Laura McCullough
The Weight They Carry Behind Them

I was struggling against the news, trying not to give in to grief, intent on not pulling over and breaking down, keep going, foot to pedal, no time to stop. God the news was bad that day. Remember it? I guess it could have been any day, though, if it was your son or daughter or if you realized it was somebody's son or daughter somewhere even if not here. But this had been a crazy bad day in a crazy bad week of letting the news in like a stranger without ID, and my throat was closing against the media slashing, and I didn't know if I could make it home, but I did, I got over the Mullica River bridge to my Parkway exit and sluiced around the bend, my kids just two miles to go when I saw, on the side of the road, right there on the white line of Route 9 south, two peacocks somebody'd abandoned a couple of years ago. They weren't a surprise; I'd seen them before, and the folks who live along there by the bay had taken to feeding them, but today, the electric blue of their two chests seared the grey day like a laser, and they walked as if carrying the weight of themselves as a burden behind them, the feathers vibrating on the asphalt with each careful step. Two males looking at once so self-possessed and so damned vulnerable to a fool like me with shaking hands and distracted mind whose wheel might go over the line anytime and crush them. I zoomed past, and one of them barked that lonely piercing scream they do into my side window. It was as if I'd been shot myself, and that was it; I couldn't take anymore. I could feel my shoulders caving in and the heaving of my lungs taking over and had to pull to the shoulder. That blue, that damned, beautiful blue; who wouldn't cry for it?