Besides that, it did exactly what a writing prompt is supposed to do—prompted. I'd made up my mind, after writing a couple of one-shots for the past two months, that from here on out I'd make a point of digging Chatterbox scenes out of The Summer Country, Lady's-Slipper Ranch or Based on a True Story. This month's theme is water ("cool, clear water..."), and initially I thought it would have me breaking that resolve. Then I had an idea how I could work it into a scene from Lady's-Slipper Ranch that wasn't very well-developed in my mind yet—and I not only got my Chatterbox scene, but a whole page of notes for that segment of the book and what follows.
This is from pretty deep into the story, so it's kind of a tease plot-wise:
“My, my,” said Lou, “it looks like we’ve raised the ghost again.”
Marian leaned to look around her, out through the open door. “Twice in a month,” she remarked.
They both watched as Trammell got down from his horse and turned toward the house. This time he was wearing a gray suit, and he seemed to move a little differently in it. A light-colored hat which looked like it had not seen much wear shaded his face from view with its broad brim as he forged toward the house with his head bent a little against the blazing afternoon sun.
“We seem to have raised it well and good this time,” murmured Marian. “Have you ever seen him wear a suit before?”
“Once,” said Lou with a bitter tang in her voice. “Pa’s funeral.”
Marian looked sidelong at her sister’s face. Lou never forgot anything, she thought, not even the small things; that was why life was so hard on her.
“I wonder whose funeral he thinks he’s attending this time,” muttered Lou out of the side of her mouth, for their neighbor was getting closer.
“Lou,” said Marian, “let me do the talking. We’ve no need to make things any worse than they are.”
Lou said suddenly, “I wish Jerry was here—he’d—” and then broke off just as abruptly. Marian had only time to glance curiously at her before the lank, hulking frame of Trammell filled the narrow doorway.
He took off the broad-brimmed hat and bid them good afternoon, to which Marian replied conventionally. (Lou saw no need; one good-afternoon was enough for them both.) Seen up close, the unaccustomed gray suit became him even less. The coat was long enough, but the width was wrong in the shoulders, leaving tight-strained wrinkles bunched all around the armhole seams as if he had an invisible pack on his back pulling at them. It was evidently the wrong sort of day for wearing a suit as well. The many lines in his face, almost as many as the wrinkles in the suit, were glimmering threads of perspiration, and the uncomfortableness of the bunched heavy fabric under his arms was palpable as he sat down at the table, at Marian’s invitation. “Thanks,” he said, sounding short of breath.
“Would you care for a drink, Mr. Trammell?” she said, with the same restrained politeness.
He looked blank for a second, no doubt used to “a drink” typically meaning something else at his bachelor establishment, and then saw the pitcher that she reached for and comprehended. “Yes, I’d—I’d appreciate that,” he said.
Marian filled a glass with cool water and handed it to him, and he drank off about half of it at a gulp. He flopped the white hat upside-down on the table, crown first, the sure sign of a man who hates his Sunday hat. Marian, meanwhile, seated herself across from him, next to Lou, who was sitting with her feet very close together and exercising all her self-control not to cross her arms defiantly.
Trammell wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, slowly. “Well,” he said, “I guess I ought to come right to the point. I came over here to make you a kind of proposition. Hear me out, now, because there’s a lot of sense to what I’m going to say.”
Neither spoke, so he went on. “I know you’ve had a hard time of it here since your pa died. You’ve made a real good thing of it for just being a couple of young ladies, but I won’t pretend to say everything’s gone like it could have. Now, I can’t find fault with your management, Miss Marian, not at all. But I know it’s been a lot for you.” He paused and let his eyes travel between the sisters. Lou’s face was like stone.
Trammell turned back to Marian, who was still regarding him with faultless, patient politeness. “You’re not going to be able to keep a place like this running too long. I know the trouble you’ve had with it.” He raised the glass again and sloshed the rest of the water down his throat, then licked his lips. “Truth is, what you’ve got is a section of land that’s too big for you, and a herd that’s too much for you to handle.”
The girls exchanged a disbelieving look. But Trammell had come with a set speech, which he was now delivering to the rim of the glass clenched in his big hairy-backed hand. “What you’d need is more money to put in, and more hands, and more experience. That’s things not easy to come by.” He lifted the glass again, but it was empty. He looked vaguely at the pitcher of water.
Marian was looking at it too. But in place of the old stoneware pitcher sheened with condensation, the picture that rose in her head was of the waterhole down under the low-hanging trees, its once cool pure water trampled into dark mud, barbed wire tangled in the bushes with a bawling calf snarled in it, and cattle wearing the T Cross Connected brand pushing and shoving each other further into the shaded hollow. She knew Lou was seeing the same thing, and imagined rather than saw her sister’s hand clench into a fist beneath the level of the table.
Marian stood up abruptly, and turned the pitcher toward her by the handle. She refilled Trammell’s glass. Instead of sitting down again while he drank, she turned away and moved behind Lou’s chair, and pressed her fingers into her sister’s shoulder; a warning and calming gesture in one.
Trammell wiped his mouth again, and leaned forward in his chair. The wrinkles around his shoulders pulled tighter. “So I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll buy you out.”
Read previous Chatterboxes here.