Poking at Dead Things
Dahlia never met a dead thing she didn’t want to poke, or nudge with the toe of her sneaker, or flip over with a stick. If someone were watching she’d do it sheepishly, act like it disgusted her, act like it was the first time she’d ever been this close to a dead thing. But it never was. There had been lots of other times: the slim, brown deer legs sticking out of the snow bank, the harbor seal washed up on the beach with half its bony jaw exposed where the flesh had been ripped away, the mice her cat caught and dropped on the bed still warm and limp, the squirrel that had fallen onto the asphalt from the telephone wire overhead. The crows tugged at that morsel, fighting for the tastiest parts until she passed by on her walk, scaring them away temporarily. Several passing cars scared Dahlia away too. On her return a half hour later, only a fluffy red tail and yellowed rodent teeth in a gape-mouthed head remained for her examination.
She’d once felt the rush of adrenaline as she followed a bloody trough through fresh December snow. It led her down the hill, off the packed trail to where a hunter had recently left for the coyotes that which he didn’t want. The crimson entrails were not yet frozen, organs and vessels still nuanced in color and texture. She looked around for a stick, started to break a small branch off of a nearby tree but stopped short. This wasn’t dead enough yet. The clean, organic smell of blood still wafted from the neatly arranged innards. The fragile curves and bulges of what should be protected inside flesh and bone still glistened with life barely gone.
Dahlia felt nervous and vulnerable, like the hunter might suddenly return to scare her away from what belonged to the scavengers now. She'd taken off her gloves and laid them carefully on the snow next to her knees. She reached up inside her winter layers and placed her warm, damp left hand against her belly, felt it rise and fall with her breath. Adrenaline-jacked blood pumped up through the carotid artery in her neck; it thumped in her ears. The cold December air quickly chilled her right hand as she cupped it against the perfectly contained mass of guts on the snow in front of her. The lingering warmth she’d hoped to feel there existed only in her imagination.