What remains after pain is an uncertain quiet, an uneasy ease. He no longer knows how to fill the void that is left. It’s hard walking the path down to the hot springs without the pressure of swollen joints to temper each step. There is too much freedom. He feels like a calf on the wrong side of the fence. When no one is looking, Don Diego lets his arms swing wide and skips like a schoolchild. This will not do. Old cattlemen do not skip. The absurdity of an ‘old’ cattleman makes him laugh gruffly, like a lost steer coughing in a pine thicket.
He tries to find his swagger before he gets to the pool, tries to bend his knees as if hugging a saddle. There’s nothing he can do about the silence except whistle a little to cover the absence of creaks and pops. Don Diego tries to blow melancholy, but it’s not easy on warm red rock under a bright blue sky. When the girl with the towels starts humming along he gives up altogether.
In the night, he pulls a lariat from the bottom of his suitcase and twirls it in small circles again and again to warm up his wrist. Then he lassoes the bedpost – fifty, a hundred, two hundred times in rapid succession – until he feels his shoulder stiffen, his back begin to seize. He works the rope enough to get a small, welcome buzz of pain. Satisfied, Don Diego falls asleep to a litany of nerve and muscle complaints, the restless twitching of fingers tracing seventy years of work and ache. Tomorrow, he’ll test the waters again.