Sometimes You’re the Windshield by Kathryn McMahon


A bug smacked the pickup and fluttered, but not like a butterfly, at least not like one Amy had ever seen. Too narrow at the waist, it skidded across the glass like it wanted to break apart. The wiper caught it, kept it struggling. It was as long as Amy’s thumb and as red as Dad’s truck. But Mom was driving the truck now. Amy begged her to slow down, to help the bug.

Feverish, she said, no, didn’t Amy understand they were running?

Amy said nothing. Dad used to sing about bugs and windshields and fools in love. He’d said that’s what he was, a fool for Mom, that’s why he got mad sometimes. For love. And for love, Mom got a red-trickling nose and the mug of rum and pineapple splashed out of her hand. There was still blood on her dress, a bloom of it like the rose Dad wore in their wedding photos.

Before they ran into the night, Amy had asked Mom if they were bringing those photos, but she said never mind, grab some underwear, grab your jacket, grab your inhaler, no, not your homework, no, don’t touch him! Come here, baby. Don’t cry.

Amy had dumped it all in her backpack and added a bottle of detangling shampoo and the secret five dollar bill she’d found at recess and the zebra drawing for Catalina because she said they were her favorite animal, better, even, than horses. Did that make Amy a fool, too? She stuck her backpack in the front seat while Mom ran up and down the stairs scooping things in garbage bags to stuff in the back. And on the kitchen floor lay Daddy lumpy-headed and soaking in rum and juice.

Ceramic crunched under Amy’s sneaker when she stepped too close to him. She’d grabbed the rum for Mom for later, picked Daddy’s hair off the bottle, and took the whiskey, too, and wiggled them under the front seat. But whiskey was Dad’s drink, so why she’d brought that, she didn’t know. Beneath her, the clink clink clink of glass was almost like party-laughing, and last night, it lured her to sleep as the truck shot across the state line.

Maybe one day the whiskey would be hers. Mom’s coconut rum made her think of far off places, and that’s where they were headed: somewhere where the flowers were big and the bugs always this beautiful. Maybe the long, red bug was a sign they were almost there?

When Mom rolled down the window to flick her cigarette, the bug shuddered across the glass, whipped through the opening, and bounced onto her cheek. Out of control but hovering like a ballerina. Like Dad’s fist. Mom screamed, and time wrapped itself around Amy and yanked her backward. The bug hit the dashboard before zipping into her mouth. Amy tried to spit, but the pretty wings caught in her throat, and she couldn’t escape that oozing, wet and bitter. That crunch. The bug was inside her, deep inside, where it would buzz forever. Under the seat, the glass laughed and laughed.

Kathryn McMahon is a queer American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in places such as Hobart, Wigleaf, Pithead Chapel, SmokeLong Quarterly, Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, and Split Lip. She is the 2018-19 winner of New Delta Review’s Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Flash Fiction. Find more of her writing at and follow her on Twitter at @katoscope.

2 responses to “Sometimes You’re the Windshield by Kathryn McMahon

  1. Pingback: Short Story Sunday – Coffee and Paneer·

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