The Ditch

by Charles Venable

When the dust settled, the pick-up truck sank another inch into the ditch, and the tractor, with its fanged wheels, soon joined it to the laughter of the men, the woman, and all the birds in the trees – the tick of two engines, a metronome.

Only briars and blackberries grow in the ditch. My father called them weeds, but weeds don’t bloom. Once a year, a constellation of little white blossoms before they wither in the summer sun, and the summer sun always comes swift in the South. The birds always picked them clean, but every once in a while, if you were quick, you could grab handful of sweet berries and taste the sunset on your lips. The birds didn’t take too kindly to us stealing their dinner, but we all knew they’d always get the last laugh.

When the dust settled, the rope snapped with a bubblegum pop. One man wiped dust out of his eyes. One man licked it from his lips. The woman waved it away from her face. They’d lost the truck, the tractor, and the rope. All four stared at the mess they’d gotten themselves in. Well, how’d you manage that?

I ask myself that question often. Sitting at my desk. Writing at the library. Buying groceries. When the dust clears, I stop and look around and can’t help but ask how I managed to end up here, but the dust never clears, and all of us, you and I and the twittering birds are watching everything through clouds of red clay – always closer than we think.

Eventually, the tow trucks arrived and everyone went home, and all that was left was a jealous sun trying to out-red the red dirt road.

Eventually, even he went home. Night falls. Dust settles. A broken rope lies in the ditch, and the birds gather hemp threads for their nests. Everything and everyone where it belongs.

Charles Venable is a storyteller from the Southeastern United States with a love of nature and a passion for writing. He believes stories and poems are about getting there, not being there, and he enjoys those tales that take their time getting to the point.

Author’s note

Healing comes in many forms, and sometimes, something we hate heals us. I spent the first half of my life in a trailer beside a red dirt road. On dry days, I could see clouds of red dust rising from the passing cars, and on rainy days, someone always got stuck. Sometimes it was a car that slipped on the slick wet clay; sometimes it was a tractor’s wheels churning up a muddy ditch. My dad always had a winch and cargo strap ready to pull them out, and yes, sometimes, he got stuck trying to help them.

I hated living in the country. I still do. I’m a city boy at heart. I like to be in the heart of things, surrounded on all sides by the buzz of people, but despite how much I hated living in the country, red dirt roads still remind me of growing up, a kind of healing, a bitter medicine that I don’t want to drink but know I have to.

On rainy days, I often remember the people we helped out of the ditch. They were the same. They needed help too, but they really didn’t want to drink that bitter medicine. Nobody wants to ask for help, but we all need it.