Driving north of here, through a corridor of orange-hued tamarack, on the outskirts of a small and nearly empty little town, the boys and I come across a dead deer. A little button buck, two of its legs folded at unlikely angles from impact. Still fresh, so we heft it into the back of the truck and carry on. When we return home, our younger son begins to butcher the deer while I go back to work at the farm down the road, where I’ve been trenching for water and power lines.
I like this work, the utilitarian simplicity of it, the pleasure of the fresh dug trench and the towering piles of the displaced soil at its side. The farm owner’s younger daughter arrives home from school, and I invite her onto the excavator with me, folding my creased palms over her small hands atop the controls. Offering her the illusion of control.
I know this girl and like her, she’s a pistol, a real live wire, my kind of kid, and I wonder if she’ll notice that it’s really me directing the machine, and if so, if she’ll complain. But no. She seems content to let me do the driving, to let her hands stay still and soft under mine, accepting our shared, unspoken illusion.
Or maybe not. Maybe, in that way kids so often understand things they don’t know they understand, she knows the truth most adults spend their lives attempting to deny: That control is always an illusion. Maybe it is she who’s accommodating my need to believe I’m in control, rather than the other way ’round. I think briefly of the deer, of the moment of impact, the leg bones splintering. They must have made a sound.
The digging is almost finished. The girl and I climb off the machine. She thanks me and jumps across the trench, sticks her landing, scampers away. I need to head home. There are still chores to be done, and it gets dark so early now.