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Frederick Zackel

When You Least Expect It, A Jackrabbit Pops Up

Por donde menos se piensa, salta la liebre


My grandfather came up from Chiapas first, and then he sent for his family. When my grandmother, my aunts and my father got here in Matamoros, my grandfather still didnít speak the localsí Spanish, but he got a job as a trucker. My grandfather was a lonely man, a melancholic man who had a family to support and nowhere else to turn. He had hair on his balls, his buddies said, and a short life facing him. His days were shortened because he could tell no one all the shit he faced because he would lose his job if he told. He stabbed his cigarette out in his food because he lost his appetite too often and because his future sickened him. Sudden death on the road scared him the most. He would come home with pains in his forearms from another white-knuckle ride. The stiffness in the ankles twisted him, and he'd twist back as hard, as if opening a rusted jar lid, to get the circulation back. He had strain in his calves from his legs being so stiff with fear for so long, and the small of his back was a knot no sword could cut. He was almost paralyzed by fear after work and dreaded the next day and its monsters. His hands wouldn't stop trembling. He drank because the bottle felt like part of his hand. He drank because he had phantom pains -- real phantoms that haunted him in the night and brought him grievous pain. No one knows how it started. No one ever came forward. But on a warm Sunday after midnight, he was on his own, alone outside Piedras Negras, coming home, as sheets of white rain plummet to earth. Then: somehow the steering wheel ripped loose from his hand. The tractor flinched, the back lurched and straightened and then fishtailed, the tractor now at a right angle to the trailer. The tractor tried a one-eighty, twisted itself, and landed on its side. The trailer hurtled past the tractor, then jerked the tractor, pulled it along. The tractor slid down the highway, on its side, the driver's side. Foot-long sparks shot out bright flashes. The sound was shrill and loud, like peacocks being tortured. The tractor was sandpapered by the surface of the road. On its belly sliding into third, sparks the size of our hands flying out, sparklers in the night under the stars, skittered down the grade, sometimes gravel and sometimes asphalt, the steel rail snapping like a long bone, then the rig snapped, and the cargo shifted. The cab became a tip of a whip getting snapped. A helpless man became shrapnel. Flesh got shredded and then got skinned by pavement. He kissed the rocks on a summer night. He died because of the whiskey and the cigarettes and the other poisons he put in his body to keep going. He died because of what he ate day in and day out because he had no real choice or opportunity to eat any better. He died because he was too scared to see a doctor because the doctor might say he couldn't go to work. He died because his equipment wasn't as good as he wished it was. He died because he worked surrounded by lunatics and outlaws, and he always swore up and down that they were going to get him killed, by the god above us all. He died because his bosses don't care and he was invisible. He died because his body ached and he was too tired to move out of pain's way, because he made an honest mistake and he let down his guard, and he couldn't react fast enough, and because his momentum scraped his flesh off his bones, and his face off his skull. When the eighteen-wheeler slowed, the noises faded. No one saw him. He lay silent, bleeding, a smear of blood on the highway. No one stopped. No one ever came forward. Eight hours to bleed out, said the coroner. Driver's error, said the trucking company. Operator's error, said the insurance company. He died because he thought he could do it one more time, and this time was his turn.

Frederick Zackel teaches literature & the humanities at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

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