Down the Backroads

The empty cans of beer had joined the other detritus on the floor of the truck, gathered over the past weeks of endless travel, a rodeo nearly every day. There were empty bags of chips and chocolate bar wrappers, bottles of Orange Crush half filled with Copenhagen spit, unopened packets of mustard and ketchup, along with napkins and coffee stir sticks and the other accoutrements of a life on the road. Emma had always complained about the smell of the truck, but Dane and Colton no longer noticed. They spent so long in there, days and nights crossing the Canadian prairie and down into Montana and Wyoming and further south on the rodeo circuit, that the state of the vehicle had simply become normal to them both, as natural as the vast open expanses they drove through.

They drove in an uneasy silence, Colton glancing over from time to time at Dane, who did not take his eyes from the road. He stuck to the back roads and secondary highways, though it would add time to their journey, but there was little chance of their meeting a cop on patrol. They encountered no one as they went and after a time Dane put the truck in the middle of the road so that the headlights illuminated both ditches. The only other lights came from the farms and ranches they passed by, flickering beacons in the darkness.

They stopped once to take a leak on the side of highway, each of them instantly surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes and bugs. Colton looked at Dane sideways as they stood there. At last, judging that enough time had passed to cool his friend’s temper Colton spoke.

“What the hell is going on man?”

Dane zipped up his pants and walked towards the truck, not looking at Colton. “It’s nothing. It’s Emma is all.”

“Bullshit nothing. Christ, why are we running around in the middle of the night then?”

Dane got in the truck without another word and Colton followed. “Get the stuff. I need a hit.”

“You sure man?” Colton said and Dane glared at him. Colton reached for the glove compartment, clicking it open and rummaging through the papers within. “This doesn’t seem like the best idea if we’re driving.”

“I’m tired man, I need to focus.”

“Well I could drive for a while.”

“Just get the shit,” Dane said.

“Alright, alright. Calm down now,” Colton said, retrieving a baggie and pipe. While he put some of the crystal in the pipe, Dane rolled down the windows, looking out morosely at the night.

They took a couple of hits each and then sat in silence as the high washed over them.

“Emma was with another guy,” Dane said at last.

“Holy shit,” Colton said, coughing. “You saw her?”

“Yeah,” Dane said slowly, taking another hit. “Yeah. Couldn’t find her. Went to look for her and she was in the trailer with this dude.”

“Man,” Colton said, returning the pipe and the baggie to their spots in the glove compartment. “Can’t believe she’d do that. What’d you say to them?”

“Nothing. I just walked in and heard them in the back and bailed. Didn’t trust myself, you know.”

Colton reflected on this for a moment. “So you didn’t see her?”

Dane looked at him. “Pretty obvious what was going on man.”

“I was just thinking, maybe it was Marcie, right? Could have been her too. They came together right?”

Dane worked at his lower lip with his teeth. “Nah, nah it was her. Where else was she, right?”

Colton nodded, “Yeah I guess.”

Neither of them said anymore and Dane put the truck back on the road. They were flying soon, the darkness beyond the headlights seeming almost to blur as they passed by. Colton glanced over at the speedometer and then at Dane but said nothing, though he shifted uneasily in his seat. Dane slowed down when he had to turn on Highway 21 for a few miles, though it was as empty as all the other roads they had been on. He kept the truck in the middle of the road, drifting every now and again to one side or the other so that his tires ran across the warning strip at the center line, which shook the whole truck with a droning vibration.

He kept the truck there even as a pair of lights from a semi-truck blinked beyond a pair of hills in the distance. The lights disappeared, reappearing a moment later as the semi went down one hill and started over the next. They disappeared again as their own truck started up a steep hill, the engine working hard, and then appeared in a blinding flash atop the hill as the semi came down upon them. Dane flinched at the lights but made no move to pull the truck into the right lane.

“Hey man,” Colton said, in a quiet voice that barely sounded over rumble of the straining engine. Dane gave no sign that he had heard, or that he noticed when the trucker sounded his horn and flashed his lights as the two vehicles moved perilously near, one upon the other. Only at the last moment, the semi nearly upon them, the horn sounding louder and louder did he pull the truck over and out of the way. The semi hurtled by, its passage shaking the truck so violently that Dane momentarily lost control of the vehicle.

“Fuck me man,” Colton said after a few moments.

“What?”

“I think maybe I should drive.”

“No,” Dane said, as he turned off of 21 and onto the 570. The tires squealed as he made the corner and started to speed up again.

“I don’t get it man,” Colton said with a shake of his head. “You’re losing your shit over a girl for fuck’s sake. So she cheated on you. You either dump her or you live with it. Either way you move on, you don’t go fucking batshit.”

“Like you know shit about women, man.”

“I know she’s way the fuck out your league.”

Dane slammed his fist on the dashboard. “Yeah, yeah. That’s right. Way the fuck out of my league. That’s the fucking problem right there. This is a goddamn game too her, this whole thing. You and me, we don’t get day money, we don’t fucking eat. She and Carl, they just call Daddy.”

Colton didn’t say anything, reaching into his back pocket and snapping his can of Copenhagen before taking a dip.

“One of these days she’ll get tired of this and then she’ll go back home. Everything will work out just fine for her no matter what. It always does. Me, I gotta go crawling back to the padre.”

Dane could feel his lower lip quivering with emotion and stopped talking, knowing if he wasn’t careful he would start crying from rage and hurt.

Colton laughed under his breath, though he glanced at his friend. “Fucking sucks, no doubt.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Dane said. “If he knew what we were doing tonight he’d probably re-baptize me.”

“You sure they can get the holy water close enough to you without it boiling or something.”

“I just turn it to piss.”

They drove for a time in silence, both of them watching the road. Dane had not spoken to his father in months, not since the last time he had been home. His father had refused to give him any more money, saying that if Dane wanted to continue with the rodeo circuit and the life he was leading on it he could do it on his own with no help from him. It was all Keith’s fault really, he thought. They had grown up together and Keith’s family had gone to his father’s church. When they had first started going to amateur rodeos and the n later on the circuit their parents had insisted that they travel together. They had for a while, but Keith still prayed before each ride. He didn’t chew and he didn’t drink, didn’t chase girls, and Dane did all those things. Soon enough they had fallen out and Keith had informed Dane’s father just what his son was up to on the road.

Several arguments had followed, each time Dane returned home, his father insisting that he give up his ways and Dane refusing. For a time his mother had managed to convince his father to continue to give him some money to help him out when the day money didn’t cover everything, but eventually some final line had been crossed and his father had refused to extend a further hand. He had not even told either of them about Emma, not that it mattered now.

“Yeah, I don’t know how much longer I got man, quite honest,” Colton said.

“Yeah,” Dane said his voice dull.

“Got to grow up sometime, I guess. Dad wants me back home helping out and I don’t know. Can’t really fool myself anymore that I’m going to amount to something doing this.”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway.”

Dane glanced down at the gauges and said, “We gotta get gas.”

“There’s that truck stop on the number one. It’ll definitely be open still.”

“Right,” Dane said and at the next intersection he turned left heading west.

from Drifting

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