Gavin Inglis

The sun poked at the speeding car through the pink-blue haze of dawn. Penelope lay back in her seat, eyes closed, twisting her head in search of a comfortable angle for a snooze. Findus held the wheel with one relaxed hand, a lit cigarette dangling from between two fingers. He rubbed his face with the other hand. There wasn't much traffic.

Unfortunately, there was a peacock on the motorway.

Findus thought it was a plastic bag until it threw up its multicoloured fan and charged the car. He blinked and jammed on the brakes, far too late, driving straight at the bird. Penelope was jolted forward with a squawk and stared wildly from Findus to the road and back.

The peacock swerved onto the hard shoulder, waving its wings and chattering. The car skidded round 180 degrees and screeched to a halt in the slow lane, right beside the flamboyant bird. It made a bwaaaaaak noise and skipped back a little. Penelope grabbed Findus's arm and they both stared at the peacock. The fag dropped from Findus's mouth. The bird stared back at them, giving its wings an occasional flick.

Findus was quickly out of the car. "That's a peacock," he said, "a real peacock."

Penelope lunged for the cigarette where it smouldered on the seat, suspending it warily between her thumb and forefinger. She couldn't throw it out her husband's doorway without hitting him. She also couldn't look away to wind down her own window. "Findus-- watch! You're-- what d'you think you're doing?"

Findus advanced on the bird. "It really is," he said, "it's a real peacock. I've wanted to see one all my life. A peacock."

The cigarette was burning Penelope's fingers so she aimed carefully and tossed it through the gap at the driver's door. It dropped out of sight onto the road. She glanced at her distracted husband, then out through the windscreen. The car was still in the slow lane, facing the wrong way. "Findus! Will you get back in here? The car's-- we'll get hit! There'll be an accident!"

Findus half-turned his body, eyes still fixed on the peacock. He waved a vague hand in her direction. "You move it, Penelope. I'll just be a minute. If I leave this it'll run off and I'll never see it again."

The peacock twisted its neck at him. A blue Sierra roared past in the fast lane with a rude burst of horn. Penelope jumped, then clicked off her seatbelt. "Findus, you bastard!" she shouted, wriggling over the gearstick, "get in here!" He squatted down in front of the peacock and continued to flap his hand at her. "Findus!" She landed in his seat. The pedals were too far forward; she had to fumble for the lever. Her weight made the seat slide backwards. She urged it forward. It moved on the third heave. "Findus! We can see one in a zoo if you want. Will you get in the car?" She clicked the driver's seatbelt into place and reached for the door. A coach rushed past, honking angrily.

"Just a minute, Penelope. It's a peacock. I've never seen one of these before." He stopped waving at her and returned his full attention to the bird.

Penelope flashed her eyes at his back and slammed the car door. She forced it into reverse and backed along the flow of traffic, turning the rear onto the hard shoulder. She wound down the passenger window, staring at her husband as he leant ever closer to the sparkling bird.

"Well, FUCK OFF then!" she yelled, and drove off, tyres squealing. Findus jumped in fright. The peacock bit his nose. He fell over. It turned and fled into a field, away from the motorway. The car disappeared rapidly from sight.

On the hard shoulder, Findus propped himself up with one arm, rubbing his nose with the other. He searched his pockets.

"Shit," he said, "I've left my fags in the car."

Wildlife Tourist Info