Image 01

Excerpt from “The Way You Are”

Published in McCall’s August 1958. Originally titled “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch.”

Les Chandler pulled in at the top of the rise and looked down at the highway. One glance confirmed as reality what had seemed suspiciously like a mirage from a distance, and he tried unsuccessfully to keep from grinning.

The white sports car sat on the shoulder of the road just beyond the culvert. Its long nose sniffed disdainfully at a clump of sunflowers, but its arrogance was somewhat humbled by the raised hood and the unnatural silence of its powerful motor. The girl standing beside it, her dark head tilted to one side, was staring soberly into the depths beneath the hood.

For another moment Les held his horse motionless. He looked at the black velvet slacks, the small slim figure inside them, the scarlet cummerbund that had first caught his eye across a mile of empty range land. Then he looked briefly at the sky, black and angry with the threat of a late afternoon storm, tormented by flickers of lighting all along the wide reach of the horizon.

He turned unhurriedly down the hill toward the dry creek bed, hoping he wouldn’t startle her, and he had reached the culvert and started up the bank before she came out of her trance and whiled around.

Les spoke quickly. “Need any help?”

Her eyes were very wide, very blue, as she looked him over. Probably trying to decide what kind of help she was likely to need, he thought with amusement; she was young and pretty and elegant, a dude in a powerful foreign car who would ordinarily have seen this part of the country only as a passing blur.

He stayed in the saddle, thinking it might reassure her, but if she was scared she didn’t show it. She leaned back against the car and smiled faintly at him.

“Well,” she said, “if it isn’t the Marlboro Man.”

“Sorry,” Les said mildly. “No tattoo.”

Her smile went all the way, warming her eyes with laughter. “I thought I’d lost all trace of civilization,” she said, “but it seems Madison Avenue has blazed a trail before me. I’ll be you even own a gray flannel suit.”

“As a matter of fact,” Les said, “I do.”

She sighed. Looking around, her small face grew sober again as she took in the wide empty miles and vasty silence of the high plains country surrounding her, the dark clouds towering above.

Les waited, a little uncomfortably, for her to realize that she was as alone as she’d ever be, and that he wasn’t much of a bargain as a tourist attraction. His jeans and shirt, clean that morning, had attracted the usual amount of dust and grime from the day’s work, as well as the unmistakeable bouquet peculiar to cattle and mud and cow doctoring, and he suspected that his face hadn’t fared much better.

But when her eyes came back to him she only said, “It’s rather sad, in a way. I don’t think I’d like you nearly as well in a gray flannel suit.”

Back to Short Stories