The Smell of Other People's Hou - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

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I can’t stop remembering the way things were back then. How my father hunted for our food. How he’d hang the deer in the garage to cure and how the deer’s legs would splay out when its belly was sliced open, its hooves pointy like a ballerina’s toes. I watched him dozens of times as he cut the meat off the animal’s backside. I can still hear how the knife sounded when metal scraped bone. Backstrap was the best cut, my favorite, and Daddy sliced it off the deer’s spine as beautifully as Mama curled ribbons on presents. He carried the fresh meat to the house in his bare hands, blood dripping all the way from the garage and across Mama’s shiny linoleum to the kitchen sink.

Sometimes Daddy would bring me a still-warm deer heart in a bowl and let me touch it with my fingers. I would put my lips to it and kiss its smooth, pink flesh, hoping to feel it beating, but it was all beat out. Mama would call him Daniel Boone as she laughed into his bare neck and he twirled his bloody fingers through her hair and they danced around the kitchen. Mama was the kind of person who put wildflowers in whiskey bottles. Lupine and foxglove in the kitchen, lilacs in the bathroom. She smelled like marshy muskeg after a hard rain, and even with blood in her hair, she was beautiful.

My easel was set up on the counter, so I could watch Mama cook the meat while I painted in the tutu Daddy had brought me from one of his many trips Outside. It had matching pink ballet slippers that I wore constantly, even to bed. Mama buttoned one of Daddy’s big flannel shirts over me so I wouldn’t ruin my special tutu. It hung all the way down to my toes; the long sleeves were rolled up so many times, it was like having big, bulging cinnamon rolls for arms. I tried to make red that was the same color as the red in Mama’s hair, but mostly I mixed everything together and got brown.

Daddy often said things I didn’t understand, like if statehood passed we would probably lose all of our hunting rights and the Feds would run everything into the ground. My five-year-old brain thought statehood was a new car, one with a really big front end. I didn’t know who the Feds were, but Daddy seemed to think they were going to tell people how much venison and salmon they would be allowed to eat. Mama’s belly had grown big and round, which even I knew meant another mouth to feed. Daddy would pull up her shirt and kiss her ballooned stomach the same way I had kissed the deer heart.

“Is it all beat out?” I asked him. Her belly was as white as the underside of a doe.

“This one’s definitely still beating,” he said. “No worries there.”

Statehood turned out to be not a new car but something much, much bigger, and Daddy had to fly to Washington, DC, to try and stop it—a place where he had to show his passport just to get off the plane, and nobody hunted or fished, and he had to buy new shoes to go to a meeting to talk about why Alaskans didn’t want statehood. Except for the ones who did, and they were not my daddy’s friends.

He told me that most people didn’t pay that much attention to stuff that happened in Washington, DC, but Alaskans would be sorry when Outside people started making decisions for us. I didn’t know who these Outside people were, but I hoped I would never, ever meet them.

When the letter arrived in an envelope stamped with a flag I’d never seen before, Mama read it with shaking hands. I watched her lips moving without any sound, but I knew whatever it said was bad because she fell over clutching her belly, making sounds that I’d only heard from wild animals, deep in the woods.

Lily was born the day after the letter arrived, and I don’t think Mama ever really saw her at all, because when I looked at Mama’s eyes after the birth, they were blank. The nurse asked what the baby’s name would be, and when Mama said “Lily” I thought she was staring at the flowers next to her bed, not the pink lump wrapped in a hospital blanket, screaming as if she didn’t want to be here, either. Gran had