A Storyby Rick Bass
Richard had been transferred to the west Texas town of Midland, an oil and gas town, his first year out of college, and while there, he met and fell in love with Claire, a woman so beautiful he laughed aloud with pleasure and disbelief the first time he saw her. She was, unfortunately for him, terrified of tenderness, even of love, and its clamant demands. Her main goal, not a new one, was simply one day to get out of the town in which she had been raised. She, too, was twenty-three.
Richard was a field geologist and spent much of his time mapping outcrops of ancient fossils and formations. It was this ability that first drew Claire’s attention. He had taken her up onto the high reef above the desert one weekend and shown her an amazing assemblage of Paleozoic oddities, and when she found out they had worth not just for the knowledge they could bring to the drillers about the possible locations of oil and gas far below, but value in themselves, as museum specimens, she asked that he take her prospecting with him on a regular basis. Museums and collections around the world were interested in fossils of the highest quality, and Claire hoped that by gathering enough of them she might earn the money to make a new life. Anywhere would be fine, as long as it wasn’t Midland. Whenever she considered her future in such a harsh and inflexible place, she could imagine nothing but misery and grief, boundaries and limitations. And in addition to hating the small-town atmosphere, she loathed the desert landscape.
She had always been acutely aware of how unusual her beauty was in a place like Midland. No one ever believed she had been born there. With her pale skin, long black hair, and strange green eyes, they guessed Ireland, Israel, Russia, but never Texas.
In spite of her interest in the money fossils might bring, Richard thought she felt something for him. The differences between them were so evident it was unnecessary to speak of them. And Claire, intrigued because she had never been in love, followed Richard that summer as if in a trance or some odd transition in the deeper part of her that always resisted love and its risks, its weatherings.