Squid pro quahog
"Did you see the deer?" Laura asked.
I hadn't. "Where?"
"Just back there; on the side of the road."
"Good thing I didn't hit it." I pictured a deer stopped short of the road, stupid in the headlights.
"We should pick it up."
"What do you mean?"
"It was lying there...."
"It was down?"
"...On the side of the road. We ought to go back."
"I thought it was just standing there."
"No, it was lying."
"We can't just leave it there."
"Sure we can. I'm going back to work, and I was going to the gym later."
"Let's get it; it'll be fun."
"We live in the country; this is what's supposed to happen."
"Yeah, but I mean, what are we going to do with it?"
"We'll call Danny," Laura said. "He'll know what to do." Danny Bryant's an old friend who's been killing deer for 60 years.
"Yeah, but he won't want to, and he's probably about to eat. We could just call the police." But, I had slowed down and was looking for a place to turn around.
I nudged the deer with a boot, half expecting it to move. What if it started to squirm, or squeal, and I had to finish it off. With my pocketknife? Was it sharp enough? How would I find what to slit?
The animal didn't budge, but it looked fine, until I noticed the drool of blood from its mouth. It also looked beautiful, perfectly formed for its function. God, what a lovely creature.
Before I got too heartfelt, Laura brought me back: pick it up, this is fun, we love venison, Danny will know, and so on.
I was thinking, yeah, yeah, yeah, but how do I lift it? Like a dog? How heavy is it? Will I get Lyme by touching it? Am I already infected, through my boot? When did I get paranoid? "Help!"
"Pick it up. You can do it. You have to: you're my hero."
"Shut up." I was thinking pulled muscles, chiropractor bills. But wait...her hero?
I grabbed hold of its fur, gently hefting it. "Come on, it isn't that big. Is it heavy? This is exciting."
"Quiet! I must think!" It's a family joke, invoking Captain Hook's command to his goofy crew when he needs to devise a plan to thwart Peter Pan. It pops out of me sometimes when things get too absurd. But where was Smee, to oblige me by asking, "What tempo, Captain?"
We both laughed, and I reached under the deer, and lifted it - tenderly, actually - into the bed of my pickup.
I slammed the tailgate shut, we hopped into the cab, and we were off. No flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror: just the empty night, and the faint light from the rising full moon outlining the rim of my right ear. Yes!
I dropped Laura off at home, showed the deer to our daughter, Lila, and headed back to town, to work and work out. I'd barely sat down when Danny called. "Now what did you do, you @$$#%!&," he said, by way of a greeting. I started to tell him. "What the &%$# did you do that for?"
I tried to blame it on Laura and mumbled something about a free lunch, and I didn't want to waste....
"You gotta gut it."
"Yeah, now." Uh-oh. I'd figured I'd just leave it in the truck overnight, and a solution would present itself in the morning. I still pictured myself on the elliptical machine in an hour, soaked with sweat.
"Oh. I thought maybe...."
"Bring the &%*#$@! thing over here."
It took 10, maybe 12 minutes, to scoot up to his house, just over the Chilmark line. He was waiting outside his back door, a flashlight in one hand, a knife in the other.
"Let's go," he said, marching toward my truck. He shone the light in the deer's left eye. "It's fine. Grab those and help me drag it over there." I wanted to ask what he saw in the deer's eye, but....
"Here: hold this," the flashlight.
Bent over, Danny went to work with his knife. It's messy work, but he was so fast and so sure that it was almost clean and somehow orderly, the way I clean fish.
In minutes, the deer wasn't, anymore. It still had a life when we pulled it out of my truck, but now, disemboweled and disembodied, it was a thing. In his barn, Danny hoisted it and wrestled out the rest of the innards. Then, out came his Sawzall and off came the forelegs and the head. With a couple of cuts in the deer's rump and couple of rough yanks it was skinned.
"Man, that didn't take long."
"Not when you have the right tools."
"Yeah, and you know what you're doing. When was the first one you did, 60 years ago?" Finally, I could ask a question.
"Something like that - long time." But I wasn't going to get much of an answer.
"How long do you hang it?"
"Overnight's good enough: I like 'em fresh. I'll finish it tomorrow, or the next day."
I grabbed his arm and shoulder, shook him in thanks, and headed home. A half-mile down the road, I slammed the heels of my hands against the steering wheel and let out a whoop. What gym? What was I thinking? Just letting routine rule, I guess.
Two days later, when I came home from work, Laura told me to go look in the freezer. There, in a stack of vacuum-sealed bags, were a dozen or so packages, labeled Good Steak, Shoulder Roast, Back Straps, Stew Meat.
"He brought the whole thing?"
"He's amazing. The way they're all labeled and neatly packaged."
"I figured he'd keep half for himself. I wanted him to."
"The whole thing - sealed and labeled."
"It's all about you, baby. Remember, you're the one who said we had to pick it up."
I took Danny a very expensive bottle of wine a couple of days later. It wasn't quite the old up-Island squid pro quahog - a mess of this for ten pounds of that - but he loved it, and it brought things around to home for us. And I was reminded of two truths at once: You don't turn away when nature offers up something, and you don't turn down friends.
Whit Griswold is the copy editor/proofreader at The Times.