North Dakota Summer
No one knows about the heat in north Dakota in the summer. It seems to speed down from the heavens like raw eggs poured out from a glass. That summer I drove from Minot to Bismark, picking up farming supplies for my dad. I drove our old Ford truck, the same truck that my father used to pick up my mother and me from the hospital when I was born. The old Ford rattled and sputtered down the highway, alongside the wheat that sprawled out as far as my world went. Those wheat fields were all I needed to know about the world. The wheat was planted, nurtured and harvested. Life was simple, until July. It was the hottest summer in recent memory and people in north Dakota don't forget hot summers. It was the summer I grew up and looked over the amber waves of grain, I was sixteen.
I liked driving that old Ford. At sixteen, driving from Minot to Bismark, is quite an adventure. It was just me and the open road, with an occasional billboard, or some other pre-Reagan truck. I loved rolling down the dusty windows and singing along with the radio, shouting out the chorus. Often I'd drive the old Ford hard, pushing it to its limits, the hot wind jetting across my face, the engine roaring its frustration of age. I was in control. I held fate tight under the accelerator.
On those long journeys, I made sure I had the essentials: the money my father gave me to buy all the supplies, a bag of sunflower seeds, and, of course, a cooler full of Cokes, nothing could make me forget the heat like an ice-cold Coke.
I was half way home from Minot. The truck would cut through the highway oasises and I'd watch the heat shimmy up off the road in my rearview mirror. The dust rose up to my face and left its sooty film in my mouth. I reached deep inside the hard plastic cooler for some relief and grabbed a Coke, it slipped out of my hand and fell to the floor on the passenger's side of the truck. It rolled back and forth taunting me with its icy cool. I slumped over and reached for the elusive can, the wheel jerked and the truck slammed into something on the road. The truck skidded over the shoulder and jerked to a stop. I gathered myself and realized I had a small gash above my forehead, only big enough to let tiny crimson drops tickle my nose. I looked back at the road and saw the black huddled mass I had crippled. I ran back those hundred yards, and I swallowed the scorching heat.
Lying and bleeding on the smoldering concrete was a dog, a black lab. She looked at me and we both started to cry. I knelt down and tried to hold its broken face in my arms, the blood from her nose ran thick and hot through my white T-shirt. I could feel her blood on my stomach. All four of her legs were broken and mangled close to her body. Her blood was everywhere, running into her coat and spreading across the pavement. Her coal black eyes shot into my heart and my tears slid down my cheeks. She was dying and she knew it. She was quiet. The blood from my forehead dripped on her coat, and I held her tight, and I knew that she would soon sleep.
I heard behind me the slow trudge of a tractor driving on the shoulder. An old farmer drove up, and stopped the gritty engine and got down and helped me carry that dog to the side of the road. He said that a dog shouldn't have to die like that and said we needed to bury her. I got the shovel from the bed of my truck and walked out onto the field. The two of us dug a small but sincere grave for her. The old farmer creaked down to his knees and delicately placed her in the soft and moist earth. The sweat ran off of his forehead, for a second I thought they were tears. He tried hard to say the right words, but we both knew there weren't any. The heat was her only eulogy. We put the dirt on her and surrounded her with small rocks and left. I never looked back at her grave, I didn't need a picture. We made our way back to the road, and I got my truck out of the ditch, and thanked the farmer for his help. He turned and looked me straight in the eye and told meT that it was his dog he just buried. He turned away, saddled his tractor and rode into the blue Dakota twilight, until I lost him in that field of swaying wheat.