Literary Orphans

Butcher Paper by Kat Gonso

My father’s friend was driving down a dark country road when he hit a deer and died. Late one night, I overheard my parents talking about the accident, how the deer’s legs had crashed through the windshield, scissoring, glass shattering. The hooves pounded the man’s chest and arms and the hands he used to shield himself. I don’t remember the name of my father’s friend. Sometimes, I think I made it up.

 

When I was in middle school, another friend of my father’s hit a deer on a dark country road. He butchered the deer, using every piece. He gave us a thick coil of venison sausage wrapped in beige paper. My mother placed it on the top shelf of our refrigerator, where it stayed for a long time. My friends often slept over because I had a large basement and my parents were tolerant of the giggles and the trail of brownie crumbles from kitchen to couch. We played tricks on each other, like when I tucked my grandma’s fake fur stole into the bottom of Amanda’s sleeping bag a few minutes before she crawled inside. We dared each other to touch the deer meat. We didn’t know you could eat deer. We didn’t know you could eat deer off the side of the road. As the venison aged and grew rancid our dares became riskier. Poke it, we said. Sniff it. Lick it. We wondered if the venison had gone green or gray. We wondered why my parents hadn’t eaten it. We wondered why they hadn’t thrown it away. We pictured what it would look like under the butcher paper, soft and mushy as a rotten peach.

 

My high school English teacher hit a deer while driving to school. One narrative claimed that the deer had jumped in front of her car, a thick slap to the hood. The air conditioning had been on full blast, so the deer’s blood was sucked through the vent, spraying her face. Glass shards and wet fur clung to her hair. She didn’t come to school that day and, when she returned the next, we kept quiet even though we were all dying to ask questions about the air conditioner and the fur and the blood. Each day, she asked us to journal in a spiral-bound notebook, urging us to write about anything we wanted. The rule was that if we didn’t want her to read an entry we could fold over the page and she would skip it. For days, I wrote about the deer. I carefully folded the pages. I wrote about how my teacher was lucky the deer hadn’t smashed through the windshield and pounded her with scissoring hooves. I wrote about my father’s friend that had died when I was young and how when I asked my mother about it she said she didn’t know what I was talking about.

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Kat Gonso‘s stories have been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Green Briar Review, American Literary Review, River Styx, Corium, and various other journals and anthologies. She was the 2013 winner of The Southeast Review‘s World’s Best Short-Short Story Contest. She teaches writing at Northeastern University, where she is also the Director of First-Year Writing.

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Art by Helen Norcott