Southern Legitimacy Statement: Stephen Hundley was raised on the Lincoln River, south of Savannah, Georgia. When the weather was right, you might have found him in a clawfoot tub on the porch. When the game warden wasn’t around, you might have found an alligator in the tub too. Stephen’s love for wildlife has inspired writing that mozies from peacocks to herons to mudfish to the dogs living in the woods behind the E-Z Fill. He has been bitten by most things that crawl, swim, or amble, but he doesn’t often bite back.
Hold the body, he says, and I press my palms where the ribs spring just a hair, the whole red thing swinging on the gamble. When my father cuts the GI track, all that makes a deer a deer falls away. Then there’s the rest of the fur to be stripped back, with the wet skin tight in my fist and heaving until my fingers rip through. I’ll need to cut a new grip to get those brown sugar folds down around her ears.
Takes a hacksaw, if you’re tool-poor. And tonight we are. But there’s pride in how the knife slides along the spine to free the muscles there, while the others watch and their fathers watch and my father groans to stretch a back long busted in the spark yards. He offers advice while I fish the cuts of meat into a sink where the silver-skin will be shorn away. It’s only me he asks to make those cuts.
In the morning, we see his truck in the driveway. He’s got one foot out of the driver’s side, so I guess he tried.
Leave him, my mother says. Eat.
I leave the house barefoot, the rocks in the driveway sharpening their knives. I tug on my father’s hands. Reach over and turn off the key. I can feel the heat from the kitchen as mother, daughter, sister, friend eat in silence.
We come up the stairs, sliding along the wall, and me wondering what he’s been thinking in the dark, limping the truck through the woods and seeing the house there and us inside of it sleeping and deciding to stay out with the radio playing low. Why open the door? Was that to get out or just let a breeze whisper in?
What were you doing? I ask.
Sleeping, he says.
Then we stop a while to breathe.
At the table there are hotcakes on one plate, cold fried venison on another. He sits in an easy chair and I think of him with blood on his hands asking me to heave that nanner-headed doe onto the hooks and hang her high. Where is that man? Which one is this? Living on the highway and following you home. Fogging your eyes. Who has you running all night with the door cracked and your guts hanging out. It’s your boy here, so just tell me, who?