There are Some Things Better Left Alive

April 13, 2010
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The hunter held his breath and pointed the gun like his daddy had shown him nearly forty years ago, the fog transforming the deer to a silhouette. He ran a hand down the barrel and argued with himself as to which part would spill the least blood (this way, he thought, it could almost be remembered as alive). He pointed the gun at the neck, head, spine, torso, willing its skeleton to expose its weakened joints. The deer stood watching him as he continued thinking, ears gently twitching, and he nearly gave himself away.
It was in the moment his hands pulled the trigger that his fingertips became soft and he was intoxicated with regret. But just that moment. Then he quickly put it past him, this is necessary, he thought, I must sustain myself, the weak will be overcome in the end anyway. The image of his wife preparing the butcher knife at home enveloped his thoughts, and for a few seconds he was stolen by his hunger. But another part of him was aching, how beautiful it was, it is, it was. The softness of its fur like his fingertips, he stroked it before catching himself and withdrawing into his thick coat.
She was easy to carry, a small being, not quite fully matured; the soreness of his throat. It wasn’t until he’d reached his truck that he realized birds were coming from his mouth, circling her head; the deadness of her eyes was deafening. Her body was still thrumming distantly, the emptiness of her lack of breath filling him until he found it unbearable and he covered her in his hunting bag, throwing her in the back of the trunk. He kept telling himself it was an it, not a she, but he had trouble keeping himself convinced as the car sped down the leaf-filled road.
He didn’t allow himself to look in the mirror, afraid he would glimpse her form through the bag.

It was like the day he’d thrown out his butterfly collection. He’d started it when he was eight, conquered their wings with his net. Then he would pick them up with his fingers and pin their bodies to the cardboard sheet, watching as they squirmed and tried to fly away, their exoskeleton nailed to a wall like the Jesus they had never known. He always tried to leave for this part, but something about the way their wings slowed always kept him in the room, filled him with guilt and satisfaction and doubt all at once.
It would take a few minutes before their wings slowed completely, and he would touch a finger to their body to trigger a few last movements before their pulsing stopped and he was left alone, in awe of destruction. But this was simply a scientific enterprise.
He’d continued collecting until that day nearly four years later when one with violet wingtips had landed on his sister’s arm and she’d said "please, just let this one be", and something had broken inside him as he watched it beat against her cheeks, her smile as it fluttered about her neck, hovering in the crevice of her collarbone.
That was when he took out all the glass cases his parents had framed for him, shattered them in the alley and swept the little bodies of color into his hands. It was that moment he was thinking of as the road took a turn and he found himself lost in the winding streets of the mountains, wishing he had the power to throw her body from the truck and continue as if her diminished heart-beats had re-accelerated and she was simply the pulsation of the wilderness. He struggled with the unyielding nature of his hands on the steering wheel.

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