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Volume 7, Issue 4: Pictura

One Summer Night

Wes Callihan

Warm breezes blow over miles of green, growing fields. The lights of the small town a mile away come on one by one in the dusk. In the twilight distance, a pickup slowly raises a trail of dust along a farm road. The trees around the farmhouse rustle in the evening wind and crickets buzz in the windbreak. I stand in my yard and inhale deeply and stagger under the weight of the heady wine of the August night, a far more potent inebriant than a fifteen year old like me can handle.

On the road, far away, I see a dark speck moving slowly, coming toward me. I wait and my dog sees it too and wags her tail hopefully. In a few minutes, the speck turns up my driveway and approaches me, panting. I grin at him as he falls off his bicycle and lies puffing on the grass, trying to fend off the happy dog. I squat and chew on a piece of grass, eyeing him.
Out of shape? I ask.
He groans and sits up. Uh huh. Bad.
Somewhere inside the house my sister's radio squawks and chatters with insane self-importance. My mother's voice says something and the radio subsides a little. We sit, watching the already distracted dog nose around in the bushes and the lights coming on in town and the bats flickering over the barn.
Get your bike. Let's go, he says.
We pedal leisurely through the heavy evening air, our tires crunching gravel till we leave the driveway, and then the heat from the black asphalt rises and immediately I perspire a little. My dog's claws click as she runs ahead of us on the warm country road. She drifts from side to side as she runs and now and then disappears into the tall grass of the barrow pit beside the road, but then runs ahead again, drifting in front of us. She knows. She's had six summers already.
We pedal leisurely, and the stars multiply overhead as we talk. I point out the Big Dipper and he points out the Little Dipper and the North Star. I point to the rising planet Jupiter. He points to Sirius. I don't know any more so he wins. We pedal leisurely over the canal bridge and the heat rises from the road.
We ride beside a long line of cottonwoods and an irrigation ditch, and the frogs racket away until they hear us, or maybe the dog, and fall suddenly silent till we pass, then fire up again. Under the cottonwoods it is much darker and the trunks are black pillars against the lighter night sky between them. Their leaves rustle overhead as we ride under them and our voices and the creak of our bicycle pedals seem to echo from the great branches and the clouds of leaves. Then we are out from under them, and under the night sky again; I look back, and the mass of trees seems miles away.
He is saying that his cousins will come to visit soon and I am answering yeah, but not really thinking anything, and suddenly my dog swerves in front of my front tire and I swerve and yell and almost hit his bike and then we recover. But my skin crawls, imagining the sensation of falling on the pavement and sliding, the rough surface tearing my skin and blood running down my hands. I shudder. My dog, oblivious, is in the ditch again. I yell at her, mad, and she comes running toward my bike again and I yell louder, steering away, and she runs on ahead. Dumb dog, I mutter, and he laughs.
We ride into town and stop at the gas station, which, though closed and dark, has a pop machine. We drop quarters, rattling, into the glowing machine, and the cans clank and thump, and then we sit on the old car seat that serves for a bench in front of the plate glass window of the station. Its vinyl smoothness seems just right and we slide down and stretch our legs straight out in front of us as we tip the cold cans up and the cold liquid bubbles in our throats. The smell of oil and gas and dust somehow enhances the flavor of the pop.
A few cars drive down the main street, slowly, in and out of the pools of light under the few working street lights, young faces peering out the rolled-down car windows, trying to identify us, trying to decide whether to turn around at the next intersection, lights swinging over the store fronts, and come back and harass us, two kids only on bicycles. But they don't. They have stereos blaring in their cars; they prefer to stay there. The police car passes and we wave. He doesn't wave back. I pat my dog as I finish off my pop and belch, and her flopping tail raises the oily dust.
Are you tired yet?
Naw. You?
Hmm mm.
We pedal back out of town, a few more cars pass us, their tires humming on the pavement, their engines turning quietly. Out on the edge of town, there are no more cars passing, and the night smell of irrigated fields and the diffused low murmur of the breeze returns. Our backs to town, we ride out along the black ribbon between fields again. Irrigation sprinklers tick away in the darkness of the fields.
This late at night, out in the country, the stars are brilliant white, and the Milky Way is a bright ribbon across the sky. An airplane far away and very high winks its lights, and we mistake it for a satellite at first.
We ride slowly and talk about things, our tires whispering on the blacktop. High school again in the fall, and our families, and vacations, and summer jobs, and we keep riding, answering each other and saying whatever comes to mind. In spite of the countless stars, there is no moon and the road is now only distinguishable from the deep ditch on each side by being slightly less black. We laugh as we careen down the middle, guessing who will be the first to ride into the ditch.
I've done worse, I tell him.
What do you mean?
I tell him about how the farmer I work for gives us motorcycles to ride out to the fields to move the irrigation pipe. I tell him how one morning last week I was riding along a dirt track beside the canal and the front wheel of my motorcycle got caught in a rut. I was thrown off balance and I rode the motorcycle straight into the canal and submerged it entirely, and myself too. I stood up spluttering and gasping, mightily surprised, for it had happened faster than I could register it happening, and I climbed out of the canal, more difficult because the rubber hip boots I was wearing were full of water and the grass on the bank of the canal was still wet with the morning dew. I walked back and told my boss what had happened and he laughed and told me to go home and change. When I came back he was at the canal trying to pull the motorcycle from the water with his pickup and a rope and he wasn't laughing anymore.
All this I say as we ride along, our bicycle tires humming on the dark road.
He laughs his head off. I think he finds it a bit too amusing, but it is funny alright, and I can't help laughing too.
I guess it was kinda dumb, I say.
I've been dumber, he says, and I say Oh? because I want to hear it. I hope he has been dumber than me, but I doubt it, because I know I haven't told him the dumbest things I've done.
Remember Linda? he asks. My heart pounds suddenly, because I sure do remember Linda. I wanted to ask her to the dance, he says, and as he says it I start to feel funny inside because I didn't know he had a crush on her too, but I keep my mouth shut and pedal silently beside him as he talks. Anyway, he says, I went up to her one day last spring. And then he goes on to tell me about how he went up to her at her locker between classes and tried to start a conversation, but he began blushing and knew he looked foolish, so he waved his hand in an airy gesture to give the appearance of nonchalance, but the hand he waved was the one he was holding a soft drink can in, and he sloshed her with the pop. She shrieked and dropped her books and he hastily bent over to pick them up for her and butted her in the stomach with his head and knocked her down in the middle of her friends. Then he tripped over her books and fell on top of her.
By the time he finishes his story, I am laughing so hard I can hardly see to steer and teeter precariously close to the ditch. I can't stop laughing; I roar, my stomach hurts; and I know the reason I'm laughing so hard is that I'm glad I wasn't the only one to do something stupid in her presence and lose whatever slim chance I might have had at making her like me. He is clearly annoyed with me now, but I can see his teeth and know he is grinning foolishly, the way I probably will when I tell him the embarrassing thing I did in front of her. But I think I will wait to tell him. Maybe later.
We stop at an intersection and throw pebbles into the ditch as we talk. The dog comes running when she hears the little splashes and she jumps in and paddles. She climbs back out and we hurriedly hop on our bikes and pedal away as she shakes. She runs up next to me and her wet tail slaps my leg. I shove her away with my foot.
We take the long way back to my house, riding past the airstrip and looking at the dark outlines of the two or three planes that sit by the runway. We coast down the long canal hill, dangerously fast, then turn onto my road. We don't talk as much going home. The breeze has died, which means that it's quite late, I realize suddenly, or rather it's early. Still, we don't hurry.
We walk our bikes up the gravel driveway to my house, and the house is dark and silent, the windows just black squares in the lighter dimness of the sides of the house. My dog flops down on the lawn and pants, and we lean our bikes against the big tree in the yard and lie on the grass, looking up at the stars. The Big Dipper has revolved nearly a quarter turn since we first looked at it. I don't feel tired, and the air is warm and the night sounds are distant, and I know I won't be fifteen forever.
We make up dumb jokes, laugh hilariously, and then shush each other, which makes us laugh even more. The dog is still, but the tip of her tail plops noiselessly on the grass when we laugh. I know I'll be in trouble in the morning for staying up so late and for making so much noise. The grass is warm and moist on our necks. I peel a blade and put it against my lips and blow and it makes a rude sound. My dog jerks her head up at the sound and stares at me for a moment, then drops her head again. We're still laughing. My sister's bedroom light comes on, and we make more noise than ever trying to be quiet, but then it goes off.
I guess I better go, he says, and then we keep talking.
In the first light of early morning, my mother opens the kitchen window and stares out at the backyard. The birds are in full voice and a fresh breeze is blowing, and two teenage boys are lying on the grass laughing, the dog lying quietly at their feet.

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