photo of a deer

Fool’s Gold by Kathryn van Beek

In summer, when the tussock is gilded by light, Hamish and I run Prospector’s Lodge in our old gold rush town. We’re known for our venison pies. 

In autumn, before the town turns white, Hamish hitches the converted horse trailer to our campervan, and we go mining for the farming dollar. This will be my last season for a while. It’s taken five years and twenty-three thousand dollars, but at last we’ve got a mini All Black baking. 

We start with jobs in Ranfurly and Palmerston. It’s shaping up to be a hard winter, and the farmers aren’t happy with the news we deliver. We spend an icy night in Oamaru, where our trailer attracts the attention of local steampunks. A man in a top hat admires the neat rows of rivets on the steel encasement, not knowing that the technology within is far from Victorian. I go to bed with a hat on, and still wake up cold. We drink steaming instant coffees on the campervan step before driving to our next job.

It’s one of those farms with a sign out the front: Abortion stops a beating heart. It’s ironic, given the circumstances, but we’re just here to provide information. We’re not here to judge. The farmer stomps through the mud towards us. 

‘I’ve had a heck of a time with foetal wastage,’ he says, instead of saying hello. 

‘Ian?’ I ask, extending a hand. He shakes it.

‘Embryo transfers. Waste of bloody money.’

Hamish sets up the trailer. Ian’s teenagers jump on quad bikes, round up the deer hinds and herd them through the crush. They struggle past me one by one, and I scan their bellies. Ian stands nearby with two cans of paint. Pregnant hinds get green dots. Barren hinds get red dots. Pregnant hinds with smaller, less profitable foetuses get red dots.  

The quad bikes buzz away and Ian trudges off into a shed. Hamish slides the scanner under my jacket. 

‘How’s our little fawn?’ he asks. We both look at the screen. The last time we did this, the image on the monitor danced. Today, it’s a frozen lake. 

‘Fuck,’ Hamish says. He throws the scanner on the ground. He packs up the trailer, kicks it shut, and then kicks it again. I stare down at the chocolatey earth coagulating around my gumboots. 

Ian emerges from the shed and approaches me, one hand outstretched. 

‘For you,’ he says, handing me a shrink-wrapped package. 

‘Thank you,’ I say. 

I hold the venison to my chest. The wind is sharp against my fingers. 

Kathryn van Beek studied writing at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters and at the Creative Hub, New Zealand. She has won several awards for her plays and short stories. Her work has been anthologised in Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand and No. 8 Wire: 8 Plays/8 Decades. Kathryn is the ‘momager’ of internet sensation Bruce the Cat, and she wrote and illustrated the children’s book Bruce Finds a Home about his exploits. Kathryn lives in Dunedin, where she is engaged in doctoral study on the topic “writing to change the world.” Visit her on Twitter, Facebook, or her website.

Lead image: “Parcul de Animale – “Moara de Vant” (via Flickr user Cristian Bortes)