This Way Home

— Shuly Xóchitl Cawood

A few feet from the road: a deer on its side, legs stiff and sticking out, as if someone had tipped it over with one nudge when it should have taken a calamity to barrel it down. All it took was one person’s rushed journey, cut short by something you never saw coming.

I know this way home to Ohio, out of Tennessee and taking 23 on the Eastern side of Kentucky, the highway like a crack up and down the state.

There’s another, on the berm, white puff of tail. How long ago? This morning? Last night? That’s two if you are counting, which I am not.

I drive in and out of Pikeville, Prestonsburg, Paintsville, all these places not so far from where my father kicked stones as a boy, stuck his head between the stairs, lit the lawn on fire instead of mowing it, almost blazed the house, too. Such wild and daring youth.

I pass yellow, fallow fields.

Another, and another, rigor mortis long set in. That’s four if you are counting, which I tell myself not to do. It’s pointless to add up the things that will outnumber me.

Towns with shuttered windows squint at me as I travel through. A train rattles along, pulling rusted cars, paralleling this highway that is at once too long and never long enough.

My father calls, asking where I am, what mile. I’m not exactly lost, just not keeping track of my location. I’m at a rest area, I tell him. The wind is picking up leaves and scattering them the way we do so many of our days. Grey clouds growl and grow.

Another deer, knocked over, hoofs off the ground. Five if I were—but I am not. Cities rise and fall in front of, behind me. For rent, for lease, for sale, what in heaven’s name doesn’t diminish in value?

I’m almost there, I want to tell my father, who is no longer on the phone.

Rain quenches my journey’s thirst.

A sixth deer, dead on the side of the road, if any of us are counting, which we all eventually do.

I press the accelerator as one does luck—hard if you are willing.

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