I was sitting on a curb behind the AmericInn, having a smoke. They’d put me in a room on the top floor, four stories up, with a nice view of the town’s new temple, but the windows didn’t open. They never do anymore. I filled a water bottle with wine, took the elevator down.
Between me and the temple, two miles of flat fields, freshly tilled. “Forty-ninth and Plowed Ground,” my father would have called it, meaning the intersection of town and country. Meaning nowhere. I turned my back to Interstate 15, the lights of the parking lot, because I wanted the better view, and that was my first mistake.
The guy tackled me from behind, rolled me into the dark. I knew him by his smell: black coffee, cigarettes, diesel. Maybe he’d deadheaded in. Maybe he’d hauled 40,000 pounds of Russets across the state line. It’s a crime you can’t buy an Idaho spud in Idaho, my father always said. They ship them all out. He seeded his just as the moon was waning, gravity drawing down, dowsed them with sulfur to stop the rot. Roots to the devil, he said. Eyes to God.
We came up on our knees, arms stretched out in front of us. He’d lost his cap. He might have been young. I’d felt his weight, knew I couldn’t win. The truth is, I wanted to bury us both. After the first time, you survive and think it’s a miracle. The next time and times after, you begin to feel less lucky than cursed. You start wanting someone to end it for you. You begin to believe you might end it yourself.
He pushed himself to a stand. His fists came up black. “Listen,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be like this.” I reached out. “Don’t touch,” he said, and I took his zipper in my teeth. I’m forty-five years old. It wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
After, he shoved me to my back. I closed my eyes, felt one Vibram sole against my lips, my nose, my forehead, planting me in that soil. Harder, and I could no longer breathe. Harder, and I lifted my hands, palms up, as though to catch rain. Then the air sucked back in. I felt his steps, heard his heels hit the asphalt.
I rolled to my side. The temple was lit like a stadium, the moon held in the bell of the angel’s bright trumpet. I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to go in the back way, take the stairs, wash my hair, my clothes. What I wanted was that dirt, a big mouthful of it. I knew just how good it would taste.
The next morning, I hit the on-ramp before dawn, headed for California, another man, another mistake. But that night in Utah? There was magic in the air. I could have made anything happen.
I could have put down roots there. I could have stayed.