to vote. We need to choose a different district attorney next time,” Jake replied. “One who doesn’t engage in political prosecutions.”
Olivia and Sophonisba looked at each other and came to an agreement without exchanging a word.
“Jake, I have a proposition for you. We’ve grown quite adept at maintaining the house ourselves, but there are some tasks that would go much easier if an able bodied man were to take care of them for us. Also, at times, when we have no boarders in the house, ruffians from town find it entertaining to harass two women living alone. We fancy having a man here would solve that problem. If you really intend to wait for your friend to serve his sentence, you may do so as well here as anywhere. We would like to offer you room and board in exchange for help maintaining the house. I suspect you could earn some cash income by providing similar services to others in town. We will certainly circulate your availability at every opportunity,” Olivia explained.
“Why thank you. That is a very kind offer. I should get back to the timber camp now. May I think your offer over and respond tomorrow?” Jake asked.
“Of course,” Olivia replied. “Come back for lunch tomorrow.”
“Thank you, I shall,” said Jake. He then returned to the camp and went to sleep. He got up early the next morning, collected his few belongings into his rucksack, and walked away, stopping only to collect his pay from the office before leaving the camp for good.
He arrived back at the boarding house in mid morning to find Sophnisba having coffee on the porch.
“Oh, Jake. You’re back. Good morning.”
“Yes, ma’am, and I’ve decided to take you up on your offer.”
“Excellent. Have a cup of coffee. Then I’ll show you to your room.”
Jake sat down and drank coffee. After a few minutes, Sophonisba rose and summoned Jake into the house.
“We have a room open on the back of the house. It has lots of privacy and the bathroom is just down the hall. I must tell you that we cannot allow you to have any women up here. We certainly support efforts to rescue women from that life, but if we allow them into the house, it will ruin our reputation. If you wish to entertain any ladies, you may sit on the porch or in the parlor. We’re happy to provide lemonade.”
Jake smiled and said, “That won’t be a problem for me.”
Sophonisba opened the door and showed the room to Jake. She left the key on the table by the door. “Olivia and I keep our room locked, but you may have the run of the house otherwise. The other two rooms on this hallway have occupants at the moment. I’ll introduce you to them at dinner. Make yourself at home. I’ll put out some lemonade on the porch if you like.”
“Thank you. I’ll do just that,” Jake replied. Sophonisba left. Jake looked out the window, tested the mattrass, lay down on it, then leapt back up and walked down to the porch.
And he settled in, finding a routine that suited both him and his new housemates. He chose to avoid the timber camp and his old companions from those days because it all reminded him too much of Chad. Instead, he picked up odd jobs as they arose in the town, saving his money for the day when he would want to buy a place to retreat to with Chad. At every opportunity, he traveled to the prison to visit Chad and reassure him that he was still waiting for him. And he passed the days, 3,650 of them.
One evening, Jake came back from working in town and found a new boarder, Ben, at dinner. After dinner, on the porch, Ben made a point to sit next to Jake. When they retired, Jake discovered that Ben was staying in the room next to his. Ben asked to come into speak with Jake. Jake allowed him in and they sat on the bed.
“You’re a very handsome young man,” Ben said. “I’m rich and I travel widely. I’d like to have you as my traveling companion. When we leave here, we will stay in the best hotels and travel in the best cars and carriages.” As he spoke, he put his hand on Jake’s thigh and moved towards his groin.
Jake roughly pushed his hand away.
“I’m waiting for the man I love to finish a prison sentence. Then we’re going to move deep into the woods, as far from other people as we can get. Thank you for your offer, but no.”
“Very well,” Ben replied, as he got up and walked out the door.
Some weeks later, another, younger man took up residence in the same room and again asked to speak with Jake privately as they were retiring for the night.
“You’re Jake? I’m Allen,” he said.
“Hi, Allen. Nice to meet you.”
“I’ll be here for about two weeks and I wondered if you might like some company in the evenings while I’m here.”
“I’m waiting for the man I love to serve a prison sentence, but I guess it won’t hurt him or me to enjoy myself a bit while I wait,” said Jake. In Jake’s mind, the idea of leaving as travelling companion with the first man was unthinkable, but an isolated moment of sexual infidelity mattered little so long as he remained resolute in his intention to wait for Chad to finish his prison sentence.
They kissed and fell onto the bed, undressing each other, and stayed up late having sex until they both passed out.
During the day, Jake fell into increasingly involved conversations with his two hosts about the difficulties of life in the United States, supposedly land of the free. Jake remained in shock for weeks at Chad’s conviction and sentencing, which he could see absolutely no logic in. He learned from Sophonisba and Ophelia that the previous decade had churned up all manner of important political issues, which they mostly agreed on. Jake continued to think that women should have the vote and was happy with the ratification of the constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in voting. Despite not being entirely convinced of the Wobbly’s position on private ownership, he still thought it made sense to allow an income tax at the national level and supported the amendment that allowed it.
One policy issue Jake found himself disagreeing with his hostesses on also came to a head around the time of Chad’s trial and sentencing. The year before, the nation had ratified the eighteenth amendment, which provided that a year later, in January 1920, the manufacture, sale, or transportation of “intoxicating liquors” would be illegal. Jake never drank much alcohol himself, but he did enjoy the occasional beer and he didn’t see why sometimes obnoxious behavior by drunks should require a constitutional amendment.
“The problem is much bigger than just annoyances from a few drunks,” Sophonisba declared. “Men spend their pay at the pub drinking and leave their wives and children bereft,” she asserted.
“But how often does that really happen?” Jake asked. He suspected he had spent much more time in actual pubs than either Sophnisba or Ophelia had and knew better what went on there.
“Too often,” replied Sophonisba. “If it happens at all, it happens too much.” She was very firm in her opinions on this topic, as she was on all topics she had an opinion on. “Especially with the influx of Italians, Greeks, and Russians, we have seen an upsurge in drunkenness that we need to get control of before it changes the entire country for the worse. The Catholics are especially dangerous on this issue.”
But they agreed emphatically in condemning the Ku Klux Klan, which enjoyed a resurgence during the decade.
“The Klan are odious,” said Sophisba, as they read a news story about a huge Klan rally in Washington state. “They hate Negroes, they hate Jews, they treat women horribly. I assume they opposed woman suffrage. I’m so glad we got that issue settled so we can go on to other issues.”
“I have trouble understanding how what the Klan does is legal, but what my Chad did was illegal,” Jake said. “Seems to me it shows how political the prosecutions really are. I wonder if the district attorney is a member of the Klan. They are just as radical as Wobblies, only at the other extreme.”
“Just so,” Sophonisba replied. “If the Klan should have freedom of expression, so should the Wobblies.”
Jake gradually and reluctantly came to the conclusion that the logic of the Klan appealed to many more of his countrymen than did the logic of the Wobblies. Jake himself fell somewhere between the two but was more sympathetic to the Wobblies if only because Chad was one. He was actually just as happy that no one was much inclined to prosecute Klansmen because he did not much like the idea of any of them occupying the same prison as Chad. He surmised that Klansmen would not much like his relationship with Chad either if they found out about it. All the more reason to move deep into the woods.
But from the beginning, Jake regarded the 1920s as a lost decade, ten years in which nothing much good could possibly happen because the love of his life was in prison. Chad’s imprisonment also badly diminished Jake’s previously strong sense of patriotism.
One day, nearly ten years later, Jake went to visit Chad at the prison and got the good news:
“I’ll be out in a week!” exclaimed Chad.
“Really? That’s great news! I’m so glad! I’ll come get you!” Jake replied excitedly. The decade he had spent waiting melted suddenly into insignificance.
Chad gave Jake the details and Jake planned to be back for the big event. After so many years, the final week seemed like an eternity. Jake sprang awake at the crack of dawn on the appointed day, ate his breakfast hurriedly, and went to the bank to withdraw all of the money he had saved up. He then made his way to the prison, arriving about two hours before the time at which they released prisoners.
Finally, at 9:00 a.m. sharp, an interior door swung open, and out walked Chad, in a new suit! They embraced eagerly, trying not to raise suspicions, and left the prison as fast as possible.
“I can hardly believe it! You’re free!” Jake exclaimed, barely able to conceal his joy.
“Yep! I’m free as a bird! Let’s get out of this place!” Chad replied.
They went into town and to the land office. They pored over maps of available plots until they found one they liked, near the Canadian border.
“Not many roads up that way,” said the clerk at the land office.
“That’s fine with us,” replied Jake. “We want to live deep in the woods.”
Jake handed over the cash to pay for the parcel and the two men went to the boarding house for lunch. They spent the afternoon making preparations to leave for their new home. They planned to build a small cabin and live by hunting and gathering. After an afternoon of shopping, they again returned to the boarding house for dinner.
Ophelia was on the porch and saw them approach. “You look well set,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am. We have a small plot near the Canadian border. We plan to build a cabin and live as far from other people as we can,” Jake replied.
“I wish you the best,” Ophelia replied. “More a man’s venture than a woman’s, I’ll say. I don’t much fancy having to worry about bears and such.”
“We’re both timber men. We know how to survive in the woods. We’ll be fine,” Jake said.
They tried not to disturb the house with their first night together after ten years, but they enjoyed each other’s company almost as if it were their first night together. Jake had been as happy as he could be over his decade sharing the house with Sophnisba and Ophelia, but he had a new appreciation for their friendship when they raised no objection to Jake and Chad sharing a bed. Sophnisba and Ophelia were very happy finally to meet Chad, having heard so much about him over the previous ten years of his prison sentence.
The next day, Jake and Chad set off by bus to the town nearest their new home. On arriving there, they hired a mule to carry their belongings to the parcel, deep in the woods. It was high summer, so the weather was warm.
“Where you boys headed?” the mule driver asked.
“We bought a plot up near the border. We’ll pack our gear in and be back tomorrow to return the mule,” Jake said.
They walked into the woods, up the hill, with their map, until they came upon a khaki flag tied to a tree.
“This must be the southwest corner of our plot,” Jake observed. “They use those flags to mark boundaries up here.” They continued to a clearing and gathered branches to create a temporary shelter for the gear.
“You stay here to guard the gear tomorrow and I’ll take the mule back,” Jake said as evening descended.
“That’s great. I can start felling some trees to build the cabin with,” said Chad. “Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here alone with you. I never want to see another person again as long as I live.”
“Well, I can’t promise you that,” Jake laughed, “but I doubt we’ll get much company up here.”
They would have no problem sleeping on the ground for the few days it would take them to build their cabin out of logs they knew so well how to harvest. Their parcel was not large, but it was sufficiently isolated that they expected to have no visitors. They were ten miles from the nearest road, well into the mountains. Getting to their new home was not easy, even for two able bodied men. As Jake wished, they were deep in the woods.
Their retreat to a plot of land ten miles from the nearest road was sort of the inverse of the previous ten years. Having been separated for a decade, they now wanted nothing more than to spend as much time alone together as they could for as many decades as their lives would allow them. Jake and Chad were together and happy. Jake more than Chad, but both men had spent a lot of time in their youths in the woods and knew what to expect and how to live there. Additionally, both men were giddy with the happiness of being together again. On top of that happiness, Chad had the pleasure of being out of prison for the first time in ten years. After a serious first two weeks building their cabin and otherwise making the site suitable for long term habitation, they cavorted in the woods like boys, but with the added pleasures of activities that adults engage in.
So Chad dug.
It took him the better part of the day, but he kept digging, making the corners square and as neat as he could until he had created a hole that seemed to him to be deep enough and square enough to do justice to its purpose.
He had gone to town to buy a spade, since they usually had no need for such an implement.
Everything had been just fine, life chugging along as it had for thirty years, until about a month before the day of digging. One morning, Chad woke up as usual and greeted Jake.
“Good morning,” Jake replied, his speech oddly slurred.
“You okay?” Chad asked.
“I’m fine,” Jake replied.
He got out of bed and fell on the floor.
“Looks like you’re not okay,” said Chad as he helped Jake back into bed.
Chad made breakfast as usual and took it to Jake in bed.
“I’ll carry you to town to see a doctor,” Chad offered.
“No. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want you to do that. I’m an old man. I’m going to die eventually. I’d rather die up here,” said Jake.
“Don’t talk that way,” Chad said emphatically. “I don’t want to hear about you dying!”
After about two weeks of this new normal, Jake awoke one morning, discernibly still worse than before. Now, when he got up to relieve himself, neither leg much functioned at all, and he was almost entirely unable to speak. After thirty years, they knew each other too well and had said all there was to say.
“What am I going to do without you?” Chad asked one day, and immediately regretted it. They both could tell that Jake was dying, but neither much wanted to talk about it.
Jake just looked morose and offered no response. He had no idea what to say. He couldn’t speak anyway, so there was no point.
So they didn’t talk much. It was obvious to both of them that Jake was not long for the world. Although Chad never much thought about it, of course it made sense that Jake, being ten years older, would be the first to go. They had had thirty years mostly alone together, deep in the woods, mostly ignoring the deep depression that was already well underway when they first moved into the woods and the second major war after the Great War that had helped cause their ten years of separation and subsequent alienation from the larger society. Chad felt deep anguish at the prospect of losing Jake, but he knew it was inevitable. No point in crying about it. They hardly talked much at all under ordinary circumstances, and Jake’s obvious physical decline did not much incline them to talk more. Chad proved his love for Jake by caring for him, feeding him, cleaning up after him when he could no longer get out of bed at all, lying next to him most of the time, simply enjoying the usual peace and quiet of the deep woods. Despite his strong suspicion that Jake would soon die, Chad relished these two weeks of near total inactivity, the opportunity for the two of them simply to exist, communing in silence.
Then, one morning, Chad awoke and got no response at all when he nudged Jake. He nudged again, harder. Still no response. He looked more closely and saw no evidence of respiration. To make sure, he held Jake’s nose shut. Nothing. Jake was dead.
Now Chad felt numb. He reacted stoically to Jake’s death, at first. He took his time that morning, getting dressed and eating breakfast. Then he took what little money he had into town and bought a spade, since they usually had no need for such an implement.
He dragged Jake’s body out of the bed. He couldn’t put it outside or the animals would eat it. He was torn. He hated the thought of doing anything that would seem to disrespect his memory of Jake, but he couldn’t bring himself to sleep in the same bed as a dead body.
He slept fitfully that night and got up at first daylight. He ate breakfast.
And Chad dug.
It took the better part of the day to achieve a hole he considered sufficient to the task. Not as deep as a regular grave, but deep enough. A very square rectangle in the ground, long enough and wide enough and deep enough to contain Jake’s body.
Dragging Jake’s large, heavy body out to the grave was a chore by itself. Finally, Chad rolled Jake into the hole and covered him up, ending with a noticeable mound in the dirt with Jake’s dead body at the bottom.
Chad sat down on top of the mound and cried. All of the emotion of thirty years poured out of him. He knew some people talked about a god, an entity that supposedly was all powerful, kind, and merciful, but Chad could find neither kindness nor mercy in the death of the man he had loved for over forty years.
Chad wasn’t angry. Mostly, he was just sad. A deep, profound sadness that suffused his entire being, physical as well as emotional. He knew it would never leave him.
So he faced a decision. He could continue to live in the cabin, deep in the woods, much as he and Jake had done for thirty years, only without Jake, until he died of natural causes, who knew how long. He did not think he would much enjoy their cabin or their plot without Jake. He could move into town and try to make his way in society, as unaccustomed and unappealing as that prospect was.
Or he could easily think of several ways to end his own life quickly and painlessly in order to minimize the amount of time he had to spend alive without the man he loved.
But he realized he did not need to be in any hurry to make that decision, so for the moment, he sat on the mound and cried.
Deep in the woods.