Karen sat in the passenger seat of the faded black Volkswagon Scirocco, her seatbelt fastened. John sat next to her, his face illuminated by the glare of the headlights. Those headlights, Karen thought, should be much brighter; they only reached thirty of so feet in front of the car. With the way John drove most days, it would have made her feel more comfortable to be able to see further than what the yellowed glass of the headlamps would have allowed. John amused himself by watching the millers streak into the beams and bounce off the windshield.
The only conversation that broke the silence was a mile back when Karen asked John to slow down a bit on the dark curves of the road. John seemed to hear only shaking his head slightly, his dark unkempt hair swishing a bit over his chipmunk cheeks. He like to put on a show, John did; opening doors for women he took on dates and such.
He wore a faded leather jacket that was plain except for a couple zippers that were added to demonstrate its ruggedness. He had a pale complexion that might have been gothic except for the stubble on his sideburns that he never seemed to be able to shave away, and the rosy blotches on his cheeks that swelled like Karen remembered hers did when she got her wisdom teeth pulled, but John still had his. Every time he got in the car, John drove like an adolescent boy who is late for his first lay; reckless, uncaring and fast. He was the type of guy you hoped your daughter avoided, not because he was a rebel without a cause, but because he was the pretense of a rebel; unwilling to make the sacrifices a rebel would and because he had a cause, and that cause was himself. He dressed himself in black, black boots, black denim jeans and a black t-shirt. Hell, he bought thirty yards of black fabric at a local hobby store and covered every square inch of his dorm room walls with it.
It was safe to say Karen didn’t like John, but as it happened, John came along with everyone tonight to watch the fireworks and she somehow ended up being stuck riding with him. Karen sat back and tried to relax by taking in the scenery. There wasn’t much within the car, just dirty seats and an ashtray full of burnt cigarette butts that hadn’t been emptied for ages. Tonight was chilly and so they had kept the windows rolled up, though judging by the rushing sound of air from somewhere in the back of the car, it hardly mattered if they did. He ignored the car smells and focused instead on the smell of wildflowers that leaked in from outside. Most of the plants out this way were weeks, but there were fields of them and many with blossoms bursting everywhere after the recent rains.
Karen could only enjoy it for a few moments. Always that toxic smell of burning cigarette butts came back and now John had lit up another one, letting it rest on the ashes of the others when she wasn’t puffing away at it. Karen pretended had gotten used to the smell, or at least she pretended she had.
A small form, white and luminescent burst from the blossoms at the side of the road.
The car barely registered the animal as it passed beneath the tires. John slowed a bit but didn’t stop.
“Damnit, what was that,” he blurted, looking into the darkness that was his rearview mirror. He seemed concerned, after all, he did like animals, especially wolves. “Did you see what it was?”
“It was a rabbit,” Karen replied in a flat monotone, wondering how John couldn’t have seen it. They weren’t engrossed in conversation and his eyes had seemed glued to the road. Perhaps John wasn’t so perceptive while driving. Karen frowned.
“Aren’t we going to see if it’s still alive,” Karen asked with an edge to her voice.
After a moment, the car slowed a bit and then, after a bit of hesitation, John turned the car around on the narrow road and began to drive back. John though the animal must have gone off into the brush, since they drove for what seemed quite a distance looking for it. They drove almost a mile before they spotted something in the road, a red and white puffball. John stopped in the road and turned off the engine, leaving the lights on so they could see.
They both stepped out of the car and advanced on the animal. It was alive, they could see, its tiny chest heaving like an overworked billows. It was trying to move quickly away from them, but only manage to run in short circles. The back half of its body was crushed.
Karen could smell the fear, mixed with blood, spring weed blossoms and cigarette butts. It didn’t make her sick, she just looked to John to see his reaction. John was upset and didn’t know what to do.
It’s hurt too bad, you’re going to have to put it out of its misery,” Karen responded, since it didn’t look like John was going to come to any conclusions on his own anytime soon.
“Yeah, I guess so. How should we do it?” He responded.
Karen lifted an eyebrow. You’re knife, John. The one on your belt’” she added in a tone reserved for those who are pointing out the obvious.
John paused for a few seconds, while the rabbit continued to streak trail of blood in circles on the asphalt. Then pulled out the large pocket knife from the black case on his belt and opening it. He advanced on the rabbit, not sure how to grab it, or kill it. Karen observed, knowing this was something John had to do. He wasn’t paying attention to his driving and as always was going way too fast in order to show off; now he was faced with the result of that childishness and he did so with all the bravado of a child about to be punished.
John slowly approached, visibly nervous and tried to wait for it to stop moving. It continued in bursts to dart away, its rear legs shredded and though still pumping with the response to flee. He reached out and stopped it from moving with his shoe, ironically trying to keep it in place without hurting it. He handled the knife clumsily, leaning in close to finish the business. Karen watched his hand, holding the back end on the handle as if trying to keep his hand away from the business end as much as he could. She watched as he hesitantly put the knife to the rabbits’ throat and make a quick slash with a weak jerk of his wrist. The knife scraped on the ground after the cut and john quickly stood up and backed away, infected by a squeamish look.
But the rabbit wasn’t dead. It thrashed about even harder, its wild eyes innocent and accusatory all at once. John had managed to only mangle it further by slicing open part of its neck by the collarbone.
Karen clenched her teeth and stepped forward to take the matter in hand. She crossed to John quickly and reached her hand out, palm up, toward the knife. John hadn’t been in the Marine Corps, and so she couldn’t hold him entirely responsible for not knowing how to cut a throat. But she figured it would be difficult with such a fragile creature. She should have done it to begin with. John handed her the knife, looking down at the rabbit.
She approached the panicked animal and with a quick action she grabbed the rabbit by the ears and brought the knife around in a reverse cut. With an effortless and slight swish of her arm, the head popped off and swayed in her left fist. She looked angrily to John, who only lowered his gaze in shame. Karen picked up the body and laid them in the nearby grass to wait for some luck carnivore.
John noticed the blood on Karen’s hands and looked at his own before returning to the car. His didn’t have any blood on them.