The Strength of Fields

For James Dickey

It is another early winter morning. Our last name hangs in tall blue type across the side of Dad’s work van: Walker’s Irrigation. One taillight is covered in cellophane, framed in duct tape. Along the wheel well by my feet is a long rusty gash Dad calls the “trash can.” It shows a sliver of the uncoiling wet road.

When I was younger this van made me proud. Other kids came to school in slick anonymous cars, their arrival unannounced by a tremendous white van bearing their last name in broadside, stalling and roaring to life again as my brother and I bailed out of it. None of that bothered me. It never once occurred to me that we didn’t have another car, or that my father was a strange wreck of a person.

We’re late again and Dad is accelerating through the tight bends at the bottom of Briar Creek Road. My little brother, David, sleeps in the passenger seat, his head listing left then right in his parka. I’m sitting beside him on an empty wire spool, leaning into the turns. The heater in the van broke the weekend before, and now my brother’s breath is making small clouds that hover just before his face. The light from the window inscapes them as they vanish.

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