She squinted her eyes at the road ahead, deciding she should have her vision checked again. She was not so far from seventy herself, and her eyes seemed to be getting worse every year. Dusk was a particularly bad time for her, and her vision tended to blur on objects that were at a distance. So it was that she blinked several times before she was sure of what she was seeing, and only opened her mouth to warn Henry when the animal was right in front of them.
“Jude!” Henry yelled, one arm shooting out in front of Judith’s chest as he wrenched the steering wheel to the left, trying to avoid the poor creature. Judith thought, oddly, about how the movies were right. Everything slowed down, time inching by so that each second seemed to take an eternity. She felt Henry’s strong arm bolt across her breasts, the seatbelt biting into her hip bones. Her head jerked, slamming into the door as the car swerved. The windshield cracked as the animal bounced against the glass, then hit the roof of the car, then the trunk. It wasn’t until the car shuddered to a stop, spinning a full 180 degrees on the road, that the sounds caught up with Judith: the crack, thunk, thunk, all overlaid with a high-pitched screaming that she realized was coming from her own mouth. She must have been in shock, because Henry had to yell at her several times, “Judith! Judith!” before she stopped screaming.
Henry’s hand was tight on her arm, sending pain up her shoulder. She rubbed the back of his hand, saying, “I’m all right. I’m all right.” Her glasses were askew, her vision off-kilter. She put her fingers to the side of her head, feeling a sticky wetness. When she took away her hand, she saw blood.
“It must’ve been a deer or . . .” Henry put his hand to his mouth, stopping his words. He looked calm but for the telltale up and down of his chest as he tried to catch his breath. The air bag had deployed. A fine, white powder covered his face.
Her breath caught as she looked ahead. Blood had spattered the windshield like a sudden, violent rain.
Henry pushed open the door but did not get out. Judith took off her glasses to wipe her eyes. The lenses were both broken, the bottom part of her bifocal on the right side missing. She saw that the glasses were shaking, and realized that the tremor came from her own hands. Henry got out of the car, and she made herself put on her glasses and follow him.
The creature was on the road, legs moving. Judith’s head ached where it had smacked into the door. Blood was in her eyes. That was the only explanation she had for the fact that the animal–surely a deer–appeared to have the shapely white legs of a woman. “Oh, dear God,” Henry whispered. “It’s–Judith–it’s–”
Judith heard a car behind her. Wheels screeched against asphalt. Doors opened and closed. Two men joined them on the road, one running toward the animal.
He screamed, “Call 9-1-1!” kneeling down beside the body.
Judith stepped closer, then closer yet. The legs moved again–the perfect legs of a woman. She was completely nude. Bruises blackened her inner thighs–dark bruises. Old bruises. Dried blood caked around her legs. A burgundy film seemed to cover her torso, a rip at her side showing white bone. Judith glanced at her face. The nose was askew. The eyes were swollen, lips chapped and split. Blood matted the woman’s dark hair and pooled around her head as if in a halo. Judith stepped closer, unable to stop herself–suddenly a voyeur, after a lifetime of politely looking away. Glass crunched beneath her feet, and the woman’s eyes shot open in panic. She stared somewhere past Judith, a dull lifelessness to her gaze. Just as suddenly, her eyelids fluttered closed, but Judith could not suppress the shudder that went through her body. It was as if someone had walked over her grave. “Dear Lord,” Henry mumbled, almost in prayer. Judith turned to find her husband gripping his hand to his chest. His knuckles were white. He stared at the woman, looking as if he might be ill. “How did this happen?” he whispered, horror twisting his face. “How in God’s name did this happen?”
Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
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