2015 Barthelme Prize Honorable Mention: The Deer

Nickole Brown

Coax the deer to the edge of the wood. Draw her there, any way you can, pouring canned urine on trees, blowing your electric stag horn, setting up a decoy that bleats from under the crackle of dry leaves. Coax her and catch her, then make her sing. She’ll sing about how last autumn she was lost and jumped through the window of the salon, pouring blood back to the shampoo bowls. It was hunting season, and who knew there was an animal of her size in the park. She’ll sing the long winter ahead, bark peeled from wet sycamore, her spotted newborn turning around three times before nesting down to sleep—it did not know the words trinity or instinct but could pluck the desperate pheromone of prayer from the silent air. Whisper, tick, flea, louse and watch her tail switch. Apologize: it is winter now, and there should be peace found in the solitude of ice. Ask her about glass eyes, a shield-shaped plaque, the diners under the preserved head dipping their fried potatoes in the pink paste of hot sauce mixed with blue cheese, and she will answer, cool water foaming at the creek’s edge. She is tired, this panicked dreamer at the edge of the wood. The white hairs in the cups of her ears have caught the yellow of bulldozers, yield signs, the puddles of piss men dressed in orange leave behind. Whisper, shadow, light through vine. Stroke her coat that falls out in clumps when the crocus arrive greenspringing from the snow. Tell her you are sorry for your laziness, for your breath stained with coffee and wine. Tell her you were so lonely you thought of putting the vibrating phone to your sex you were so lonely. Tell her you prefer sleeping to waking, how in your bed you are a trinity although you have three of nothing. She does not understand you but simply wants to be let go. Let her go. She will run away as if shot full of arrows. She will disappear, and you must fend for yourself again. There are chores to be done that have nothing to do with dreaming. There are idle hands: fill them. It is time. The alarm is ringing, the cat wants to be fed. Outside, a truck fills with your empty bottles. The sound is halfway between that of breaking glass and a jittering pocket full of change. Over the sound of glass is the chug of diesel and a chiming bell meant to warn you that the truck has either stopped, or worse, reversed.