The Side of the Road
A couple of times a month I travel to a town about an hour and a half away. It’s a lovely drive—full of rolling hills, hardwoods in an abundance I don’t see in my own pine-filled county, sprawling horse farms and tobacco fields. The road I take is well-traveled but not an interstate; it’s one I can relax on and take in the scenery.
Yesterday as I was driving on this stretch, it came to my attention that the side of the road was littered with carnage. Dead bodies. Dead deer, dead possum, dead something I couldn’t identify, and dead dog. Some of the bodies were intact and all had been moved to the side of the road—which I suppose is something. There were three things that struck me about this scene: one, the dog was still there three hours later on my drive home; two, there were bits of fur and skin here and there as if someone had not done a thorough job of cleaning up; and three, there were men working on building another road right next to most of the bodies.
Which brings me to another memory. A few years ago, I was driving to work in my town and found a cat lying in the middle of the road. I pulled over and walked over to the cat. He was still warm, but I couldn’t see him breathing. I gathered him in a blanket I’d had in my trunk and laid him on my back seat. About four feet away from all of this, there were two guys working on the side of the road. Before I drove off, I asked them if they hadn’t seen the cat lying in the road, practically under their noses. They told me they couldn’t do anything about it. It wasn’t their job, they said. I yelled back, “It’s everybody’s job!” I drove off to my vet, where she pronounced the cat dead and offered to give him some dignity by properly burying him.
Not that I’m always so high-minded. Yesterday, when I saw the dog on the side of the road, I didn’t stop either. I wasn’t sure where the nearest vet was, nor did I want to be late. And I’m sure the hundreds of cars driving by on that same road held various people who had just as many excuses, lame or not. Looking back, I wish now I had stopped. I wish I had had a blanket in my car to lay over him. And of course, I wish the impossible: I wish I had been able to save him to begin with.
The last wild animal I saw on that drive was a deer, alive, grazing on a hill on the side of the road. I thought of that vision as a gift—deserved or not.
- Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, and Pank, among others, and forthcoming from Gargoyle #57 and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. For two years I worked as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. Currently, I serve as a mentor for Dzanc's Creative Writing Sessions. I'm working on two novels and a short story collection. In May, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.