Aquila scratches her shoulder and calls me a hedgehog. Takes me a minute to decide on a reaction and then I’m insulted.
Sure I’ve been called worse. The three years of wedded bliss never were. The first year mostly good. Second, kept busy. The last year’s been the shits. We thought we finally hit sunshine and balloons, and I’d be a damn good dad. One Saturday morning I brought a baby crib from a garage sale, hardly used. She showed me samples of wallpaper for the small room.
At least we didn’t have to have a funeral. This couple down the road, it wasn’t even born but it was so many months, they had to bury it.
Yeah, so, we’ve been seeing fat Ms. Cinna, no pictures of happy children on her wall, and she says she’ll help us with this little hurdle. Me, I keep emotion inside, don’t need to pay good money to be told. Aquila has a temper. She storms and I take it.
So in the last few months, no matter how honey-flowing Cinna is, Aquila has called me loser, asshole, and sometimes I slam the door and sometimes I try to talk her out of it. This hedgehog shit, what the hell is that? I wouldn’t know a hedgehog if its brains were squishing under my Michelins and neither would she. Is she calling me road kill, is that it?
When I feel like a volcano, I’m told I need to breathe and visualize. The first thing I visualize is a knife, stuck right to the hilt. Then I ask, not even gritting teeth, what she’s talking about.
She hoots, stretches her arms like she’s about to fly, and says, “Hedgehog.”
It’s Friday, coming onto midnight. I worked overtime, get home beat and my wife starts taking off her clothes, calling me rodents. She’s not been in the mood ever since when, so it’s weird, but I shuffle towards her after that blouse and bra come off, and she looks at me like I’m a turd she stepped into.
I shift back and watch. I sleep like a baby and don’t get frightened when I’m awake either, been told I must be the one person alive with a clear conscience. Aquila says it shows I’m an unimaginative cold prick.
Aquila’s naked, muscles ripple, breasts jiggle and skin gleams, irises orange, jives, chitters a high-pitched uh-HU.
I’ve laid off the liquor; it’s berry juice in my glass. Her screeches pound and echo through the dark rumble in my head as her body changes. Her ears spring tufts, eyes narrow, face turns tawny, speckled with black. She grows barrel-like, loses her neck, sprouts feathers. Her feet are feathered to the vicious talons.
Her eyes are hooded when she measures me. Her screech clearly says, “Hedgehog”. I pat my soft underbelly and my hand hefts the heavy Grand Canyon paperweight. Hedgehogs don’t understand the movements and velocity of rocks but I know exactly what to do.
Andrew Stancek's work has appeared in Tin House online, fwriction, Necessary Fiction, Prime Number Magazine, Blue Five Notebook, and many other publications. He’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.