Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Three years ago today ...

"Platte, South Dakota," August 2008, written August 2011.

We drove east through the hot August afternoon. The landscape slowly transitioned from brown and yellow to green and blue. The hills were rolling, the road either up and down or down and up. We came over a rise and saw a vast expanse of water at least a half-mile wide. The Missouri River. It was early -- we could still drive a few more hours, keep heading home, but we knew this was where we wanted to spend the night. We'd been desert dwellers for the day; we'd finally found our oasis. We wanted to swim.

We drove over the bridge and into the nearest town, we needed supplies: Ramen, beer, wine. We stopped at the first convenience store gas station.

Before going in I put Monica's silly, over-sized sunglasses on and clipped Cody's leash onto his collar.

"Follow my lead," I told her. "I'll follow Cody's."

I walked into the store with Cody, his leash in one hand, the other arm rigidly extended at shoulder height. I walked around the store like this, "blindly" feeling around, occasionally bumping into the aisle display racks of Pringles and candy bars, Cody aimlessly guiding me to the coolers in the back of the store. I opened a cooler door, grabbed a six-pack with my extended arm and, Cody leading the way, walked back to the front of the store, saying nothing.

"Did you find everything okay, sweetie?" Monica asked me, already waiting at the counter with an open purse.

"I did, darling, thank you. Did you get the Ramen and the wine?"

"I did. Is red okay?"

Cody meandered on his leash, pulling toward whatever it was he wanted to smell. The clerk looked confused, but said nothing. Monica paid, we said thank you, and walked out.

We parked the car under the bridge beside a sign that read "No overnight parking." I grabbed my pack -- tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and cook stove -- and the night's rations and we walked along the shore until we found a small, sandy cove just big enough for the tent, just below a sand dune, just out of view from the parking lot.

A few hundred yards away, down the river, cows grazed and sipped from the water. A barbed wire fence lead across the land and into the river, separating them from us. Cody laid in the sand, paws out, and stared at them intently, occasionally barking, keeping them at bay. In the distance, beyond the fence, there was a red, wood barn with a white roof and white trim. The sun was beginning to set behind us.

We set up camp and pitched the tent, unable to stake it down in the sand, and walked, beers in hand, to a small dock near the bridge. We sat with our feet in the warm, black water and felt it gently flow south. We stripped down to our underwear and jumped in. I dog paddled, never getting my hair wet; Monica swam, wind mill-style, to the middle of the river and back. We sat on the dock, air drying, and drank some more. She inched toward me and rested her head on my shoulder. Her brown hair, wet and cold, thick like a mop, draped half over my shoulder, half down my back. She told me her hair smelled like bananas. I told her maybe we shouldn't go -- maybe we should just make this our home. We could try to get money wired to us. We could make an appointment with a realtor in the morning. We could put a down payment on the farm with the cows and the barbed wire fence that led into the Missouri. The gas station up the road had everything we needed. She said she liked the looks of a red bar with white trim. We listened to the cars crossing the bridge above us, woosh, and the rubber-tire-on-concrete hum echoing off the water below the bridge. The mosquitoes were getting bad. The sun set behind us. She never took her head off my shoulder.

"We should probably go back to the tent," I told her. "Lets make that Ramen."

"Yeah," she said, "and there's a bottle of wine in the bag, too."

The next morning we stopped at the same gas station where we'd bought the supplies the night before. We bought another six-pack from the same cashier from the evening before. We didn't say anything and neither did she. We continued east.

This is an excerpt from "The Self-Described Bonnie and Clyde," a longer story that will maybe one day be released in some fashion.

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