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Transfigured Night

ISSUE:  Winter 2014

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

My new boss, Chick, was a morbidly obese manic off his meds who hailed from a tiny town I’d never heard of—​Wassily, Louisiana—​a town so small, Chick claimed, the shotgun shacks only had space for pistols. In summers, he told me, you wished for a pistol to shoot your wife or maybe end it all, what with the stillborn air, the chiggers, the mold. I told him my family had lived without air-​conditioning in DC until I was nine, so I knew something about swampy heat. He didn’t respond—​he practically ignored me—​and I didn’t mention the tiny brick house, which was still superior to anything that might be called a shack.

Chick was a private consultant, but what anyone might be consulting him about was a mystery. I kept his calendar, I wrote his correspondence, I made charts, and I brought him foot-​long Italian subs for lunch, dripping with oil and vinegar and shedding lettuce, which he consumed in three large bites. He was a neat eater, though. When he was done, no evidence remained because he always disposed of his food trash in my office garbage can instead of his. He’d walk into my office on some pretense, holding the crumpled oily brown paper and the Styrofoam clamshell, slyly drop it in the trash, and leave. I’d smell mortadella for the rest of the day. 

Working for Chick was a serious demotion from the work I’d been doing at Furlong, a defense contractor, but I’d had to find something else quickly. It was for a good reason: I was getting married. 

I met Devin at Furlong. He was an engineer with a high-​level security clearance. Before we were engaged, he designed an airplane that flew sorties in Desert Storm. There was a scale model on the coffee table in what used to be Devin’s but what was now our apartment. I’d teased him about the plane being a design feature in the apartment and suggested we hang an open parachute from the ceiling. Devin wasn’t amused. I was proud of him about the plane, even though I hadn’t agreed with the war, which everyone seemed to know was only about Kuwait’s oil, but at Furlong we pretended that it wasn’t, that it had been a noble cause. 

Our boss at Furlong gave us symphony tickets for a wedding gift, a season of concerts to go with our newlywed year. He also gave us a letter that said one of us had to leave. The company didn’t allow employees to be married; it was a security risk. I laughed when I read that part—​“security risk.” Because wasn’t it a security risk to draw diagrams of military planes while in the audience at a concert hall? Devin never knew when he’d get an idea for a project he was working on. Even at the symphony, he’d scribble these diagrams in the program, then tear out the pages and stick them in his suit jacket. I’d find the pages when I took the jacket to the cleaners. He’d come home from work and say, “Have you seen—​” And I’d say, “Sorry, I sold them to the Russians,” and then I’d hand him the papers. 

I was the one who left Furlong, because I was only an assistant. I wasn’t broken up about leaving, but it was unfair. Devin might have at least offered to be the one to go. Even if he didn’t mean it, and we both knew it would be the wrong decision. The thing about Devin, he was always just exactly who he was. To suggest something he didn’t mean to follow through on wouldn’t even occur to him. He wouldn’t have understood the point. This was one of the qualities I liked about him when we first started dating. I still did. Most of the time.

“Maybe we shouldn’t get married,” I’d said to Devin when we first got that letter. I was half-​afraid he’d take me seriously, but that didn’t stop me from making the joke. I wanted to get married. And I’d decided that Devin must be The One, or pretty damn close, because he didn’t pin me by the wrists to keep me still when we were having sex, nor did he have a job that would ever be described using the word “gig.” He wasn’t a thrill ride—​he was reliable, he was true, he had a quiet strength. Marrying was supposed to be about settling down, which I imagined as even-​tempered contentment; in marriage, I was convinced, “exciting” really spelled “disaster.” And I thought Devin would make a good father, if that situation came up, since as I well knew, it could come up despite my intentions to the contrary. He would be a good example for a child—​a better example than I’d proved to be so far. 

I was as sure about Devin as I could have been. He, on the other hand, had not consistently demonstrated a certainty equal to mine. He gave me a few clues, but they were just veiled references to a shared future. “Someday we’ll go to Dubrovnik,” he’d promised. “Someday I’ll teach you to drive a stick.” Until one day, down on one knee and the whole thing. What took him so long? I didn’t ask. When someone asks you to marry him, “What took you so long, buster?” isn’t a welcome reply. Later, I got around to asking myself if that silent waiting had been a mistake on my part. Because if that was our first big decision together, shouldn’t we have talked about it in more concrete terms? 

A year and a month later, the idea of a husband was still strange to me. It was hard to say it—​“husband”—​without feeling like I was acting, or like I was one of those gushy women who waves her ring finger around to her single friends when it’s already old news. Did little girls still play house? “You pour the tea while I rock the baby to sleep.” I’d never played those games. I felt like I was playing them now. 

A week ago, Chick handed me a hundred dollars in cash, bonus pay for a project that went overtime. And then, a day ago, he called me a “huge fucking disappointment,” because of a typo in one of the letters I wrote for him. My degree was in cultural anthropology, knowledge I had yet to apply in any formal way unless you counted trenchant observations about bosses in their sociocultural context. I didn’t remember Clifford Geertz mentioning the significance of typing skills in his essay about cockfighting. 

That afternoon, I walked to the sub shop in a daze, Chick’s epithet still ringing in my skull. The sullen teenage boy behind the counter, playing drums with the breadsticks, snickered and jabbed his hot sister with his elbow when she handed me the order.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“My brother thinks you’re skinny for eating one of those every day,” she said.

“It’s not for me,” I said. “It’s for Chick.” 

They looked at each other. “Chick told us you’d say that,” said the boy. 

“You believed him?” I asked. 

“Too skinny even though you barf it up,” the boy said, and stuck his finger in his gaping mouth and made authentic gagging sounds, while his eyes bulged as if he might really vomit any second.

“Chick said I do that?” I asked. That asshole. I didn’t make myself vomit. That was over long before Chick knew me. 

“Glarg,” the boy gagged harder. 

“Marco,” said his sister, smacking him on the arm. “Sorry for him,” she told me. Then she leaned over the counter and said, “He’s a little slow.” She tapped her temple with a bright pink fingernail. “He says things, he doesn’t know any better,” she said. “He doesn’t mean it.” 

I watched him lumber away, the lumpy gait, the odd slant of his shoulders and tilt of his head—​I was surprised I hadn’t noticed before.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I have a sister like that.”

Her eyes popped a little. “You do?” she said. “We should introduce them.”

“Oh that’s nice,” I said. “But my sister’s a little old for him.” He looked to be around seventeen. My sister was already Devin’s age, thirty-​three.

She looked terribly disappointed to hear that. Another person I’d disappointed in the space of a couple of hours. I bought a jar of Nutella because I felt bad about the whole thing, and then I thanked them and left. 

When I’d announced that Devin and I were getting married, my sister had said, “The eldest daughter is supposed to get married first.” Her vision of the world was black and white and based primarily on what she read, which she accepted as fact no matter where she read it, from USA Today to LaRouche campaign brochures. 

My mother, on the other hand, was perfectly mentally able, or so I’d been led to believe. She’d puffed on her cigarette and said in an approving stage whisper, “He wears socks.” 

“Why do we have Nutella?” asked Devin, his head in the refrigerator.

We were supposed to be leaving for the symphony soon, but he was still in his undershirt. When he put on a dress shirt, I could see the V-​neck of the undershirt beneath it. Devin’s disinterest in preening was another one of those qualities I initially found endearing. It was becoming difficult to separate the approvals from the disapprovals and small matters from big ones, all of it getting heaped into a big basket of frustration. It occurred to me that because I was hating my job, a lot of other things were going to frustrate me. 

“I have to leave my job,” I said.

“Again?” asked Devin.

“My boss is a nutcase,” I said. 

“That’s not an attractive word,” he said. He could be so prim. When we met, I’d had enough of the fast-​talking charming types who couldn’t sit still long enough for a relationship. I liked that Devin was serious. Except—​

“I’m sorry,” I said. “My boss is a bilious troglodyte. His monogrammed cuffs are stained with mustard, and he’s a bad tipper. He calls welfare mothers ‘lazy leeches on society,’ and he stares at my chest. Better?”

Devin stared at my face. “Calm down,” he said. “It doesn’t help to get worked up about it.”

“See, that’s where we differ,” I said. “I think getting worked up is perfectly normal, even required, in this situation. It’s not normal to always be so controlled. When I was a kid, my friend’s mom died of an aneurysm. From holding it all in. All of a sudden, pfffft,” I said. “She was forty.”

“I’m not normal?” he asked.

It’s,” I said. 

“This is an opportunity to examine our goals,” Devin said in his lecturing voice.

“Okay,” I said. Our goals?

“I don’t think you should keep working for someone who treats you that way,” he said. “I agree with that.”

“Thank you,” I said. 

“We’ve talked about other choices, too,” he said. 

He meant children. How could he talk to me about having children and at the same time make me feel like a child?

“I want to go back to school. I need at least a master’s, maybe a Ph.D., to be employable.” 

Devin had a master’s in engineering. 

“A Ph.D. in what?” he asked. “What about kids?”

“I don’t think I can get a graduate degree in childbearing.” 

He wanted me to go off the pill. It was the same argument we’d had before. Though we’d had only a year of marriage to pick our fights, I couldn’t help believing that we’d already settled into them in a way that would last. I’d told him I didn’t want children. I’d told him why—​my sister. I’d told him that I’d seen the deceptive snowballs that life could aim at you, the ones packed with a big rock in the center. My sister was once a beautiful chubby baby—​I’d seen the photographs. Nothing about her at that time indicated the problems that lay ahead.

“I don’t want to be one of those old dads who can’t keep up on the playground,” he said.

“You’re hardly old,” I said. “But you might want to let your hair down in the emotive department, so you don’t get an aneurysm on the playground.” 

But he refused to be goaded. “It’s not going to happen again,” he said, meaning I wasn’t going to have a child like my sister. As if he could predict that.

A child like my sister. My parents were counting on me to supervise my sister’s life when they were no longer able. Sometimes I wondered if they’d decided to have a second child in order to make sure their fragile firstborn would always have a keeper. When I married Devin, their relief had been palpable, as if marriage had suddenly turned me into someone selfless and reliable. 

“You can be stubborn, Miranda,” said Devin. 

“Thanks, but I don’t need your permission.” 

He puffed out his cheeks and released the air in a chuff of exasperation. How could I have once found that tic endearing? 

He walked away. “I’m getting dressed,” he called from the bedroom.

The specter of my sister wasn’t the whole story behind my resistance to having children. I didn’t tell him that I’d had the chance for a child once, a chance I’d rejected for the best and worst reasons, and I didn’t know if I’d ever want another. 

We got to the concert just in time, Devin driving too fast, his one dangerous habit. I didn’t mind; in fact, it was a turn-​on, the feel of the speeding car, the lack of control, watching Devin let go for once. We took our seats in the Red Room, what I called the concert hall—​red velvet, red flat carpet, red satin ceiling, like being inside a giant heart. We were formal and overly solicitous with each other, both of us afraid to cause further offense. I put my hand on his wrist. 

The music began, and Devin held my hand. With his other hand, he took up the binoculars to look at the cellist, and my warm feelings dissipated. I didn’t know her name; I called her Brenda Starr because of her long red hair. Devin didn’t know that I knew he watched her. What were binoculars if not a device to permit intimate study without actual intimacy? He could watch without the cellist knowing, and he could think he’d fooled me, too, our intimacy somehow also distant even though no physical lens was in our way.

Devin’s mouth opened and his grip on my hand relaxed. His Adam’s apple rose and fell, as if he took direction in his swallowing from the conductor. Devin’s slight hunch, his receded chin and prominent forehead, his thinning blond hair a little too long and looped behind his ear reminded me of a giant bird stalking its lovely prey—​because the cellist was lovely, her lush auburn hair, worn loose, brushed the sides of her instrument when she played, and her stark white décolletage was framed by her hair and the cello. But I exaggerate, because Devin was handsome in his own way, only not as much when I was angry. 

The orchestra played, and I searched the president’s box for Hillary Clinton, and Devin drew pictures in the program. I scanned the musicians to see if my favorites were there. I had my own crush on a double-​bass player I’d named Apollo, because he looked like a Greek god, someone Michelangelo might have seen fit to paint—​aquiline nose, black eyes, and close-​cropped black hair. Through our binoculars, I watched as he rubbed rosin along the bow with his pale, delicate fingers. I imagined those fingers around the reins of a chariot pulling the rising sun across the sky.

How odd that I could see him clearly through those lenses. I could make out the fine contours of his ear in as much detail as I could see Devin’s, right beside me. Our seats were orchestra left, and I had to lean at an obnoxious angle vis-​à-​vis the woman next to me in order to see Apollo, so I satisfied myself with occasional glimpses, which made him all the more attractive. As a consolation, I absorbed myself in the frenetic movements of the conductor, a man who looked like a broken-​nosed character actor playing the thug on Law & Order. And yet he had a gorgeous, talented wife, an opera singer, and he was a notorious womanizer; the soloists he invited were always beautiful women. I decided he must have a regular lover in the orchestra, and the way she gazed at him, a piteous and solemn gaze worthy of a pilgrim at a religious shrine, I could only believe his lover was Brenda Starr. 

I read the program notes on the piece that had just begun—​Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night.) I’d never heard it before. It struck me first as melodramatic, the musical equivalent of a Daphne du Maurier novel, ethereal violin arrested by the dark portent of bass. I might have been right. Here’s where it got sticky: The program told me Schoenberg had been inspired by a poem in which a man and woman take a walk at night in the woods. The woman is distraught and tells the man she’s carrying a child that isn’t his, a pregnancy from an old lover before the two had met. The man calms her worries and assures her that he’ll raise this other man’s baby as his own. 

The man and the woman lived happily ever after, or so we were meant to believe. A fairy tale. Which explained the way the music seemed to demand, and receive, its particular emotional response: Now be afraid, now relieved, now content, now love. 

In real life there were no happy endings to stories that start with a woman saying, “It’s not yours.” But something in the way the story was told inside that music made me a victim of its emotional manipulation, until I no longer felt manipulated.

Brenda Starr was in first chair for the Schoenberg. She hugged her cello, pressed its body to her body, her right breast crushed against it. The conductor wagged his fingers at her, waved her off without a glance. He pulled taffy, he scolded like a schoolmarm, and still she beamed up at him. He grasped the blank air above her head and dragged it to his chest. The musicians, all of them, instantly obeyed, swaying and purring as one animal, while he stroked them under his palm. At the end, when he pointed to direct applause to the standout performers, she wasn’t among them.

Devin and I didn’t talk much during intermission, just drank the gin and tonics we’d ordered beforehand and stared at the sea of people in seemingly identical suits and black dresses, listened to the low-​grade hum of their talk instead. I was thinking about the Schoenberg. Maybe Devin was hearing music in his head, too. I held my drink with one hand and with the other held onto Devin’s elbow, and he bent and kissed me and we went back to drinking. 

I once persuaded him to have sex with me in the laundry room at his parents’ house, before we were engaged. There was the blam blam blam of our bodies banging against the old Sears washing machine, the smell of damp towels, of something else, like old apple cores. He’d lifted me up and I could see down his back, the mole on his shoulder blade, his naked ass, his pants gathered at his feet. His parents hadn’t heard us. Their room was on the far side of the house, near the two separate ones where we were supposed to be sleeping. Sometimes I thought that was when he’d decided to marry me. 

On the way home from the concert, we were subdued, as if the mood of our earlier argument had been diluted but not entirely eliminated by the music. I was trying to play back the Schoenberg in my head. It had lulled me in a way I wasn’t used to. But in my mind it was off, misremembered, flat, sharp, lacking crescendos, as if an inept student practiced it in my brain. We drove through the park, the scenic route, though there was nothing to see in the dark. No street lights, winding road, and only one lane in each direction, woods on either side, rushing by in a blur of star-​punctured night.

Then it stopped. Something massive flew at our faces, blotted out the road, piercing squeal and screech and there was a snap and skid and bump and we were up on the grass just short of a tree, our headlights cutting into the woods and all was quiet. We sat there for what seemed like a long time, just breathing; I could hear Devin breathing. I wasn’t conscious of any other sound. We were pinned by the air bags. I moved my fingers to make sure I could, wiggled my toes inside my tight shoes.

“What the hell?” asked Devin, finally. 

“You folks all right?” asked a man outside, a voice I didn’t recognize. A white light shone through the open car window. I had to look twice to know it wasn’t the moon. Neither of us answered right away. 

Then Devin said, “I think so, yes.” And he touched my arm. “Miranda?”

“I’m okay,” I said, although I wasn’t sure. I’d had the wind knocked out of me. 

“I called it in on my CB,” said the man. 

A tree branch had punched the front windshield and was jutting into the car, dead center. 

No, not a tree branch.

A hoof.

“Oh no,” I said. I leaned on the door, as if to get out. The car felt too close to the ground.

“Stay put,” said the man outside. “Wait for an EMT.”

I couldn’t see him very well because the road was unlit, and his light half-​blinded me, and the glare of our own headlights made an obscuring aura, throwing into silhouette the thing that I was beginning to make out on the hood of our car.

“Y’all are lucky,” the man said. He pointed his light at the hood then back at us. “She’s a big one.” And then it became dark again, and I realized he was walking away, and the one sound I could hear was the rumbling of his engine. I’d assumed he was a policeman, but in the rearview mirror, which was, incredibly, still intact, I watched him walk to his pickup, several yards behind us in the grass.

There was no shoulder, and I could see now that our car was partly blocking the road. A few cars went around us. 

The man came back. “Guess you got insurance,” I heard him say, tsking over the condition of our car. 

Devin got out. “Stay here,” he said to me. I saw him look at the hood and put his hand over his mouth and walk away. That’s when I realized that what I’d thought was rain spattering the cracked windshield was actually blood.

I wasn’t going to sit there alone. If he could get out so could I. I could handle it. Devin didn’t know what I’d handled already. 

When I got out of the car, my heel sank into the grass. It had rained during the concert. My feet were instantly damp. My body felt sore, like I’d slept for too long in the wrong position. I saw that the tire on my side was flat, the wheel well and the area above were crushed like a can someone had stepped on. The deer was splayed on its side on the hood at a diagonal. It must have slid on its haunch when it landed. Its hind leg was the one that broke the windshield. Its belly rose and fell with agitated breathing. Its head rested above the grill, and I could see the white of its eye and the huge black pupil and the muzzle bright with blood. While I watched, its tongue flicked out to try and lick the blood away. There was a sigh that became a groan, and I felt Devin’s hand on my back, his arm going around me, turning me away. I’d made the sound.

“I told you to stay in the car,” he said, his arm locked around me, trapping my bent arm to my side. I bit my finger. 

Devin led me to the grassy area between our car and the pickup.

“Thank you,” I said to the stranger. “Thank you for stopping.” 

The man cleared his throat every minute or so, like a heavy smoker. His hair was long and stringy and the color of rust. He had a wide face and several days’ beard growth. I was conscious of our clothes, my long tight skirt and silk blouse, Devin and I dressed for our fancy night out, the stranger in an Army surplus jacket. Devin was tall enough to be intimidating. Just in case. He sometimes had to bend in doorways.

“You don’t have to wait,” Devin told him. 

The man had bushy eyebrows and now he raised them, like humped caterpillars. “Coulda been us, hit that deer,” he said.

“Parish?” The door of the pickup banged shut, and we all spun and looked. A woman was getting out of the passenger side. “You said you’d tell me if they were okay,” she said, coming toward us. There was a hole in the knee of her jeans and her sweater was too tight over her thick waist. Her hair was short and sticking out in places.

“Are you okay?” she asked me. She had eyes the color of slate, with dark crescents of liner smeared underneath. 

I nodded.

“Don’t do that,” said Parish. But the woman either hadn’t heard or didn’t listen, because she walked past me to the front of our car.

“Poor Bambi,” she said. “Look, she’s still breathing.”

I didn’t want to tell her that it was Bambi’s mother that gets killed. And that was by a hunter. And Bambi was a male. Like my degree, what I did know about things rarely seemed useful.

“Vick,” said Parish. “Don’t. Come on now.” And he pulled her away by the arm.

“Shouldn’t we shoot her?” asked Vick. “She’s suffering.”

“Police are coming,” said Parish.

“Maybe the police’ll shoot it?” asked Vick.

“Doubt it,” said Parish. “They don’t like the paperwork.”

“It’s not right,” said Vick.

I walked away, around their truck. There was a storage bin set into the bed of the pickup, with a big padlock on it. There were only two options for what was stored in that type of box, only two categories of items people were worried about locking up: tools, if you were a contractor; guns, if you were a hunter. 

“We were coming up the other side there, and I saw her in the road,” Vick was saying when I came back. “Doe was just standing there. She saw our lights, froze, Parish slammed the brakes.”

“She sprung away like a giant rabbit,” said Parish. “Jumped right in front of your car, hardly hit the ground before she was on your hood.” 

“That’s what it felt like,” said Devin. “Out of nowhere.”

“Parish pulled around to see if y’all were okay,” said Vick. “Coulda been us,” she said, as if no one had said it yet. She curled her arm through Parish’s arm and rubbed her belly. “He hit the brakes so hard, I hit the dash. I think I bruised my ribs.”

“Told you to wear your seatbelt,” said Parish. 

“I hate being held in,” she said to me, as if I was the one who needed to understand. “Don’t like tight places.”

“I’ve seen where the air bags don’t open,” said Parish. “Y’all are lucky in all ways but one tonight.” His glance flicked me up and down. 

“You far from home?” Vick asked. 

“Only fifteen minutes,” I said. 

Devin gave me an exasperated look that meant, Don’t tell them where we live.

“We live in Takoma,” said Vick. “Parish used to live in Georgetown. We were on our way to see friends.” 

Georgetown was the realm of buttoned-​up preppies. “Why Georgetown?” I asked. I couldn’t help myself. Devin gave me another look.

“I was in school,” said Parish. “Mechanical engineering.”

Devin perked up. “Really?” he asked. “You’re in that field?” Don’t sound so surprised, I wanted to tell him.

“Was,” said Parish. “I went overseas for a while.” 

I imagined the seemingly kindhearted Parish dropping out of his engineering program, even though he’d excelled at it, even though he could build or fix just about anything. He thought electronics were unnecessary crutches, and the microchip was for people who didn’t know how things really worked. Which was why, when his roommates, who weren’t smart, who were nothing but rich, mocked him for his Luddite pretensions, he left school. But not before leaving his tormentors a parting gift in the form of a small bomb hidden in a beer can, waiting for its pop-​top to be pulled. Parish was the Unabomber.

“Huh,” said Devin. It was almost sad how deflated he looked.

“The Army,” said Vick. “They paid his way. He was in Kuwait.” 

“Desert Storm?” I asked, like Kuwait could have meant anything else.

“Yeah,” said Parish. “Flew helicopters. And maintenance, helicopter maintenance.”

“Devin designed a plane they used there,” I said.

Devin had his arm around my waist, and when I said that he squeezed me hard like he wanted to cut off my breathing.

“You did,” said Parish. It didn’t sound like a question. “The F-​23?”

“Yes, that one,” I said, but Devin was saying, “No.”

“I guess I had it wrong,” I said. But the plaque on the model in our apartment said Operation Desert Storm, F-​23. Devin’s department had given it to him in 1991, shortly before we were engaged.

“Mine was a prototype,” said Devin. “Never flew.”

The police car pulled up with its flashing redlight. A tow truck showed up a few minutes later. The policeman shined his flashlight over our car for a perfunctory second, and then the men conferred. 

Vick and I walked around the car and stood in the headlights. Three giant birds, black and gaunt with red bald spots and large hooked beaks had landed in the grass nearby. 

“Turkey vultures,” said Vick. “A doe that size has a lot of meals in it.”

“Won’t they at least wait until it’s dead?” I said.

“Sure,” she said. “But it’s too good to waste on them.”

“You mean you’d eat that deer?” 

“Why not?” 

“I didn’t know you could eat the deer that lived around here,” I said, knowing how it sounded even as I said it.

“You think there are special ones they make just for cooking?” asked Vick, and laughed until she was bent over.

“I guess that was pretty stupid.”

“It’s all right, honey,” said Vick. “I needed a laugh.”

“There are too many deer,” said Parish, returning. “But you don’t like them to suffer.”

“Isn’t he sensitive?” asked Vick, still laughing.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“We took over their land with two-​car garages,” I said. “And then we’re surprised when they walk in front of a car.” 

“That’s not funny,” said Parish.

“Never mind,” I said. I wandered off, making divots in the grass with my spikey heels.

“What’s with her?” I heard Parish say behind me.

I thought of my sister, the other suffering deer. Just by being alive, she threatened the life I wanted for myself. I resented her, and I didn’t think much of myself for that.

I went up to Devin, where he was talking with the tow-​truck driver. 

“Go sit in the back of the police car,” said Devin. “He’ll take us home as soon as this guy can move the car. Looks like we’re going to need a new one. What kind do you want? Maserati? Lotus?”

“Who cares,” I said. 

“You hate that car,” said Devin. “I thought you’d be glad to get a new one.”

He was right. I never liked the car. It was an old Taurus. 

“If it wasn’t such a tank,” said Devin, “things might be much worse right now.” 

“Right,” I said. “I’m glad the deer killed our crappy car.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous,” he said. “Again.”

“You had to get that in, didn’t you?” 

“We’re not doing this here,” he said. 

I glanced around and saw that Parish and Vick were pointedly not looking in our direction.

“Where should we do it then?” I asked.

“Shush,” said Devin.

“Shush?” I asked. “Like I’m an infant?”

“I don’t know,” said Devin. “I only know you don’t want one.” He started to turn away, and then turned back to me and said, “Only selfish people don’t want children.” 

Right away, he looked stunned that he’d said it. I backed away, and my heel got stuck. I slid my foot out of my shoe and left the shoe there, hobbled to the police car, and got into the back seat. 

“Please take me home,” I said. “My husband wants to stay with the car. The truck driver will bring him home.”

The policeman peered over his seat at me. “You okay, ma’am?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

I saw through the windshield that Devin was looking at the police car, but I knew the headlights’ glare would keep him from seeing me. 

“Ma’am, why don’t you look down at the seat now and cover your ears.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I recommend it,” said the policeman. 

And then over his radio’s static I heard the shot and an echo of the shot. 

The policeman had let Parish shoot the deer. He sat in his car and pretended not to notice.

“He shot it?” I asked dumbly.

“I don’t know,” said the policeman. “If I knew someone fired a weapon, I’d have to report it. So I hope not.”

I opened the door and stepped out to look. The pickup had been moved so that its bed faced our hood. The tow truck’s winch was already lifting the dead deer off our car. Everything seemed murky and distant and unintelligible, obscured as it was by darkness, by the sounds of engines idling, a faraway siren, the cop’s radio banter. I wished for the binoculars; I needed to be closer without being closer. I needed to see. But I’d forgotten them in the car. They were too large for my purse and I’d put them on the floor, by my feet, for the drive home. I’d seen Devin empty the glove box, but, in the confusion, he probably hadn’t remembered to look for the binoculars. I would have remembered because they’d once belonged to my grand-father, who’d used them—​so my mother said—​to watch birds. What I knew about my grandfather told me that “birds” was a euphemism. 

I heard the policeman say, “I wouldn’t.” But I walked to the car, to the passenger door which was still open the way I’d left it. No one else saw me. They were all watching the process of moving the deer. Its legs dangled in the air. There was a tarp wrapped around its middle. I bent to search the floor of the car. It was too dark down there to see much. I felt around the chunks of glass and found the binoculars jammed under the seat. I took them out of the case and put the strap around my neck and went behind the car. I looked through them, adjusting the lenses for the new distance. The deer’s neck drooped. Its mouth hung open and its eyes were black and dull. Its teeth were bared and a crust of blood lined its mouth like ghastly lipstick. 

I went back to the police car, got inside, and shut the door. The cop handed me a box of tissues. Then he pulled onto the road. 

I was asleep in my clothes on the bed when Devin got home. I’d cut my hands on the glass searching for the binoculars and now my fingers were wrapped in Band-​Aids. Devin tiptoed into our room and slipped under the covers. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. 

“Are you awake?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking my hand and kissing one of the Band-​Aids.

“Me too,” I said, snuggling up to him.

“You shouldn’t have said that about the airplane,” he said.


“About my airplane.”

It took me a minute to remember. “I was making conversation,” I said. “He was over there.”

“Exactly why you don’t tell him,” said Devin. “You don’t know what he experienced.” 

“I didn’t know you felt guilty about it,” I said.

“What?” he asked. He let go of my hand and sat up in bed in the dark.

“I didn’t know you felt bad that they used it,” I said. “If you design something that blows things up, don’t you think things might get blown up?”

“You need to be more discreet,” he said. 

“I thought this was the make-​up part,” I said. I put my hand on his knee. I still desperately wanted this—​whatever it was that was happening—​to stop.

“I thought it was, too.” Devin gathered up the blanket that was folded at the foot of the bed and left the room.

The moment before the impact, when I was trying to locate the music in my head, what I wanted to recapture was the wholeness I felt all too briefly when I’d first heard it. When I listened, as I read the story told by the poem, something had happened to me, as if I’d taken the music like a pill, swallowed it. It filled my insides, a feeling that was familiar, even though I’d never heard that music before. The threatening bass, those lighthearted violins, that drama, rising and resolving—​it was resolution I wanted, the kind that was only possible in stories. 


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Daniel Gordon's picture
Daniel Gordon · 10 years ago

Loved this story, the juxtaposition of the poem inspiring the musical work and the accident.  writing like this makes it hard not to subscribe!!!

Maxine's picture
Maxine · 10 years ago


A story that really stays with you long after you've read it. Lures you in with a bright, smart surface, then takes you for a deep ride.


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