Driving back to the ranch after a day of running errands Dee fiddled with the radio dial. Public radio had nothing but depressing stories, current music she no longer recognized and oldies were tired and worn out. She flicked off the radio and found herself lost in thought as she navigated the winding roads up the canyon to the ranch. The ranch truck was running well, she’d finally relented and brought it into the shop. She couldn’t take a chance driving all the way to the Hamer’s place outside San Diego tomorrow to have a breakdown with Metta in the trailer on the side of a hot highway. Changing the fuel filter made for a much happier truck. She felt sheepish not knowing it should have been changed and she didn’t have the skills and the knowledge to do it herself.
From a ditch on the right side of the road jumped a young deer. Dee watched it in the surreal slow motion that predicates disaster. Surely this wasn’t happening, why would an animal bolt directly in front of a 3/4 ton diesel truck? With both feet stomping the brake pedal, the truck struck the deer hard. The headlights focused on her body first flipping and then skidding across the two lane road. Dee watched as the animal scrambled to her feet and tried to climb the embankment on the left side of the road. She knew it was mortally wounded but she held a hope that it would bound away. It didn’t bound away, it fell twice into the ditch below the embankment, it’s back broken.
Dee jerked the truck off the road, found the emergency flashers and grabbed for her bag. She kept one eye on the doe, now folded in the ditch, not moving. She could see it panting and Dee began panting as well.
“Fuck!” She yelled into the dashboard. With shaking hands she rifled through her bag. She found everything except what she was looking for – cough drops, her wallet and phone, loose change, an orange, a digital thermometer. Finally, her hand closed around the handle of the folding buck knife.
Knife in hand she jumped out of the truck, still praying that the deer would either bound away or give up the ghost before she could cross the street. She stood by the truck, the knife unfolded and pointed at the ground her breath coming in gasps that matched the heaving sides of the animal dying in the ditch. Two cars passed navigating carefully around the badly parked truck with flashing lights and the panting woman with a knife standing in the street. She prayed someone would stop and yell at her and maybe it would be some man with a gun who would do what she would have to do with a knife. She wondered what passers-by were seeing, this woman clutching a large knife by the side of the road. But no one stopped. No police or fireman was here to rescue her – no kindly neighbor. She crossed the road, approaching the deer. It’s impossibly large obsidian eyes watched her. She looked for fear in it’s face and saw none. There was no blood either, just a body that wouldn’t move and sides that panted.
You caused this pain and you must end it as quickly as possible. If you leave her, she’ll be torn apart by coyotes or dogs. Slit her throat. That will be fastest. Don’t think girl, just do. If you cut hard enough, you can probably cut through the windpipe and that might make it even faster. Yeah, across the throat, both sides, that will be fastest.
Dee stood over the deer and tried to plan. What if she struggled, where would be her best hold, what angle did the knife need to be at? Don’t think, all you need to know is that you must do this. She’s suffering and it’s your fault. The longer you think, the longer she suffers.
The deer’s eyes never wavered, her eyelids didn’t flutter, she just looked at Dee and waited.
Summoning up all the fury she could muster, Dee leaned over, grabbed the scruff of the deer’s neck, was surprised at the coarseness of her coat, pulled the head back and slashed across the white throat.
The knife bounced and skidded, leaving no mark. Again she slashed and again the knife reappeared, clean, unblemished.
Dee released the head and it flopped into the ditch, the chin resting vertically along the bank. She’d failed. She was unable to deliver mercy. The knife dropped from her hand, there was no power in her body. She knelt and placed a hand across the hips of the doe and waited for her to die. If she couldn’t deliver mercy, at least she could stay with her until the doe died. If a car passed by, she didn’t notice, she didn’t cry and she didn’t move. In time, the deer inhaled and there was no exhale that followed.
Dee patted the doe’s back “I’m so sorry little friend.”
She picked up the knife and closed it.
Making her way back to the truck, she climbed inside and turned off the emergency flashers. Her body sagged and her head bent to the steering wheel. She looked at the knife on the seat beside her. She threw it on the floor. She looked at her palm and noticed that the knife had left indents across her hand. She’d held it hard, she’d tried and somehow, there wasn’t enough violence in her body to do what needed to be done. “A man could do it, but I can’t.” She said out loud. “What kind of an animal person am I if I can’t do what needs to be done? I’m so brave when it comes to calling the vet and having a horse or a dog or a cat euthanized when the time comes but I don’t have the balls to do it myself?”
She drove home slowly, parked the truck and fed all the animals mechanically. She couldn’t bear to look any of them in the eye. She took a long hot shower and couldn’t stop looking at her hands.
She turned off the lights and without dinner, crawled into bed, curled up in a ball and slept.