The county bladed the road once, but it’s 17 degrees, and now the snow and salt and mineral used to treat the blacktop has packed down. Treacherous. You drive this lonely highway in Texas County with your eyes open, your ears open, your right foot playing the gas pedal like a heart string. You’re going to end up in the ditch. You drive at 45 and marvel at how ugly the old houses are, beaten down under the broody sky, but you’ll never admit to this mean observation because a puff of smoke above the poorest place is a sign of life, and life is precious. Winter in Texas County will teach you this if nothing else. You already appreciate the denizens of that shack ahead, put up in front of an old crumbling foundation of the grander home that came before, and still sheltering in the arms of bare oak trees that once embraced the old homestead.
You imagine that the descendants of that place might find you when the black ice takes you for a spin. You know that if anyone could save your sorry hide it would be these dwellers in desolated houses so adept at coping with winter with nothing but tar paper and shingles hung on warped wood frames that they would smell your stupid accident before the snow settled into the skid marks. You admire their fortitude until you remember that their strength has been carved by fate not foresight. Only their children ask why the road can’t be cleared like the interstate that passes by miles off to the west. The idea of it itches like a dream or the memory of a Hallmark movie they saw once, but the elders don’t have words for such frivolous chirping. They would frown and say the government isn’t going to take more of their money–those goddamn paid thieves, never a one worked a day in their lives, socialists and libtards. And they will not have it.
If they find you a curious fool, be glad, for that means they cannot hate you like they hate the road crew who are agents of the government, who are good-for-nothing idiots taking this country down and who they do not need because they know how to endure anything. They would dare you to deny it when they save your miserable life, but that would require words on their part and having to listen to you prattle on about how dangerous the roads are, and they will not have it. You’d like to ask them, not how they endure winter because winter is still a season that passes, but you would like to ask them how they endure nothing. Nothing at all. You’re not sure you have the words for this, and besides it would be impolite so you decide to say nothing but thank you when the time comes. All this you know when it is 17 degrees, and you are driving a snow-covered highway in Texas County.