by Toni Marshall
When I close my eyes and see him, I see cut-glass cheekbones. The only entertainment around here is thinking about the past. Picturing his face illuminated by the greenish light of a computer screen in a dark room. Him, asking me in all sincerity if his blog should be about brunch recipes heavily featuring avocados or his own self-diagnosed anxiety.
Our cheeks are hollow now. He hobbles like a pigeon with a gnarled foot. I suppose we’re all injured pigeons, fighting over scraps, roosting in any warm place we find. Shitting everywhere.
We had a plan. Discussed over one too many beers with friends, who referred to us collectively as a squad. Our squad had disillusions of preparation. When the cloud came it mushroomed in the far distance and we drove. He kept his foot on the accelerator until the engine was sick with thirst, spluttering, dying. We had flown far from our plans, far from our “squad”. Now, we wander. Aimlessly.
“We’re nearly there,” he says attempting a smile. “Wherever there is.”
My baseball bat trails on the ground as I drag it behind me. I only lift it when stepping over corpses, which pepper every road and path we’ve been on. Sometimes, I like to stop and name them, I’ve seen a dead Betsy, Freddie, Becky, Dave, Alan and Steve. I give them backstories, jobs, partners, children, and then I kick ‘em a little to see if they will come to life. They never do. They just add to the stench in the wind. The rotten egg and flesh smell that has woven itself into every orifice as if to remind me I’m next.
“How far?” I ask.
We stop and he looks around as if he knows the area. Old habits die hard. Trees line the old railroad track and for the first time I notice how tall trees are, how high they reach. I wonder if we can climb them to the very top and crawl into the sky.
“Down the train tracks.” He raises his hand and points down the track, which appears never-ending. “Maybe help is there.”
He kisses the top of my head and walks slowly away. I think about climbing a tree, leaping into the air and seeing if I sprout wings.
The sun still rises and sets, nothing has changed and yet everything has. Shades of blood fill the sky as the sun begins to disappear, and he keeps walking.
“Stop. Let’s bunker down for the night.”
Nothing good happens after darkness spreads, but he looks torn. He’s fighting between good sense and impatience. The first time he beat a man to death, I was horrified. The second time, I was impressed. I could go. Be a master of my own destiny. I figure in the end we’ll still wind up walking down the same empty train tracks, going nowhere, telling ourselves we’re going somewhere.
He opens the door of an abandoned car and drags the bodies out by their legs. Their heads hitting the ground with a thud, one by one.
“Where do you think they were driving to?” he asks.
“Where do you think they were driving from?” I point to a male, his face a rainbow of blues, greens, and browns “I think he’s called Ken. And his wife is probably called Linda. I think Linda was a maid.”
“Stop it. It creeps me out when you do that.”
We both crawl into the backseat of the car, and he wraps us in blankets that scratch against our skin. We pull it over our faces so we can sleep. You can’t be seen sleeping. Easy targets sleep. The second man was sleeping.
I have sweet dreams of Big Macs and roast turkey and only awake when his elbow jabs into my side.
“Do you smell that?” his voice low.
I smell roasting meat, and saliva runs from my mouth to my chest. We both move slowly like children wanting to peep into a room only for adults. Our faces pressed against the car window, we see a fire burning brightly in the woods among the trees I wish would spirit me away. Four men sit around it pulling cooked flesh from the bone with their teeth.
I nod in response. A sock hangs off a long bone that one of the men is sinking his teeth into. They all laugh loudly at a joke we can’t hear. Slowly, we back away from the windows and pull the blanket over our bodies.
As soon as dawn comes, we’ll head in the opposite direction. Nowhere can be anywhere. Just like all the injured pigeons with clipped wings, we’ll keep walking in circles.