Fiction · 08/22/2018

Cul-de-sac

The sound shakes the dining table. The forks and knives rattle against each other and the milk sloshes in the children’s half-empty tumblers. The plastic pears I stacked just like in the Pinterest pictures, twined with fairy lights in a cut glass tray, tumble and roll. I stand up and pull back the curtain.

“Something just swallowed a woman. A creature. A creature just swallowed a woman,” I say to my husband. The creature’s body, pasty and rough-skinned, fills the street. I do not know what kind of creature it is, but even so, I feel sure it would be impolite to name it.

“What, here?” he asks. He’s still looking at his phone. He raises a forkful of roast to his mouth. It leaves a spot of gravy on his chin. I nod, glancing toward the children’s napkins, wadded up and tossed onto their plates.

“Look,” I say, pulling the curtain back as far as it goes. “Right there. Right in front of our house.”

He chews, swallows noisily. “Impossible.” He frowns at something on his phone, uses his thumb to scroll. I take his other hand, the one with the fork, pull him to the front door and out into the heat. Vines curl and knot over our heads, chasing cracks in the brickwork.

“Look.” I point to where it’s happening, or has already happened. A single neon pink running shoe rests on the pavement as if someone’s just stepped out of it. Its mate flails through the air like the cellophane flounce on a cocktail toothpick. The other end of the woman’s leg — the knee and everything above it, the part of the toothpick where the meatball might be — is in the creature’s mouth.

“How do you know it swallowed her?” My husband shakes his head, blinks slowly. He turns to me, puts his hands on his hips.

“Look,” I say again, still pointing. The creature’s eye — the one closest to us, the only one we can see — regards us. Regards me. It’s blank, no flicker of anything like conscience or consciousness. I always get those two mixed up. Still, there’s something in its eye that I recognize, though I can’t quite tell what.

“Who even was it, anyway?” my husband wants to know. “I mean, out here alone, throwing herself into creatures’ mouths. What kind of woman is that?” He shakes his head again.

My father always used to say that I had good sense, good common sense, a good head on my shoulders, that I knew when to keep my head down and my shoulder to the wheel, knew when to keep my mouth shut. The mark of a good girl, he used to say.

The leg, the foot, and the attached shoe have all disappeared into the creature. The terrible thing looks right at my husband, and he at it. They stare at each other for a long while. Finally, it turns and slouches down the street, dragging its pale belly.

“Aren’t you going to do something?” I ask him.

“Do? About what, exactly?” he wants to know. I look for an answer. I look at the neighbors’ houses, all closed up tight. I look at my hands. They’re holding nothing.

My husband has already turned, is already stepping into the foyer, headed back to his plate. I can smell the pot roast, half of it still in the crockpot, resting on its bed of soft yellow onions and wilted carrots.

The children must be playing quietly upstairs. I haven’t heard a peep from them since they left the table. We have such good children. “Children?” I call. They do not answer. Our children are so good, so quiet.

I look back at the creature. It’s almost at the end of our cul-de-sac, its fleshy tail wrinkling against its body as it begins to turn the corner.

I run out to the woman’s shoe. I pick it up. It’s still warm. I take one last look at the creature, and then I hurl the shoe at my husband’s head. It connects with an unsatisfying thud, bounces off limply. He turns back to face me. “Where are the children?” I shout.

I hear a rumble. The sidewalk shakes. Hot breath curls around my back, over my shoulders, and I clench my fists. I watch as my husband’s eyes go wide.

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Tria Wood is a writer who helps children and teachers become confident creative writers through the Writers in the Schools program in Houston, Texas. Her writing has recently appeared in Cheap Pop, Pithead Chapel, and Corvid Queen as well as in public art installations.