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Mouthful of Birds
Author:Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of Birds

Samanta Schweblin



HEADLIGHTS


When she reaches the road, Felicity understands her fate. He has not waited for her, and, as if the past were a tangible thing, she thinks she can still see the weak reddish glow of the car’s taillights fading on the horizon. In the flat darkness of the countryside, there is only disappointment, a wedding dress, and a bathroom she shouldn’t have taken so long in.

Sitting on a rock beside the door, she picks grains of rice from the embroidery on her dress, with nothing to look at but the open fields, the highway, and, beside the highway, a women’s bathroom.

Time passes during which Felicity throws off all the grains of rice. She still doesn’t cry; deep in the shock of abandonment, she smooths the folds of her dress, examines her nails, and, as though expecting a return, stares out at the highway down which he disappeared.

“They don’t come back,” says Nené, and Felicity screams in fright. “The highway is shit.”

The woman is behind Felicity, and she lights a cigarette. “Just shit, the very worst kind.”

Felicity gets control of herself, and as the shock dies down, she rearranges her straps.

“First time?” asks Nené, and she waits unappreciatively for Felicity to regain enough courage to stop trembling and look at her. “I’m asking if the guy is your first husband.”

Felicity forces a smile. She discovers in Nené the old and bitter face of a woman who was surely once more beautiful than Felicity herself. Amid the marks of premature old age, clear eyes and perfectly proportioned lips still remain.

“Yes, the first,” says Felicity, with that shyness that turns the sound of a voice inward.

A white light appears on the highway, illuminates them as it passes, and vanishes, glowing red.

“So? You going to wait for him?” asks Nené.

Felicity looks at the highway, at the side where, if her husband was to return, she would see the car appear. She can’t bring herself to reply.

“Look,” says Nené, “I’ll make this short because there’s really not much to it.” She steps on the cigarette, emphasizing the words: “They get tired of waiting and they leave you. It seems waiting wears them out.”

Felicity carefully follows the movement of a new cigarette toward the woman’s mouth, the smoke that blends with the darkness, the lips that press the cigarette.

“So the girls cry and wait for them . . .” Nené goes on, “and they wait . . . And especially, the whole time they’re waiting: they cry, cry, and cry.”

Felicity’s eyes stop following the cigarette. Right when she most needs sisterly support, when only another woman could understand what she is feeling in front of a women’s bathroom beside the highway after being wholly abandoned by her new husband, she has only this arrogant woman who has been talking to her, and who is now shouting.

“And they keep crying and crying at all hours, every minute of every damned night!”

Felicity takes a deep breath, and her eyes fill with tears.

“And screw all that crying and crying . . . I’ll tell you something. This is it. We’re sick and tired of hearing about your stupid problems. We, little miss . . . What did you say your name was?”

Felicity wants to say Felicity, but she knows that if she opens her mouth, the only sound will be uncontrollable sobbing.

“Hello . . . your name was . . . ?”

Then the sobbing is uncontrollable.

“Fe . . . li . . .” Felicity tries to control herself, and though she doesn’t really succeed, she does finish the word: “. . . city.”

“Well, Felicity, I was saying that we can’t keep putting up with this situation. It’s unsustainable, Felicity!”

After she takes a long and noisy breath, Felicity’s sobs start to swell again, dampening her entire face, which trembles as she breathes and shakes her head.

“I can’t believe . . .” she gasps, “that he’s . . .”

Nené stands up. She crushes her unfinished cigarette on the bathroom wall, looks at Felicity with contempt, and walks away.

“Rude!” Felicity shouts at her.

But a few seconds later, once she realizes she’ll be left alone, Felicity catches up with Nené out in the field.

“Wait . . . Don’t leave, you have to understand . . .”

Nené stops and looks at her.

“Shut up,” says Nené, and she lights another cigarette. “Shut up, I’m telling you. Listen.”

Felicity stops crying, chokes down something like the beginnings of another outbreak of sorrow.

There’s a moment of silence during which Nené does not feel relief. Even more nervous and distraught than before, she says:

“Okay, now listen. Do you hear it?” Nené looks out at the black field.

Felicity is quiet and she concentrates, but she cannot hear anything. Nené shakes her head in disapproval.

“You cried too much, now you have to wait for your ears to get used to it.”

Felicity looks off toward the fields and cocks her head a bit.