Stephen Dobyns (1941)
THE BOY HITCHHIKING on the back-country Kansas road was nineteen years old. He had been dropped there by a farmer in a Model T Ford who had turned off to the north. Then he waited for three hours. It was July and there were no clouds. The wheat fields were flat and went straight to the horizon. The boy had two plums and he ate them. A blue Plymouth coupe went by with a man and a woman. They were laughing. The woman had blonde hair and it was all loose and blew from the window. They didn't even see the boy. The strands of straw-colored hair seemed to be waving to him. Half an hour later a farmer stopped in a Ford pickup covered with a layer of dust. The boy clambered into the front seat. The farmer took off again without glancing at him. A forty-five revolver lay next farmer's buttocks on the seat. Seeing it , the boy felt something electric go off inside of him. The revolver was old and there were rust spots on the barrel. Black electrician's tape was wrapped around the handle.
"You seen a woman and a man go by here in a Plymouth's coupe?" asked the farmer. He pronounced it "koo-pay."
The boy said he had.
"How long ago?"
"About thirty minutes."
The farmer had light blue eyes and there was stubble on his chin. Perhaps he was forty, but to the boy he looked old. His skin was leather-colored from the sun. The farmer pressed his foot to the floor and the pickup roared. It was a dirt road and the boy had to hold his hands against the dashboard to keep from being bounced around. It was hot and both windows were open. There was grit in the boy's eyes and on his tongue. He kept glancing sideways at the revolver.
"They friends of yours?" Asked the boy.
The farmer didn’t look at him. "That’s my wife", he said. I am going to put a bullet in her head. He put a hand to the revolver to make sure it was still there.
"The man too," he added
The boy didn’t say anything. He was hitchhiking back to summer school from Oklahoma. He was the middle of three boys and the only one who had left home. He had already spent a year at the University of Oklahoma and was spending the summer at Lawrence. And there were other places, farther places. The boy played the piano. He intended to go to those farther places.
"What did they do?" The boy asked at last.
"You just guess", said the farmer.
The pickup was going about fifty miles per hour. The boy was afraid of seeing the dust cloud from the Plymouth up ahead, but there was only straight road. Then he was afraid that the Plymouth might have pulled off someplace. He touched his tongue to his upper lip but it was just one dry against another. Getting into the pickup, the boy had a clear idea of direction of his life. He meant to go to New York City at the end of summer. He meant to play the piano in Carnegie hall. The farmer and his forty five seemed to stand between him and that future. They formed a wall that the boy was afraid to climb over.
"Do you have to kill them?" The boy asked. He didn’t want to talk but he felt unable to remain silent.
The farmer had a red boil on the side of his neck and he kept touching it with two fingers. "When you have something wicked, what do you do?" Asked the farmer.
The boy wanted to say he didn’t know or he wanted to say he would call the police, but the farmer would have no patience with those answers. And the boy also wanted to say he would forgive the wickedness, but he was afraid of that answer as well. He was afraid of making the farmer angry and so he only shrugged.
"You stomp it out", said the farmer. "That’s what you do---you stomp it out."
The boy stared straight ahead, searching for the dust cloud and hoping not to see it. The hot air seemed to bend in front of them. The boy was so frightened of seeing the dust cloud that he was sure he saw it. A little puff of gray getting closer. The pickup went straight down the middle of the road. There was no farmer wouldn’t have moved out of...
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