Jan Bowman


Appeared in Third Wednesday, Vol. 3, Issue 2, Spring 2011

Charlie drives to work on a narrow country road that he uses as a shortcut when he longs to see green trees and patches of blue sky. Today he’s running late. He’s on his way to drop off his new mini-mall designs at the developer’s office before noon. At the crest of a hill he comes upon a flatbed truck of the kind that hauls lumber or brick. It’s empty and rumbling along the winding road. He glances down to check the time and as he looks up a flash catches his eye. A deer leaps out of brush from the left side of the road and strains to jump over the flatbed truck and misses. She strikes the side of the truck with a soft thump. Her body slams onto the road. He feels the sound of it in his throat. He hits the brakes and closes his eyes. He opens them to see her skid with hoofs rattling along the pavement.

The truck and oncoming cars slide to a halt ahead. Charlie sits shaken and staring at this wild creature with a smashed front leg lying in the road. She staggers to her feet, lurching toward his car before collapsing again. She drags herself to the center of the pavement in front of his car and struggles in a tight bloody circle. Blood seeps into the yellow luminous paint of the double centerlines.

Two men climb out of the flatbed truck. They leave the engine running while they circle the deer with caution as she circles the centerline on her belly. Patches of hair coat the asphalt.

Charlie glances into his rear view mirror. Cars are lined up behind him. He gets out of his car and keeps his hand on the car door. He’s heard somewhere that an injured animal is dangerous. He’s never been so close to a deer before.

Last year bulldozers leveled acres of deep forest along this stretch of road that curls among clusters of new brick sub-divisions with names like Deer Haven and Forest Glen. Wooded paths were given over to sidewalks and track houses while further down the road a field of mini-mansions sprouted. Just a mile ahead in what was once a cornfield a strip mall sits on the right side of the road. Charlie has friends who have bought homes out here to be closer to nature.

As traffic backs up drivers four or five cars behind Charlie’s car can’t see what happened. They honk their horns and get out of their cars. They walk closer leaving their car doors open and shiver in the crisp fall air.

Someone shouts. “What’s the holdup down there?”

Another man shouts that some guys hit a deer.

The truck driver and his partner stand over the struggling deer and talk about what to do. They drag the doe over to a ditch near the shoulder of the road. The truck driver returns to his truck and moves it closer to the shoulder but it still blocks the road. He switches off the engine. His partner reaches into a large metal toolbox on the side of the truck and produces a hunting knife. It flashes in the morning light. He hands the knife to the driver. They lean over the doe and press her body firmly against the earth. She stops fighting.

Charlie stands watching. Commuters, most of whom are dressed for work in suits and ties, join him. One of the commuters says, “Don’t even have to pack a gun for this one.” And a guy next to him laughs and says, “One less deer is a good thing. I hate them. Last year, deer ate all the shrubs in my yard.”

Like a father examining an injury to his child, the truck driver’s calloused hands tenderly hold the doe’s head.

The doe’s eyes are terrible. Eyes of fear, pain, and terror, dark as charred wood. She has long eyelashes and soft tawny ears. Her black delicate nose is wet with her own blood. Her wild herbal scent lingers in the air.

The driver lifts the deer’s trembling throat to the knife as his thick fingers pull her supple golden skin taut to the blade. He plunges the knife into her jugular and blood bubbles down the sleeve of his worn jacket. His grunting sounds mix with gurgling sounds from the doe drowning in her own blood. The light in the doe’s eyes flares like a match and then disappears, replaced by a dull sticky glaze.

Both men work frantically field dressing the deer. Bending low to the ground on their knees they look as if they’re praying as they slit, gut, and drain blood and vital parts into the rock-strewn ditch. Then they lift the doe. Stripped of life she is dead weight now. They place her sagging body in the back of the flatbed truck.

Steam rises from her.

Drivers in the oncoming lane of the road return to their cars. They inch past the scene. Their CD players hum. Some fix their eyes on the spectacle. Others avert their eyes. Many have cell phones in hand as they call in – this time – with a good excuse for being late.

Charlie returns to his car and eases it into the line of slow moving cars. He grips the steering wheel leaving indentations in the padded leather. His knees feel as if he’s jogged five miles. He will need to pull over at the first turn off near a wooded picnic area and sit for a while staring past the remaining pin oaks and scrub pines that will fall to developers. But for now Charlie drives slowly past the parked flatbed truck.

The driver takes a towel, bottle of water, and an ice chest from the truck. He pours water over his hands and cleans them with the towel. His partner in the blue down jacket stands beside the truck. He’s holding the doe’s heart in his left hand. He leans over and places the heart in the ice chest.