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A Smooth, Shallow Cut

Story by Denise Howard Long (Read author interview) January 23, 2017

Art by Karen Prosen

Hadley knew she wasn’t supposed to be out there. But nobody had said much of anything about what she did or didn’t do for quite some time, certainly not since her mother left forty-two days ago. The night was quiet. The low hum of staticky country and western music floated across the garage, eclipsed every now and then by the harsh electric of the bug zapper down by the burn barrel. From where she stood just outside the door, her father couldn’t see her unless he was looking. The thick red vinyl cord was looped around the deer’s neck and then draped over the hoist in the garage. Hadley considered making herself known, offering herself up, showing she wasn’t afraid. But she stayed where she was, watching the deer’s long limbs stretch endlessly toward the concrete floor.

She breathed heavily out, expecting to see her breath on the night air, but nothing came out. Cold, but not that cold. Her father coughed and she startled, her eyes catching on the hunting knife on the counter — out of its case and lying crooked like it had been tossed, rather than set down gently, the way a knife that big should. If she rocked back and forth on her toes, the edge of the blade reflected the humming fluorescent light that hung from the ceiling. Everything looked too sharp to be real.

She watched the rough flannel of her father’s plaid shirt stretch tight as he leaned over in the corner, his hands working at something she couldn’t see. She caught sight of the lighter in his hand and a charred smell filled the room. The hum of his breath sucking in reminded her of his body stretched out on the couch, his head rolled back in sleep, whiskered throat flung up toward the ceiling. A tired sort of violence would fill the room along with the vibrations of his snores, and time would stretch out in anticipation of when he would wake.

She wondered if the deer had heard him coming. If it had seen her father and his gun and known to be afraid. In her mind, she pictured the deer stepping toward her father, full of curiosity and wonder, with no idea what the next moments would bring.

Hadley imagined the hunting knife touching the deer’s skin and then thought of it touching her own. She wondered if it would throb, like the toothache she’d had last spring. The one that felt like a pulse in her mouth that woke her in the night and kept her from eating for days.

Or maybe the knife on her skin would feel like when she’d stepped in a yellow jacket nest by the creek. She’d hopped in the water to soothe the sting, the cold water numbing her skin. She’d stood there for ages, knowing when she stepped out the bite of pain would return. She wondered if wetting the deer before her father made his cuts would help, although she supposed it didn’t really matter anymore now.

She knew enough to know that her father would first make a smooth, shallow cut to peel back the skin, keeping the coarse brown hair from the meat. She knew that the second cut would go deep enough to empty the deer, the blade moving from end to end, opening the animal wide. The metal tub on the stained concrete beneath would catch what fell out. She imagined how light the deer would feel once it had lost everything inside.


Notes from Guest Reader Paul Asta

I like this story because of how the writer conveys a quiet violence and sense of curiosity–and that curiosity is what propels the reader through the story.
I also love the parallels that the child draws upon in her imagination as they try to understand this dismantling and the emptiness that follows.

About the Author

Denise Howard Long’s short fiction has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Journal of the Compressed Creative Arts, The Tishman Review, The Evansville Review, and elsewhere. Her short story “Recuerdos Olvidados” was runner-up for the Larry Brown Short Story Award, and her story “Where It’s Buried” won Five on the Fifth’s Annual Short Story Contest in 2016. Denise lives in Nebraska, with her husband and two young sons.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Five

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