Hands on my widening hips, I watched Neal stretch the dead deer over the tailgate of Daddy’s truck. Vultures caught the scent and circled overhead, casting shadows around the truck. Neal looked up to acknowledge the scavengers and fired a warning shot of snot from his nose. “Classy,” I said.
Neal shrugged his shoulders and blew me a kiss. Then, he thumbed the blade of his knife and settled down to separate hide from muscle, rolling the deer skin underneath itself as he progressed. Finally, Neal pulled down hard like he was shucking corn to finish the job.
Straightening up, Neal carried the moist deer hide to a wooden picnic table and laid it out in the sunlight. He looked around to make sure no one was watching, but we knew from screwing on that table that nobody came to the backside of the park on school days.
Not my best moments, I thought.
“Hey, help me move this to my rig,” said Neal, walking back to slide the deer carcass off the tailgate and into a cooler on the ground.
“Really?” I said, pointing both hands to my belly.
“Did I stutter?”
“You got blood on Daddy’s truck,” I said.
“Like you said about my dick,” said Neal, closing the lid on the cooler. “Ain’t no big thing.”
“Daddy will kick your ass.”
“Then do me a favor and lick it off,” said Neal, bending to grab two handles.
“You’re a prick,” I said. Neal followed another shrug with that move-your-ass look he gave to players at football practice. I sighed before walking over to squat and snatch the handles on the other side of the cooler.
“Ready,” said Neal, more for himself than for me, bracing his back and bum knee. “One. Two. Up!”
We carried the deer-in-a-box to Neal’s Ford a few yards away and lifted it onto the grimy bed cluttered with football equipment and fast food trash. What a mess. At home, Daddy, pretending not to know yet, had finally soured on Neal and his prospects. “Honey,” said Daddy, “You’re hitched to a broken wagon.”
“He’s working now, Daddy. He got a coaching job at the high school,” I said. “Momma?”
“Listen to your father,” said Momma from the couch, nursing a bottle of beer; “Make a change while you can.”
“Ain’t no big thing,” said Daddy. “Happens all the time.”
Reaching past the cooler in the back of Neal’s pickup, I grabbed a football jersey and a bottle of water and returned to Daddy’s truck. I poured half of the water onto the tailgate where Neal skinned the deer. The deer blood washed off like cheap mascara.
“That’s a good look for you,” said Neal, pushing back his cap to watch me wipe down the tailgate with the jersey.
“You’re a dumbass,” I said, nodding towards the picnic table. Neal turned to see two vultures dragging the deer skin across the ground.
“Hell, no!” barked Neal, limping towards the birds. The vultures dropped the hide and looked up. They froze Neal with the hard stares of those who know something about the world that you don’t. After a beat, Neal charged again and the birds flew off into the trees.
I pulled myself up into Daddy’s truck and started the engine. “Hey, where you goin’?” asked Neal, slapping dirt off the wet, limp hide in his hands.
Having made a decision for myself, I left the question, now irrelevant, unanswered. I pulled up near Neal’s Ford, leaned out the window, and threw the stained jersey into the bed of his truck. Then I drove away.
Brooks C. Mendell writes and works in forestry near Athens, Georgia. His stories have appeared in venues such as Storgy, Maudlin House, DSF and The RavensPerch. www.brooksmendell.com