Deer by Hannah Silverman

Emi finds the deer in the forest. It hasn’t been dead long, is still warm. It reminds Emi of her mother, something about the grey around its eyes and the sagging nipples on its belly. Emi has the urge to lean down and suckle.

Emi will be fifteen this month. Her mother is planning a party with peony centerpieces. Emi finds the whole affair grotesque.

Emi sits down in the dead leaves beside the deer. It is heavy-looking and beautiful. Emi respects the deer, the way it retreated to the forest to die without ceremony. She wonders what it must have been like to live so quietly, to die in the leaves.

Emi’s mother wants to know what Emi will wear to the party. Emi says, antlers.

Emi visits the deer again the next day. It is still there, but a little less. There is a sparrow on its back, nestled in its fur. Emi strokes the deer’s snout. The bird is unbothered. Emi thinks the deer must have been a mother, and she hates it a little bit. She opens its eyes, yellow-orange irises. The eyelids droop slowly closed as if the deer is drowsy.

Emi goes through her mother’s closet. Sharp, pointed heels. Pearl buttons. Stiff fabric and wires and hidden zippers. In the back, white lace. Beading and tulle. Wherever her father is, Emi is sure he does not keep his wedding tux in the back of a closet. For this, Emi thinks her mother pathetic.

By the third day, the deer is a home for flies and ants, a few maggots in the ears. Emi wishes to climb inside its stomach and go to sleep. She rolls the deer onto its back. It’s no small effort. Emi wants a good view of the stomach. Bald patches, dry blood, matted fur. This stomach has scraped the forest floor, nourished hungry babies with sharp teeth. Emi lifts her shirt to look at her own stomach. It is rounder and rougher than it used to be. A patch of dark hair blooms around her belly button. Perhaps she is turning into a deer. She feels around for extra nipples. Still only two.

Emi’s mother has locked Emi in the house. It is a small house in a cul-de-sac of identical small houses. Emi is not allowed to leave until she picks out a dress for the party. Emi’s mother suggests pink, to match the peonies. Emi suggests brown, like dirt or death. There is a standoff.

Emi will be fifteen tomorrow. She lies naked on her bedroom floor. She may not come out unless she is wearing a dress the color of flowers. Emi lies on her side, head tipped back, belly brushing the grassy carpet, eyes wide and seeing nothing. She imagines she is a dead deer in a forest. She can feel the maggots crawling into her eye sockets, the birds pecking at her tail. Emi’s mother calls to her from the hallway, but Emi does not move because she is a deer and she is dead.

On the morning of her fifteenth birthday, Emi slips out of the house. Her bare feet scrape the perfect suburban pavement. Behind the house, the sun rises above the forest where the dead deer lived. Emi is wearing her mother’s wedding dress. It droops over her shoulders, gapes at the chest, leaving space that Emi is not woman enough to fill.

Emi walks into the forest, the long white skirt turning brown beneath her feet. The deer lies on its back, the way Emi left it. Four legs splayed out, hooves reaching for the sky. Its chest is a cavern, ribs exposed, reddish-black guts spilling out. Emi rolls up her sleeve. The inside of the deer is cold and wet and alive. An ecosystem of things that live inside other, dead things. Emi searches for the heart, but another scavenger has already claimed it. No matter, Emi has a heart of her own.

Emi wipes her sticky pink hands on the white dress. She pulls more goopy blood from the deer’s innards, paints four fresh nipples on the front of the dress. She thinks perhaps this is how girls become mothers, or maybe it is how girls become deer.

Either way, Emi turns fifteen in a pink peony-colored dress.


Hannah Silverman is a Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker. She earned her BFA in Film & Television with a minor in Creative Writing from NYU. She is a reader at Pigeon Pages literary journal. Her prose has appeared in Litro Magazine, Pigeon Pages, Flypaper Lit, and elsewhere.

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