FM 104

Coyotes, weasels, green flies, crows. The animals heard it first. Along the weedy edge of Texas Route 20, a turkey buzzard quit the possum she’d lucked into and took cover in a stand of pines. The wild pig under Beeman Bennett’s oak trees snorted twice and froze. To us, it came from out of nowhere: two blasts and the roar of a crashing train that rumbled far too long. Our windows rattled, our floorboards quivered, our breakfasts trembled on their tables. We thought terror, we thought bombs, we thought of our loved ones. A few of us thought to scream. Those of us who ran outside, the ground beneath us shaking still, saw wobbling plumes of smoke in a Texas postcard sky. Some saw three trails, some claim one. No one saw the fireballs, since they streaked west of here. Jimmy Hubble counted the seconds, like the time between lightning and thunder. One thousand one, one thousand ten, one thousand thirty. Over the trees of his south pasture, pieces of something fell from the sky. Grover Sharkey heard a whizzing sound, like a bullet flying past. Mamie Mendez heard a thud on her roof, then another, then two more. We turned on our televisions. Columbia’s lost, the anchor said. Not lost, we said, it’s here. Cable on a hay bale, computer in a tree, space suit in a briar patch, toilet by a school. Beside Junior Pierce’s mailbox lay a shoeless foot, missing one big toe. Didn’t anything burn up? On the shoulder of Farm-to-Market 104, Lola Perkins reached for a square of silver metal, big as a turkey platter, charred on just one side. The heat it gave off reddened her palm. She made a hot pad out of two old towels and laid it in her trunk. Don’t touch anything, the anchor said. Chemicals, danger, NASA doesn’t know. Billy Sparks smelled something in the air, but he could not describe it. Not fuel, not smoke, nor burning flesh. Not the East Texas perfumes he knew: creosote, fertilizer, pulpwood, pines. His dog held something in her mouth; Billy’s legs went weak. Here, Dingo, bring it here. She circled, teased, and dropped it on his shoe. A black piece of pipe, narrow as a woman’s finger. Good girl, he said, and chained her to a tree. What could we do? The stuff was everywhere, light as paper, heavy as brick. We set up roadblocks where it littered our highways. Our children played at searching. For what? A nose cone? A fuel cell? An instrument panel? Coyotes, weasels, green flies, crows. For weeks, we walked with our heads down. Watching, watching, where we walked.

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