Although Anna isn't a major character she plays a critical part in the novel. Her relationship and split from Joe after his marriage proposal drives him to move on and sleep with women for the sake of it (perhaps using them as he is hurting and beyond caring). Angry, disgusted and nearly broke, Joe is picked up hitching by Frank Hill and offered a job, which sets up the complex relationship with Frank’s wife Rita.
Joe didn’t exactly know when he had fallen in love with Anna, it just happened and knew it was right. He’d heard about falling in love for the first time and how the heart felt tight, and how he felt good being with her.
Being in love had never been something he thought much about. Once it had been a meaningless word, but no more.
His parents who had once loved and laughed had ended up with nothing left of their marriage. Their faces were like masks as they tried to avoid each other.
He didn’t want his love for Anna to end up like his parents all shut away and afraid to talk or even think about it. He wanted to laugh with Anna as she watched children playing, at her jokes and at life. He needed her.
One time he came upon Anna in the hallway of her apartment building. She smiled to herself as she danced in sunbeams. She sparkled with pinpoints of light as she hummed a tune, then threw back her head and closed her eyes. His heart pulled at him and he felt like crying he was so overwhelmed with how much he loved her.
“I want to know who you really are.” Anna stood by the window above the street. A match flared as she lit a cigarette. It turned her profile into a rich yellow ochre, the color that would always be hers. When she finally faced him her eyes searched his soul in a way that made him uneasy.
He thought for a moment, weighing her request. There was much he wanted to say to her. What it was like to work like a demon on a ranch in the hot sun, go to sleep late wake early, then work like a demon again. Or the times he felt so alone and scared, he could hardly breathe. Could he tell her that?
It didn’t matter to him what Anna was or did, women did that and that’s all there was to it. He fell in love with her again unconcerned with the imperfections or what might happen until it was too late.
“I’ll bet those clouds turn to rain,” she said.
“Five bucks,” he said with a smile. “I’ll bet you five bucks.”
“You don’t have five bucks,” she said.
“Fifty cents, then,” he said.
“You’re on,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.
He lay back and watched her finish the cigarette and thought of how the blue smoke was thin and delicate, like the lace on an old faded white dress. For a moment he thought of her walking down a city street wearing the dress. How men would stare at her, wishing she was theirs.
She stepped back from the window and headed into the small tiled bathroom. Water ran in the basin. She splashed it on her face and breasts. Her eyes were closed and her mouth slightly open, the way it was when they made love.
She finished and walked to where he lay. Behind her the basin gurgled loudly. Water dripped from the end of her nipples to the floor. She sat on the bed and he moved his hand down her lean body. The birthmark under the left breast was like a small red wound, but satiny to touch, like the rest of her skin. She pushed his hands away and kissed him half-heartedly.
“Not now,” she said.
“You want too much.” Her eyes flashed.
“I just want you.”
Rain shimmered the window.
She rose and stepped towards the closet. She held up a brown sweater, then tossed it his way.
“It’ll look good on you. What do you think? ”
He pulled the sweater over his head. It was loose, just the way he liked his sweaters.
“Brown’s a good color for you,” she said. “It matches your eyes.”
He’d never had a woman care for him like this. It was a feeling he’d remember. “I have nothing to give you back,” he said.
“You’ve already given it.” Her eyes were moist.
Outside the rain stopped and the sky brightened. The mountains to the south were sharp and black. The continual changing of the prairie always amazed him. It was as if someone were constantly trying to find the right combinations of color and shape in a search for perfection that was never there, but closest when he was with Anna.