A beetle crawled across the windshield of Dan’s beaten up old work truck. Dan eyed the beetle over the rim of his morning coffee with mild interest. The beetle seemed to be up awful early in Dan’s experience. Dan gently sipped the hot coffee from his cup. He relished the mild burn of the black coffee as he planned his day. The sun was just barely breaking the crease of the horizon and long morning shadows played across the old road.
Dan’s road crew was hired to repave long stretches of ancient highway that were now sparsely used thanks to the newer interstate. It was finally his crew, his business and no one else could tell him how to do the job. It was a wonderful feeling. It was something he hadn’t felt in some time. Dan felt his opportunities were finally turning around after the divorce. Sandra had taken almost everything from him, although he did give most of it up willingly. He just wanted things in his life to get back to normal and leave all the craziness of Sandra and her various lovers behind. He still loved her. He could feel it stinging every time he looked at their old wedding photo he’d taped to the dashboard. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t just rip the photo off and toss it out the window as he sped past the Old Barrel Bar where he and Sandra met, wooed, married and fought for that last time. It seemed wrong to toss the photo aside just as carelessly as Sandra had tossed their relationship aside. He considered that he might need the pain to fill the space left vacant by Sandra’s leaving.
Dan took another sip from his coffee and sighed. The beetle on the windshield had stopped in its morning march and was flicking its rear legs back and forth. Dan leaned forward in his driver’s seat to look closer at the beetle. It was a thick little thing, black and lightly hairy; with hints of a reflective metallic sheen to its wings. Dan watched the beetle do what it does. It paused every so often, antennae sniffing the air for whatever it is that beetle’s sniff for, and then it returned to its dutiful cleaning. He could hear the beetle’s legs clacking together through the windshield glass; a repetitive click and clack, in time with nature.
Morning birds were singing as the sun climbed and Dan was reminded of how he used to hate those birds and their chirping. He used to hate them because they reminded him of how he missed out on so many things. He used to work very late, third shift mostly, and he would never get home until the sun was up. He’d pull into the driveway of the old house, the one with Sandra sleeping inside, and regret that he never got to spend any time with her. She worked during the day while he slept and she slept while he was working at night. They never seemed to even cross paths for a few years. The birds and their morning songs reminded him of how much he hated to miss time with her. They were terribly loud and they compounded Dan’s loneliness for his wife; all those morning mating calls echoing across the fields behind the old house. He understood them yet loathed them because of his understanding.
The beetle, apparently satisfied with its morning cleaning ritual, started trekking across Dan’s windshield again. Dan sat back in his seat and turned his head to follow the beetle’s path. The beetle got to edge of the windshield where it met the frame of the pick-up truck. It unfurled its thin wings and buzzed off into the morning. Dan tried to watch it as it flew over the near-by field of tall grass but he quickly lost sight. He hoped the best for the beetle. He hoped it wouldn’t get eaten by some hungry early bird. He hoped it would find safety in its journey and he appreciated the short visit it had bestowed upon him.
Dan checked the dashboard digital clock. His crew was still an hour away from joining him on the job site. He felt glad to have the time to himself, other than his beetle friend, to think and rest and plan. He knew the old highway spur very well. It used to be a well traveled road before the interstate moved the entrances and exits 30 miles away. It needed a fairly cursory repave to smooth over some of the more weathered and rough spots that still gave the locals trouble. It wouldn’t take more than a full day to fill and smooth. It was a good piece of work for honest pay and Dan felt honored to have received the contract. He felt some connection to the road; as if he’d always been on it, or part of it. He wanted to nurture it.
When Dan was a boy, he and his father used to take the old spur up toward Bell’s Lake for camping and nights out in the wilderness. He remembered looking forward to it, for the most part, until his father finished off that sixth beer and things usually started veering into strange territory. His father, sitting on an old stump by the lake, would wax philosophic about love, sex, women, war, and Dan’s mother. It wouldn’t be too soon afterwards that the woods and silence of the lake would be broken by the bear-like snores coming from his father’s tent. By then Dan was looking forward to the quiet ride back home in the morning with a far grumpier version of his father.
Dan looked out at the road as it was lit by the rising sun and saw the cracks, bumps, holes and weeds spotting its path. He wondered about the miles he, and the road, and the beetle might have shared or if they were ever connected in any way. Dan took another sip of his cooling coffee and sighed.