In Line

Gray sky slouches, angry and resigned. Refusing to reveal any texture or hint of where the sun may lie. Under that gray sky, we sit.

Smear of forest rides the distant hills, a blackened brown lined by cracks of snow. Hints of the evergreen are invisible at a distance, and it all looks dead. Or, at least, it looks like it’s trying to die. The winter still sits with us. Sky through the branches looks like nothing. A white void.

The trees are just trying to do their best, though, reaching scraggly arms to the featureless plain above. Down at their mossy trunks, the dry brambles play.

Old boards of the hunting stand are held on the wounded trunk with old rusted nails. The plywood of it bends like a forgotten promise to pay you back, from a friend you know never will, rotting with resentment and the creaks of old age.

The hunters: our breath a silent summons. An unpleasant scent of warm beer and sweat. The smell becomes a blanket for us, and the long-gone wind refuses to wake up and carry it off.

In the stillness, the deer stands framed by black oak trunks against the muddy snow. Raises its head to become a better self. Twitches in the stillness, no sound, our breath held in now, our smell retracted, praying it does not alert our prey.

The bullet flees from a resounding clash. A tiny explosion in its beliefs sends it buzzing through the stillness. An invisible knife, a murderous orbit, an accidental insult you can’t take back.

Entering the flesh, the bullet rearranges the poetry of the deer into poorly-written comedy. We would cringe if we could see the havoc up close, but we are far away. Under the same gray sky, but far, far away now.

Blood cells on high alert rush to the scene of the wound. The pumping heart of the deer as it recoils in pain sends a red river down its haunch. Through the matted tangles of a forest in miniature, each hair a tiny tree, an un-dammed river of red splashes downward.

Except these burnt-black trees are on an earth that is upside-down, and dying. A droplet forms. A dark bright red, the color of candy. The color of a woman’s lipstick when she wants to be seen as someone else. Transparent, holding a precious cargo of blood cells, the globe cuts its surface tension. It falls from the struggling deer, unnoticed.

The drop of blood falls through the still air towards the snowy ground. Within it, the blood cells desperately try to gauge the situation. Should we attempt to coagulate? Yes. There is so much air here. But where are the rest of our forces? Where is our host? And now what is this cold, cold crystalline shore we’ve crashed upon?

Star-shaped crystal snowflakes form a colorless beach, a sculpture garden at microscopic scale, and the deer’s blood seeps out into it. A tiny circle of red in the white, unreal spreading there within the brown black forest under the distant gray sky.

Look closer. The crystalline structures and frozen palaces of the winter’s art are formed from water molecules, locked in their icy dance. But the warmth of the vibrating blood begins to loosen their bonds. The water and the red blood begin to mingle, melting outward.

We follow the trail of pink through the muddy snow.