the back window of the apartment where Rodolfo lives with his mother and
his sisters, he can see railroad tracks, the backs of warehouses, weeds
with birds. Sometimes he watches trains from that window, resting his
weight on his forearms and leaning out, his feet dangling above the floor
inside. The cars rattle and clank over the rails; the horn is a long,
living blast. A few hundred feet past the window, the tracks curve, slide
under an overpass, branch. Once every few days he sees people jump from
the train when it slows for the curve, men leaping from open boxcars and
stumbling on the gravel of the embankment.
younger brother visits the older one. He sleeps on the couch. The first
night of the visit, his voice—not shouting, but pleading—wakes the older
one. Please, he says, please don’t, please don’t.
he was a boy, he drove with his parents across New Mexico. The land went
on forever, huge and arid and stark, skinny trees bent by the wind, dry
earth, dry yellow grasses. He remembers passing a pickup with some children
in the back—and remembers that the other kids didn’t acknowledge him in
the car with his parents, didn’t wave or nod, but stayed staring straight
The boy and his parents were driving back to the Midwest after visiting relatives in California and the father, trying to take a shortcut he found on the map, got lost. Just like that they found themselves on a dirt road through a plain, with evening coming on, and as they crested a slight rise they suddenly scared three antelope that were grazing not far away. The antelope jerked into a gallop as the car came alongside. They ran, all three. And somehow in their confusion they ran, not away from the road, but parallel to it—only a few feet from the car and a few feet ahead. Swift, graceful creatures. The boy pressed his face to the window.
How fast are they going? the mother asked, and the father, looking at the speedometer, whistled and said forty-five. He was driving with only one hand, the boy noticed.
He saw the fence from a long way off. It was barbed wire, strung tight on cedar posts. No one spoke. The father didn’t slow down, and later the boy, remembering this, would wonder why he hadn’t eased up on the gas, let the antelope drop down to a trot, but he must not have realized.
The animals hit the fence in a cloud of dust and hooves and rolling bodies. One of them slid and scrambled beneath the lowest wire and righted itself and kept galloping, alone now, across the plain at an angle. The other two had their necks snapped back, and fell and rolled in the dirt, and then the car was past them, roaring forward.
His father swallowed and put his other hand on the steering wheel. His mother reached over and touched his father’s arm. They were driving on. The entire thing had taken less than a minute.
In the beginning, the boy understood this story about the antelope to be simply an account of something he had witnessed—and he told it in that way, on the rare occasions when he told it.
But then, as the years went by and the boy, a man now, started to see some friends of his succeed in the world in ways that he couldn’t, he started to assign a meaning to the story. He thought the story was about what it is to be galloping forward in a group, and be suddenly brought up short, and watch someone who had been beside you the moment before sprint on without you. And, for himself at least, and the people close to him, he used the story to illustrate this feeling, to explain it.
At least until the summer his parents died… his father first, then his mother… and the meaning of the story changed for him. The nights were oven-hot, humid. Lying in bed, he remembered the three antelope and the three people in the car and he thought that the story was about running forward in a group, and then finding yourself alone—still moving, still charging ahead, but now without the others. The others cut down. The sheets were tangled, damp with his sweat.
Before long, though, he began to worry about the story… maybe both of his interpretations were wrong. Maybe the story didn’t mean anything in particular. Maybe it was only a description of something that had happened. Wasn’t this how he had told it at first? Antelope galloping into a fence? Their lean bodies. Just something that had happened once… years before… that he had seen with his very own eyes. Those churning legs, that sky. Maybe it didn’t mean anything. The barbed wire waiting.