We stooped to follow the boy as he walked under the rhododendron bordering the creek. After climbing away from the water up the hill to avoid mosquitoes we found the deer carcass being consumed by what looked like potato bugs, but these were larger and faster, some of them coming towards our sandals across the dead deer’s large bed of moss and pine needles.
The boy asked several times after we lifted him quickly away from that cloud-white skull, glaring eye socket and thick bared teeth, the flaky gray ribs moving and changing shape as the insects ate, its folded leg bones in saggy socks of white and brown fur, how did the deer die, Mama, how did it die, Da-da, and we looked at each other, nodding to agree it was okay to tell him, and gave a few reasons. Illness, a predator, old age. He listened from his perch on my shoulders as we went back toward our tent, crossing the playground area bright white with sunshine. He didn’t seem too bothered.
What you said the night after we found the deer stayed with me, besides the memory of those carrion beetles that seemed a bit alien, and my worry about our son being bothered by it, as the stars came out to sit in the treetops, your words joined them and glowed with a warm light, how you said that you felt like we were intruding when we stood over the deer, like we were interrupting something private.
We hiked more that weekend across streams and rocks and saw the bullfrog tadpoles as big as small fish resting on the mossy concrete walls of the reservoir. It didn’t rain that night or the next. Almost all of the food we brought survived the cooler and tasted good. Traffic back to Philly was fine. The trip had gone so well. In my mind it goes well each time I think about it. Your voice is what I remember most. To have heard you say those words opened up such a comforting place.
MATTHEW JAKUBOWSKI is a writer, editor, and literary critic based in West Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared widely, in venues such as Berfrois, Minor Literature[s], gorse, 3:AM Magazine, Black Sun Lit, Numero Cinq, and The Bohemyth. He has work forthcoming from The Kenyon Review Online and Electric Literature, and he blogs about books and criticism at truce (matthewjakubowski.wordpress.com).