In the title story from The Roadkill Collection, a once–bullying lawyer seeks redemption in the road.
The roadkill collector had soft hands at first, but the wind and the sun toughened his skin as the gripping and lifting strengthened his back. On quiet days he would park the pickup and patrol miles–long stretches of woodland highway by foot. His fifty–six year–old belly shrunk and his lung–power increased, but he only spoke when spoken to.
“Remember to cook that to at least one–hundred–eighty degrees to avoid trichinosis,” he’d tell scavengers. The absence of a smile did not mean that the collector begrudged hungry people a free meal—to the contrary, he was happy for them, and pleased they fed on lean meat. He simply never smiled on the job. He smiled in the cabin when his woman would sing “Roadkill Collector” like “Daydream Believer,” but the smile was subdued, and nothing like the aggressive grin of his big city days.
The roadkill collector removed scraps of food tossed onto the roadway by passing motorists lest they lure animals to their doom, and cut sections out of chain–link fences to create escape routes for frantic trapped creatures. He collapsed to his knees as if shot in the gut when a man aimed his pickup at a turtle and crushed it, then gathered himself and swept flesh, shell, and slime into a dustpan and buried it twenty feet from the road. He could not speak for days.
The roadkill collector studied Buddhism, Hinduism, and Catholicism in the soft light of the cabin he shared with his woman, a candlemaker he’d met after a year on the job, but withheld from her his skepticism about reincarnation and Biblical creation. “What’s the good word?” his woman would coo when he’d set down yet another holy book or book about spiritual seeking. He’d look up with childlike eyes and say, “I get the foot–washing, and the vow of silence too.” Aside from silence he liked the crackling fire and his woman’s worn voice, and the wind and the birds in the trees by the highway.
The roadkill collector studied kosher law, and when he’d come upon a battered deer in agony he’d set a cloth beneath its head and sever its jugular with a swift, deep stroke. When he’d wash off the blood, or bits of entrails and feces from a torn–open coyote or raccoon, he’d reflect on the lives of Untouchables.
His wife had named him “The Unreachable” for his workaholic hours and the alcohol–sodden nights when he’d lapse into silence after spending his life force and all of his words bullying people in depositions. In philosophical moods he’d put his whiskey glass down and tell Janet, “I don’t see you complaining about this huge house and three cars,” and she’d drink and say, “Devil’s bargain.” Then he’d peek through the door at his daughter sleeping. He did this for years `til she’d grown and flown, then his wife stood firm in their high–ceilinged entrance hall and declared with a sweeping gesture at the house, “You’re not taking this from me.”
“It’s all yours,” he said, and with deep remorse added, “You deserve it.”
His daughter zoomed past on her way to her mother’s house for winter break. She did not recognize the man kneeling to a dead deer, nor hear him consoling a mortified couple staring down at the deer. She didn’t recall her father striking a deer on the road home from Tahoe when she was three, or crying about it all the way home, or her father growling at her mother that the animal was dead, god damn it, and even if it wasn’t, he had court the next day.
~ end ~
You can purchase The Road Kill Collection at Amazon.com.
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