“When you close your eyes, what do you see? Nothing, yet. But the dark stares back. Every time you close your eyes, it sees you.” – Randy DeVita, Riding the Doghouse
Though this story is narrated by a grown man, much of the action takes place in the man’s memory as he recounts summer days spent with his truck-driving father, out on the road.
The man, then just a boy, tells us of the time that he broke his father’s only rule: Don’t touch anything in the truck. While messing around with the CB while his father was inside the gas station at a fuel stop, the boy learns that the road can be more dangerous than it might seem at first glance. What happens during the minutes that the boy’s father is inside is enough to leave the boy haunted long into his adult years.
The story begins with the man being woken by a storm, and then checking on his own twelve-year-old boy in the middle of the night, and as the lightning continues to strike erratically and the growl of thunder stretches across the sky, the man is faced with his own mortality as memories of his now-gone father resurface.
While reading this story, I was impressed with the pacing that DeVita maintains. As he, through the eyes of the boy, takes us down the road in a Kenworth semi, it is incredibly easy to get lulled into the enclosed world that is the cab of the truck. Much like the truckers themselves could easily feel as though they are isolated in that cab, despite being surrounded by other vehicles, DeVita makes us feel the loneliness that the boy felt during his encounter on the CB. As if that were not enough, DeVita then ties the story back to the beginning, with the boy as a grown man, and shows us that sometimes the loneliness never leaves us.
“Riding the Doghouse” was originally published in West Branch. I read the story in the pages of The Best American Short Stories 2007, which was edited by Stephen King.