We stayed in Medora overnight. He refused to let us stay longer, despite my begging. It is my favorite place on earth. I never got to visit very often, but he wanted to get back to Oregon. I woke up early and walked off alone while he snored, and the kids huddled snoozing in the bunk. There is no electric in Medora, and the water had been turned off already. We always had water stored in our tank and in gallon jugs under the table, so we were good for at least three days, perhaps more if nobody wanted a shower. It was cold but not unbearable. The late September air threatened winter before long, a few flakes of snow fell out the sky in half hearted flurries. I pulled on my big black engineer boots over extra pairs of socks, and I took out for the plains. Buffalo regarded me with distaste, wild horses turned their backs to the wind and sleet and snow and rain, gathered in tight groups. I got the urge to walk up to them, pat the small palomino on his muscly shoulder and jump on his back, a handful of mane and the plains ahead of us. In my head I’d ride forever, running back to Minnesota, back to where I was happy, back to where mice have kangaroo feet, and trees are sturdy not stunted, I’d run back to lakes and Midwestern smiles, back to the sweet people in Cass Lake and their day to day mundane pleasantries and small struggles. I’d run back to where I wish I could have made my home, with Jerry in my pocket, and me and the palomino would ride the Iron Range, chewing tobacco and righting wrongs, like some strangely accented female Butch Cassidy.
A flock of wild turkey gobbled and chattered amongst themselves, I left the horses, and followed them at a distance, collecting a few beautiful tail feathers. I held one of them against my arm, and thought how beautiful it would be as a tattoo, before I came to my senses. I never got any ink under my skin, and no point starting at this late point in time. The day started to come up with a vengeance, the sun high in the sky. I had left a note saying “gone for a walk, will be back soon, love Paltry xx hug xx” but still I had been gone too long. I was needed. I had to be who I was in relation to them. Tidier of Campers, soother of frayed tempers. I had to be back and gone, and on my way to Oregon.
As I trudged back a girl was standing in front of a tree. Her arms flung wide. She looked to be about twenty years old or so. She was singing opera, and was singing loudly. She looked like she was tripping. Tripping in North Dakota. Doesn’t sound very safe to me. Her invisible audience was clearly throwing flowers at her feet, while a thin young man was trying to get her to come back inside their tent, or the car, or at least not make them a target for North Dakotan sheriffs who might wonder why she was scantily clad and singing opera in a national park. I watched as he went to the trunk, pulled out a bottle of clear booze, and proceeded to try tempt her into the car with the booze. Eventually she took the bait, got into their car, and he drove off, leaving the tent sitting there forlorn. What it is to be young!
When I returned everything was packed, I hauled myself into my copilots seat, waved to the kids, and we were off down the road. We didn’t stop again until eastern Oregon – La Pine. Snow was thick on the ground, it was cold and brutal already. As we drove over the Oregon border I felt my heart sink. I wonder if any of those pioneers, made it in their wagons from Minnesota and thought, as they entered the promised land of Oregon, I wonder if they thought they had made a huge mistake. I wonder how many of them turned right around and went back home, back to impossible winters and the cradle of the Midwest! I was in a foul mood, but had plans to buy Jerry a cage and some mouse food, it was a small spot of happiness in the bad sadness of it all.
I woke up the next day to the sound of a snap. Billy shot out of bed. There was tortured squeaking and banging, Billy grabbed some pliers and smashed Jerry over the head, throwing him out of the door. I ran outside in tears. Jerry was dead. One eye gone. The life gone out of him. I got a good look at him, he was fluffy and fat. Jerry was my friend, as pathetic as that was. Billy never asked me, he had just purchased mousetraps and set them while I slept.
“It’s for the best,” he said. ‘Fun’s over. Mice are dirty. We can’t have no pet mice in here.”
“You didn’t even talk it over with me, I cried. You could have caught him and let him go!” But he just shook his head, and started the engine. “I want to be back at the coast before sundown today,’ he said with a nasty heat to his voice.
I pulled out Marquee Moon, and turned it up loud. Verlaine started shouting about friction, and I knew nothing would ever be as happy as summer in Minnesota again.