It is useful to walk the walk. These are the first two sections of one of those three new major works I had mentioned, this one being called "Crossing Deer." Remember, this is what they don't want you to see. This. Right here. If I send this to Michael Ray at Zoetrope, with the pretentious twaddle they publish, and the hate he has for me, he's going to throw this away without even opening it.
The boys went hunting at night. The cars were guns. They called it a possum hunt though they were open to more. “You bag what you bag,” someone said. Drinking beer, they drove until curfew if nothing was happening—which it felt like it never was—and when a possum tried to cross the road, seemingly made drunk, or sessile, by headlights, they ran it down, drank more beer, roared “fuck yeah, bitch.”
Most of the boys were upper classmen on the hockey team. They used black markers to draw enormous members protruding from the leaping animals on the town’s citron-colored deer crossing signs that made Lanna think of contraptions that zap bugs and orange soda. The giant dicks resembled long poles for vaulting. “My man has a whale cock,” a boy would say, buzzed, rubbing the stubble he had let grow as if he were a half-drunken Aristotle of the backseat, “Enter Sandman” cranking.
“Micturating deer, offensive,” Lanna’s mother said, forcing a smile—she forced a number of smiles for her daughter—while they drove. She said it as though it were an equation and the pause was an equal sign. By micturating she meant pissing but the piss part was presumptive. The boys made lines of big, gob-y circles emanating from the deer members, but urine was probably not what they were thinking, being boys.
Mrs. Kent never commented on the dick component, though with SATS coming, she did like to work in a “micturating.” The dicks went across the entire surface of the signs that often seemed like the widest man-made entities in much of the town. Drivers stopped and honked before they went around turns on account there wasn’t enough room on the road. The rock on the side jutted out over the middle line. Felsic razors, tall as a tall man. Lanna wondered aloud once if foam padding could be put over the rocks to keep people safer. One of the dick-drawers named Keith Briggs said that would be like using a condom and what was wrong with a rock getting its rocks off because he was an idiot.
The girls also said “fuck yeah, bitch” when they destroyed a possum, bodies crammed tight into backseats, asses on laps when need be. Lanna mouthed the words, same as when she had to sing at her first communion and was too shy. She considered it ironic that the boys had curfews, given their various poses of toughness, but that was a thought you swallowed, which made her think of a joke she could have said but she swallowed that, too. Then she imagined Keith Briggs unbuttoning his pants and saying “third time’s a charm,” but he probably didn’t know that expression.
They never stopped to look after a kill. It was over once it was done, a distinction Lanna thought a lot about. Later she’d see one of the dead possums smeared in the road during the day. Her mother would ask what was wrong. She was skilled at knowing when something probably was even even if she didn’t know when boys meant sperm instead of piss.
“Nothing,” Lanna said, using the voice she otherwise reserved for reading aloud in English class, which she excelled at, so much so that the teacher had her do it regularly because that was final period and Mrs. Broglio had had enough for the day. Her voice didn’t sound like her own voice in her ears when she began to read, but Lanna settled into it, and then it was as if her voice sounded even more like her voice than she knew it to be. But her voice became like the beginning portion of her readings when her mother asked what bothered her as they drove over another pasted possum. She could see the maggots crawling sometimes. They were even detectable in winter, which had been surprising at first, given the snow on the ground.
When Lanna’s father was dying, they did more hunting than they ever had. One of her earliest memories was watching her father clean his gun. Their hunts felt regular, right. They went back years. They went back almost a decade.
“Come here,” he had said, and she recalled being young enough that she thought her father had beckoned her with one word, comear, a magical word which meant he was going to share something that very few people, if anyone, knew—or at least not the way he did.
He’d taken his rifle apart on his work table in the basement. “Never at the kitchen table,” he said. “That’s why we’re down here. We don’t set a gun on the kitchen table. It’s important what we keep separate. You understand?”
Lanna nodded, confused and mesmerized by the thought that her father was now going to assemble the various portions he had oiled, polished, wiped down, into a single instrument. Confused and mesmerized, but lacking no confidence on his behalf.
“You’re going to show me?” she asked.
“I’m going to show you, he said. “This will be the first time. I’ll keep showing you until you’re old enough to do it on your own.”
Lanna began thinking of her father as a young man when he was dying. She hadn’t thought of him that way before. He was forty-eight and he wasn’t going to be fifty, and he probably wouldn’t be forty-nine. He did not know about the rides she took in cars on the possum hunts, which she hated but she did anyway because she didn’t want to have her father entirely to herself. She preferred him to be with her mother, but her mother now said words she had never said before.
“Scoot,” she’d admonish, “your dad’s waiting. I thought you two were going deer hunting today?”
A word like “scoot” from Mrs. Kent hung like a mushroom cloud in the air. Lanna felt she could have pushed into it with her hand, but she’d let it hover.
“Okay, mom,” Lanna would say. “I’ll take good care of him.”
“Take good care of each other,” came the reply, as the cloud dispersed.
The hunting spots abounded inside the town, nestled upon declivities that ran like wild, boggy furrows from the higher land above, whose roads, with their felsic razor-edges and giant-dicked signs, tangled as part of another space that just happened to abut this one, where metal could permissibly enter flesh, which was not the case above, unless one counted the possum hunts.
She’d clean and inspect both of their rifles the night before, and they’d leave early. Her father loved coffee and he had two large thermoses, one to tote as they walked the woods, the other to place as caffeinated sentinel in the car and enjoy on the ride home. He drank coffee as if he was trying to savor something coming to pass. They made no pretense of the normal silence of a hunt. “You can ask me anything,” Mr. Kent said as he inspected a bit of bramble that contained a tuft or two of fur from where a whitetail must have brushed. “I don’t want you to think—“ His voice broke off. He was going to say that he wanted her to know that she could always ask him anything, but he did not wish to say the word “always.”
“How come it doesn’t hurt?” she asked. He looked the same. He maybe even looked healthier than she remembered him looking. Lanna hated trying to remember anything about her father while he lived. Enough memory awaited, which seemed a weird way to put things, a weird way for life to be, but there it was. Some of the snow on the ground now would probably still be on the ground then.
“It does hurt,” he said.
“Then why are we out here?”
“It’s going to hurt no matter what. I want us to be doing something we love. I want you to know how much I love you. I want you to know that there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you if I could.” He thought for a second, and then added a word. “Always.”
Her father strode, even in the woods, at a rate of five-miles-per-hour before he was sick, and he walked at the same rate now. She was expected to keep up, and she did. Likewise, Lanna expected his voice, as much as she believed in her father’s will, to quaver as he knelt down, inspecting the ground in what might have been a position of pain, but it didn’t do that, and his eyes looked as resolute and blue as the light she’d seen reflected off a field knife as dusk came on with the stealth of a highwayman dispatched from the sky, and they had bagged a buck just before it was time to go home. Her shot then his, or the other way around. Neither knew. Nor did it matter.
Mr. Kent would cut the animal open near its heart. The slit was so small, but he could fit in both his hands, which came out more purple than red. “That’s because it’s the blood closest to the heart,” he offered, noting the questioning look on his daughter’s face, and having Lanna also reach inside the deer. The blood felt like a warm pair of gloves. “Connection,” her father said, as she took her hands from the body. Lanna did not ask her father why her mother wasn’t spending as much time with him as she did, even seemed to be avoiding him, because she felt like she understood the difference between her parents now and that difference was the answer. What one person can face is all that another person can see. They are not the same things, facing and seeing.
Her father didn’t look young or old then, as the highwayman alighted upon the ground and began to fill the space around them with the purples of night, night-purple being the way of winter, as lapis lazuli reigns in summer. He looked like someone who loved her who was going away, but not before imprinting an image in her mind that would always remain. “Connection,” she said, standing, immediately feeling the blood start to dry.