illustration by Mike Force
Terry, maybe the last rural milkman in the USA, drove a remote, two-lane Northern Idaho road through a dense pine forest. The road was probably a game trail 80 years earlier. He loved solitude, so this job, delivering dairy products to odd and isolated folks, was perfect. There is nothing as beautiful as Idaho lonesomeness.
One morning in late autumn, 30 miles from the nearest town and 10 miles from the nearest house, Terry was surprised to see a newish car parked on the roadside ahead. He was more surprised to see a black man walking a slow circle around the Toyota, an obvious rental. Terry thought a black man in Northern Idaho was suspicious. Then he chastised himself for his reflexive racism and pulled to a stop beside the black man's car.
"Hey, partner," Terry said. "Everything okay?" The black man was nervous. His smile was forced. "Car troubles?" Terry asked. "Just had to pee," the black man said. "All right then. You take care, partner." As Terry drove away, he saw, in his rearview mirror, the black man resume his circle-walk around his car. Strange, yes, but isn't strangeness the entire point of being human?
Then Terry was struck with the overpowering sense that a dead body was in the trunk of the black man's car. Just more racism, Terry thought, but for the next week he paid close attention to the news, fearing he'd hear about a missing person and see a police sketch that looked like the black man. But there were no mysterious crimes in the region. As usual, people were robbed, raped, assaulted, and murdered by people they knew well—by people they loved.
It's an awful world, Terry knew, and he, like everybody, was awful in it.