“Well, it’s true; I read it in the newspaper. The little old lady was crossing the highway and a car hit her.” Mrs. Mary Ellen Woodbine stopped long enough to cough, her fist balled over her mouth. She was slouched in the passenger seat of the car and her seatbelt was tight against her fleshy neck.
“That’s horrible.” Mrs. Goldport took her eyes off the narrow country road to flash a grimace at her passenger.
“I read it, too, Mom.” Carl Goldport spoke from the back seat; the ladies had just picked him up from elementary school after their women’s book club meeting.
Mrs. Goldport sniffed. “Why do they have to put things like that in the newspaper?”
“Well, it’s news, I guess. Anyway, I just hope I’m ready when it’s my time to go.”
“What did she look like?” Carl asked.
“Dead, I guess,” wheezed Mrs. Woodbine.
Mrs. Goldport pinched the ends of her lips in like she’d just swallowed lemon juice. “You don’t need to think about it, Carl.”
The car was swinging around a curve when a flash in the bushes caught Carl’s eye. His ears were filled with the screams of two women and four tires, and his body jolted forward with the thud of the car’s metal fender against the deer’s flesh and bone.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” Mrs. Goldport screamed.
“Stop the car! Stop the car!” Mrs. Woodbine screamed.
Carl was silent, and his heart felt like it was trying to crawl away and hide somewhere in the back of his chest.
The car stopped.
“I don’t want to see.” Mrs. Goldport said.
“We need to make sure it’s all right. Or dead,” said Mrs. Woodbine.
Carl felt like his heart had found the back of his ribs and was clambering up them toward his throat. He opened the door and tumbled out. He heard his feet crunch in the gravel and his mother’s “Get back in—“ cut off as he slammed the door behind him.
One glance toward the front of the car showed him the fender rumpled up like old laundry and the headlight dangling like a blind eye at the end of a wire. He looked back along the road and saw the twisted bundle of brown crushing a bush by the roadside. He stumbled toward it; his feet were heavy.
The car door opened behind him, and Carl began to run. He tripped and scraped his hands and was rubbing them when he saw the bundle was a doe. Its eyes were open and blood was dripping out of its nose. Carl thought dead things had their eyes closed, and his heart was at the back of his throat, so he kicked the deer in the ribs. It didn’t move. His heart began to crawl back down, and the deer’s eyes were the clouded black of swamp water. Carl kicked it again, in the gut, and a fresh throb of blood joined the red trail from the deer’s hindquarters.
“Stop that!” said Mrs. Woodbine. She had her gun in her hand.
“Its eyes are open,” said Carl.
“Doesn’t matter. She’s dead. Doesn’t even need this.” The gun went quickly back in her holster.
The other car door opened, and his mother’s voice came from it. “Carl, come here. You don’t need to see that.” She sounded like she was choking on her first cigarette. “It’s time to go.”
Carl heard Mrs. Woodbine grunt. “I guess it is,” she muttered. She put her hand on his shoulder, and they walked back to the truck to go home.
Colin Cutler was a homeschooled Air Force brat and graduate of Patrick Henry College who is now trying to figure out life as a jack of all music and writing trades and master of none. He currently lives in a small town in Virginia’s Loudoun Valley, learning a little bit about what it means to set down roots.