Andy Edwards is a writer and tracking instructor. He lives at the end of the Applegate Trail in southern Oregon.
Behind him were twenty years, four big bong hits and six miles walking. In that order.
The sun shone on a million spring birds coming and going. Everything was crisp, not quite warm yet.
There was nothing remarkable in his head, nothing that might fuel a future.
At nine miles, feeling human again, he approached a couple walking on the opposite shoulder. They hailed him over the paved curves and so he crossed between the cars to hear them out.
The man in his checkered jacket and jeans was already looking back up the road at something. The woman eyed the traffic coming fast around the curves.
There’s a little deer up there in the ditch, the man said.
The woman spilled and worked the pink scarf between her hands, as if the fleece laved callouses or warded spirits. Her eyes fell on him, green eyes that had seen it all come and go and go again.
All right, he said and nodded.
She looked at her husband’s hands as if therein was sign language to discern.
He looked at the young man’s hands.
Poor thing, she said.
Leaves rattled in the wind. Responsibilities defaulted. Plans adjusted.
The man’s moustache hid a pinch of Copenhagen, a smirk maybe. He said, It’s just before that yellow sign. Down in the ditch so you can’t hardly see her unless you’re right there. Got no idea what’s wrong with her.
The couple relaxed, waved, kept walking.
He went up the road to the curve to see both ways and cross back over the cold gray ribbon. The fawn was tucked over its own legs catlike, her eyes were fearless and gentle.
Diesel trucks that had never seen mud powered around the curves.
Down in the ditch, he knelt with one hand still up on the pavement. Another vehicle passed on that side and he brought his hand away. Little white spots of hide caught the sun, green weeds in the ditch were flatted and chewed.
The fuck are you doing, he asked.
She’d have asked the same.
She blinked. Another car drove by just feet from them, level to his head. After a moment she shifted and the right foreleg flopped sideways where it was held by a tether of sinew caked red. The bone inside was smudged and dry and snapped right at the joint.
You sat out here all night, he said. While the fucking cars just drove by and the headlights came on.
He hung his head. Goddamn.
Three more miles over the back highway, he turned into the subdivision and went inside his parent’s house. They were not home. He drank some water, picked up the phone. Officials answered. Officials laughed and recommended he leave the animal in the ditch to die as the cars roared past in the night and as the coyotes slunk down from the meadows to tear her stomach out as she watched. Officials said there was nothing official to be done and, officially, they could not condone any autonomous action.
He sighed, dialed again. His grandfather picked up and said to put her down.
A short ride in his mother’s Nissan, a borrowed shotgun. Three witnesses joined him on the ride back to where the deer lay. Some part of him hoped the ditch was empty. Another part knew otherwise. He raised her up, ran across the lanes to the wide shoulder where the emergency lights blinked in the sun.
He set her down amidst his mother’s work paraphernalia—the needles and the notebooks. Just as easy as she was in weeds, she blinked at the young human beings and they all took turns petting her spotted coat and head, touching the cold coal of her nose and the soft ears.
One of two girls that came along dropped a tear and turned away up the road.
They drove along the river. The willow fluff decoupled that day, that season, and floated over the brown water and through the brush lining the road and sucked in through the cracked windows of the car. The fawn sniffed the swirling air like some royal dog.
An abandoned lot, put it in four-wheel low. Kill the engine. The shotgun beside the fawn was clean, opalescence in the oil in the etchings in the light.
They opened the back hatch and pet her some more listening only to the dull thrum of the trucks on the overpass. Someone merciful among them switched off the tape deck.
The other girl carried the gun and his friend who knew how to operate it carried a few green shells.
Such walks among graves, by rivers have unmeasured weight.
Back in the blackberry tangle an old shack sagged, slipped a last shingle. They set her down not too far from the trail. Maybe she’d like seeing the water. Maybe he didn’t want to stretch this out any longer.
Perhaps he asked himself why that couple hadn’t done anything.
Perhaps he already knew.
He inserted the single shell along the ramp, worked the action back. Flash of the bright hull as it chambered and he got behind her and the others got behind him and the friend whose father owned the gun said to his girl, Cover your ears.
But she didn’t do that. Nor did any of them.
The duff fell like spring snow, silent. And the gun roared once and she was gone.
He let the shotgun go slack in hand, studied the result.
How fast it’s just, over. How fast and horrific that it’s just over.
His friend said, Good Christ.
And his friend’s girl said, She’ll probably watch over you your whole life.
Ten years later a raggedy man stops him on a Denver back street, studies his hands and pockets and delivers this important message: First the weak perish. Then the rest fight.
Laugh it off but she watches. Just like his friend’s girl had said.
What was her name?