Out of Season

I’ve just dropped a fat log in the stove and sat down with a second beer when Frankie tumbles in. He smells mean of whiskey and loses no time. “Gil,” he says to me, “you gotta help me, gotta work fast. Big doe down in the pasture. Get some rope.” Then he’s gone. Frankie lives in a shack down on the river road, the two of us the only fools for ten miles. “Jesus, Frankie,” I’m sayin’ as I haul on my boots. “You’re crazier’n a goddamned loon.”

It’s way after dark and cold, spittin’ snow. Field’s all brittle. Grass bunched together and snapping underfoot, branches swinging and the air like to take a bite. If there is a deer, I think, it’ll be in China the way Frankie’s comin’ at it, makin’ enough noise to wake the dead.

But there she is—a doe, all right, a beauty. And there right beside her at the apple tree is a young one, not half-grown. Damned Frankie didn’t mention that.

He doesn’t waste time, Has the light in that doe’s eyes so fast she just stands there, hypnotized. Frankie downs her with one shot. “Fast Gil, fast,” he says to me. “Clean her out and tie her legs up.” Fat chance of the warden showing up tonight, I’m thinking, as he throws me a knife. Then I see he’s got another knife.

Next thing, that crazy bastard is on the little deer, trying to get behind it, trying to get his arm up under its chin. And that deer isn’t makin’ it easy, jumpin’ all round and makin’ an eerie, mulin’ kind of noise. Its feet are clompin,’ the ground’s that hard. Frankie looks like a man havin’ a stroke—all jerk and tug, ridin’ that deer, up and down its backsides, tryin’ to pin it still, and all the while breathin’ ragged, wheezin’, moanin’, “Jesus, Jesus, Jeeessssussss.” I have to look away.

Now I’ve lived in these woods all my life, and I’ve seen men do desperate things. I’ve known a man to shoot a moose and carry it chunk by chunk across a half-frozen lake in the dead of night because he was out of work, because his family had to eat. And I’ve known men to die. The rivers round here can fill your belly or they can buckle under and hold you till you’re stone-cold dead. There’s moonlight to lead a lost soul home or a cloud of black to pitch him to the edge of an abandoned well. Point is, you’ve got a chance, but you can’t take it too far. And a grown man wrestling with a little deer like that just ain’t right.

Some things about a man you don‘t want to know.

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