Alex Robert Franco
The car belches into a lurch, trailing a wake of black smoke. Leda smells scorched rubber. On the wheel her knuckles bleach, threatening to blossom into bone. She speeds up the on-ramp, swerving across three lanes, horn blaring. Her headlights like knives bleeding yellow on black. They catch the freckled glints of plastic, evidence of a crash.
She counts one—two—thr—the pain like claws, scraping at the inside of her swollen belly, cutting her breath short. Pushing a palm up under her sweater, she hushes shh, shh. How long since the last contraction? She can’t remember, presses on the gas.
Eyes straining against the dark, her hand digs blind in her purse. The give of gum, smooth round of half a lipstick tube, the suspect wet of used tissues. At last, the solid slick of her phone. Phoebe picks up on the first sing.
“Leda? Good gods, do you know what time—”
“It’s coming,” she strains, paper-thin. “The baby’s coming now.”
Jane’s voice snaps awake. “Where are you?” Leda can hear her fumble with shoes, the jangle of keys.
“On I-75, near exit 89.” Leda darts her eyes to the road. “No—exit 88.” Another, sharper jab doubles her over the wheel, eyes crossing. She grits her teeth against the pain. Something wet sloshes out of her, trickles down the seat. “I’m not going to make it.”
Phoebe shouts something, but the phone rattles to the floor of the passenger seat. Leda swerves onto the shoulder. The grass gives beneath the tires. It had rained that evening and the ground is still wet. Engine running, she wrenches the door open, stumbles out into the crisp air. One arm looped beneath her stomach, the other hand hard on the side of the car to keep her on her feet, Leda waddles into the backseat, each step like razors jangling inside.
Crawling onto her back, she works the sweatpants down her legs. Her feet dangle in the open air. In her head she can hear Phoebe say stupid, why didn’t you call an ambulance, a cover for what she really wants to ask, why did you keep it?
Yoga had run late, and Leda had gotten to the store fifteen minutes before they closed. Except for the staff, it had been practically deserted. She’d hurried down the aisles, tossing in microwavables without really looking. Walking to checkout, she’d bumped someone, a man. She’d offered a hurried sorry! and kept going.
The grocery bag weighed her hip down. Her’s was the only car left in the lot. She fished for her keys. Her fingers had closed around them the same time his hand had closed around her ponytail. Up against the car, she’d dropped the bag. Oranges rolled across the asphalt.
In the tinted glass she saw his eyes, lightening blue, and his smile full of teeth. Strong as a bull he pressed her open. At least he was quick. When it was over he’d told her she was beautiful.
A flutter, then the quickening. Her arm hangs from a handle above her head. She grips, squeezes—push. She splits apart like a pomegranate dropped on the ground. Red-faced, she pants, hair plastered to her forehead. Another wave of contractions—her head writhes on the seat. Each open-mouth gasp brings the copper taste of blood.
It starts, her body ripping as the head pushes free. The cords on her neck like bowstring taut to snap. Her voice is a strangling cry, an animal groan. Wet splashes on her thighs. She cranes her neck, looks over the mountain swell beneath her breasts, see a feathered head, white stained red.
The yellow beak twists round and snaps at her. The eyes sharp blue in ponds of black. Its throat flutters and shakes. A sprinkle of blood—her own—rains on Leda’s face.
The rest squeezes out, round body at the end of an impossibly long neck. Leda digs her nails into the upholstery as one wing reaches into the world, then the other. At last its feet wiggle free.
The swan stands between her thighs, blue eyes haunting. It spreads it wings, flicks them dry. Its beak opens and the sound of mountains thunders, waves against rocks. Turning, it takes off with a flap. The feathers tickle Leda’s skin.
She watches it rise higher and higher, white against the night. She watches it fade, watches it disappear, another star amidst the sky.
Alex Robert Franco is a writer and educator from Atlanta, GA. He studied literature at Bard College and La Sorbonne. His work has appeared previously in PolyChrome Ink, Callisto, and The Erotic Review, among others.