Volume 7, Issue 4: Pictura
One Summer Night
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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.