Theres No Time for Prairie Dog Town
Sam sees the sign for Prairie Dog Town outside of Oakley, Kansas, and wants to go. Go, go, go, he says, pointing to the huge, fake prairie dog by the side of the road. His new haircut is lopsided, making his head appear misshapen. Sam has a way of not looking you in the eye but making you feel stared at just the same.
He came along with me because he said he didnt want me to be lonesome. Being lonesome, for Sam, is the worst possible thing. And I didnt trust myself to make the 12-hour drive alone on no sleep. Sam works as a custodian/cleaner in my building where I work writing advertising copy. Ive known him ever since I moved to Colorado. One night when I was working late, I saw him pushing a vacuum around, gravely studying the carpet. We started talking. Or rather, I started talking. He gave me a Snickers bar. Besides my boyfriend, he may be my best and only friend there.
Im trying to get home to Iowa before my brother dies. Im getting regular texts on his condition. I texted my oldest brother: Anything I can bring? Food, he said. So Ive got a casserole on ice in the cooler, hamburger, noodles, and corn, drowning in cream of mushroom soup. Iowans love shit like that. Pita sandwiches. Three dozen chocolate chip cookies. A fifth of Makers Mark. Sams munching on Fritos and now the whole car smells like corn. My belly churns.
Sam, buddy, get me a pop, I say. He reaches back and pulls a Dr. Pepper out of the cooler and opens it for me. All I know about Sam is that hes 28, lives with his mother, and never finished school because he hated spesh ed.
When Sam says my name, he draws it out slow. Loooooorie. Looooorie. Hes kind of singing it now. Kansas is an awful state to drive through. I feel my eyes start to glaze over. But Sam cant help with the driving. Ill stretch my legs, maybe vomit in the grass at Prairie Dog Town. Let Sam have some fun.
Nobody in my family knows Im pregnant with my boyfriends child.
Hey, bud, can we just listen to the radio? Im grappling with some things here. A new text: Tom is getting worse. Morphine only now. Hurry.
Sams twisted around, digging in the cooler. Rumble of ice cubes. Frito crumbs embedded in the spaces between his teeth when he smiles at me. I pull over, get out of the car, and puke in the grass.
My boyfriend says were not ready for a family or marriage. Hes probably right. After we got the call, that Tom was on his way out, I curled up in his arms, said I needed something life affirming. Like a baby.
Well get a puppy, he said. Well read to cancer patients. Well plant a Japanese maple in the front yard. Go cliff diving.
The last phone call I had with my brother I said how unfair it was, that he had MS and what a shitty, mean disease it was. He said, Yeah, its a son of a bitch, but he was at peace with dying.
Are you still with that guy? he asked.
Yeah, I said.
Thats too bad.
We both laughed.
Sam gets out of the car. Hes wearing his Members Only jacket from the 80s. Hes so damn proud of it. Seeing the vomit on the grass makes him cry for some reason.
We move off, away from the puddle, and I slip off my clogs. Its early spring and the ground feels pleasantly hard and cold. Cars whiz by. Kansas stinks, theres no doubt about it. Its all the cattle feed lots, the CAFOs, the unending production of manure. I may have to puke all the way to Iowa.
Sam has found an antler. He holds it aloft like a sword, shouts to an invisible foe, Beware!
I love you, Sam.
Sitting close, he rubs my back. Looorie, Looorie, staring somewhere past my shoulder. Sore, he says. Sore.
Theres no time for Prairie Dog Town, Sam. Im sorry.
He points. I turn and see a gray and white hawk winging upwards. Its huge. My cell phone chimes and I curl my hand around it tight. I tug on Sams jacket, pull him down. We lie on our backs and watch.
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