By Annabelle Carvell
Jeanie flicked the radio on. She’d barely said a word since we left the apartment. She watched me look in the mirror, wiping mascara from my tear-stained face. Forty-five around the bend.
I played with the silver band on my finger, debating whether or not I should discard it. Throw it out of the car and let it settle in mud for the magpies to find, hurl it over the wall into the murky riverbed to drift downstream and rest in sediment, or wear it on a long chain around my neck. Keep my first love close.
Matthew was fiery, like crackling fairground candy, and when we first met I’d melted under his gruff voice. He was broad-shouldered and chiselled, serious almost always. He belonged in a film. We made love often, desperate for air, the world burning in the heat of the sun.
His seriousness frustrated me and my frustration made him quiet. Our arguments frequent, draining. We’d lie back-to-back, not touching one another, both too stubborn to say the first word. The following morning I’d always try to lift the mood. I'd pretend we never argued and that nothing was wrong, asking him if he wanted to meet for lunch during our break that day. But he didn’t bounce back and agree to disagree or ask me to order him a salmon salad. He never responded like I expected him to, like I wanted him to. I stopped asking him for lunch.
He found us in our bed, upside down, tangled up, tasting each other. He didn’t shout. He didn’t curse. He watched me come against Jeanie’s tongue and stood quietly, rubbing himself hard and slow through the fabric of his jeans.
We clutched the sheets for decency.
“Matthew! How long have you–”
He strode to the bed and pushed himself against me. Tongue on tongue and muscle on skin. His eyes were vivid and bright as blackberries. I clutched at his back, clawed my nails into his arms, down his thighs, and into his hair.
Kissed him hard.
Tasted his familiar, salty face.
Jeanie didn’t make a sound.
I pulled myself away from Matthew. They both looked to me to say something, to choose, but I froze. Matthew broke the quiet tension and threw Jeanie’s handbag hard against the wall. It thumped to the ground, and the mirror I gave her months ago flew across the floor.
I found Jeanie, outside, starting her engine.
Forty-five as we pulled around a tight bend. I clung to the leathers and winced as we narrowly missed a wall hidden by overgrown foliage.
My fingers slipped with perspiration. My hair whipped around my face like cooked spaghetti. Even though it was November, we kept the roof down. I rifled through my pocket for the mirror. I remembered Matthew’s sobs as I ran down the stairs. I heard him begging me to stay.
Jeanie tightened her lips together to reveal that dimple I’d licked so fondly, only hours before. Now I licked the tears as they fell from my cheeks. She reached behind the driver’s seat with her left hand, the car swaying as she looked for tissue in the seat pocket. As she pulled a pack from the pocket, the car swung and I screamed and Jeanie’s foot slammed to the floor, rubber screeching against road.
The bird we hit burst into feather confetti. White swirls bloomed, feathers twisting and turning like small tornadoes, falling, falling, falling until they lay in the dirt with the magpies.
The radio was still playing, even after we’d stopped, and Jeanie did nothing but stare in the rear view mirror. Her face was tight, her lips white, her eyes glassy. She turned to face me, hands still gripping the wheel.
“When I was a kid, we used to drive past this trucker’s restaurant where they used to grill roadkill. That’s what the rumours said, anyway.”
“Jeanie, look, I –”
“– and my father used to say, ‘there’s nothing wrong with putting good meat to good use’, and I never really thought much of it. I mean, it’s no different from killing an animal any other way, really, is it?”
“Jeanie, can we just talk? I need to explain.”
“It’s no different from killing an animal any other way, really, is it?”
What had happened at the apartment hit me hard through my veins and in my bones. Sickness rose up my throat and I sprang from the car. I needed air.
There it was, writhing against the road. Ripped open in glorious colours that bled into the tarmac like oil pastels. It was still pulsing, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before it was gone, before it froze stiff, and rotted from flesh to bone to dirt to dust that would pick up in the wind and disappear.
I could leave Matthew and his laugh that cracked and popped like candy; his legs that tangled with mine in positions of muscle-memory. I could leave Jeanie, leave her dimple and her tongue. I could leave it all here in the twisted limbs of a bird, with the flesh to bone to dirt to dust.
Here, somewhere I don’t know or recognise, we are splayed open on the road.
Annabelle is a co-founder/editor of Synaesthesia Magazine. She has been shortlisted for the 2012 Cinnamon Press Short Story Prize and has been published on CHEAP POP, Visual Verse and Thresholds, the international short story forum. She is currently working on a short story collection, predominantly influenced by Ian McEwan and anything else that's drenched with the disturbed.