It is hot for November, but it is Texas, somewhere southwest of Abilene. The two-lane winds and flattens out of the dust-blue buttes behind me. In the mirror the hills look old, made flat into buttes and stooped with the dead weight of too many suns. In the trailer 45,000 pounds of skins – salted, still succulent with lamb – leave the smell of fat in my draft. It is noon.
The road rises and falls in waves just high enough to obscure the next trough, and the mesquite goes on rolling fast off to both sides. There seems to be no air at all.
A house on the left, a little two- or three-room place, no grass, maybe three or four dogs licking the dust. I see it and the woman standing on the porch, her eyes shaded by her hand, looking at a dark green buzzing cloud coming across the road in front of me. I am nearly into it when my right steer blows, and I am on the rim at 65, holding on, still mashing the motor to keep the trailer stretched and under control. I can see the inch-deep gash in the pavement behind me and the locusts hitting the windshield. I am wide awake now, noticing every little detail of a world I seem about to leave.
There is no tire. It is gone, shredded and invisible. The locust cloud is gone except for thousands of its parts, jumping and twisting on the road and in the brush. The woman has come out leading a small black pup and a tall-legged thin creature with a thick mane and a large head – a wolf. The woman is barefoot.
“These critters don’t bite,” she says, and I do not know if she means the locusts or the dog-wolves. “My husband ain’t home,” she says, “but you can use the phone if you want to call somebody. There’s a place in town.”
The phone rings somewhere in town, and an hour later a man pulls up. “Ain’t got no tires will fit on that steer axle,” he says and spits into the crowd of locusts. We walk down the side of the truck.
The man figures there isn’t much he can do but go into Dallas for a tire. I tell him maybe we could single out a drive and put a lugger up there on the steer, and I could run over to Mesquite on that and get a tire there. “Could,” he says. “But I wouldn’t.”
I decide to do it anyway. One way or the other we are going to have to jack up my trailer and block it, take the tire off, jack up the steer, block it and put the tire on. We go into town for the little jack and plenty of wood. It is nearly dark when we put the drive on the right front steer, and I thank the woman for the lemonade she brings and the phone.
Three hours to Mesquite and another two until the tire man shows, and it is midnight. I should be in Memphis, but I am here in the hot black grease and yellow light of Mesquite, paying for the only tire that will fit on my steer. It is not a steer tire, but it is better than the lugger that got me here. It will hold until Boston.
In the yard 30 hours later, the boss is looking at the tire I bought with his money. “This is what you bought to put on a steering axle?” he says. “You’re lucky to be alive.” I tell him he doesn’t know the half of it.
“You’re gonna pay for this tire. I’m not buying a trailer tire for the price of a steer,” he says without looking at me.
I tell him I did the best I could and he says, “Well, sometimes you do the best you can and you pay. This is one of those times. I need you to run into town and pick up a Denver while I get this tire changed. It needs to be there Friday.”
It is Wednesday, and I figure I’ll get to the boss’s bank with my check for this trip and see if it will cash. With that and what I have left from this trip, I can live a week and find another job.