How to Live Long and Prosper

By Anna Mitchael

I thought it would be a cold day in hell before I put on a bikini again, but it turns out all I needed was a hot June day and a powder-coated car. From the living room I caught sight of my truck, and even through the blinding glare I could tell it was time — as I so often tell my boys — for a serious bath.

The caliche dust on our road leaves a white film on everything it touches. It’s distributed evenly among drivers. You don’t get more if you’re the sort of person who kicks puppies or less if you’re on the way back from a charity event. The dirt is dirt, and when you drive the road it will become one with your car. As another country dweller once told me, with shoulders shrugged and a laissez faire, eat-dessert-first kind of attitude, “Hey, caliche happens.”

I can tell I have lived in the country a long time because now I also refer to it as caliche. In the beginning it was just dust. These are small things that might matter to no one but me, but I keep a list, and it gives me pride.

Certain highways are farm-to-markets, the dust is caliche, the music playing loud and long with windows down while you sing to the possums hiding on the side of the road, that’s life.

When I was new out here, I tried to dodge the dust. I plotted and drove real slow and complained almost enough to move a mountain, but the dust kept doing its thing, gathering along the bottom of my car. So when it was time for a new vehicle, I exchanged my favorite color, black, for silver, and I decided to accept the caliche coating. Like I do the laugh lines. Or a headache after wine. Or guilt after cupcake No. 2.

Sometimes Mother Nature does her part to balance the chalky earth and sends the rains our way. But without soap the dusty film remains. And rain turns caliche to a menacing, heavy mud.

Last year after a series of storms I went to a service shop complaining of alignment problems and left with a kick-me sign on my back. The man explained patiently that the mud was so densely caked on my wheels it just felt like an alignment issue.

“But really what you’ve got,” he said, “is a mud issue.”

“You’re telling me,” I sighed.

Since I travel our road almost every day, there are entire weeks and months when washing the truck feels futile. But then summer comes. And isn’t it the mark of a good summer, when you find time to meander through at least a couple of pointless activities, preferably with the sun warm on your shoulders?

For as long as I can remember I’ve washed cars in the summer. During high school in small-town Oklahoma we knew that a car wash could raise even more money than a bake sale. We would wear bathing suits under tank tops and spend all day in the sun with cheerful posters advertising our goal: Send us to state! Not a care in the world.

I thought of those days as I grabbed the bikini that would allow for the most sun on the shoulders. Summer was everywhere — in the grass and the thick air and the troupes of insects our chickens were losing their minds over. Up the road it was caliche for miles and miles. My poster would say: Live long and summer.

Anna Mitchael is the author of Rattlesnake Stories, the new follow-up to the Kindle Single bestseller Rooster Stories. Both are available on amazon.com.

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