First Field Dressing

First Field Dressing

By Catherine Dartez

Lisbeth watched the doe while her father hoisted it up the tree. The rope pulled its head off the snow, swaying back and forth until the neck elongated. The doe’s face steadied for a moment while her father adjusted his grip on the rope, and Lisbeth peered into the deer’s black and amber eye. The eye shimmered in the morning sun as though the deer remained permanently suspended in a mirthful laugh or amused by her beloved companions. Perhaps the doe thought she was still in a golden meadow splashed with Indian paintbrushes and bluebonnets with the breeze whispering over big bluestem grass – her sisters, brothers, and lovers plucking wild blackberries from the edge of a cool, green thicket of elms and cypress. Maybe the doe was grooming her speckled fawns or teaching them to crowd beneath her belly when a scent or sound sprung her head up from the dewy foliage with ears pricked.

The doe’s head lifted higher toward the branch and out of Lisbeth’s reach. She turned her attention to the tawny coat while her father tied off the rope. Without giving thought toward her compulsion, she reached out with an open palm to stroke the deer’s back. The wiry fur was prickly on her skin, and she found herself disappointed. She wanted to feel dense silk and warmth of rabbit’s fur. She leaned into the deer’s back, stretching her arm around its side and moved her palm toward its belly in search of a satin coat. Her fingers found heat and sticky liquid.  She pulled her hand away to find her fingers painted red-black. She held her hand away from her body and leaned left, then right, straining to see around the deer without stepping from her spot.

“You have to be silent,” she remembered her father saying. “Deer hear you, and then they’re gone. Look where you step. Not moving’s best.”

Lisbeth looked down at her feet in the snow. A glossy, black pool collected inside a bright red ring at her toes. Condensed vapor lifted from the surface and flew away in the breeze.

Her father grunted from the other side of the deer. Then, the doe’s windpipe and entrails fell, splattering blood on Lisbeth’s powder blue boots.

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