My dog became a child, and that child makes trucks talk. Thank God I now know the inner workings of Peterbilts and Macks.
“That one says its tummy hurts,” my son says.
“That one feels bad for things like trees.”
My wife died. By that I mean a black wave swept her away. So I wrote a blues song about it. Another man recorded it in Memphis. We split the money and the money is good, though the singer—this tawny towheaded man with too many jean jackets and a limp cigarette always behind his ear—takes credit for my work. You’ve heard the song. But you probably haven’t heard the original version. A different version was recorded by a Top 40 pop band. Now it plays on the radio—or rather, it did. Things come and go so fast now. What I’m saying is, I hear it sometimes in my car and this is what I think when I hear it: cha-ching!
See, even though I’m making bank as royalties pour in from the misery I sold through streaming services, I still have this boy, my son, who used to be a dog, whom I love (don’t get me wrong), but whom I now must rear in a world of imprisoned tikes.
The pounds are now full of them, caged and baying. (Do you not watch the news?) I can hear their screams over the phone as the Humane Society director walks down an aisle of tiny fists, looking for the dog I somehow lost, a dog I planned to merely bury under a rock with his name on it—a name that meant “world” in a language I never mastered.
“That one wants some fuzzy dice.”
“That one never sleeps because its headlights are broken.”
The blues singer calls me, says he needs another hit. I say that I cannot simply produce misery from thin air. I say that bad things happen like hit songs—once in a lifetime if you’re lucky. I say I’ll give it a try.
I drop my son off at school and go to work. I work in the department for digging holes in the dead of winter. This is different from the department for merely digging holes. The logistics of winter digging boggle even the most brilliant minds. Heat blankets only help so much. Other tools sometimes must be employed. Metal rods warmed to unfathomable temperatures. Superheated liquids injected at impossible PSI’s. Mine is a dying trade, though. Soon, they won’t need men like me anymore. The world will have said, “To hell with winter.”
At work, I write songs during my breaks, thinking of all the sad trucks roaming the world, their engines groaning like men in the grip of misery.
My wife, my wife: I love her more than ever. I love her too much to write a song about her.
A man told me once that there’s more nuclear waste roaming the highways than there is in underground storage. He said they can’t keep it in one spot for too long. (I did not ask who “they” were.) I merely nodded at this possible lie. I found the story too romantic to want to challenge it.
Before leaving work, I send the singer an email with the subject title: “Nuclear Waste Blues.”
I pick up my son, who used to be a dog.
“That one’s sad because it hit a baby deer.”
“That one doesn’t like the man who drives him.”
There’s a response in my inbox when I get home. “RE: Nuclear Waste Blues.” The body of the email contains two words: “Ur fired.” Thus, the reason the blues singer doesn’t write his own songs.
“Can I be a truck when I grow up?”
“I love you, Daddy.”
No dog ever told me that.
In the morning, I send a scrum of workers to a stretch of land in desperate need of a hole. On my computer screen, I can watch them move as little blips on a satellite map. When they stop, they call me and say, “Here?”
“A little to the left.”
All day long they dig and I bide my time. Any number of things could go in that hole: gutted trucks, nuclear waste, a dog, a spouse. For brief moments, I can see how it all fits together, how the chaotic things hold this world together. The waste being a byproduct of the energy required to make the wheels and cogs in this world move—the trucks shipping the dog food, for instance, or the people food, the new engines for the other trucks, the tools for digging elaborate holes, the coffins—then the light shifts, a wind blows wrongly, and suddenly it all falls apart and I lose this soothing vision of harmony only to discover, again, that man is at war with everything at once.
Case in point: The TV says we must flee. I check the internet to be sure. Yep, sure enough: “Flee!” So we pack up and head inland with no specific place to go. All the holes will be filled in, they say. All my hard work was for nothing. Halfway to where we’re going, I must tell my son that I’m tired of knowing what the trucks think. He is quiet then and this saddens me. The miles pass in unbearable silence.
Finally: “Dad, where are we going?”
“There’s a place down the road,” I say.
Except when I say it, I sort of sing it and what follows is a song that I sing to him in perfect cadence, the rhymes lining themselves up as if having been written a millennia ago, handed down from generation to generation. When I’m done, he’s content, smiling even. I try to write it down, but I am driving. It is too dangerous. Plus, in my rearview, I can see it: the black wave. It’s coming. We must keep going, though, even if it means losing the song.
When we do arrive, the sun is setting. The sky is green and the grass is blue. I try to read what I have written. It is nothing but scribbles with the title, “A Place Down the Road.” In the distance I hear a semi-truck, a giant man, whispering.