In the coal filled mountains of eastern Kentucky, a car cruised gently down a mountain slope early on a Sunday morning. The mist still hung low in the valleys. The sun had not yet called the low-hanging clouds back up to the sky and it gave the landscape the feeling of an old photograph, fading to white on the edges and giving off a mineral smell of dust and dirt. The atmosphere was still heavy, pooling into small beads on a forest green hatchback and the concrete road. It beaded on the leaves of trees and blades of grass and it hugged the skin of the girl sitting in the driver’s seat. The air felt cool but clammy on her skin, not uncomfortable, but not pleasant either. The air also rested in the waves of soft fur on the back of a yearling grazing on thistles and daisies by the side of the road.
In a moment, the life of the girl and the death of the yearling would become unified. The car slid down the mountain and the yearling looked up. The girl saw in her mind’s eye what was about to happen. She silently appealed to the yearling to stay still. The yearling’s confusion at the large forest green-hatchback with a grill-like bear’s teeth and eyes that glowed hypnotically was not met with contemplation but decisive action. At one moment the yearling’s thoughts had been only on its meal and the thistle that crunched between its flat teeth. The next moment the deer made the most important decision of its short life.
The girl guided the forest green hatchback slightly towards the left, away from the animal. She knew the consequences of quick and impulsive actions, having made one too many of those in her own life – sharp words to people she loved, broken promises and shirked responsibilities.
As if in a trance, she leaned her foot gently on the brakes, asking gravity and the mountain for a moment of reprieve. She held her breath.
The young deer was a blur of soft brown. The sound of his body meeting with the bear-teeth grill of the forest green hatchback was deep but loud. It was the sound of a body coming abruptly to meet itself. It was the sound of metal bones crunching together. It was the sound of a moment coming to an anguished halt. It was the sound of lungs expanding.
The young woman’s eyes widened enough to show every detail - the different shades of brown, stretched inward toward the expanding dark black pool in the center, like a grove of tree branches in the winter reaching for an open window. The young woman saw the young deer’s body roll slightly up the hood of the forest green hatchback before it took flight. The young woman saw the deer’s thin, delicate legs sprawl and twitch in the atmosphere. It reminded the young woman of the legs of the granddaddy longlegs she’d caught as a child - plucking them up by one leg and watching the rest move and twitch every which way in panic and confusion, before she let them down to crawl and tickle up and down her arm before returning to their wood crevices. Her eyes were fixed on the moment of flight of the young deer, following the animal as it traveled through the air farther than the young women would have ever imagined possible. The young deer, for a moment, was like a great bow shooting four arrows into the clouds.
The young deer met the ground with one thud, then another. The forest green hatchback screeched to a halt, leaving light black tracks as it skidded to a stop in the middle of the grey road. The young woman’s eyes were fully open as she looked through pooling tears that made the road and the mountain blur. The sun seemed to turn from a ball of light to an angry streak.
The young man to her right was wide-awake now and began giving instructions. The young man and the young woman assured each other that they were okay. They opened the hood of the forest green hatchback, which now had a clear dent on the front hood, to make sure that the car was okay. The young woman kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry - It was an accident - I didn’t mean to - I’m sorry.” All of these cries, a plea more to the young deer than the young man who took to comforting her.
It was strange for the girl to think that her life and her path had resulted, momentarily, in a death. It was even stranger for the girl to consider whether the encounter might have prompted an alternative outcome. It was a thought she did not like to conjure up. It was a thought she had met before.
The young deer peered at the car and the young woman as it rose to stand. If it were not for the patches of matted and every so slightly discolored fur, it would have been hard for an onlooker to imagine the event that had just come to pass. The young woman looked at the young deer. The young deer looked back.
There was a steep hill behind the deer. It was covered in wildflowers, glistening and cool with rain, growing in between the patches of mist that reached up from the ground like the hands of a ghost reaching for the sky. The young deer turned to climb slowly up the hill, cutting through mist, wildflowers and beams of stark sunlight - away from what had just happened. The young woman saw that as the young deer slowly made its way up the hill, drops of bright red glossy blood dripped lightly from its small mouth and down its thin chin. It gave the deer a look that made it seem that it was glaring at you and baring red teeth. But if you looked again, the young deer looked humble and meek, the blood on its chin delicate. The deer was almost beautiful. The dripping blood made the curve of the young deer’s chin seem soft and its fur more vibrant.
“We better call the Division of Forestry before it bleeds to death,” said the young man.
“I think the car will be fine, we will have to see how it runs for a little while first.”
The young woman watched the young deer disappear behind a patch of tall grass that was growing in the crevices of a boulder on the side of the steep hill. She could not see what happened to the deer after that. Her mind saw the young deer lying down in the tall, whispering grass, with the wild flowers framing it. The deer would close its eyes to rest, a rest that would be very long, with no end. She saw that the young deer’s fur would become coarse and separate from itself as the deer’s body made its way into the ground. She saw the small bugs that would come to the deer to help its rest, crawling through every avenue of its body. They would take pieces of the deer and disperse them all over the surrounding forest and the deer would become the forest. Flowers would grow through the deer’s broken ribs -perhaps thistle and daisies. The young woman imagined that even though the deer left the road in a quiet state of stunned fear and confusion, it might rest in the forest with great understanding and peace.
The bump in the road made the girl think about her past and the things that were still to happen. Life had been difficult at times, but then again, life had never been so bad as dying.
The young woman’s body tingled with the lingering realization of what had happened. Her eyes were raw and the skin around them was cool and tight as the tears evaporated and left behind a thin salt film. Her lips felt heavy and warm and they twitched with anxiety occasionally. Her chest felt cavernous, as if it were decaying into itself. Her arms and legs were light and felt like they might float away.
It seemed to the young woman that life and death worked together like a machine, clogs clicking and gears turning. “We are born, we grow older, and sooner or later, we die,” she thought “and between these times there are a certain number of events that shape the cogs and gears of life that surround and touch us, changing the machinery fundamentally.”
The young woman made her way back into the forest-green hatchback with the dented hood. She did not sit in the drivers seat. Rather she sat in the passengers seat and reclined fully and exhaled deeply. She heard the keys turn in the engine. The forest-green hatchback with the dented hood made a low rumbling sound, but it did not cry out as it might have if its parts were broken like the young deer’s. It began to move forward and down the mountain slope again, taking the young woman with it. The mist had begun to make its way skyward and the light turned from blue to yellow.
The forest-green hatchback with the dented hood left the scene, just as the young deer had. There were places for the young woman to be and things for the young woman to do; the young woman had to go to work that day. The day does not end when a deer dies.
Clary Estes grew up in Central Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky as well as the Corcoran College of Art and Design. She is currently working as a journalist in Appalachia, as well as domestically and internationally.
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