“Deer don’t die,” he says, “Them’s immortal.” He’s sharpening the saws (circular, hack, bone) and bringing out the butcher paper. My mother counts jerky.
I’m home for Thanksgiving with a friend. When she shakes his hand, she smiles and introduces herself. Later she asks about his finger. I tell her that he lost it doing woodwork in the garage, that they tried to reattach it but it wouldn’t take. I don’t tell her that he cried. I don’t tell her that he asked to say goodbye before they tossed it.
My father, he goes on. “Every deer’s the same. Can’t die either if you don’t know you’re gonna, know what I mean?” My friend nods and pets the dog. “Like Elvis there,” he says, “Elvis doesn’t care what cards he’s dealt because he doesn’t know anyone’s got any different.”
The next day, he goes hunting. He invites us but I don’t want to go. Instead, I take my friend around town. It’s small, but I show her the chocolate shop and the church. At the school, I show her the shed where I raised goats for show.
We’re in the kitchen helping with the mashed potatoes when he returns. My mother taught me how to remove bloodstains (cold water) and cut up produce (fingers curled under). My father taught me how to butcher a deer. He hangs them heads-up in the barn on hooks, then comes to get rubber gloves and plastic bags. “Everything good’s ready available,” he explains. He asks if my friend wants to watch, and she says yes.
“See this?” he says as he saws, and I watch all ten of his rubber glove fingers. Later my friend learns how to pack the chest cavity with ice bags. “Handling meat’s a craft,” he says, and she agrees. When they’re done, Elvis barks at the shapes and we have to drag him by his collar back inside.
The next day, he goes hunting again. My friend goes too. “Up for being a man?” he asks. Instead, I help my mother stuff the turkey and set the table. Afterwards, I sit on the porch steps. They return and my friend can’t remember which is hers, but my father reminds her, “A deer’s a deer’s a deer. Don’t you go naming them.” He’s beaming. Together, they hang them and bung them and cut them, then pack them with ice.
At dinner, I don’t say much, just tell my mother that everything tastes good. Everything’s actually cold, and we forget to say the blessing. My friend mentions the goats I raised for show, and my father cuts in. “Tell you what,” he says to me, “you and your animals, smost disappointing part.”
When he hugs my friend goodbye, he winks and hands her some jerky. Driving back, she tells me not to worry. “In a thousand years,” she says, “no one will know we even existed. Isn’t that comforting?” Another hour and she’s eaten it all.