Jordan Fennell – "Becoming"

The donkey, speckled with mud and slashes of seeping wounds, lies on her side in the hard-falling sun. Eyes wide, yellow, glassed over and thick with film, tongue curving into the mud. Mud webs her long eyelashes together. Dirty water fills one nostril. Her teeth are splayed, dark yellow at the roots, growing whiter as they jut out of her spotted gums like bones climbing out of their graves.

The boy squats in the soup of earth bulging between his toes. A brown ring of stain circles his straw hat. He pulls the brim down just above his sweat-dewed brows while the sun cooks off the last of the morning fog. Steam twists up from puddles all around him, fading into nothing.

The screen door slams shut behind him. He hears boots clop on the front porch, then a wet sucking sound crossing the yard, the muted thud of soles landing like teeth sinking into soft flesh. He looks over his shoulder at the man standing behind him, a black shape rimmed with a rind of sun.

Yellow flies dart across the swollen, scarred belly of the donkey. They scatter as the boy traces his thumb along a vein standing out from the flesh, full of still-warm, clabbered blood.

“What you reckon done this, daddy?” says the boy.

The man walks around the donkey, looking at the jagged flaps of flesh crusted with cooling blood, the throat a gnarled bramble of meat. Sets of tracks in the mud form loose constellations around her.

“Dogs,” says the man. He circles around the donkey and stands beside the boy. “Buzzards’ll be coming ‘fore long.”

The boy nods. He leans forward on the balls of his feet, touches the stomach. It shudders like a child waking under a pile of quilts in the dead of winter.

He draws back his hand.

The man turns and runs for the barn, slinging mud from his boot-heels. The boy falls backward. He sits in his overalls in the mud for a moment, then pushes away from the donkey. He struggles to his feet and follows the fast-filling footprints across the donkey pen and through the gnawed wooden gate, sun-bleached the color of bones.

Through the slack slats of the barn he sees the shape of the man, hears slamming of feed bags, the scraping of steel on steel, smells the holed-up smell of things used hard and thrown out of sight with work still on them. The man comes out, running, with a pair of pliers in one hand and a skinning knife in the other.

They squat beside the donkey with the sun warming them as they work. The brown-stained ring around the boy’s hat is wet all the way through. He watches blood run down the man’s elbows, drip off into water and earth as he slices the hide with the knife. When the stink of the warm insides reaches him, the boy hides his mouth and nose in the crook of his arm. He hands the man the pliers and gets them back, thick with blood and chunks of flesh and matted hair. He follows the knife with his eyes, watching the glint of sunlight disappear deep under the hide and ignite again as it comes out.

The man peels back the stomach-skin like a funeral shroud from the folded-legged body, its face and neck thick with mucus. They pull it from the womb, scraping off what is not needed, taking off their shirts to wipe the things that have kept it alive away from its face so that it may live.

The boy cradles its head in his arms while the first sputtering breaths wrack its body. Its nostrils flare. It grins, rolling back the now articulate lips, barring new teeth, gums pink and spotless.

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