Deer. Us. by Arlene Ang and Valerie Fox

The summer the deer moved in was our last chance to move out. They camped on the lawn all day and dropped suspicious pellets on the grass and walkways. Our mother turned into a frenzy of shouting. She spent hours shaking and throwing household objects at them—hammers, different Bibles, watering cans, shoes, and once a broken chair. However, they would simply stamp their hooves in her direction or ignore her. My brother Simon and I watched the situation worsen from our second-story bedroom window. We had no money, but we stayed cool on “borrowed” ice cream. The deer, we figured, were less lucky. People didn’t come over to bring food or pat their cheeks because their father had run off with the gas station floozy.

Then came our mother’s obsessive redecoration. She covered over the kitchen walls with birch bark and pages from Bass Master and Gourmand Highlights. Most nights she stayed up rearranging the living room furniture. “See? We’re in New York now,” she said. “We don’t need to move out to change our environment or have a better life. It’s all about interior design.”

Simon accepted this without question. He was four years younger than I was and only knew about our mother’s “salad days” (her expression) based on the practice of historical tableau. He usually got to hold the colors while I jumped over a small hill and yelled, “Mulligan!” This kept us occupied after the cable got cut off. I also started studying deer behavior and writing stories about their hidden relationships. Simon could barely read. It didn’t stop him from flushing my notes down the toilet or breaking my pens in half. He believed that fictional characters were works of the Devil and could possess anyone who read about their lives.

We were on our 67th day of eating cold cheese sandwiches for lunch when an anonymous postcard postmarked Velva, Wyoming arrived. Our mother had been lying all these years about having a twin sister. Fortunately, I intercepted this message before anyone could read it. I hid it between the pages of The Deer Hunter, which I kept under my mattress. I wish I could say I lost track of time or that summer went by in a blur, but when you’re young you keep track of everything. Every hour, like a white lie or betrayal, told a story that was connected to a spider web of past and future hours.

Simon’s fears grew horns the day our mother decimated all her potted plants by watering them. I thought it was some sort of badass voodoo and laughed. Simon and our mother weren’t amused. Around the house, leaves and flowers turned black and littered the floor like charred suicide notes. That was when I noticed that deer had really black eyes that bore holes through walls. Their odors came in through these holes. And their fleas.  They stood around in groups, hemming us indoors, making silent nodding gestures. Whenever the back screen door banged and waved, they would freeze. Then their strange and powerful hind legs would jerk around like Aunt Jill when she had one too many gin and tonics (in our mother’s scenic memory). Add to this a disproportional lawn elf, and you begin to see it through my eyes. Deer body language changed most hours, on the hour. They seemed organized in their drinking, taking turns to share the water that collect in trash can lids.

One doe set herself apart by her use of Spanish, aimed especially at Simon. He had a deep love of animals and worried a lot about those facing modern-day problems like sadness, diabetes, loss of a special connection to the land. It was no wonder he had a hard time learning languages. His operating system ran on emotion, not English, much less Spanish. Teacup—the doe with a kettle-shaped scar on her nose—bullied him with demands only he could hear. Little by little he began to spend all his time hiding in the closet with his collection of Civil War soldiers for protection. After that, he stopped being Simon.

Like a happy ending, that’s when our father came back home. He was drunk and almost ran over our mother, who wasn’t exactly sober either. The deer had gone for the night, but a raccoon managed to steal into the house. Simon observed all this from our bedroom window, his plastic vampire fangs gleaming like upside-down horns in the moonlight.

 

Arlene Ang and Valerie Fox have been collaborating on writing fiction and poems for many years, and have published work in Juked, Apiary, Thrush, MadHat Lit, New World Writing, Cordite, qarrtsiluni, Admit 2, and other journals. They’ve written a novel together, The Honeymoon Series, (as yet unpublished). They have also published a compilation, Bundles of Letters Including A, V, and Epsilon (with Texture Press). Ang lives in Spinea, Italy, and is very active in the yoga world. Fox lives in central New Jersey, U.S., halfway between New York and Philadelphia, which is convenient for her teen-aged daughter (who is, luckily, obsessed with theater).

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