“What do you mean, you’ve been ‘thinking’? Thinking about what—about us? About whether you want to be with me, is that it?”
He was angry. She should have known this wasn’t going to go well. She broke off a small twig from a nearby tree as some sort of distraction. She scratched herself with the rough bark, feeling it prickle and rub and scrape and bruise; then dropped it to the floor and ground it to dust. She didn’t know if she had the energy for this conversation. She wore tiredness around her like a cloak these days.
“Can we talk about this later?”
“What’s wrong with right now?”
He gestured around them recklessly, as though to invite the green expanse to join in. But the trees turned their backs. Silence penned them in like a ring of salt.
“Keep your voice down.” She spoke with her jaws wound tight. “I don’t want everyone to know our business. We’ll talk later.” This last word, she hissed, low and guttural.
“Wait a minute.”
He stared at her, slowing his frenzied pacing. They were standing at the base of a large and mean-mouthed oak. A small cloud of dust billowed where his legs came to rest, making her cough.
He laughed, his mouth twitching and contorting like the mouths on the nameless terrors her mother had warned her about. “I know what’s going on.” His eyes rippled and rolled backwards, glittering with rage and something else—something more frightening than violence. “It’s someone else, isn’t it? You’ve been fucking someone else!” He turned and butted the tree. Small drops of blood decorated his face like rain. “What else haven’t you told me—you pregnant? Is that it?”
“For God’s sake.”A wetness, hot and sudden, diffracted and distorted her vision. She looked at him through a hall of mirrors and took a breath, willing herself to speak calmly, clearly. “You—me—this—”, she gestured haltingly to her soft belly. “It’s not someone else, it’s not – for anyone else. It’s all yours. I’m all yours.”
She took a small step. Another. She’d seen him lash out before, the last time he got jealous. The poor guy hadn’t lasted more than a few minutes before being torn to pieces.
“Kuwagata, listen.” She waited a few seconds and, when he didn’t react, reached out to touch him with soft, feathery strokes. He grappled with himself for a moment or two, but then gave in to her caress.
She could smell him, that overwhelming, pheromone scent that made her fizz inside, like she was standing in the apex spray of a waterfall. The moment they’d first come within two meters of each other she’d felt it. She knew. In truth, she felt as giddy now, three months later, as she had on that first day. And now, as then, she had the overwhelming urge to let him take her, right there on top of the dirt and damp leaves.
“Luce,” he sighed, but it was less verbal than physical, a barely audible vibration that ricocheted through his thorax, bypassing the great, dense tree trunk between them, and into hers.
He reached out and stroked his mandibles against her, a faint gloss of sticky sap binding them together for a moment that felt like it lasted forever, and would always last.
Somewhere in the forest a bird called, and all around them was the scent of rich, moist earth.
Victoria Richards is a freelance journalist and writer. She has worked for BBC News, The Times, and The Independent, has appeared on Newsnight, BBC World, and ITV News and regularly writes for Independent Voices. She won the inaugural Oh Zoe! Rising Talent Award 2017, was longlisted in the Bath Short Story Award 2017 and The Guardian Short Story Contest 2016, and was published in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2017. She lives in London where she is working variously on a novel, a short story collection, poetry, flash fiction, and a series of books for children.