One White Deer

Kara Vernor

Mom says a white deer means blood is coming. When I sleep, the forest floor is a lake of red, no matter if the deer are white or brown. A gunshot sounds. They bounce away, red specks splashing, brighter on the one white deer. What Mom is saying, I think, is you can see it better, whats already there.

Sis found a Playgirl at the Goodwill and shes flipping through. The penises are kinda cute, I tell her, like baby mice. She whacks me over my head. Hes the one Id do, she says, running her finger across the chest of a small man. Im supposed to pick one now, but I dont like their flexing, all cobra about to strike. I pick the guy with the cowboy hat and the stallion tattoo because at least hes country. God no, she says, hes every ass-bag in Sullivan County, every King Supreme of Two-Bit Tennessee. Pretend youve got a choice.

Come the weekend, well camp in the forest because Daddy and Uncle Jim and my three cousins want to make an occasion of killing the white deer. Ive seen it a few times, eating the weeds along our garden fence, or in the hollow between our place and the Tillers. I find mom in the kitchen and ask not to go, because of the killing and because of the forest. I dont want to end up drowning in red. Why cant we leave it, I say, but Mom says if we dont get it, someone else will. She pulls a tray of dinner biscuits from the oven, holds them steaming in the air. She says, Thats just the way of things.

I beg Sis to come but she has a date with Clyde whos been after her since her freshman year. Going to show him some mercy, she says, and winks. Shes wearing electric red lipstick, a white tank top that doesnt cover her waist, and the jeans that show off the fat between her thighs. She looks like want. She knows from church shes supposed to wait. But you know what, she told me the other day, Jesus is not that hot.

Daddy and Uncle Jim have already scouted, so the guys leave to set up a stand, leave Mom and I to set up camp. I wash and chop while mom preps the hamburgers. The men never eat the salad and carrot sticks but Mom insists we make them anyway because its good for their hearts.

In my sleeping bag after smores, sleep takes me though I tried to fight it. For a long while I stand alone, ankle deep in the blood floor, listening to the afternoon sounds of the forest, watching for the creatures making them. I dont want to walk—what if I sink into a blood hole? The forest dims and in the deep dusk, the white deer appears. At first I think its a small clearing, a patch of sky. I tell it to run, to find another forest to live in. Instead it comes to me and lets me slide my hand along its fur. I tell it Im sorry. I wrestle it to the wet ground and hold on while it thrashes. By the time its free of me and bouncing into the night, its bright red, entirely painted. I lose sight of it, I cant tell between it and the forest floor. It was Daddy who taught me the power of camouflage.

The men were up at first light, gone before I woke. I am not surprised when they come back later with nothing. I am old enough to know moms are wrong sometimes about blood, about how vegetables taste. All that talk about mounting its whole body. Where would it have hung? Theres already a bucks head above our fireplace with marble eyes. Daddy talks like its majestic, but its just a thing now. Decomposing. What made it special is long gone.

Back home, Sis is curled up in bed, her hair in a towel. She gets into moods sometimes. Mom says that happens to ladies on their monthlies, but Sis just had hers last week, was real mean too. Took to calling me Turd. I think to give her her space, but then I see scratches, two welts down her cheek, and reddish-brown wipes on the underwear and tank top shes tossed on the floor by her bed. Are you okay? I ask. Were you in an accident? I sit next to her. She says, slowly, like shes talking through a bad connection, I guess you could call it that. Then she rolls over, makes her back a wall. Dont ever, no matter how sweet they seem, show a guy any mercy, she says. Did Clyde hurt you? Daddy will kill him for sure. Theres a long silence and I think shes done talking, but then I hear, softly, You know, it was about my time anyway. She says, Get out now.

Some of our neighbors want to kill that deer, and some are swearing to kill whoever kills it, but I know it wont get caught. Nobody has seen it since our camping trip—my night in the woods. The feeling is, it moved on. When I sleep now and find myself in the blood forest, Im visited by brown deer only, though at times I swear I see the shine of an eyeball peeking. When I look harder and wait to see whats there, its all just trees and redness.