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What the Peacock Knows by Rebekah L. Cowell

What the Peacock Knows by Rebekah L. Cowell

Fiction, Vol. 1.3, Dec. 2007

They hear a chilling sound, a wail, a cry, a plea – it echoes through the tall pines the MG has sputtered out under.

A sliver of moonlight shadows her face as she looks to Darek; he’s calm. Crisis management is his profession – personally, she’s the crisis that makes him yell until he’s hoarse.

-What’s that?

-It’s a peacock.

-A what?

-Peacock, AnnaLyn. He’s roosting up in one of those pine trees.

-He sounds hurt.

-No, he’s looking for a mate.

-So he is hurt?

-Why do you say that?

-Well, if he’s crying for a mate, then the physical need to mate must be painful.

Silence.

AnnaLyn could cry herself, it’s hot and Darek has no interest in the pregnancy thing. No special considerations here. She reads all the books for moms-to-be – endless chapters on pampering — nothing on working full-time, taking night classes and handling seething rage from your baby’s father because you did not have an abortion.

-We’ve got to walk.

They sit off of 15-501 just before Orange becomes Chatham, two miles from the gas station at the crossroads.

She says nothing as she gets out of the car, adjusting the tank top that rides up over her tummy and curls under her breasts. She pulls it down.

Ditches along the road brim with bullfrogs. Crickets occasionally click and clatter. The frogs are a steady sound punctuated by an occasional cry from the peacock.

Darek’s not worried — she takes his cue.

Even when the green Ford pickup truck pulls over and a dingy old man steps out, even then AnnaLyn does not panic.

She feels uneasy when he insists she sit up front, boyfriend in the back. Darek deflects his request and hoists her pregnant body up, wedging in next to her, the issue resolved. The back of the truck is filled with bags of mulch and dirt, her flip-flops skitter against metal tools — a geranium plant hugs the other corner.

Flying along, Darek shields her from the wind with his body braced against the side.

Why no stars, why no moon. Velvet dark.

Nameless trees rushing over their heads, the truck weaving in and out of country lanes.

-Where’s he taking us?

-Not to the gas station.

-I’m scared.

-Don’t think like that. As soon as we get to town, I’ll make him let us off.

-But we’re heading away from town. I want to get out now.

-AnnaLyn, I need you to be calm.

-Darek. I’m scared.

In the dark she grips his arm, and she thinks about the baby, a girl she’s already named Dana.

Darek leans into the bed of the truck and touches the garden tools with his palm. He places a shovel across his knees and his finger runs across the edges of the steel surface. His eyes burn brightly in the dark.

He reaches below her feet and pulls up a rake, he presses it into her hands.

-Hit the mother-fucker when I tell you to. Do not question me at all. If I say run, do it. Run until you find a house.

-I’m not leaving you, Darek.

-You damn well better if you want to live.

They hit a dirt road and bounced around. What if my water broke now, she wonders.

It takes time to go up the long circular drive; shapeless eyes of a shuttered house come into view.

The man climbs out, a shotgun in his hands.

She almost passes out from a lack of oxygen, fear shutting her down, the pumping of her blood so loud she can barely hear Darek.

-Sir, if you could just take us back to the highway we’d appreciate it. We don’t want trouble.

Darek’s voice is shaded with authority.

-You come with me, leave the woman in the truck.

Darek’s hands tighten around the shovel as the stooped man spits a stream of tobacco juice into the dark.

-I’d rather not leave her. I think you should take us back to the road.

-Ain’t studying you fools. Get out of that truck.

-Sir, what do you want.

The shotgun points straight at Darek’s head, and a string of tobacco juice mixing with his spittle slides down the man’s chin.

-Get down now before I hurt that woman.

Fluidly Darek flies over the side of the truck into the dust of the road, the shovel slams into the shotgun and it fires into the night.

She hears the sound of his shovel connect with something that makes a soft “whomp” sound. She hears a scream that isn’t Darek’s and then another sound – bones crunching, a crack, silence.

Darek comes into view, he holds the gun, she can’t see the man.

-Get into the front, now.

Darek’s breath coming in harsh gasps. She sees the shovel in the dirt as she climbs down, the dark stain spreading across the pointed V of the shovel end; she looks no more.

Darek gets in and starts the engine.

He follows the road out, back to the highway with blood across his cheek; her feet touch the litter on the floorboards, wire, tools, coffee cups, papers.

Back at the car she almost sobs with relief that the nightmare is over, but the night has not ended.

Darek siphons gas out of the truck. The peacock utters a wail as he pours it into the MG and orders her to follow him in the truck. With hell breathing her name, AnnaLyn follows him back to the place where death has a nameless face. She stays at the foot of the road, panic clutching her throat. Darek comes out of the night at a dead run, he peels out the car, fish-tailing in the gravel, hits 90 before he takes his foot off the accelerator. AnnaLyn touches his cheek, that place the bullet grazed, a finger-long welt.

********

In labor, transitioning from purgatory to a hell of unimaginable pain, AnnaLyn drifted in and out of consciousness; this was the gift of natural birth.  The midwife dubiously left the room when AnnaLyn asked to be alone with Derek.

-She’s crazy with hurt. 

He tells the midwife.

AnnaLyn sobs as pain wrenches her, and between the rolling of contractions she tells him she will die. All she can hear is the peacock wailing.

-What peacock?

He says, and she trembles but no more does she talk of the peacock. At 8:33am, Dana enters the world slick with the membranes of her mother’s womb.  Beautiful, whole, healthy.

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