My summer in the public sector, as I call it,
I rode with Wes up and down the county roads
looking for dead animals. The rule was that anything
from fenceline to fenceline was our responsibility.
If there were no fences our job was to imagine them,
or where they would be if they had been, as Wes put it.
Mostly we dealt with rabbits and possums, squirrels, cats,
armadillos flat as beer cans, and the other small animals
of the night, but on occasion we found bigger prey,
once a family of deer that must have been feeding in the road,
five of them as if a bomb had been tossed among them,
parts scattered for a quarter mile, one of them still breathing
until Wes went back to the truck to get the gun.
The most surprising thing, the most stunning, the worst,
was a mule on County Road 5, hit by a gravel truck going 80,
as Wes reconstructed it. It might have been lying there
in the weeds in the right-hand ditch for more than a week,
and a week in August is not kind to a dead mule.
I fetched the rope while Wes tried to scare away the vultures,
and we heaved it over, which would have been a mistake
if there had been another way. I said we ought to let the birds
have it for another week, get it down to a manageable size,
but Wes said we were being paid to protect the public health,
not run a wildlife preserve, so he sent me to the truck
for the chain saw, and we tied kerchiefs around our faces,
and set in by the side of the road to butcher a week-dead mule,
down to pieces I could carry far enough to toss in the truck.
We left some of the softer parts as sort of an offering to the birds,
and headed straight for the dump, where most of what we found
was buried at once by a man with a bulldozer and a sack of lime.
It was 4 o’clock when we finished with the mule, and I was ready
to call it a day, figuring the mule was worth some sort of bonus,
but Wes said we had to give the county a full day’s work
for a full day’s pay, no matter that we were on our own out here,
just us and the stinking roadkill, and we still had to look ourselves
in the mirror every morning, so we went back out Route 10
and found a skunk and a fox and something I never saw before,
that Wes said he believed to be a badger, maybe the last
one in the county for all he knew, right there dead and “dead for good,”
as Wes said, after he shoveled it up and hurled it into the truck himself.