evolving prose and mixing mediums
All the Roadside Crosses
Category : Issue 9: Heaven and Hell
Published by Vincent Louis Carrella [serpentbox
] on 2009/8/1
All the Roadside Crosses
by Vincent Louis Carrella
When he last saw Leroy Boskew he was flat on his back the way he is now, but he was drunk then and not truly dying. It seemed like he’d go on for another fifty years or more despite the life he chose for himself; keeping all those women and driving all those trucks to cities and towns all over God’s creation just to maintain the illusion that he had only had the one wife. The one life. But there was a time when he truly was like a father to him so of course he came when he heard the news. He promised he’d come if ever old Boskew 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, it said.
He was laid up in the back of his rig at the McKinney Fuel Depot, outside Platte, Nebraska, and he arrived just in time. Boskew was close enough now for the pastor to be at his bunk side, kneeling with a rosary in his hands. They were all looking down on him, Blackjack, Ditto and Charlie, and the others he rode with, all watching in what little light there was from the lantern. When Boskew saw him he waved him up close and took him by the hand.
Davey, he said. I knew you’d come.
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 he’d sneak into his room after the bars all closed to tell him stories in the night.
Listen, Boskew said. Listen to the owls in the dwarf-oaks of Oklahoma, or anywhere you can find them.
He looked Davey in the eyes to make sure he was listening.
The darkness is coming, he said. And it’s cold all around me Davey. Was a long night filled with sweats, and all those dogs come back to haunt me, those dogs I saw scattered and flung on the highway, all them years, marking my journeys and dying like mad all along the hawk-line wire. All along the road.
I know Leroy, Davey said. I know.
He was mad in his delirium.
And those old dead feathers, Boskew said. Wings that flap but don’t fly in 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. He was gone. He was living but his mind was clearly gone. Somebody bumped the lantern and 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. They just end. Little white crosses to commemorate a burst of steel, that crushing pop, that blue-white flash, all that sparkle, all that glass, chrome and paint flecks and the black smudge of hot tires, those dark twin lines that end at carnations and snapshots and shrines of small possibles. I could barely see them above the antelope grass.
Sshh, Leroy, Davey said. It’s alright. It’s gonna be alright.
I never turned away, Davey, he said. Not from nothin’. Those lost dogs, those brave deer, those kitty-cats and coyotes. We all chanced the crossing. But I made it and they didn’t. I made it. How many times? I watched the moon sink like a cold white pill with Mars there above a nimbus of stars I’d never seen until I came to Oklahoma and laid my head down in the West.
He squeezed Davey’s hand and pulled him in closer, like he had a secret to tell him, and his eyes grew wide 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.
Davey looked up at the men gathered round, some smoking cigarettes, others nursing beers, small pint bottles. Ditto was crying behind his hands. Blackjack shook his head. The pastor crossed himself and read aloud from a little black bible.
Through this holy anointing, he said. May the Lord in his love and mercy grace you with the Holy Spirit.
And Boskew heard him, and seized Davey’s arm.
He came to me Davey, he said. Jesus himself, he came to me last night in the form of a wild dog. I watched him come on legs of fire. Coyote, coyote. Run dog run. Don’t lose the bet, don’t die dog, don’t die, become the wind and stave off dying like those smiling brothers you 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. And Boskew 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 eyes. He looked up at me like I was crazy. He said to me, by whose light comes a feather? By whose light? That’s your own, son, he told me. That’s your own.
A moth flew in and circled the lantern and tapped against the glass and Boskew reached up with frightening speed and caught it in his fist.
I saw him again, he said. Years later, I saw him inside 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 and a face made of old red clay and eyes black as thunder clouds.
Davey touched the old man’s hair. He shushed him and he touched him with the back of his index finger like he was a child.
You know what he told me? Boskew said. Right before he died?
What did he tell you Leroy?
He said, listen to the wind. Then he was gone. Died right in front of me.
They heard him struggling to breathe. They heard trucks gearing down on the interstate and air brakes and the drone of cars.
Listen to the wind, Boskew said and he winced in pain and clenched his jaw. He held the mattress in both hands now and he grabbed it with all his strength.
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 could’ve lived just a while longer, Lord, that dog made me see how good it is to be anywhere alive. Well, what things a dog can’t teach you, you just don’t need to know, but I took them as signs. The road kill. The wrecks. 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 – dead-wrecked and killed, in a swirl of smoke, in a 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, that last time, those owls were waiting for me where I left them, the very ones who saved me those long years ago.
Boskew grabbed Davey’s 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 little grove of stunted oaks out by the KOA off 40. You know where it is. That’s where I want to be. That’s where I want to just blow away.
Copyright belongs to the author on the publication date unless otherwise noted.