Fiction from NER 36.3
Up to now she’s never thought of the danger animals present to her personally. She has a working knowledge of such words as trample, maul, swarm, impale, but she’s never imagined in her own life they would pertain. It’s true that the town has become more or less overrun with whitetail deer—on the golf course when she drives by with her mom on the way to swim meets, in the yard every day eating everything, the mothers and young in daytime and at dusk, among the trees, in the shadows and in the sweep of the highbeams, and the carcasses of them, broken on the shoulder, like dirty laundry, or else eviscerated beyond comparison to anything. The twitchy does, the fawns nearly grown. Clemmie at ten and a half has seen her first buck. At ten and a half she’s become something of an early riser. She’s begun to have trouble sleeping. In her house she’s often the first to wake and, in the robe that bears her initials but has become too short to truly be hers, she steeps what is commonly known as herbal tea but is more properly referred to as a tisane or an infusion. According to her brother. Mint in the warmer months, although she’s begun her transition to chamomile. It was chamomile this morning, chilly but not too cold to sit outside in the air, robe but no slippers even, to feel the brick night-damp beneath her feet, begin to remember her dreams. She’d been thinking about deer. It was difficult to explain how it felt, to see them. They were wild animals. It seemed certain that they had thoughts, though she understood this to be impossible. Their flanks when they walked, the hitch in their stride, very slight, unlike horses, or dogs, and this moment she always seemed to miss when a deer in stillness became a deer in motion. They had become bold, if you drove slowly they would stare at you, into your face. In some way this was connected in her mind to her sighting of a celebrity, while visiting her brother in the city, a character in a show she’d seen many times on sleepovers, in line at the coffee place where the chocolate croissants were so good—she had looked so real. Small shoulders, clothes from a store. Not so much in relation to her televised image as in relation to the memory of her televised image. And it was in fact at a sleepover that she’d tried to express this. That it was somehow the same, for her, with deer. Sonia with a mouthful of yogurt had said that literally deers were the new squirrels. Clemmie had been thinking about this. She was a child and children liked to see animals. With her toes she’d tried to grip the brick, this was a way of starting her blood, a slow start, in which regard her tea was useless, she knew. It was only recently that she’d been permitted to handle the kettle. She’d watched her teabag spin on its string, dripping. The brick patio was not only damp but truly cold. The air was incredibly clear but also, she thought, almost visible. There was a moment that she saw the deer and there was a separate moment that she saw the antlers. Her heart froze. It could be said that it was standing fast. They’d become bold, deer, and Clemmie had too, apparently; she approached the buck with her tea mug, having realized too late she’d forgotten to leave it, and she said to herself that she’d like to try to enjoy this. It was breathing. Its fur was hair, but very fine and dense. He—his. Head inclined. So easily he could do her harm. Utter stillness. She has no way of knowing, now only hours later, whether the picture she holds in her head of this deer is a picture of the deer she’s seen or a picture of her own creation whose purpose is to hold the place of this event in her memory. So much of her life has become this way.
“I saw a pack of wolves,” her father says. “Up north of Oneonta.”
“You saw a pack of coyotes,” her brother says. “If you saw anything.”
“That’s what the gas station guy said. I said fuck you, these were wolves.
Christopher Knapp lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, and is working on an MFA in Fiction at the University of Virginia.