The Wide Road, the Tooth-Torn Lip

Alice Bolin

The way back from Aunt Linda's. I am sitting there in my swimsuit. That morning, the landscape rills around us in green and heather. Sheep stand on bridges and in the shadows of wide-leaf trees and the horizon is yellow like old glass. My brother's face is burned bright red around the outline of his goggles.

There are various games. If a livestock trailer passes us, my brother tugs hard on my earlobe. If we see a truck with naked lady mud flaps, I tap the red and peeling skin of his scalp. Later, we bake quarters in the hot pool of sunshine gathered on the seat between us and test how long we can hold them to our inner thighs. We count everything: thirty-eight sheep, sixteen white cars, five grasshoppers dead on our windshield.

Nearing lunchtime, the heat draws the chlorine smell from our beach towels and we see signs for Muddy Roads Ahead. Dad is gripping the top of the steering wheel and grimly humming a bouncy monotone. My brother and I stare ahead: at the highway's sloping ditches, grasshopper bodies, the wood-paneled station wagon spinning past us, at Dad's hands and neck. I poke at my thigh where a quarter has left a raised white circle.

We approach the construction zone. Men are standing around broad holes in the ditch. The road is cracked and coated with mud and plywood. Dad jerks the steering wheel around the craters and his groans shake through his seat. There are seven workers in the ditch. We pass two red cars, one black, and one silver. Twelve more grasshoppers on our windshield.

Dad swerves to avoid a truck with a swaying livestock trailer and our front tire grooves in one of the jagged fault lines. A pop and we are zagging through the mud, rocked by each rotation of the tire. My brother digs his fingernails in my earlobe and I scream—Dad hammers the brakes and we heave from the highway through the sludge and plastic piping in the ditch to a pasture of brown grass.

The day is whistling. Dad turns and buries my brother's face in his palm. Dad's forehead is dark and pulsing and my back is wet and my stomach folds itself. I open my door. Dad searches the trunk for the jack and the spare tire, throwing our clothes out in a pile in the dust.

We get out of the car and sit near a fence. My brother won't open his eyes. I try to whisper to him but the field is buzzing louder now and grasshoppers land in our hair. They cover our feet and our kneecaps. I stand and look where Dad is swatting and cursing. My brother lies down eyes closed, and grasshoppers gather in the lip of his shirt collar.

Dad looks at us. Green bodies coat the windshield and bore in the bare wheel socket where Dad was kneeling. He calls to us. I grab my brother by the elbow and we go to the car. "Sit there," Dad says, pointing behind the car where our clothes are. We sit and he stares at us as he finishes putting on the tire. I try to smile but it's hard to look at him. I'm still counting. Five blue cars since we crashed. Eight sheep pass over the hill. Fifty-eight fence posts.

When he's finished, Dad blasts the ground with his fist. He collapses near us, gathering us to him and we crush grasshoppers between our bodies. He leaves our clothes in the dirt but we will still bring the bugs with us—their bodies will lie in the floor mats and seat backs long after we get home, after we scour the car, after we vacuum. I will find twenty-three grasshoppers clicking in my bike helmet. With a kitchen fork, I will stuff each of them through the slit in my piggy bank.

Alice Bolin is an MFA candidate in poetry in the University of Montana's Creative Writing Program.