Dad approaches every shadowed switchback, every densely wooded hillside with patience—because while the road to home only has one lane, he is also deer hunting.
A can of Clamato warms between his khaki’d thighs under the steering wheel, fills the work truck with the smell of brine. Soccer practice sweat finds its way down my face into sips of blue Powerade coating my tongue.
Once, he placed a still-beating salmon heart in my palm and I marveled at the heat and the strength of it, the size of a skipping stone. But I did not receive the hunting gene. My brother found it amusing to kick the useless organs which fell from a deer’s body hung by the hind-hooves on our back porch, bear-bait if they couldn’t gut it and clean up before the sun went down.
I couldn’t kill a deer myself and I wouldn’t want to. I can hook the fish by its desperate jaw, but I can’t finish the job, bash in its skull, bones needle thin, the color of rice. I couldn’t put it out of its misery.
Just past the Humboldt-Trinity county line is the woman who feeds the deer. In a place so rural everyone knows each other by the gossip, this woman has remained nameless, a mystery.
I picture her feeding the deer, though I never seen it happen. I mythologize her. She is motherly, witch-like, her long grey hair and glasses droop as she lowers a palmful of sun-colored kernels to a hungry doe’s twitchy snout. I put her on a secret pedestal, someone above all our small-town dramas, boredom. She must live alone, I thought, probably an artist or something too.
We knew she fed them because they filled her yard, seven, sometimes ten of them.
“You’re not supposed to do that,” Dad would say as we passed.
I want what I don’t have. An ally in our family who thinks hunting from your truck isn’t really hunting at all.
When I say I want to go home, I mean my stomach is rumbling and I did not consent to a casual family hunting trip. “I’m just looking,” he says, “just looking.”
Today there are no deer in the woman’s yard, but less than half a mile past, Dad spots a cluster on the hillside. One of them has the kind of antlers he could brag about, points like bloated roots. The other four are does.
When he gets out of the front seat, my dad’s glasses fall from his lap onto the road and I hear the lens crunch beneath his boot. Another pair broken; prescription, expensive. I say, “Stop, this is stupid.”
He folds the driver’s seat forward to reach back for the rifle.
I put my head in my lap and cover my ears with my thighs. I’ve never liked the sound. No better than our dogs on the 4th of July, the sound makes me want to curl up and hide.
He does not shut the driver’s side door when he aims, and fires, crawls on all fours through the crunchy, dead foliage to find that he shot a doe instead.
A father-son pair of Carhartt’s and camouflage, my classmate and his father respond to Dad’s call ten minutes later to lift the doe into the back, next to the chlorine buckets and metal poles.
Its limp, velvet body weighs down the rear end of the truck, lifts me in the front. All I hear is fuck fuck fuck and the shake-wheeze of laughter.
On the way home I’m crying, which I do when I’m angry.
“You have to decide,” I say, “Take the doe home, or hide the body—waste it.”
I picture the red and blue lights on our driveway and my father being hauled away in handcuffs.
Weeks later at the grocery store, Dad runs into her. The woman who feeds the deer. “You should have seen her.” He places the back of his hand under his chin and wiggles his fingers in my direction. “That’s what she did to me.”
Then she said, next to the bleached cabbage and hard, pale tomatoes, “You shot the one with the goatee.”
“What is her name?” I ask.
“Joy,” he says.
Lily Blackburn is a writer and barista based in Portland, Oregon. She recently discovered dominoes as a way of life. She is also an editor for Typehouse Literary and a workshop facilitator for The People’s Colloquium. Her work appears in Little Fictions | Big Truths, World Literature Today, *82 Review, and others