Lee brought the heart home after a hunting trip, when he and his father and uncles sprayed themselves with animal urine and sat in the tamaracks, deerless, listening to leaves twitter in wind and at night mimic the frothy crash of the Atlantic. This was the first year he even shot his gun. The bullet went out of the barrel as if alive, and Lee thought of how much and how little he had cast into the world—unpaid student loans, a failed marriage, a daughter. This was the winter he sent me a chapbook by an Israeli poet who wrote about rubble and lizards. We were good friends once. The bags under his eyes were shaped like triangles.
His roommates put the deer heart in the freezer. Look what I brought you women! he kept announcing. Lee had always lived with women after growing up with only men. After I left, his new roommates were young professionals who didn’t know what they wanted. They all shared the liquor cabinet, built into the wall, that rattled open on its own accord when the snowplows squelched past outside. The porch was so crooked they couldn’t set down a glass. I was over that day to gather the rest of my things—already piled in boxes by the roommates I did not know by name and who did not look at me—and was startled to find Lee back a week early with winnings. I peered into the bag tucked in by ice trays and wontons. It was as hard as stone. It had been frozen since leaving its body. Lee was mosquito-bitten and pale from camouflage paint and tree cover. I remember his shirt being a mulch-color but in pictures it is checkered white and blue.
Lee asked me what I had killed lately. I was infamous for killing spiders in ways that looked accidental to other spiders. That was the extent of my deaths, besides the one shared between us. His roommates quietly poured bourbon, toasting the heart, waiting for me to leave. I couldn’t. Lee was someone people talked to and the world zeroed in to a fine tremulous point. Guns might as well be the deep ocean, I said. Lee said they discovered that waves at seafloor make a whistle humans can’t hear. It is thirty octaves below a piano and can be heard from space. I asked heard by whom, if humans can’t hear it, and if in space, where nothing makes a sound.
The bourbon was nice, looked like summer and tasted like December. We had a theory about how months tasted and their colors. It seemed to work best in the Northeast, where the weather was villainous. He said no wonder I had so many strong opinions. The people have to if the weather does. Lee was born on the West Coast, a childhood of bays and mountains and ancient ferns, and so his whole year was a swath of green and blue while mine a watercolor riot. After pouring us all another round I asked if he skinned the deer himself. He said yes. It was like uncovering a deer-shaped pearl.
To be fair I was drinking earlier. I liked the way drunkenness mosquito-netted the room. I liked how colors selected themselves. How do you skin one, pearls or deer? I asked.
Skull to neck to chest. Lee’s teeth seemed smaller than I remembered. I have this problem where I remember a lot but thinking about everything so much warps it over time. I don’t think about Lee any more than I do his roommates, or Israeli poets, or deer. But he warps easier. That’s why I’m telling this, so I can set it down and forget it. Then you peel. The legs have to be done separately. Have you ever broken a closed umbrella and peeled off the fabric? The head is the best and worst. You think you’re seeing through to a thing but it doesn’t look like the inside. It’s just another surface. Then you cut off the head. The deer hangs upside down on a gambrel.
His roommates left down the hallway that linked the kitchen to living room. I got up, too. I flicked the gas burner on and off. The hissing blue didn’t help. Lee neared and flipped my sweatshirt hood so it covered my eyes. He had stopped talking and the forest and deer closed up. This is how you calm a bird, he said, but I misjudged how close he was and dropped my tumbler to the floor. The shatter was silver and there came a feeling the color of cinders in my chest.
Lee swept up the glass. The liquor cabinet opened, so we went outside to watch the mounds of snow grow fluffy and gray on the sidewalks. It hadn’t snowed in the forest but here every morning we had a new foot. The snow would stay piled in the Seaport District through June of the following year, when the last of it finally melted, but we didn’t know that yet. It was still pretty to look at, had a harsh glee. Lee palmed snowballs he didn’t throw and asked abstractly about his daughter, knowing well I hadn’t gotten over November, the yellow month, when we’d sat on the same porch under a fuzzy silence of moths and she drove through the guardrail an hour later. She had begun looking more like me.
I asked what he was going to do with the heart. Lee said we could char it directly on coals. We’d clean it first, of course, remove the valves and pound it flat with a hand. Olive oil, lemon juice, shallots. What does it taste like? I hadn’t eaten meat for years but it might be nice to try again, to see how much I remembered wrong. Just to feel better I went back inside and brought it out to the porch, this cold redness into cold whiteness. It was heavier than expected but I think that now about everything.