by Dominique Margolis
Incest has a particular odor. Mine is roadkill. I thought that I could forget the past if I moved to America at the age of twenty, but I was wrong. For thirty more years, I was still just a day shy of six years old and still on a narrow mountain road in the Auvergne region of France, thousands of miles away from American roads and the English language and all my dreams of liberation from trauma.
On American roads, I drove slowly, even when cars honked at me, because I was convinced that my life would end if I ran over an animal by accident. The sound of bones crushed, the brutality of that pain, the odor of blood stuck to flesh if I went out to see if the animal was still alive – because I would, I would not just drive on – would surely kill me too, this time.
In America, a few months shy of my twenty-first birthday, I had become something between a foreign student and an immigrant, something with a tangible chance at a new life. For twenty years, I had managed not to die in France, and I needed to keep on managing not to die in America. I needed to keep on living until the time came when I could live without reliving the fate that, since the night before my sixth birthday, had linked me to the wild rabbit who had died a brutal death that night on the mountain road between La Bourboule and La Tour d’Auvergne, in the Auvergne region of France.
The night before my sixth birthday, my rabbit had nowhere to hide but in my father’s decency when it crossed the narrow, tarred mountain road between La Bourboule and La Tour d’Auvergne.
A thick and dark pine forest was sliced in the middle by the headlights of my father’s new Citroën DS. I was standing, not sitting, in the back seat, and gripping with both hands the flat line formed by the front seats. I kept my neck arched forward to see life from angles previously unseen.
I saw the rabbit paralyzed in the middle of the road.
I screamed for my father to stop. He accelerated and swerved to deliberately run over the rabbit. The sound of the killing reverberated through my bones.
My bones, sitting atop the soft car suspension, were crushed, too.
“For your birthday lunch,” he said, backing up the car slightly, “a good rabbit stew.”
The ravaged little being was thrown in the trunk. It made a thumping sound upon landing. And then there was the sharp, violent sound of the trunk closing.
My father’s fiancée wiped the corners of my lips with her hand-embroidered square linen handkerchief. She did not have time to warn her soon-to-be husband, who sat back down in the pool of my vomit.
“What did you have to do that for?” she asked.
“It’s the girl,” he snapped, “she’s way too sensitive!”
The young woman reminded him of the picnic blanket in the trunk. He got back out to get it. The wool blanket was bloody, but it scooped up the bulk of my vomit.
“Your soon to be mom is a gem,” my father said. “That hand-embroidered handkerchief was an engagement present, and she will have to throw it away, but she is not complaining.”
I needed to agree that I was lucky I would have her for my new mother, soon, but I could not speak, so I nodded. From under the dim interior light, I made sure that my father witnessed my compliance.
“That’s a good girl,” he said, cupping my chin upward in the vice of his hands.
His hands, covered with blood, flesh and fur, reeked of incest. My older mother would not recognize the smell when she got me back a few days after my birthday, but she gasped as if the ghost that lived in the house behind her parents’ farmhouse had jumped into flesh and blood. “What happened?” she repeated. “What did they do to you?”
I would not mention what my father had done during naptime a few hours before the killing. I could not talk at all. My left eye could no longer look anyone in the eye. A few weeks later, the eye doctor asked if I had suffered from any kind of trauma that could have caused my esotropia. I had no answer.
My left eye was surgically forced to look as straight as it could. The sudden loss of vision in that eye was somewhat arrested with corrective lenses. The brutal odor that reminded me to keep incest a secret flew with me half-way across the world. It kept me driving slowly, even when cars honked at me.
I began searching for signs of brutality at the edges of the American roads. I found them. I started to rescue little beings who did not stand a chance. I stopped for fledglings, birds ran over by cars but still alive when I found them, orphaned kittens, cats set on fire, desperate dogs, deer stuck in fences, forgotten cows and donkeys, and many others.
They were me, also.
Sometimes I could save us. Sometimes I could not. Sometimes there were people who would help, but sometimes we were alone.
After three decades of occasional but persistent savings, those savings accumulated into a mountain of know-how and became my saving grace.
The time had come. I took the six-year-old I used to be under my wing. Together, we flew back for our birthday and cornered our father, our assailant, behind the butcher block in his kitchen. We told him that we remembered clearly.
He denied any wrongdoing. All those rescues taught us that abusers will deny their wrongdoings. We called him a monumental coward; we spat on him. He called us crazy, but we were also used to that kind of response from animal abusers. We had learned how to stand our ground. He could no longer harm us, and neither could he deter us from keeping on saving those who had been left for dead, including ourselves.
Now, we feed and water wild rabbits and their babies. We watch them nourish themselves from our bedroom window, and we speak truth to power with eyes wide open and a steely resolve.
About the Author
Dominique Margolis is an emerging immigrant author who grew up in rural France, moved to the USA as an adult, learned English as a foreign language, and earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver. Her prose is published in French in Anna Evans’ Communication Intuitive – Rencontre avec le Monde Animal (ALMP, 2004) and in English (Prometheus Dreaming, The Dillydoun Review, The Nasiona, The Centifictionist, Friday Flash Fiction). She tweets @dominique_1234.