Excerpt from Whitefish Review #16, The Geography of Hope 

By the fourth time Terry’s truck veered off the dirt road’s higher ground and into the deep ruts that he was trying to avoid, I realized he was drunker than I had imagined. I was riding in the cab’s middle seat so Molly didn’t have to be next to him, and each time the truck tires dipped into the ruts I bounced hard enough to drive my shoulders into both Molly and Terry on each side of me. Molly clutched the door handle with her right hand and my jeans with her left. Her nails dug into my leg. After one of the biggest bounces, her eyebrows shot halfway up her forehead and didn’t drop back down into place until she closed her eyes, which she did the rest of the way. Terry, on the other hand, was having a good time.

“This road’s bumpy as hell, I’ll tell you!” he hooted. We were going forty on a road more suited for ten or fifteen. It suddenly occurred to me that Terry might be a maniac, a possibility that had no doubt occurred to Molly back at the bar. Here we were, traveling at white-knuckle speeds, so far out in the prairie that the whole world was beginning to feel empty. I had never been so relieved to see a porch light, but even when we slowed to go down his driveway, Molly didn’t seem any less frightened—maybe more. Terry was having a blast.

“That ain’t how you drive in the city, is it?”

I saw what Terry meant about having a lot of machines, though the cars and tractors littering his property didn’t look like they needed gas; it looked like they hadn’t been operational for years, maybe decades. All around us, hulking metal carcasses lay silhouetted against the starry horizon. One gutted pickup sported a “no trespassing” sign that declared: “If you can see this, I can see you in my rifle sights.” I tried to pivot Molly in a different direction, but it was too late. She was wide-eyed and looked ready to run. Terry put his hand on her shoulder.

“It’s all right, little lady. Just some country boy humor. Come on, let’s have a beer inside before I scrounge up a gas can for you.”

The invitation wasn’t posed as a question, so I did my best impersonation of a confident man and took Molly by the hand as we followed Terry through the front door.

Inside the house, a musty stench filled my nostrils. When Terry flipped on the living room light, I could see that the house was littered with random junk and trash: stacks of newspapers and magazines, candy wrappers, beer cans, an out-of-place golf ball here and there, all of it scattered on the floor, the couch, the coffee table, the dining room table, the kitchen counter. Terry cleared two boxes of papers off the couch onto the ground and motioned for us to sit down.

“Sorry about the mess. I don’t get a lot of company.”

Terry returned from the kitchen with three Natural Lights, a beer I remember my father drinking after a long day working the fields or running cattle. Molly eyed the beer suspiciously before taking a sip. After that car ride, I was ready for a beer. I took two big gulps. Terry took three and stared at Molly until she fidgeted uncomfortably. Then he turned to me.

“You know, your dad was a good man,” he said.

“I figured you might have known him. It seems like everybody knows everybody else within a fifty-mile radius out here.” I was relieved to have a conversation like that, to normalize what was becoming an increasingly odd evening. Molly even seemed to relax a bit.

“I got to know him when I leased some grazing land from him a long time ago. Bumped into him at the bar now and then, too.”

Terry saw Molly trying to covertly read an open notebook on the floor. He walked over and picked it up.

“Go ahead and give it a read. It’s my daughter’s diary. I leave it open on that page because it pretty near sums up how she felt about this place.”

Read the whole story in Whitefish Review’s latest issue #16, The Geography of Hope, released December 13, 2014. Purchase copies of the art and literary journal at www.whitefishreview.org or visit your local bookstore.