All the Roadside Crosses

 

When he last saw Boskew he was flat on his back the way he is now, but he was drunk then and not truly dying. It seemed like heíd go on for another fifty years or more despite the life he chose for himself; keeping all those women and driving trucks to cities and towns all over just to maintain the illusion that he had only one. But there was a time when he truly was like a father to him so of course he came when he heard. He promised heíd come if ever he asked him and he did, he passed a letter, one trucker to another written in his own hand.

There something I need to say to you before I die.

He was laid up in the back of his rig at the McKinney Fuel Depot, and he arrived just in time. Boskew was close enough now for the pastor to be there at his bunk side, kneeling with a rosary in his hands. They were all looking down on him, Ditto and Charlie, and the others he rode with, all watching in what little light there was from the lantern. When he saw him he waved him up close and took his hand.

Davey, he said.

He pulled him down to his knees and Davey could smell what was coming. He felt his breath on his ear as he whispered to him, just like he did when he was a boy, when heíd sneak into his room after the bars closed to tell him stories in the night.

††††††††††† Listen, he said. Listen to the owls in the dwarf-oaks of Oklahoma, or anywhere you find them.

He looked Davey in the eyes to make sure he was listening.

The darkness is coming, he said. And itís cold all around me Davey, a long night filled with sweats, and all those dogs I saw scattered and flung on the highway, marking my journeys and dying like mad all along the hawk-line wire. All along the road.

I know Leroy, Davey said. I know.

And those old dead feathers, Boskew said. Wings that flap but donít fly and the thunder of the horses. How many crosses did I count before I stopped counting? Thousands, Davey, thousands.

Davey turned to the others and they gently shook their heads. Somebody bumped the lantern. The light made crazy shadows dance in the cramped space. Boskew coughed and grabbed his arm.

They build them there to mark where lives just end, he said. A burst of steel. That crushing pop. That flash. How many times I heard it. Carnations and snapshots and shrines of small possible. I could barely see above the antelope grass.

Sshh, Leroy, Davey said. Itís alright. Itís alright.

I never turned away, Davey, he said. From those lost dogs, those brave deer, those kitty cats and coyotes that chanced the crossing. I watched the moon sink like a cold white pill with Mars there above a nimbus Iíd never seen until I came to Oklahoma and laid my head down in the West.

He squeezed Daveyís hand and pulled him in closer, like he had a secret to tell him, and his eyes widened with wonder.

Where howls come down from high lonesome places, I roamed, he said. Where no man dared go twice, I went thousands of times. Last night he came to me Davey, Jesus himself, in the form of a wild dog. I watched him come on legs of fire. Coyote, coyote. Run dog run. Donít lose the bet, donít die dog, donít die, become the wind and stave off dying like those smiling brothers I saw way back when in Barstow.

††††††††††† He took a deep breath that Davey thought might be his last and his eyes fluttered for a moment and he held him even tighter. He spoke to him from his heart like he used to when he was telling him things he thought might make him a better man.

††††††††††† I came through Nashville one time, he said. And I saw a man that could have been my father. Same shoulders and head. He looked up at me like I was crazy. He said, by whose light comes a feather? By whose light? Thatís your own, son, thatís your own. I saw him again, years later, a Zuni Mountain dead man, bled out in the snow, just out of Albuquerque. He had that same blue parka, and those beat up hands. A face made of old red clay and eyes black as thunder clouds.

††††††††††† Davey touched his old manís hair. He shushed him and he touched him.

You know what he told me? Boskew said. Right before he died? Listen to the wind. Then he was gone. Listen to the wind.

They heard him struggling to breathe. They heard trucks gearing down on the highway. Air brakes. Wind.

You know, Boskew said, that dog rides on my lap sometimes with his head there like a child and his eyes rolled up and looking at me just like you used to Davey, like I was some kind of God, like I knew everything. If he couldíve lived just a while longer, Lord, that dog made me see how good it is to be anywhere alive. Well, what things a dog canít teach you, you just donít need to know, but I took them as signs, all those things. I kept on going because I could keep on going, and mile after mile the little white crosses popped up where men like me and women like mine and kids like I was got what I dreaded to get Ė dead-wrecked and killed, in a swirl, in bang, in a flash of tragic places, all those small wooden crosses. All them flowers. And here I am now, like this, wishing it had come like that instead of the slow burn of fire. And you know what? When I crossed over again, the last time, those owls were waiting for me where I left them, the very ones who saved me those long years ago.

Boskew grabbed his arm and held it, and he looked him over good to see if he still was who he thought he was. And he smiled.

††††††††††† Take me back to Oklahoma, Davey. Find that grove of little oaks out by the KOA off 40. You know where it is. Thatís where I want to be. Thatís where I want, to blow away.

And then he died.

 

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