There are three ghosts that haunt Ennis. Set just after Jack and Ennis' first reunion.
Ghost of the past
Ennis believes in ghosts.
Not restless ghosts of the dead, lost souls of those long gone, or the spirits of the undead. He doesn't believe in shit like that. As far as Ennis is concerned, if there be such things as those kind of ghosts, then how come he ain't never seen them?
No, he doesn't believe in those sorts of ghosts. He believes in the sort of ghosts that people make for themselves; the mistakes they go making in their lives, the choices they regret and the lies they gone and told. He believes in them because he has his own ghosts from the past that haunt him. They haunt him every single damn day.
It's the summer of 1967. It's been four years since he seen Jack Twist and two hours since he watched Jack drive off back home to Childress, Texas. Back to his wife and kid, back to his seemingly normal kind of life, back to everything that Ennis ain't a part of. Awakening the ghost of the past that never really lay dormant. This ghost comes in the form of Jack, because Jack is the only thing in his past that matters to Ennis; the only thing he knows he never should've let go.
He sits in the cramped, musty living room of his home, bathed in sweat from the sultry summer heat, staring down at where Jack's truck had been parked when they arrived back from their fishing trip they spontaneously went on, and there's a pain in Ennis' gut; a deep, aching pain, like he's going to be sick. The same kind of pain he had the last time he and Jack parted ways, just after their job up yonder Brokeback ended. It took him more than a damn year to work out what that pain meant and part of him wishes he never gone and worked it out, because this time around, seeing Jack go, just makes this pain eat into him deeper.
The ghost of the past, of what they had up in Brokeback, has always haunted him. Not knowing where the hell Jack was in all them four years made this damn ghost seem like nothing more than memories he could no more hold onto than if he were to reach out and try to grab a fistful of thin air in his hand.
But seeing Jack again, touching him, kissing him, holding him, fucking him, made this ghost surface like infected boils. Staring down at the empty allotment where Jack's truck had been parked, Ennis can feel this damn ghost provoking him, taunting him, possessing him. Them feelings he has for Jack, them damn feelings he thought he would've snuffed when he gone and married his sweetheart, Alma have come back stronger than the taste of the hard liquor burning his tongue that he and Jack drank around the campfire on their fishing trip.
It's the choice you gone and made, cowboy, says the ghost of the past. Ennis closes his eyes briefly because the ghost of the past looks like Jack, and it feels like it's Jack telling him this. You gone and made the choice to walk away, the ghost continues, and you gotta live with it, friend. You gotta live with it 'coz if you weren't gonna fix it then, you got no choice but to stand it now.
This ghost taunts him most about the way he walked away from Jack when they parted ways after Brokeback, how he told Jack he'd see him 'round like he weren't nothing but a buddy that didn't mean nothing to him. He had a choice; he could've made a choice to not let Jack out of his damn sight. He could've pulled him back into a hard, firm embrace that they both were so familiar with, held him close, pressed his lips to his ear and whispered to him not to go, to tell him that he don't want Jack to go, stay 'round, cowboy, 'coz I sure as hell ain't going anywhere without you, little darlin'.
But, no. He treated it like he treats everything; if you can't fix it you got to stand it.
Ghost of the present.
He don't really want to stand it. There's a part of him that wants to fix it.
As he continues to stare out at the empty car space, a cigarette pursed between his lips that's smouldering a lazy, endless stream of blue-grey smoke into the thick humidity of the living room, he hears Alma in the background, in the kitchen, cooking, pots and pans clanking about on the cooktop. He hears Alma Jnr. and Jenny's cries for food and for nappy changing, Alma irritably calling for them to either be quiet or go to daddy, and Ennis does his best to block all of that out.
He can't block it out, though. This is the life he got for himself now and there ain't no way he's going to change that, no matter how much he wishes he could. This is the life he got for himself and it feels like the ghost of the present is hovering around him, reminding him of what he has and how unsatisfied he is with it all.
It be the choice you made, Ennis, says the ghost of the present, whispering like a devil in his ear. This ghost comes in the shape of everything that Ennis has now -- Alma, his girls, the dust that kicked up from the wheels of Jack's truck when he drove off. But look, look, friend, the ghost continues. Look, you could still make that choice. You could still walk outta here and be hitchin' up dirt on the road, makin' tracks behind Jack and, who the devil knows, maybe you'd catch up with him before he even hit the border a Wyoming.
Ennis shakes his head resolutely at that, and if Alma were to see him, she'd be asking who the devil he was talking to.
You gonna stand it, friend? the ghost continues. You gonna stand it 'coz you don't want no business in fixin' it? You want a live a lie the rest a yer damn life, cowboy?
He continues to stare, almost unblinkingly out of the grimy window as the ghost of the present makes way for the ghost Ennis fears most of all.
Ghost of the future.
This ghost comes in the shape of Death in Ennis' mind; a faceless creature cloaked in black with gnarled skeletal hands. Faceless because he has no idea what his future holds, and skeletal because ultimately, the thing that awaits him at the end of it all is death. But that's not what matters; what matters is what he does between now and then that will determine whether he'll die a happy, fulfilled man, or a lonely, empty soul.
The words from the ghost of the present echo in his mind as he takes another drag on his cigarette: You gonna stand it, friend? You want a live a lie the rest a yer damn life, cowboy?
Well. He's been living a lie the last four damn years, what difference will another four damn years make? Or another four years after that, or another, or yet another after /that/? Ennis blows a cloud of smoke into the air just as he hears Alma trying to placate Jenny in the kitchen in a strained soothing voice, interrupting her soothing with shouts at Alma Jnr. to not touch the damn pots on the stove. He glances over his shoulder towards the kitchen where they are and it's as if the ghost of the future is pointing him in the direction of his future with the life he got now.
He can picture his girls grown up, attractive, intelligent, and Alma looking all haggard and burned-out, like how she does now. He pictures being in a fruitless relationship, one that grows staler than it already has and when his girls have moved out and it's just him and Alma, he pictures him and her growing as far apart as the east is from the west. And all the while, he'd be thinking of Jack, Jack, darlin' Jack, and he'd die an empty, unfulfilled man with nothing but the memory of Brokeback and a few fishing trips each year with Jack to take to the grave with him.
It's like the ghost of the future is pointing the other way now, in the direction that Ennis watched Jack drive off in, because Ennis turns to look out the window again and suddenly he's thinking of life with Jack. What could've been. What would've been. What he could still have if he was selfish enough to leave his wife and children behind to go and chase after Jack. And he wouldn't have to chase him very far, because he knows he could run a million steps from Jack but he'd only have to turn back in the direction he'd just run from and take one step forward, straight into Jack's waiting arms.
He can picture a ranch, with horses like Jack said, a cattle and calf station, dinner around a cramped table, sleeping naked next to each other, making love whenever they want, fighting and making up with a fast and furious fuck on the nearest surface, waking up every damn day with something to be happy about, no matter how hard life might be.
Ennis smiles slightly to himself. Yeah, it could be a sweet life. Could be a real sweet life.
But in a flood of memories, as though it has its own ghost of the past, Ennis remembers when he was kid, seeing Earl lying in the irrigation ditch, smelling of nothing but the death the locals all said he had coming to him. Sure, life with Jack could be a sweet life, but Ennis don't want to end up like Earl, beaten to death for living true to himself.
The smile is gone from his lips.
Yer want a live a lie the rest a yer damn life, cowboy?
What choice has he got? If he don't want to end up like Earl, what damn choice has he got?
After taking a final drag on the cigarette, he snuffs it out in the ashtray, the ghost of the future fading into the background and the taunting ghost of the past creeps back in and settles deep in the recesses of his mind. Makes his stomach churn, eats away at his regret, at his pain, mocks him for the choice he made of ever letting Jack out of his sight. Ennis stands up from the chair and faces away from the window, and makes his way towards the kitchen, to his wife, to his kids, the life he got for himself now.
If he can't fix it, he just got to stand it.