The Deer in Virginia by Lincoln Michel
Or take the day my father handed me his glass of lemonade and reached for the rifle. My mother had gone inside to fetch a tray of crackers. My father’s hands no longer worked well, and he asked me to pump the gun. I did so as silently as I could.
“Watch this,” he said into the chamber as he held it against his shoulder with both hands.
It was his birthday, and the backyard was drunk on the green nonsense of spring. Below us, a group of deer nibbled on my mother’s daffodils. Suddenly they became as stiff as cardboard cutouts. The rifle was only an air rifle, my present to him that day. It came with a sandwich bag of silver pellets. Deer were everywhere in Virginia. They had been my whole life. When I was a child, I would watch my father hurl baseballs at the deer in our yard as I ate my cereal. Now his pitching arm ached, and the only thing he wanted for his birthday was a BB gun.
I had returned to town because it was all I had left. Everything else I’d lost or had sneaked away in the night: my friends, my job, my apartment in the city, and you, my almost wife.
My father only wanted to drive the deer back into the woods, but when he ﬁred, the pellet rode a gust of wind into the largest deer’s eye. This sent it frantically sprinting into the trunk of an old oak tree. The body dropped into the mulch beside the tree trunk where, growing up, I had hidden cigarettes and cheap beer. The others leapt away in different directions. The sunlight was peeking over the distant hills and into our eyes.
Or else another time, when you and I were ﬁghting on a four-hour drive through West Virginia in the rain. We were back together for what I thought would be the time that lasted, but along the way things had collapsed again. You had a blue scarf tied around your throat and the window down three inches to let out your cigarette smoke. We were ﬁghting over something one of us had said. I was driving, and you were turning up a country station, the only one that came in, as loud as you could when a small buck darted out from the trees. I swerved to dodge it and barely held on to the road. The car made its way in and out of the gutter and continued straight as if nothing had happened. You turned the radio off, and we were silent for a while before we both began to laugh. The storm was starting to peter out. We emerged from the shade of highway trees into ﬁelds of wheat and a bright sun that, for a brief second, made everything look as if it was wrapped in cellophane.
Then ten miles later, we stopped at a gas station because the car didn’t seem to be accelerating correctly. We thought maybe a tire had popped, but when we stepped out of the car, we saw the trail of red and fur and, underneath, the buck with its head twisted in the front axle, its wet body hiding behind the wheels like a playful child.
So many days seem to end this way: bewildered, standing in a town I do not know with a person who might as well be a stranger, and the windshield wipers flicking specks of rain against my cheek.
"The Deer in Virginia" is used by permission from Upright Beasts (Coffee House Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Lincoln Michel.
Lincoln Michel is the editor-in-chief of electricliterature.com and a founding editor of Gigantic. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Oxford American, Tin House, NOON, Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Believer, Bookforum, Buzzfeed, Vice, The Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. Sometimes he draws famous authors as monsters. He is the co-editor of Gigantic Worlds, an anthology of science flash fiction, and the author of Upright Beasts, a collection of short stories out this fall from Coffee House Press. He was born in Virginia and lives in Brooklyn.
The Deer in Virginia was read by Jonathan Minton for the Short & Sweet Flash Fiction edition on 3rd August 2016