Usually the orchard was all light, sunburn cooled by a welcome breeze, but not that day. Fog crept up from the river and swallowed every tree in its path, whetting its appetite for the too short grass that cut like blades, soaking the cicadas’ song. I sat on a cold cinder block and watched my boyfriend wash his car, questioning why he would shine it on such a gloomy day, but daring not to say it aloud. His phone rang and I looked at myself in the shiny apple red door. Winked. Shot some finger guns. Fell to the floor.
“What are you doing? I have to go do something. Stay here,” he ordered.
“I want to come. Where are you going? How long will you be gone?”
“A deer’s trapped in a fence in the upper orchard. I have to kill it, or it’ll make a big hole in the fence, or break its neck.”
“I’m coming.”

I didn’t know deer screamed until that day. I watched in awe, my eyes wet, standing at a distance from this huge creature, all muscle, as it screamed into the damp air. Thrashing wildly against an almost invisible wire fence, its antlers trapped, entangled with imminent death until finally all went quiet. I touched my forehead and pulled away sticky droplets on my fingertips. That welcome breeze returned, and my heart sank. I had never witnessed death, and never imagined I would. He told me the deer would be skinned, the meat eaten. Nothing would go to waste. But I sat in silence as the truck hurtled past trees into the thick of fog, uncomfortably aware that in the open bed lay a blood-soaked deer, jiggling stiffly with every pebble on the road. I imagined the process of preparing the deer for consumption, sliding a sharp knife between the skin and muscle. I knew some details. The indignity of it all. Hanging it by its hind feet to drain the blood, eyes wide open like black holes. But hadn’t I done the same? 

Descending the stairs in a southern New York lab, wearing clothes on top of clothes to keep out the formaldehyde—a sticky stench—entering a room with two dead bodies given to science. We were assigned a cadaver, a trick of the language to distance ourselves from the fact that we would be cutting into dead people with scalpels. Uncovering secrets. Naming muscles, veins, arteries. Draping white cloth for dignity. Digging into intercostal muscles with no breath sounds. A smell that hasn’t left me. And when the draping slipped, an image that hasn’t left me either. All that muscle. Exposed on a stainless-steel table. So much gray. Could I really judge my farmer boyfriend for killing a deer when I cut into a human? 

He had been offended by that lab as much as I was saddened by killing a trapped deer. He had told me to stay. Wasn’t it my own fault? But life carried on. Sadness blurred. Judgment faded. We went about our usual things, no hang ups. Trivia on Wednesdays, sunsets on the roof, cider on the porch watching the train rush by. Until we drunkenly ran through the woods one night, searching for a waterfall. We set up camp in a small clearing on the property of the orchard. A tent built for one. We stopped to eat over fire, a hunk of meat thrown onto a cast iron skillet. He fed me a small piece and it was nothing I recognized. I asked him what it was, and he asked, “Remember that deer?” And it tasted of pain and fear. It tasted of violence. I spat it out. 

The moon guided us to water, as she is wont to do, and the rushing sound plummeting past wet, slick stone drowned our voices. We left our clothes on the dirt embankment and swam in silver flecked streams, our bodies glowing green underwater and star white on top. I watched him there, standing in a warrior’s pose on an outcropping of rocks among the frothy water, drunk on apples, and admired every inch of his marble-carved body. Maybe I was drunk on apples, too. Everything began to wobble, so we went back to his tent. He laid down, just another naked body in the summer night, his skin still cold from the green river. The moon cast his skin gray as he laid there on a slab of earth, no modesty, just the thin floor of his tent. I covered his face with my palm, his breath heavy, fog caught in my lifeline, obscuring love, and lust; my tongue a scalpel plunging deep into him. I wondered at his muscles quaking with each scream, stealing the silence of the night until I was full.

Ryan Norman (he/him) is a queer writer from New York living in the Hudson Valley. Ryan enjoys swimming in mountain lakes and climbing tall things. He is a contributing editor of creative nonfiction with Barren Magazine. His work has appeared in From Whispers to Roars, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Black Bough Poetry, Hobart, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. His micro chapbook I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A BOND GIRL is forthcoming with The Daily Drunk (2021). You can find him on Twitter @RyanMGNorman or

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

Read Next: THE PENCIL TEST by Grace Loh Prasad