Oct/Nov 2022  •   Fiction

Mount the Sky

by J. Alan Nelson

Organic mixed media artwork by Kay Sexton

Organic mixed media artwork by Kay Sexton

In Snyder, I knew a farmer who said he mounted his wife Hulda like his stallion mounted mares or his dangerous Brahman bull mounted Limousin cows. Lafford Laveer, pragmatic and blunt, had no filters.

This was not mere mens' talk. Hulda, (why not Hilda I never asked) was a pleasant, red-haired, sun-freckled farmer herself, and she was present at these conversations. The Laveers didn't have the usual restraints about talk of sexual acts, so long as you discussed it in farming or breeding terms. They viewed human breeding as a science and art in the way they viewed breeding stock. However, if you said fuck or screw, they'd take offense at the language as an "offense to God."

Lafford and Hulda farmed and ranched a combined spread of 10,000 acres west of Snyder toward La Mesa. The land had been in their family since century before last. Their brothers and sisters and cousins had sold out to them and moved to cities. Lafford and Hulda lived in a two-story home that had started as a dog trot house in the 1870s. The Laveers proudly showed me the original thick planks of one half of the dog trot, dark and warped with age, that now served as the floor of the master bedroom. Evidently Lafford didn't remember when I used to go mudlarking with his oldest brother in the Sand Cow Creek after flash floods.

I had just started teaching at Texas Tech, but I still lived in Snyder. One Sunday after church they saw me at the town Dairy Queen and asked if they could join me at my booth. The Dairy Queen was new. It was common to see people come in their Sunday best from church.

We all had ordered steak finger baskets with crispy fries, Texas toast, and cream gravy. And cokes. The Laveers glanced at each other, smiled at me that our orders coincided. The little things always charm people. Then they talked about their mounting problems.

I soon discerned they weren't asking about the sexual act, but rather its hoped for result. They used mounting and mount interchangeably with reproduction or procreating. Getting knocked up. Which wasn't happening for them, and they were worried.

The Laveers had been married ten years, both had reached 30, and they were childless. Who would help them work the farm? They had started mounting—the more literal application of the term—midday before lunch as well as at dark, morning, and sometimes the middle of the night.

"We are worried," Hulda said after her husband produced a schedule from his shirt pocket. They had begun tracking their mountings a few years ago. The chart showed an astounding number of them. The Laveers probably thought about and had more sex than anyone I'd ever know.

They looked at me, their dinner companion. I looked right back, confused.

"What do you think we should do?" Lafford asked.

"Why are you asking me?"

"Your brother says you're a genius about biology and animal husbandry."

"Dadgummit, y'all," I said, then stopped. I'd lapsed into the dialect I'd worked so hard to leave behind me. "I'm not a genius at all."

"You teach at the university."

"So do many others. There may not be one genius among us."

"And you have experience with children."

I felt a rising alarm.

"I don't have kids."

"You did, though."

For a moment, I could not breathe. I could not see.

Soft fingers touched my wrist.

"I'm sorry," Hulda whispered. "But we are desperate."

I took a gasping breath. My sight cleared. I realized Lafford was supporting me. I had slumped. I took a deep breath and straightened.

"I'm okay. I'm okay."

"I'm sorry," Lafford said. "But we don't know what else to do. We want to ask you both as a professional and as our friend. We think you might could help us."

I hesitated. "Maybe see a doctor? I asked.

That shocked them.

"He ain't got a broke dick," Hulda said in a sharp tone. "I don't kick."

I gaped. "Kick?"

Lafford nodded.

"We had a stallion kicked by a mare a few years ago. We had to let him go. He couldn't mount the mares no more."

"You don't want me to talk about sperm and eggs and such."

"We understand the basics," Hulda said. "We're farmers. We were just wondering if there were any tricks or secrets..."

"Nope," I said. "You already have sex. That's the secret."

They both looked disappointed.

"You're both still so young," I said. "Neither one of you have hit thirty."

"It's been years. We really expected to have a herd of five or six little ones by now," Lafford said.

"I was thinking seven or eight by now," Hulda said. "My mom had twelve. And your mom had nine."

"Adoption?" I said.

"Oh, no," they said together.

"We believe we're meant to breed," Hulda said. "Now when I get past child bearing age, if we still don't have our own herd, then we'll adopt. But I got another 20 or so years."

"Maybe look into a sperm donor or surrogate mother," I said.

They shook their head.

"Nope," Lafford said. "I never would plant my seed into anyone else's egg or womb. Only Hulda."

"I would never allow any other man's seed into me. Only Lafford," Hulda said.

"Why?" I shook my head. "You're farmers and ranchers. It's just breeding. You want kids."

"Why haven't you remarried since Olivia?" Hulda asked in a quiet, quiet voice. "Or dated even? Why haven't you adopted since Ben?"

I said nothing. The darkness creeped back, started to smother again. I fought it back.

"Well, there you ain't," Hulda said. "You're like us. You think like us."

"It's just we've been married ten years this week, right after high school," Lafford said. "We seek that event, that transformation of us into biological parents like any of our livestock. We want that. We want something of our love to live on like other men and women in history."

"My mommy and grandma always said you have to have seven kids live to adulthood to reach immortality," Hulda said. "But I'm worried. I'm really worried. It's like I can feel a large desert, a dust land approaching."


After that dinner, I saw the Laveers from time to time until I got tired of driving to Lubbock every day and moved there. I sold my little frame home on Avondale and bought a ranch style near Texas Tech.

Then I saw the Laveers only every few years. Once they were buying some cattle at a livestock auction and we had a grand time at the 50-yard line restaurant, which was in its heyday. Once I was passing through Snyder and met them at the old Phillips 66 restaurant.

The last time I saw them, they made a special trip to see me at my university office.

"Well," Lafford began, but stopped.

"What Lafford doesn't want to say is I've reached the change," Hulda said.

"Oh?" I wasn't expecting this conversation.

"Now, I still mount her," Lafford said.

"Of course," I said.

"We wanted you to know we're in the process of adopting a child," Hulda said. They smiled.

"Congratulations," I said. I stood up to shake their hands, but they both hugged me.

"Maybe as soon as next month," Lafford said.


That was the last time I saw them. The next day, Hulda was nailing a metal rooster weathervane on the gable of their huge barn when a dust storm hit. She lost her balance and fell to her death. The next day, Lafford convinced old Homer Enoch to take him up in his single engine biplane crop duster over the farm so he could pay respects to Hulda. They were only a few hundred feet up when Lafford dropped the cockpit window.

"I asked him if he had to vomit," Homer told me. "Lafford pulled himself out on the lower wing. He held to the upper wing and made his way out to the tip like an old timey wing-walker. Then he kicked off his boots and somehow stripped off his clothes out there till he was naked. I was scared to do anything... thought it might make him fall."

Homer stared for a moment at the memory replaying in his mind. "It was scary as all git out. I ain't never gonna get over it. Lafford stood there on the wing, smiling so big, and he just let go and dove. It was like he had got to try to mount the sky." Homer shook his head. "He tried to mount it."

Lafford landed in the midst of a herd of Bramousin on a bull worth a fortune. The bull, badly injured, had to be put down.


About a decade later, I visited my brother on 44th Street in Snyder. We talked about old times. Then I drove by my old place on Avondale. Besides new siding on the exterior walls, the house with its cinderblock backyard wall looked the same. I yearned to sit on that wall by the old peach tree, my legs hanging over the alley side, and just muse about the time that had disappeared to I know not where.

Then I drove out to Snyder Cemetery to look at the memorial markers for Olivia and Ben. Just markers. No graves. Then I drove out a few miles toward La Mesa on 180 till I saw the turnoff to the Laveer family farm. The ancient house, barns, and corrals had been bulldozed. A prefab metal office building stood on the old homestead with the sign Ekistics Fracking Co.

Most of the old Laveer family graveyard still stood. There were tombstones dating back a century on marble from Italy. Hulda and Lafford shared a granite one. It was overgrown with mesquite. One of the roots had cracked the stone. And nearby, in the midst of the graves, was an oil rig. The oil company had bought the mineral rights and land in fee simple. Equipment littered the yard and range. And I saw the numerous saltwater spills the company never bothered to clean up. The land Lafford and Hulda had tended with such care was ruined for crops or cattle. Saltwater spills, though their farm was 600 miles from Gulf.

When I saw all this, I knew why Lafford mounted the sky. I pictured Olivia and Ben waving goodbye as they left to see her parents in Post. Then the huge tornado hit the highway like a hand from the sky and swept everything away, never to be seen again, leaving me alone in this bleak, dust land Hulda saw so truly long ago, a land flooded into us by wind and underground, secret ways.