Spilled Milk and Broken Promises

What do you say to Jason Three Stars that could possibly make any difference? The gaudiest slice of civilization he had ever experienced, until last Monday, was a mountain village that clung more naturally to history than to life in some remote canyon of the Sangre de Cristo. The closest thing to a sky-scraper in his Apache perceptions was some man's two-story barn crowned with a rusty, corrugated tin roof. To Jason Three Stars, main street was nothing more dazzling than a tangle of shacks leaning against the wind. Above those shacks lived the somehow comforting squeak of a beer sign that rubbed a familiar chorus when the wind tugged on it, which was often.

So what do you say to Jason Three Stars? The aspen forests were second nature in his conclusions about life. The beaver, the mule deer, and the ground squirrel he counted as blood kin. On more mornings than memory could contain, Jason Three Stars had washed his sleepy face in melted snow. And ever since memories mattered to him, the bull elk's bugle was the only signal worth trusting in counting the days until the first snow blanketed the Sangre de Cristo.

That tangle of shacks in the village served an ominous purpose—it taught Jason Three Stars to swallow furiously on what few cans of beer he could afford beneath the squeaky sign. Jason's money was green enough, so it was rung up on the register until it ran out, or until Jason began to slur one of the Apache songs his grandfather had taught him 30 years ago. The singing, it seems, was always the prelude to Jason's quick exit from the tavern. He was accustomed to being dropped in the dust or the mud, depending upon the season, to stew in his own indignity until sobriety once again returned his strength. Getting bounced was to Jason Three Stars just as much a part of drinking as swallowing.

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