Prose Feature: “I Know Where The Road Doesn’t End” by Hadiya Riechers:

The road ends at the grassy glen. Everyone knows this. There’s always a fire pit dug into the center of the small meadow, and it’s ringed with round river stones and full of blackened, cracked logs. Sometimes less responsible people will fill it with beer cans and cigarette butts and trash they don’t feel inclined to pick up and take out with them. It makes the fire pit unsafe, full of rusted edges and awful fumes. No one likes cleaning it out, but a local always ends up doing it anyway. It’s supposed to be our spot, so we gotta keep it up.  

The turn off to the glen is marked by a t-intersection in the road, and the road that you turn onto doesn’t even hardly look like a road, but people know it’s the road because there’s a pile of coyote skeletons marking the intersection, and once you’ve slowed down to an almost-stop, you can see the gap in the sagebrush and that’s the road to the glen. 

The coyotes smelled awful the summer they were rotting, and Lucas and I snuck out to take pictures as they decayed. We took the pictures on my mom’s old Polaroid, and printed them off, taping them into a notebook and writing down our observations. We were going to be scientists, we said. Lu’s favorite part of that summer was when one of the spines went missing, and we found it a couple hundred yards away, way up in a tree. Lu said it must’ve been an eagle that put it up there. I didn’t think so, but we tended to avoid disagreements back then. 

Once the turn has been made—away from the coyote skeletons that the locals leave there as some unspoken road marker—and the car is rumbling down the rutted, bumpy path that wasn’t ever really a gravel road to begin with, it’s a good forty-five minute haul to the glen. Not because it’s a long distance, but because the road’s low enough that the river floods across it every spring, so it’s got ruts deep enough that there’s no room to bounce a car or truck without knocking the axle against the center rise of the road; you have to drive real slow. My mom always talked about smoothing out the road, evening out the ruts, but Dad took all the farming and heavy equipment with him when he left, and any extra money Mom had she set aside for my college degree instead of buying any new equipment. “You’re gonna get out of this place,” she has always told me. I wasn’t going to end up stuck in this empty place like she was, tied to the land as if it was the thing keeping her alive, not her heart. 

Of course, dreams of college degrees and escape don’t matter much when faced with the reality of a baby on the way. In all the new baby stuff that can be read, they never warn about how expensive the hospital bill will be. 

But the glen at the end of the road is a favorite camping spot of anyone who was brought up in this high, arid desert, and as soon as summer’s come and stayed around long enough to start drying the land out just enough that trucks and cars won’t get stuck on the drive in, people are driving their trucks and cars and horses or anything else that can get them down there, down there. 

The road enters the glen from the northeast side, where the antelope bitterbrush, juniper trees, and sagebrush of the dry plains give their reign over to the willows, cottonwoods and alders that cling on in the few feet on either side of the river. The trees sound like skeletons knocking together when the wind rushes through ‘em. Even the trees that grow so stubborn in their places along any water out here cede their position and give way to the clearing filled with bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, and Indian ricegrass. The glen juts out into a bend of the river, and it’s got a nice, sandy beach that always ends up with sandcastles on it. Across the river a ridge rises with a slow, lazy arch like a catch stretching its back. Everyone thinks that the road ends there, in that open, quiet area with its sandy beach. 

But I know that the road doesn’t end at the glen. I know that at the far southern edge of the glen, if it’s done real carefully, a tall truck or a Jeep can be eased across the river and taken out on the other side. There’s nothing on that side, not even a Jeep trail, so where you go is entirely up to how comfortable the driver feels bushwhacking through sage brush and around trees. I’d known Lucas for well over a decade and a half before I ever showed him that spot, and how to get through. There was a camping spot my dad set up around the western end of the ridge, the flat part before the land really started rising up and away from the earth as if it thought it could get somewhere better just by reaching for the sky. I didn’t ever want to have to clean beer cans and cigarette butts out of it. Since my dad was the only other person around who knew about it, I just kept the information to myself, and every other weekend, all summer long, I’d ease the old Jeep he left me through that crossing and camp out there. 

Sometimes I’d pretend I could still talk to my dad, ask him all the questions I never got to, but those questions were only ever answered by the wind, or the silence of the desert. Dad had taught me a thousand things as a kid: how to fix an engine, build a wooden boat, build a house with your own two hands, how to drain an abscess on a cow’s leg without getting kicked. But I never got to ask him the big questions, like what you do when it’s three am and your baby won’t stop crying no matter what you do to calm her down. 

So, I know the way through that place where they say the road ends, and it’s enough for now. But I know someday my daughter will look at me and ask me all the questions I never got answered, and knowing that the road doesn’t end where they say it does won’t be enough. 

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