The Technician 

by Caroline Porter

Justin rode shotgun in the truck, one hand holding his baseball cap against the wind as Cuthbert drove them down the wide expanse of I-85. It was barely light out on the road, but cars were already choking the highway. The exhaust and rumbling of engines drifted through the morning chill, making the road a sauna of oily gray fumes that turned yellow in the pale dawn light. 

It was Justin’s second Monday working as a highway technician. He’d only made it this long because of Martha. The smell of the first deer alone had made him want to quit on the spot. But every time she kissed him goodbye on the cheek and put a cooler of sandwiches and beer in his car, he felt an almost painful need to not disappoint her. Cuthbert made fun of the cooler every morning when Justin came into the station, but Justin knew he was just jealous. Cuthbert drank too much and always had deer entrails on his pants. His lunch was two sweaty cans of Miller High Life and a packet of pork rinds from the vending machine. 

They cruised up to mile marker 20. Sure enough, there she was—bloated and buzzing with flies, spindly hind legs crushed flat by whatever minivan had steamrolled over her. The smell was like a grim perfume; it clung thickly to the air, wet and corporeal. 

“She’s been dead a good while,” said Cuthbert. He drew himself to full height and loomed over the corpse, spitting sunflower seed shells into the bushes next to her. He covered his nose with his sweaty T-shirt. “I hate it when they’re ripe.” 

Justin took a step closer. The deer had eyes like Martha’s. They were dark and velveteen and looked up at him with a pleasing wetness. He covered his nose with his shirt and stooped down to her. Her lips were small and soft pink, a fuzzy gold-spun patch of hairs curling against the opening of her mouth. It reminded him of kissing Martha, of the feeling of girly peach fuzz against his clean-shaven upper lip. 

Her stomach ballooned outward, fur stretched tight against the swell of her midsection. Justin could imagine the feeling of her beneath his hands—smooth and hard, like the hull of a ship. “Is she pregnant?” Justin asked, though he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer. It would only make the job more difficult. 

Cuthbert gave him a long look. His jaw mashed furiously at the sunflower seeds, and he spat the wad out onto the side of the highway. “Could be,” he said. His fingers steepled beneath the cotton of his shirt, closing off his nose completely. “You put her in the truck, Justin. She ain’t that big and my knee’s been hurting from the storms.” 

Justin looked down at the deer. She was at least a hundred pounds, unwieldy for a man to carry on his own. But he’d carried the weight before, had picked a deer-sized Martha up off her feet and twirled her around the doublewide to Van Morrison on the radio. He’d lifted her with ease into the truck on their wedding day and carried her all around St. Simon’s when she’d sprained her ankle on the honeymoon. He’d been gracious about it, had loved the feeling of his fingers pressed into her fleshy thighs and the heat of her sweat breath against his neck. 

He sunk down onto one knee and slid his hands beneath her body. It was warm between that pocket of flesh and grass, so soft and moist that Justin almost wanted to keep his hands right there, to lay down and put his head on the deer’s wide expanse of stomach and rest. Cuthbert spat next to his shoe and told him to hurry up. Justin steadied himself under her and heaved upward. 

There was a horrible ripping sound. Justin stood stock-still as something gushed out between his fingers, down his shirt and cargo shorts and into the netting of his sneakers. There was a heaviness, and he thrust the deer aside to see its guts pooled black and steaming at his feet. He kicked them off, something noxious and white clinging to his shins. 

The smell was enough to make him swoon, and he reeled backward onto the highway. Cuthbert steadied him and yanked him back with strong hands as a semi whizzed by, blaring its horn. He fell to his knees, dry-heaving down onto the blood-darkened pavement. 

Cuthbert was roaring with laughter. “You’re an idiot!” he gasped out from beneath his T-shirt, his eyes watering as he stepped back from the stench of the intestines. “She was just waiting to pop. Full up with gas from a crushed small intestine.” He shook his head. “Should’ve listened to me when I was training you, boy.” 

Justin rose up on all fours, spitting out the last of the bile onto the ground. Next to him, the deer looked up at him with her Martha eyes. She seemed more scared now, with her big stomach pushed out onto the gravel. The cavern between her wide rib cage lay open and empty, the flies already making their homes within the newly discovered flesh. 

Justin thought of Martha. He thought of the cooler waiting for him back at the station, tucked behind the gallon jug of bleach and the blanket where they lay the unclaimed dead dogs. Today, she had packed him two sandwiches. Salami with tomatoes and ham from her father’s butcher shop down the road. 

He rose up from the ground, holding his breath tight as it strained within his chest. His shirt and shorts were soaked with dark blood. He felt wet and tired and small, like a newly born baby pulled out of the comfort of its mother. He wiped a bloodied hand against his forehead, straightened his baseball cap. 

“I’ll go get the garbage bags.”

Caroline Porter is a student at the University of North Carolina. She enjoys ignoring the reality of death and playing her ukulele.
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