By Cicily Bennion
Originally published in issue 17 of Tahoma Literary Review.
There are entirely too many pickup trucks and police in Wyoming. In this landscape, the horizon never gets any closer, it only changes shape. So I blew a sizable portion of my paycheck on a speeding ticket in Shoshoni. Officer Broadhead said I was going too fast; Officer Broadhead said he was like, whoa.
If I were quicker on my feet, I would have laughed. Me in my red Toyota Corolla caught in a speed trap should never have inspired such awe. I can count on one hand the number times I have said whoa, and Officer Broadhead should know that traffic violations were none of them. How many true wonders must he be missing if my slight infraction of the law so astonished him?
Has he never read a really good book? Or taken a hot shower after a long day? He must not have seen Julia Roberts put on that red dress in Pretty Woman. And speaking of women, does he remember what a first kiss feels like—the sensation of another’s lips, timid and curious, against your own for the very first time? He’s probably never known that wonderful middle school vernacular to describe these kisses—three words which, when said aloud, imitate the shape and movement of lips and tongue mid-kiss: peach, plum, alfalfa. Maybe he’s never bothered to drive to the middle of nowhere (which, incidentally, is not far from Shoshoni) on a clear, moonless night and watch the Milky Way pulse across the sky. And I suppose it’s also possible that he’s never eaten a really good olive—an olive so good it feels almost holy, and as you bite into it, you realize you’ve received the answer to a question you didn’t know you had: this must be why God commands His priests to consecrate the oil of an olive over that of any other fruit. These are things worth admiration and awe, and I worry that Officer Broadhead is missing them.
If life ever takes you to Shoshoni, Wyoming, will you find him and tell him of the miracle of birth? Tell him to take a hike—to find a mountain by the shore and climb it, so he can look out and contemplate the immensity of an ocean. I’m saving my pennies and putting them in a jar labeled the “Send Officer Broadhead Abroad Fund.” When I have enough, I’ll put him on a flight to Jerusalem, so he can wade into the Dead Sea and feel his own buoyancy on the surface of the water. I like to imagine that just this once, he would leave his badge and uniform on the salty shore, a pile of blue atop the white and brown of the salty, sandy beach. Passersby would step over the mound, and looking out over the water, they would have no way to know which floating figure was once an authority on my road home. When he emerged from the sea, Officer Broadhead would dry off with a towel and don his uniform once more.
But as he pulled his trousers up over his speedo trunks, he would pause to look out at the water and think that here, fourteen hundred feet below sea level, everything seems upside down: in a place so low, humans are buoyant and waves leave salted growth on things they should erode; just across the water, he could see Jordan and Mount Nebo, and he would recall what the tour guide had said: it was there that after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, God met Moses on a mountaintop one last time, and together they looked down on the Promised Land that Moses would never reach, down on a sea that God would not part, and they looked and looked until Moses died and Joshua led the people to Jerusalem, but soon Officer Broadhead would forget Moses and remember himself, and looking out on the dry, arid landscape he would think that this place is not so unlike Wyoming, and it would seem strange to him that even here, in the lowest valley on the planet, in a place so distant and foreign, there are dusty mountains to remind him of home. And he just might be like, whoa.