By Dick Carmel
It was one of those days that bridges winter with spring, when you’re uncertain what to wear or how many layers are needed. The kids were at their friends' homes, or shopping at the mall, whatever was in vogue. The day was undemanding.
We were at the kitchen table, Elaine’s back to the door, so she was facing me as we drank our coffee and discussed what to see that night. It was our turn to choose the movie, and I wanted to meet our group’s objective: light on the violence, spare us the death. I was looking at Elaine, but the window was also in view, and beyond her, our yard and the morning sun that was driving the sullen clouds away.
A ravine wrapped around our house. We had no backyard, but did have a 30-foot-wide side yard that ended unfenced at the bluff. When the winter ravaged the habitat of the animals that enjoyed nature's bounty in spring and summer, they had to forage for food on our plateau. I told Elaine about a brush of brown against the sky. When she went to the door, I followed. Any visit from the ravine in the daytime was strange, especially as the melted snow now provided water and food at the base of the bluff. But sometimes, when least expected, a stranger calls. Outside, a stag stood at the base of the slope that led from the side of our house to the flat of the yard. The sound of our door should have sent him scurrying back into the ravine, but he was unimpressed by our presence. Instead, he looked down. Our gaze joined his at the body of the doe that lay at his feet.
His antlers stretched as wide as my outstretched arms as he shadowed the side of his mate. They were a still-life painting—life and death. There were no bruises or marks on her side, but it was unlikely she had crawled into the yard to die of old age or disease. They must have been scampering across the street, cavorting the previous night, free of snow and caution, when she had been struck by a car. If so, then she had made it into our yard hours earlier, and he had borne witness while the night gave way to the light of the day.
I called the police, stating that it was not an emergency, although in retrospect it was for the deer. I explained what had happened. The officer was unsurprised. Hardened to dismemberment and death, he was prepared for calls such as mine. There was a nearby resource that would come for the corpse. While we waited, we watched the stag as he stood by his mate. He was silent, not hinting at his loss.
A father and son arrived about an hour later in a small flatbed truck with a winch. Their payment was the carcass. They drew chains around the doe and dragged her to the front of the yard, over the flowerbed and onto the driveway, where they raised the body onto their truck. The stag watched.
Within fifteen minutes, they had secured the doe, lifted and chained the rear panel in place, and driven away. After the vehicle was off the driveway and down the street—a one-truck funeral cortège—the stag moved across the flowerbed to the place where his mate had last rested. There was a stain there, not blood, rather, a moist spot flecked with tufts of hair, as the body of the doe had retained enough moisture to condense against the driveway’s cold tar. The stag sniffed, shook, raised his head as though seeking the source of the scent, sniffed again, and left.
Did the stag recall their life in the ravine, the sound of the leaves rustling beneath their hooves, how it felt when he mounted his mate, watched her nurse their young, burrowed beneath the winter snow, gulped the stream that flushed the bed of the ravine in the spring, the warmth of her body at night? Or when he brushed his nose against that spot, did he just recall the essence of her scent? What was it that he recalled?
I do not remember Elaine's expression as we watched. I do not remember what we said, or how we walked back to the steps and up to the kitchen, or going through the kitchen door, or what she was wearing, or if her hair was shoulder-length as when we got married or cut short as I later liked it, or how we finished our coffee, or what movie we saw that night. It was a morning like every other Saturday morning, a day like every other day, just as all mornings, days, and times blend together into experience, sensation, remembrance, and loss.
So I do not remember how Elaine looked or sounded on that specific day, on that exact morning, at that particular time, nor on any other morning, day or time. They blend together into one morning, one day, one endless season when we were young, middle-aged and old. All together, just like that. I only remember snippets of sound, snapshots of sight. And her scent.
Dick Carmel's fiction and essays have appeared in Chicago Literati, Travel Today, and the Northwestern Law Review. Dick was on the 2015 Pulp Literature Raven Short Story Contest long-list. A lifelong Chicagoan, he earned his BA and JD at Northwestern University. He also has a great sense of humor.