Emelie Pennington-Davis is a junior English and Psychology major from the tiny town of White Salmon, Washington. In their free time, they love to re-watch the Lord of the Rings, dance badly to Queen, and explain gender as a social construct to local squirrels and crows.
“Please do not eat me.” says the possum who is dying on the side of the freeway. His intestines are spilling out through the pie-gash rupture of his stomach, and every so often his back feet twitch. This is not his fault.
“I am not hungry but I want to know how you will taste,” says the crow perched on the guard rail above him. Cars flicker and roar past him but he does not flinch. His eyes are black and glassy as second-hand buttons, and when he lands on the asphalt, his toes scritch across it unpleasantly. This is not his fault, either.
“I know how I will taste, I ate one of my sisters, once.” The possum’s fur is grey but he is not very old. He will not grow to be any older, either. “Could I just tell you, instead?”
The crow regards him: the hairy body melting like candle wax into the tar of the road. The rat-snake tail, broken twice. The red blood quickly browning in the air, the iron smell of it sharp and faint. The possum is not shiny. He is like nothing the crow has ever seen or ever eaten. This is no one’s fault.
“I am very curious. Tell me quickly, before your ribs spear your lungs.”
The possum pants, bares his teeth. His breath is hot and sweet like garbage in the summer but the blood scent underlies it. His teeth are sharp and jagged like very small mountains. The crow wants to take them now, but he waits. He does not know what it is like, to have teeth. He only knows the sleek inelegance of his plague doctor’s beak. He waits.
“I taste like meat,” he says eventually. The crow hops closer. This was to be expected. “But it’s not only that. I taste like my mother’s milk, earthy and sour. I taste like the dead flesh of my sister we ate when she died in the nest. I taste like the first worm I ever chewed. I taste like the last apple in autumn, slightly wormy but still sweet. I taste like knocking over a trash can lid and scattering off into the dark with nothing but hunger in my mouth. I taste like running but not fast enough.”
The possum gurgles for breath. He stares up at the crow and his round animal eyes blur into the stained fur of his face, into the strange long line of his jaw and his body, until everything he is pulls toward the crow like a lengthening shadow.
“I will taste like something that lived its life dead.”
“And that will be good enough for me,” says the crow. He folds his wings in against his body.
The possum says nothing. It takes him a long time to die. The crow misjudges it several times, goes to poke at the possum’s tongue only to find breath still rattling in the back of his throat. The possum bites him, one or twice. That seems only fair.
Finally, the back legs stop twitching. The blood smell goes cold in the air, like first snow. The crow leans in over the possum’s body, until his shadow falls across the possum’s open mouth.
The possum has little hands. One of them is pulled up under its body, the other digs into the road. Naked of fur, like a tiny, fleshy star. Stars sparkle and shine like broken glass, but the crow has never been able to collect them.
He shuffles forward once again.
The crow begins to eat. He starts with the eyes, still open, then plucks out the tongue, pulls on the intestines, and pecks deeper into the stomach. It is not until he is full as a garbage bag that he realizes there was no taste.
The crow leaves the possum’s body behind and hops back to the guardrail, where he watches the cars flicker and roar by.
He leaves the teeth behind.
This, again, is no one’s fault.