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She would never again do anything, run or eat or give birth. Time paused for me as we regarded each other in this rude chapel. Did I apologize? I don’t know. Did I cry? I think so.
Heart pounding, I crossed the stream and stood over her. What was I to do now?
As if in answer to my silent cry for help, from upstream came the sound of heavy bodies thrashing through the brush and a voice yelling, “Paddy! Paddy, where are you?” then the screech of a police whistle. It had to be the Old Man.
I dug out my whistle and blew it in answer, but stayed with my doe. Eventually the Old Man burst out of the brush on the other side of the stream, followed shortly by my Uncle Connor with a whistle in his mouth. Why had they been so far upstream? Did he start drinking and forget where he left his kid?
As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. He and my uncle had been searching farther upstream for nearly an hour. Before they went back to camp to raise a larger search party, they’d decided to work downstream a little to see if they’d come across me. The gunshot brought them to investigate.
My old man walked over to the deer, pushed the body with his foot, then looked at me. “Damn, Boy,” and shook his head.
“What were you planning to do, Paddy? She needs to be dressed out or some of the meat will spoil,” said Uncle Connor.
“I don’t…I wasn’t sure…”
“Come on over here and I’ll guide you.” He looked at the Old Man and asked, “unless you want to teach him, George.” The Old Man was clearly not interested. He shook his head and lit a cigarette.
“You’re going to start by making a vee cut just below her breast bone, right about here” he said, jabbing me in the chest. His eyes landed on my rifle where I’d left it propped against a tree. “Damn it, Paddy! What in the hell were you thinking?” He grabbed me by the shoulder and shoved me over to the tree. “Is there a round in the chamber?” When I nodded yes, he snatched up the rifle, “And it’s at full cock ready to fire. That’s how people get killed, Boy!” He fired it in the air. “Just that easy.” He tossed it to me. “Unload it, and make sure there’s no chance of anyone getting shot accidentally.”
“Give him a break, Connor, he was excited and wasn’t thinking”
“Would that have brought either of us back from the dead if we’d stumbled over that rifle?”
Uncle Connor paced back and forth for a minute then waved me back to the doe. “Now cut along her belly pretty much where the brown fur changes to white – yeah, right there. Not too deep. You don’t want to punch a hole in her guts – it’ll stink to high heaven and crap up the meat. Now across the legs and up under the tail.”
He looked over at the Old Man and laughed. “He’s a little squeamish, George. Haven’t you told him about the birds and bees?”
“I know about that. It just smells bad, that’s all,” I said defending my twelve-year-old dignity.
“Yeah, sure. Now you’ve cut the skin all the way around, just roll her over on her side and yank it and everything should come out.”
I did what he told me. “Shit!” I had to jump back to avoid a wave of deer guts. Both men were laughing.
“Give me that knife, Boy,” Uncle Connor said, “I’ll finish up while you get some of the slime off your pants.”
He took the knife from me, reached up into her chest, made a couple of cuts and pulled out her heart and lungs. “You need a bigger knife, Paddy. You keep this one nice and sharp, but the blade isn’t long enough.” He held a bloody, dark red chunk of meat out to me. “This is her heart. You see what your bullet did to it?”
“Yeah,” I said, pretending I knew what an intact deer heart should look like.
“And look here. You got three with one shot!” He pulled me over and lifted a pink bulb about the size of a softball with a tracery of deep red threads running through it.
“You don’t know what you’re looking at do you?” He motioned me closer with his chin and carefully slit it open. Inside were two greyish translucent bags, each containing a little grub-like creature maybe as long as my finger. When he opened the little sacks, it was clear that each embryo had a big head, huge eyes and four leg buds pointed with tiny hooves.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! I won’t throw up. I won’t throw up. I won’t…
“She was pregnant with two fauns, Paddy!”
He laughed and placed the babies back on the pile. He squatted down beside her, silent for ten or fifteen seconds then he stood up. With his bloody finger he made two stripes on my left cheek. “You’ve taken your first step to manhood, Paddy.”
“Jesus, Connor!” the Old Man whined, “We don’t do that shit. We’re not living in the jungle for crissakes!” But, he didn’t tell me to wipe my face.
The three of us carried my doe back to the camp. “Your sister is going to pitch a fit if he shows up with blood on his face, you know.”
Uncle Connor didn’t bother to say anything. He just smiled.
Back at camp, we tied a rope around her neck and hauled her carcass into a tree to cool. We propped the legs apart to let air circulate through the purplish-red bloody body cavity. She swung from the limb awkward and graceless, turning slowly one way and then the other. He stood for a moment with his hand on her side.
“Make sure you clean that damn rifle before you do anything else. Then see what you can do to rinse the blood and shit off your clothes.” He lit a cigarette and walked away from the camp toward the lake.
Uncle John came out as we were finishing. Through the open door I could hear the Old Man bragging about my hunting skills and turning my twenty-five yard lucky shot into a two hundred and fifty yard proof of superior marksmanship. My uncle closed the door behind him and walked around the carcass.
“Connor help you clean her?” I nodded.
“A clean one-shot kill,” he looked at me and the marks on my cheek. “Good.” He followed Uncle Connor down to the lake.
I’ve never killed for sport again.