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The Smell of Sage and Iron


The day-long truck ride started out as an adventure, then a journey, and after the third basin and range, it became a challenge to overcome boredom.

Victor rolled down the window. He stuck his head out far enough for the wind to buffet his face. The blowing wind helped. He shuck off the grog and blinked a few times. The cool air made his face numb but the inside air made him sleepy.

He reached back in and the heat hit again. He looked at the thermometer. Still more than 96 degrees. Was that inside or out? It didn’t matter. It was still hot.

Not a car passed in two hours. The desert highway lived up to its name as the loneliest road and looking east across the playa, Victor saw the heat waves rising off the sand. Blue and green forms rose in a dance hypnotic and he ran too close to the edge. He pulled back with a sharp turn. Another mistake would either leave him awake or dead.

He reached over for some water. The bottle felt light and only a sip remained. He took it, yet the little wetness only made him thirstier. He reached behind him for another bottle. Finding none, he licked the bottom of his front teeth and wet his tongue.

To the west a few white clouds formed over the range. The sunlight made them transparent while dark patches below followed the clouds. In the shadows, the creosote and sage took on a dark shade of green and south of these white puffy clouds, a dark cloud filled the sky. The white clouds were rushing to join the darkness.

Below the dark cloud, Victor saw mist and lines drifting down to the valley floor. Then a flash of light. And another. Lightening mixed with rain. He waited for the reply. Thunder sounded eight seconds after the flash so the rain fell eight miles away.

He thought about the water. Refreshing and wet. Cold and dark; he longed to drink it.

He punched his foot on the accelerator. The truck jumped and rushed forward. The wind blew faster beside the window.

He stuck his head out again and a smell of dried wildflowers and iron filled his nose. The wind telegraphed the rain and brought a few drops to the pavement. They dropped and evaporated.

In an instant, large drops fell on the windshield. A slow splat of drops hit in front of him and to the side. Each drop the size of silver dollars. A few more rain drops fell and then a torrent of rain.

Victor let the water hit his face. The dust on his hair turned to mud and flowed past his forehead. He stuck his tongue out to catch a few drops.

Thunder shook the truck. A flash of light and the rain started falling faster. Water drops filled the cab. Victor rolled up the window. He turned on the wipers. They failed to keep up with the falling water.

A small road dipped down into the culvert and Victor slowed down to pull over. Off the road, he sat in the cab and watched the water hit the hood. It rippled down the side of the truck and pooled around him.

He found a napkin and wiped down the door. The steering wheel was sticky. He tried wiping it off. The paper stuck to the wheel and tore off into strips. He tossed the waded paper onto the floor.

The rain started to let up. Victor rolled down the window. He took a deep breathe of the smell of rain, mud and sage. A flash of light and thunder rocked the truck. He sat beside the road and looked as the sunlight flickered through the rain.

Steam rose up off the pavement. Victor opened the door and walked to the back of the truck. A small puddle formed in the gravel. He pushed his boot toe through the water and it flowed off into the culvert.

Victor reached into the bed for a used beer can. He shook it. Water sloshed back and forth in the bottom. Victor brought the can up and drank the water.

The can smelled of rain and sage. He thought about the length of the journey. A smile turned up his lips and he walked back to the cab. With the rain, the trip became an adventure again.

© 2016 – 2018, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.

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