Lights: I. The accident
There were no deer. This I mutter under my breath. Here the frogs pushed slow, cascading bubbles through their throats, the tall, wet grass bowed before the black river, splintered rungs wound the peeling trunk of an old oak. There were no deer. A deer was something you saw in your backyard through red binoculars, nibbling away the berries meant for your mother’s birthday. Not here, by pavement and guard rails, red flashing lights and puddles of gasoline.
The men trade coffees and laugh. Their black boots splash. The man in front of me with the notepad smiles expectantly. Did I see it coming? I saw the road and the tall grass bending and I pulled in my shoulders. In between the blades a house with yellow windows where a silhouette pulled a tooth from its mouth. Someone left their red mitten behind. Arthur? My eyes softened in the dark. They rolled smoothly and I shook my head to try and push them into the cold night air. I wiped snot from my nose and rubbed it in the bottom of my winter coat. I tried to zip my coat tighter but my hands were too small. They fumbled. The moon was so bright and I remembered my mother saying something once about the moon in the sky pointing east or never east and I kept looking at the moon to hope my eyes would expand in the light and I’d stay awake but they’d only soften and I’d imagine its gravity pulling me up, like an astronaut.
The man in the heavy coat’s face is white. Was white. He offers me a coffee and I decline – I say I’ve had enough and he writes something down. A man in orange is jumping out in front of pickups and flailing his arms.
Let’s start simple, he says, pushing his peaked cap back with a pencil. Ok, I say. What do you do? Physics, I say. Like a teacher? No, more like research. Research, he laughs. Like test tubes? Like Shrödinger, I say. Quantum. Fancy, he says. I’m just coming from a conference, in fact. Did you have anything to drink? Sure, maybe a whisky, I say, real smooth. What kind? I can’t remember there was only one whiskey bottle and the bartender had very thin fingers.
The man in the coat smiles. And how fast was I going? How fast was I going – if a deer runs and then hits the car – if a deer – suppose there were a deer – it would be dead before I saw it, anyway, if I gripped the steering wheel tight enough – if I gripped the steering wheel and turned out of the curve, away from the deer – meaning the wheel shifts and the car light suddenly shines away. But by then the deer would be bouncing off the car –
The man with the pencil furrows his brow. Another man taps him on the shoulder and they walk toward the center of the flashing lights. I lean back and swing my feet out over the edge of the road, gravel pinning my head. At the top of the wooded hill a little girl pops her head out a window. I follow her gaze to an old oak where the red lights flash. The leaves hang limply like a swarm of sleeping bats, noses sharpening to the curve of the rain. I call to her. The light goes off.
Was I driving too fast? The dotted line down the center of the road blurred. Each droplet on the window nudged the other out of place. The car trembled; the road slurred; my eyes buzzed; my breath pulled.
Remember when mother used to show us how to catch water from an icicle and slurp it up, Arthur? And I’d try and slurp yours up and you’d splash it in my face. Focus, I’d think, and the water fell slower. I slurped and it tasted like iron so I pushed it to the back of my throat and it bubbled and I felt cold and my temples stung. Where did she go? My hands are sticky and red. I turn. The red trail pushes back, back onto the road mixing with the swirling rainwater and the crunch of the boots of the policemen and the now stamping hoofs of a little baby dear, held by the nape in the arms of a man in orange, the glint of a knife withdrawing, one black eye directly on me.
Lights: II. The man in the long grey suit
“Is he still throwing up?”
“He wasn’t throwing up,” says the second man. “I think it was gagging, like a gag reflex, you know?”
My open mouth shakes. A long strand of vomit hangs. Shadows tilt at the bottom of my eye.
“Hey buddy… buddy?”
“He’s not answering.”
“Well, we gotta take him home, don’t we?”
Eyes fluttering. Breath pulling. The jingle of handcuffs.
“Who’s supposed to take him?”
A laugh. “Well I can’t take him. He’ll throw up all over the back seat of the cruiser.”
Between my lips: a bubble, breaking.
“Well I sure as hell can’t take him. I can’t even lift him.”
“Should we get a gurney?”
Silence. The weight of blood in my head. The patter of rain. A man in a long grey coat.
The first man’s voice shakes. “I’m not sure we can do it without a gurney, sir. He’s barely conscious.”
“He’ll walk. Grab an arm.”
Breath draws. Red lights flash. A pinch in my arm.
“Hurry up. An arm each.”
Nails in my armpits. Sweaty palms on my shoulders. Breath on my neck.
Pulled and tangled and hung like a puppet.
“Hold him here where I can see him.”
My head falls back. My eyes fall open. The man in the long grey suit pats my cheek and sighs.
“Toss him in the back.”
The Deer can be pre-ordered here.