“We shouldn’t have rented a car.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have said them.
“Well, thanks, Maggie for that brilliant observation.”
His eyes stabbed me, a wound deeper than his sarcastic tone. He knew I hated when he spoke to me like that. As if I was an errant child it was his duty to correct. Forever. Until death do us part.
“You thought it was a great idea this morning,” he said, a muscle in his jaw flexing as he ground his teeth together.
“That was before you hit a deer.”
“You know I didn’t do it on purpose. How was I supposed to know there were deer out here?”
“I guess it’s my fault for not checking.” The smell of the antifreeze steaming from the hood was making me feel sick at my stomach. I moved my arms and legs around, taking stock of my body for any potential injuries. My neck felt a little stiff, but I was uninjured. “Are you hurt?” I asked, unbuckling my seat belt.
“No,” he said through his clenched teeth. His anger filled the car, a low frequency vibration like the hum of electrical wires.
He didn’t ask me if I was hurt.
Unable to bear the mounting tension for another second, I reached to open the car door. The door was stuck fast. The impact of the accident must have warped the frame.
I scooted sideways in my seat, brought my legs up to my chest while leaning forward to pull the door handle, and kicked the door with all my strength. It groaned and creaked open just enough for me to squeeze out.
“Where are you going?” he asked, as if it wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world.
“Where does it look like?”
I could hear him cursing, but I ignored him. If he wanted to be an asshole, I’d show him. I looked around, trying to spot any sign of civilization. There was nothing but rolling, monochrome countryside punctuated with small groups of trees shorn of their leaves. Patches of low lying mist gave the scene an ancient, barren appearance. We could’ve been the only two people left on earth.
Honeymooning in England had been my idea. We’d stayed in London the first ten days, visiting museums, touring all the historic sites, seeing a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.
Everything was perfect until we left the city.
It made perfect sense to stay in a quaint bed and breakfast a couple hours west of London for the last six days of our trip when we were making plans five months ago. We’d made reservations in a village which stood in the shadow of a thousand-year-old castle, thinking we would have a wonderful time exploring everything in our own leisurely fashion. We had one idyllic day there before it began to rain. And rain. And, for a change, rain some more.
The rain brought with it dreary skies, dense fog, and the return of my depression. My mood was as cold and cloudy as the weather, which he didn’t understand. Planning our wedding kept me too busy to fall into the pit of despair always at my side, so maybe he thought I’d been cured.
Perhaps I’d thought so, too.
He pulled me out of bed this morning with the idea to rent a car for the day. An estate forty minutes from the village offered guided tours, which he thought would interest me. I’d spent the past two days hours unable to wake up. Stirring from beneath the down filled comforters where I’d cocooned myself seemed like a bad idea, but I hated to tell him no.
Sometimes I think my inability to tell him no is why he proposed to me.
Behind me, I could hear him kicking the driver’s side door. There was a loud bang followed by a high-pitched squeal of metal on metal as the door popped off one of its hinges, hanging drunkenly askew. I ignored him, walking a couple of steps down the soft, crumbling tarmac toward the hood of the car.
“What do you think you’re doing, Maggie?” His voice was irritated, which did nothing to improve my state of mind. “Don’t look at it.”
“Do you really think it’s still alive?”
“Probably not. I can see blood on the hood. But, I don’t think it would be smart to take a chance on it, either. I’ve heard of people thinking a wild animal is dead until it attacks them. We’re fortunate we weren’t injured in the accident. Maybe we shouldn’t press our luck.”
“Okay. What are we going to do, then?” I asked, finally turning to look up at him.
His face was as white as chalk except for the bright flush staining his cheekbones, making his black hair blacker, his blue eyes bluer.
I almost felt sorry for him.
He reached into the front pocket of his jeans to pull out his phone. He looked down at the shattered screen and sighed. “I think it hit the steering wheel,” he said, pressing the power button. The ghost of a smile curved his lips as the display lit up. “At least it still works. I’ll call the rental place, tell them what happened.”
“At least you were smart enough to get the insurance,” I said, ready to make up with him. I loved him too much to stay angry with him, anyway. A fact he wasn’t above exploiting if he could benefit from it.
No, don’t think like that. It would serve no purpose, and we needed to work together if we were going to get out of this mess.
“Thanks for that,” he said, a genuine smile lighting up his face. The tension left his jaw, but his face was still too pale. “How’s your phone?”
I pulled my phone from my jacket pocket, showing him it was still in perfect condition. “It looks fine to me.”
“That’s one small favor. See if you can find our location while I make the call,” he said, gingerly touching the screen with the tip of his finger. “We can’t be far from our destination.”
Nodding, I turned my phone on, pulling up the GPS. I could hear him talking to someone at the rental place as I tried to figure out where we were.
Funny, I didn’t seem to have a signal.
“Really?” he was saying while I tried again to track our current location. “That’s really cool. Yes. Let me ask my wife.” He looked at me as I walked closer to him, thinking he must be closer to a pocket of service even though he was a mere two feet from me. “Do you know where we are?”
“I can’t seem to get a signal,” I said, turning my screen toward him again. “It doesn’t look broken, but maybe it is…” I trailed off as he raised a finger to silence me.
“Yes, sir. I think we must be close to the Summerfield Estate.” He paused, nodding although the person on the other end of the line couldn’t see him. “That sounds great. We’ll walk there and wait for you, then. Thank you. Bye.” He ended the call, and put the phone back in his pocket, being cautious not to slice his fingers on the broken glass.
“We’re walking, then?” I asked, turning my phone off to save what little battery I had left in case I could pick up a signal farther down the road, returning it to my jacket pocket.
“I think it’s the best plan. They’re going to send a tow truck out to take care of this car and bring us another one. We can tour the house as planned, and get out of the weather. Are you up for it?”
“Of course,” I said, thankful we’d both dressed for warmth and comfort.
“Good girl,” he said, smiling.
There he went again, treating me like a child. I kept my mouth shut. It would be stupid to start another argument when we had a walk ahead of us, and he was in such good spirits after taking care of everything. He didn’t mean to be condescending to me. It was just his way of dealing with a stressful situation.
“Do you think the car will be safe here?” I asked as we began walking around the ruined heap of red painted metal.
He stopped and looked up and down the road. It gleamed with moisture in the dim light, a charcoal colored ribbon devoid of life. “It looks pretty straight to me. I think anyone driving this way will have plenty of time to see it, especially with the hazard lights blinking. Besides, I don’t think we’ve seen another car on this road the entire time we’ve been on it.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” I agreed.
“Let’s get going before it starts pouring again,” he said, gently touching my arm, tilting his head in the direction we needed to go.
The bittersweet tang of the chemicals leaking from the wreckage faded as we began walking again, replaced with the richer scents of soil and vegetation saturated with brackish water.
We’d walked maybe ten feet when, like Lot’s wife, I looked over my shoulder at the scene of the accident.
The deer laid motionless on its side, its rear legs at an odd angle. An oval of red surrounded its head like the halo of an icon, still spreading on the wet road as I watched.
I couldn’t see any lights blinking. The car was a mangled, unrecognizable heap, nearly broken in half where it had crashed into a tree along the ditch. I squinted as the rain began to pick up, trying to see through the gathering fog. I could see two figures still sitting inside the car, one of them slumped over a white airbag discolored by smudges of bright red.
“I told you not to look at it.”
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