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Mute – Adam Trodd

In the old blue Escort, hurtling along humped roads bookended by skinned bogland. Benson and Hedges butts crinkled and bunched into the open ashtray like dead grubs. How Soon is Now hisses in and out of life on the radio with every suspension-buckling roll.

‘I do hit the road in spots, ha?’

It’s two days before Christmas and we are rushing to get a turkey, if there are any left in the shops. I want to ask him why he left it this late again.

‘Wha’s wrong witchoo?’

I look out through the drizzle that gathers on the passenger side window at the damp-darkened acres of milled peat that streak past.

‘You’re in a mood, arentcha?’

I want the window to dissolve. I want to be air.

He applies the brakes suddenly and the Escort’s momentum transfers from the wheels to our seats to our bodies. He looks up from his defensive crouch behind the steering wheel. It’s a swan. Stark in the middle of the road.

‘Right. Out.’

He goes to the boot. I hear him rooting around. I stand, in the coating wet, watching the swan. He joins me at the front of the car, his legs casting shadows in the yellowing headlights. He has a priest with a brass head in his right hand, hefting it lightly.

I trail him as he approaches the swan. It hisses and tries to stand but flumps back down on its haunches. I see a deep wound on the crinkled, liquorice skin of the knee with a tube like a tendon or a bone poking out. One wing sits askew.

‘Sometimes they think the road’s a river when the light hits it.’

He pulls his jumper over his head and throws it on top of the swan. Its neck bends awkwardly under the weight. Gauging where the skull must be, by holding his left hand out as a guide and closing one eye, he raises the priest and brings it sharply down. The jumper bulges as the good wing attempts to flap. He strikes again. I lean backwards, press my palm against the slick car bonnet. He shovels his hands under the cocooned swan and stands up, tossing his fringe out of his eyes.

‘Problem solved. C’mon, we’ll head home.’

As we drive back, I think of the mashed skull. The brain like jam on the wool of the jumper. I discreetly pull the handle of the passenger door. It doesn’t open.

‘If you’re goin’ to be sick, put the winda down. I’m not stoppin’.

I wind the glass fully down and hang my head out in the rain. He hasn’t heard my seatbelt clicking open. The dark road rushes by. It doesn’t look like a river to me.