Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 200 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He has two collections of short stories that have been published; Sand, published by Clarendon House Publications, and Heat, published by Czykmate Productions. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960. His website is https//www.stevecarr960.com.
THE DEER CROSSING
By Steve Carr
The aromas of cedar and pine hang in the air, thick and pungent. It’s intoxicating and I breath deep, drawing the fragrances deep into my lungs. Lying on a mattress of dead pine needles, moss and twigs, I stare up through the branches, barely able to see the baby blue sky. This nest I lie in is damp and the chill seeps through my clothes and deep into my bones, but it’s as if every thirsty cell in my body is being refreshed. An indigo bunting is perched on a limb of a cedar tree, its brilliantly rich blue feathers standing out amidst the green. Its chirps remind me of the red plastic toy whistles I had when I was a child. It’s only peripherally that I glimpse the snow white deer standing in the underbrush of a tall pine tree. When I turn my head, it’s gone. Its ghostly silence unnerves me.
Sitting up, I scan the woods for the color white, finding the only thing close to it is a ray of pale yellow sunlight streaming through the trees.
Amelia is standing at the back screen door looking out, her hand on one hip, her long red hair that extends down her back, pulled together into a pony tail by a bright red scrunchie. The kitchen smells of yeast and is being heated by the oven. She’s wearing her handmade beige linen shift that hides her ample curves; its simplicity is too severe. Before I can let her know that I have returned and have been watching her from a doorway, she turns away from the door. Silently she goes to the sink and turns on the faucet. Wisps of steam rise from the water filling the basin as she takes the bread making bowl and several flour covered utensils from the table and puts them in the water and squeezes dish washing liquid on them.
“I thought I saw a white deer in the woods,” I say.
She flicks her head as if trying to dislodge a bug from the porcelain-like skin on her face. Her pony tail swishes back and forth across the slender expanse of her back. She’s scrubbing the bowl with such vigor that water and bubbles splash onto the floor. Through the open window above the sink a breeze carries in the fragrances of the woods and shuffles the pages of the open cookbook on the table.
I go to the screen door and look out at the lake’s gentle currents splashing water against the banks along our property. A small flock of Canadian geese are milling about in the lush spring grass near land’s end. There’s nothing musical about their loud, honking calls and for a moment I feel badly for them that they can’t sing.
Amelia taps on my shoulder and even before I turn around her hands and fingers are rapidly signing. “I didn’t see you come in,” she signs. “You should have let me know you were here.”
“You looked busy,” I mouth and sign at the same time. I sign to her about the deer.
“There hasn’t been a white deer around here before. I wonder where it came from?” she signs.
She reads my lips as I say, “I’m going to name it after you.”
At the open window in our bedroom I watch as twilight casts pastel gold and purple across the sky and turns the lake water to a shimmering silver and deep blue. A discordant chorus of hooting owls, woodpeckers tapping on cedar trunks and the haunting wail of loons fills the pre-night sky. The geese have quietly settled in the grass along the bank, their large forms almost hidden in the spreading shadows.
Behind me, Amelia turns on the lamp on the bedside stand. Before I look, I hear her sit on the edge of the bed; the squeaking springs sounds like crickets. Her back is to me and she removes the scrunchie, loosing her hair, which spreads out across her shoulders like flowing water. She brushes her hair with her mother of pearl hairbrush, taking long, slow strokes from her scalp to the ends of her hair. Sparkles of static electricity jump from the hairbrush bristles and quickly dissipate in the cool evening air. I close the window and lie down behind her on the bed and tap her in the middle of the back.
As she turns, I sign, “Do you get lonely living out here?”
Before she answers I can see in her eyes her weighing the question. She shakes her head and smiles wanly.
“The silence is different here than in the city,” she signs.
“How so?” I sign.
“I feel the silence here. In the city I could feel the noise,” she signs.
She bends down and kisses me on the cheek, then returns to brushing her hair. With every brushstroke the sweet fragrance of her apple scented shampoo washes over me. I take the book from the stand by my side of the bed and open it and begin to read. After reading the same paragraph four times I close the book, thinking about the white deer.
In the middle of the night I awake sensing the glow of white moonlight on my bare chest. The bedroom is illuminated by it. Its incandescence is reflected from the mirror above the dresser and glitters on Amelia’s crystal perfume bottles on the vanity dresser. Amelia is at the window, naked, her pale skin bathed in light. She has the window open and her hair is tickled by the breeze, being blown back from her head and dancing in the air like gossamer strands of red spider silk.
I get out of bed and go to her side and put my arm around her shoulders. At the shore, the white deer’s front legs are bent on the ground and it’s drinking from the lake. Its hide has the luminescence of a lit candle. Amelia turns her face to mine. There are tears streaming down her face.
“You must protect it,” she signs.
The two lane highway that divides our property from the woods on the other side is busy. Standing by our mailbox at the beginning of our driveway, the mid-afternoon sunlight heats my skin. Four men from the county’s transportation department are sitting nearby in the grass on the side of the highway having lunch. The two yellow and black deer crossing signs with an image of a leaping deer are leaning against the back of their truck.
“Do you get many deer crossing here?” one of them asks as he unwraps cellophane from a sandwich.
“A few,” I say. “They cross the road to get to the lake. Actually it’s just one deer. A white deer. It’s rare. I think it’s all by itself.”
The one with the sandwich says,” A white one? Is it an albino?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
As they eat and when there is a lull in traffic I cross the highway and go into the woods. Twigs and sun dried pine needles crackle beneath my boots. Gray catbirds screech from the top of the trees. I swat away a horsefly intent on feasting on my arm. The path I’m on I made myself by walking this way almost every day. There are signs of animals: paw prints, scat and bits of fur. I find my nest, replenish it with freshly fallen needles and leaves and lie down on my back and look up through the tree branches.
Within minutes I hear twigs breaking. Remaining motionless, peripherally I watch the white deer come out of the underbrush and slowly approach me. It’s a doe and it’s large ears twitch nervously. Very casually I reach out one arm and hold out my hand, palm up.
Amelia comes to my hand and lowers her nose and nuzzles my palm, then licks it.
“Are you lonely out here?” I ask her.
She steps back, kicks the dirt under her front hoof, then turns and runs back into the underbrush.
As snow blows across the sheet of ice that covers the lake, mallards and geese stand on the banks with their bills in the thin border between the shore and the unfrozen water at the edge of the ice. Kneeling in the snow and battered by the cold wind, my wife, secures her hand knitted wool scarf around her head and neck and reaches out her ungloved hand, palm up, for Amelia to nuzzle and lick. Amelia’s coat has grown thick and when seen from afar she looks like a snow sculpture. My wife withdraws her hand and Amelia gazes at her, almost expectantly. Other than a salt lick that we placed in the woods near my nest, we have never fed her anything, yet she seeks our open hands.
My wife signs, “Will she be warm enough this winter?”
I nod and place my hand on the deer’s back. “She knows how to survive,” I mouth.
My wife rises and before she puts on her glove she spells, “Mail.”
She puts on her glove and takes my hand in hers and we begin up the driveway to the mailbox. The carpet of snow beneath our boots reaches to our calves and is as soft as suds. We make little noise, but clumps of snow fall noisily from the overburdened tree branches.
Amelia is walking behind us, following.
At the mailbox my wife opens the box and shrugs when she sees it is empty. I’m watching Amelia who is rubbing her neck against the deer crossing sign. There is a fresh layer of snow on the highway, fallen there since it was plowed in the morning. Amelia leaps onto the highway and starts to cross as a semi-truck barrels through the snow toward her direction.
Peripherally, I see my wife open her mouth in a soundless scream. Before I can stop her she runs toward the deer.
Amelia’s broken body lies in the snow at the side of the highway. I kneel down by her side as the truck comes to a stop up ahead on the highway.
The deer is standing on the other side of the highway, watching.