The Only Other Highway
The scene plays out:
a young family driving to Presidio
for Christmas never arrives.
The children’s gifts,
purchased only the day before
at Family Dollar,
help fuel the roadside inferno
that melts asphalt and turns an elm’s rough bark to charcoal.
Life looks good. After too many years
of seasonal work – a flagman on the highway
one year, the cantaloupe harvest in Pecos another –
he has a steady job with the propane company,
making deliveries to ranches all over the county.
She’s checking groceries at Thriftway, her first job
since high school.
Feliz Navidad, indeed.
They leave later than he wants to – there’s no way
to make it to mass at Santa Theresa
unless he can make up time on the roads,
roads he’s driven his whole life.
Three-across in the back seat,
the kids speculate about their presents,
giggle about seeing their abuelitas again.
Their noise gets on his nerves. Just where the highway curls
around Cathedral Mountain, he turns his head
to snarl “¡Callense!” toward the back seat.
He misses the curve,
but not the elm.
In February, unable to drive past the four crosses another time,
he throws what matters into his car,
leaves the key where the landlord will find it
and takes the only other highway out of town,
escaping this new prison.
When he runs out of gas in Las Cruces
he figures it’s as good a place as any to start over.