By Len Kuntz
My car’s air conditioner is broken. The steering wheel and dashboard are both sticky, as if the heat is melting them. Even my seat feels tacky. It’s worse to roll down the window, the air outside a cauldron. Ahead the road looks like an oil slick, shimmering ebony, the white stripes milky against the pressing black sea, trees along the highway wilted, nothing more than leafless spires.
My wife fans herself with a magazine. She hasn’t spoken in over an hour.
When I watch her, she says, “What’s your problem,” without looking at me.
Fixing my eyes back on the road, I see a tumbleweed moving a few feet up. It takes a millisecond more to register it’s not a tumbleweed, but an animal.
By the time I slam on the brakes it’s too late, the creature thuds against the car’s undercarriage.
The rank tang of burnt rubber fills the car’s interior. My wife’s bumped her forehead and a jagged bolt of blood leaks down the center of it.
She looks like she wants to murder me.
“What…the…hell? she says.
“Are you okay?”
When I reach for her, she swats my hand away, so I set the car’s flashers, get out and walk back to inspect what I’ve done.
It was someone’s dog, a long leash around its neck, splattered with blood, blood everywhere, intestines and splotches of fur stuck to the highway like strange beasts growing up from inside the ground, having pushed through the pavement.
A minute later, my wife is behind me. She makes a short shriek and gags, but does not puke.
Cars slow as traffic starts to pile up around us. It’s blazing hot. My shirt is soaked through, my eyes stinging from the sweat.
I remember I have a snow shovel in the trunk.
“What the hell are you doing?” my wife asks.
I take off my shirt to use as a tarp for the animal’s remains. I start shoveling.
“Uh uh,” my wife says. “No way, that’s sick.”
It’s the same thing she’d called me—sick—after finding out about Jen, her sister, and I. The affair had been intense, but lasted only a month. Jen’s guilt wouldn’t let her keep the secret and a week ago my marriage imploded.
A few car horns blare as drivers shout profanities.
“I can’t do this,” my wife says.
I can’t either, I think, and toss her the car keys.
“I’m not bluffing,” she says, heat flushing her face, enhancing her hatred for me.
When I go back to what I’m doing, she gets in the car, revs the engine, and squeals off. I don’t look, just keep busy scooping chunks, saving the biggest piece for last.
I tie the ends of my shirt together and balance it against my chest, shovel over my shoulder. I walk across lanes without checking for oncoming traffic, my eyes searching instead beyond the roadside, looking for the best place to bury what I carry.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Snohomish, Washington, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AND NEITHER ARE YOU out now from Unknown Press. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.