POSSUM STORY by Kayla Jean

We were going to scrape that possum off the road because somebody had to do it. That’s what our Dads said, trucks rattling in neighboring driveways, complaining about the borough workers, asking nobody in particular where their taxes went, if not to cleaning up a dead possum right in the middle of the intersection. The Biology teacher had even joked about dissecting it for class, because it was the intersection right next to the high school and so every student and every teacher saw it, curled up and still in the mornings then somehow more freshly dead in the afternoons.

It was my idea, but I’d only thought of it because I was trying to impress Gina.

“No, no sorry. Maybe I wasn’t clear” Gina said.

A garden shovel dangled from the Walmart cashier’s limp wrist.

“We meant like, one of the orange ones. One for snow shoveling. Wide like.” I spread my hands out past my shoulders.

“In May? Okay well, I’ll go check the back, we might have some left over from last season.”

Behind us, the claw machine was a swirl of hot pinks and bubblegum blues. A carnival song crackled from its speaker.

Gina tore open a bag of peach rings and we yanked them apart with our back molars. I watched her lips suck on the pale yellow underbellies of the candies and wondered, again, how Duck could have ever dumped her for a mousy-looking, furniture modeling sophomore.

We still weren’t clear on the specifics of furniture modeling. Neither of us understood how placing a fifteen-year-old girl next to staged warehouse sectionals made them look any more appealing.  When we talked about it, which was at least twice a day, Gina said it had to be the trashiest modeling job you could get around here, and that was saying something because there were lots of girls modeling bikinis for vape shops.

I reached for another peach ring but Gina rolled the bag up and shoved it in her back pocket.

“I think we’re good for now.” Her tiger-striped belly button ring glinted at me from between her cropped tank top and rolled-up Soffe shorts. She was always yanking food away and making me feel embarrassed for wanting it in the first place.

She’d done it when we were kids, best friends who got our ears pierced together at Claire’s and then shared Auntie Anne’s pretzel nuggets to celebrate. Yanked them to her side of the table and said I was eating too much too fast. And she was doing it now, since we’d reconnected two months ago.

We stopped being best friends in December of fifth grade. From their weather sealed deck, Gina’s family watched as my dad scaled a pine tree in our yard and sawed the top clean off. He said it was our Christmas tree for the year and he didn’t want to hear another word about it. Her dad laughed, gave a thumbs up. Her mom kept a French manicured hand to her mouth. The next day during indoor recess we played M.A.S.H. It was my turn and the game said I’d marry a plumber. The verdict was out on how many kids and whether we’d live in a mansion or a shack. Gina brought up the tree in front of everyone. It’s gaudy, she said, gaudy and trashy. I knew the words weren’t hers. They globbed on the desk like spilled oatmeal, stuck there and burned my cheeks up. What’s gaudy mean? A boy asked. Tacky, she said, proud of herself for remembering her mother’s synonym. And ugly, she added after a pause, that word all her own. I snagged the hall pass, sped walked to the bathroom. After that I was too ashamed to knock on her door anymore and she didn’t seem to miss playing with me.

Then last month, Gina was knocking on my door again, asking for rides to and from school since Duck dumped her. In exchange, she let me borrow Cosmo magazines, taught me about matte lipsticks and bikini waxes, told me my butt looked good in American Eagle jeans, and said I was too smart for any of the guys at school. I lived for those compliments.

 Duck also happened to be in my Physics class. She would pry for information as I drove us home from school, taking the backroads so I could smoke half a Marlboro Gold and shove the other half back into the pack. I strained my ears during Physics and wrote everything Duck said about the furniture model in the margins of my notebook. They got sushi at the mall, they were going to the party at Kandace’s house, he’d found a tie to match her prom dress.

The cashier emerged from the storage room doors thrusting the snow shovel in the air like a splintery trophy.

It was a twenty-minute drive back to the possum. Cherry blossom petals fell onto my windshield like fat, pink snowflakes. Gina’s thighs were splayed out to the sides, the shovel propped on the passenger’s mat in between them. If I squinted and unfocused my eyes just right, it was winter, it was snowing, Gina and I were kids again going to make some money with our shovel. We didn’t know anything of heartbreak or the lengths you go to make it stop.

I’d never dated anyone for as long as Gina dated Duck. Eight months. But in ninth grade, I smoked weed for the first time with Chris and he fingered me so hard in the woods behind the park that it broke my hymen. When he dumped me for a more popular girl I wrote the lyrics to “Cut Here” by the Cure on my arms in Sharpie and hid them under my black long-sleeved shirts. So I did know something of heartbreak, even if it wasn’t as freshly snapped as Gina’s.

Gina passed me our plastic water bottle of Pinnacle Whipped. I gulped and felt her eyes on me and clenched my face muscles so they wouldn’t grimace then handed it back to her.

She took a medium-sized sip and screwed the cap on, paused, opened it again, and took another sip. I wiggled my hand and she handed it back.

She started to flick the window control lever with her index finger, making a thwack-thwack-thwack sound. I turned up the music.

“What the fuck even is this?”

I turned it back down and took another sip.

She kept flicking her finger against the lever. Thwack-thwack-thwack.

The edges of the road smeared like oily pastels. The mud into the spruce, magnolias into the last bit of orange at the base of the sky.

Thwack-thwack-thwack.

Gina was always attempting to rid herself of the pain in pathetic spurts like this.

I’d watched her furiously apply mascara to her top lids like she was trying to rip them off. Seen her accidentally breaking pencil tips, grinding them into stubs at the sharpener, conveniently located by the door, waiting for Duck and his new girlfriend to walk down the hall. Slam the passenger side door so hard like she could trap her pain in my Jetta if she just shut it fast enough.

There were easier ways, I knew. I could have told her about pressing a shaving razor into my thigh and how it had a much higher payoff than her minuscule leaks of rage. But I was worried she’d call me a freak so I kept my mouth shut.

 

I put it in park in the middle of the intersection and flipped the hazards on. We approached the possum in silence out of respect for the dead or fear of people peering out of their closed curtains, or both.

Eighteen-wheelers rattled past on the interstate, jostling what was left of the possum’s fur. Its guts were mostly flat now, organs indistinguishable, just one small sheet of deep pink. Mouth open with razor teeth lurched forward. I’d seen it only in quick glances from cars. Now, it started to transform into something more real and more dead than I’d previously imagined. Above us, the traffic light switched colors, green light splashed over Gina’s babydoll face. The vodka squirmed in my stomach.

I squatted on the ground, held the black trash bag open with both hands. Gina pushed at its body with the shovel, slowly peeling it from the road. One string of guts stuck to the asphalt. I had to bury my hands in the bag and break the cord while Gina held the shovel still.

 The possum teetered on the edge of the bright orange shovel. I was floating over my body, the burning tendons in my calves from squatting the only thing tethering me to it.

“Shit, car,” Gina said, and flung the possum into the bag. It made a smooth, crinkle sound when it landed. I was suddenly all too aware of my arms, the weight of the blood pumping through them, the thickness of my skin held somehow together, keeping me from leaking out into the world.

I stared up at Gina, sandy brown hair wisped by trails of diesel fumes, perfect bare nails clenching the now brown blood-stained shovel. The light turned red. I bunched the top of the bag, tucked it down, made a loop, pulled it through, and stood up.

“Nevermind. Turning.” Gina didn’t look relieved, but she hadn’t looked stressed at the sight of the car to begin with. I hoped a car would come, that we’d have to toss the garbage bag to the side of the road and high tail it out of there. Maybe Gina hoped that too.

“I guess… the trunk?” I shrugged my shoulders a little to make the question seem more casual, like this was just another bag of clothes for Goodwill.

Gina was like I’d never seen her before. She folded her thumbs over and over each other in her lap. No thwacking now, just the slick sound of her skin rubbing against itself. The air in the car tasted flat, like all the bubbliness had leaked out while we were scooping up the possum.

She’d heard all about Duck and his new girlfriend from me, but she’d never actually seen them together. They had all different classes and lunch periods. I could tell she was thinking about how sick she might feel when she really saw the furniture model’s house.

“We should finish this bottle, yah know, in case we get pulled over or something.” I lit one of my half-smoked Marlboro Lights.

“Literally not gonna ever happen with how slow you drive but, okay.”

Gina sipped, then handed the bottle to me to finish off, her saliva glistening on the rim as I wrapped my lips around it.

It was supposed to be simple. Identify the furniture model’s house by her car: A white Nissan Maxima with a tye-dye girls volleyball sticker on the back windshield. Open the trunk. Grab the possum. Drop the possum on her front porch. Run.

Gina twisted her torso towards the window as we pulled into the development. This was it. She was going to rid my car of the possum and with it all of her anger and bitterness and heartache over Duck.

My foot hovered above the gas pedal. We circled through cul de sac after cul de sac of beige siding and gaudy fake stone houses.

Nearing the end of our first complete circle around the development, I rutsched around in my seat trying to squash the tingling in my bladder.

“Maybe she parks in the garage?” I offered. Gina’s iPhone glowed a pixelated blue as she made the rounds: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

“Nothing. Nothing from either of them all night.”

No posts meant they were holed up in Duck’s bedroom, wrestling around on his waterbed, or watching Fight Club and making out on his futon. It didn’t matter exactly what they were doing, just that it was precious and private enough to keep them off the internet on a Friday night.

Gina let her phone drop face down onto the grey floor mat.

I circled us around again, trying to manifest the Nissan into existence, trying to ignore my growing need to pee.

On the third go-round, a porch light whipped on. I steered us to the other end of the development and switched the headlights off. Blood thudded in my ears. Gina bit at her index finger for a few seconds until she realized she’d used that hand to touch the shovel that touched the possum and she rolled down the window to spit. The whole of my existence seemed reduced to the burning in my bladder.

“I have to piss”

“So do it” Gina kept her head turned away from me.

The grass covered my flip-flopped feet in sludge as I walked towards the trees. I squatted down and steadied my head as the sound of my car idling and my pee hitting the grass and crickets swelled all around. I watched Gina’s silhouette swat tears from her eyes. I knew we weren’t going to find her house and that after this Gina probably wouldn’t care all that much about hanging out with me and that I’d be stuck with the possum, left to dispose of it on my own.

“Let’s go around one more time?” Gina said when I got back to the car.

I drove us even slower this time, pretending to look closely at each house for any evidence that a furniture model might live there, trying not to think about Duck or Gina or the dead possum or having to go back into school on Monday or how embarrassed I felt that my plan failed and how bad I’d want to use my razor later or how now Gina was going to keep slamming my car door for the foreseeable future since she couldn’t get her revenge, trying to focus instead on the swing sets and Mercedes Benz’s and lifted trucks and well-manicured lawns and stop signs. I could tell Gina was trying not to think about things too because her right leg was bouncing up and down really fast.

I officially gave up on looking for the furniture model’s house. Her car wasn’t there. Everyone’s blinds were shut and lit from behind by the glow of flat-screen TVs. I wished we had brought more vodka. Gina’s leg suddenly stopped shaking and she held up a dainty wrist.

“Here is fine.”

I pulled the lever and the trunk popped. Gina slid out. In the rearview mirror, I watched her heave the bag up and hold it to her chest. Glossy black glinted under the street light. She walked up to the front porch and kneeled on the slate steps. She patted it once, like she’d reached some kind of truce with the possum.  Gina knew, and I knew that it didn’t even matter whose house it was. Then she stood, pivoted on the heels of her mustard yellow flip-flops.

Back in the car, Gina switched on the overhead light, dug around for the peach rings.

“Yours if you want them,” she tossed the bag into my lap.

The ridged bottom landed on my thighs. I opened them, let the bag slip down just a little and then I squeezed together until it scraped me.


Kayla Jean lives in Virginia where she is pursuing an MFA at Virginia Tech. Her work has appeared in Hobart, New World Writing, New Delta Review, and Rejection Letters. Find her on twitter @dbtoil

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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