"Hello,” Mother said while she closed the door.
“Hey, how was your day?” Father answered from the kitchen.
“I had to fire my assistant. He could hardly staple two pages together.”
“Oh. Tom-- Right? I liked him.”
Mother sat down at the bar stools. Her jacket was hanging on the hooks in the foyer, her keys in the pocket. She’d forget them later when she needed to leave for her yoga class.
Father sighed with annoyance.
“What?” Mother questioned him as she rifled through her bag.
“Oh come on-- I know we don’t have an argument scheduled right now but why not, right?”
“Don’t act like I plan any of this out.”
Father had been cleaning the house before Mother got home. He worked on the bathrooms and the lawn before moving to the kitchen and had planned the order so that he could see her when she arrived home. He regretted that decision.
“You might as well have. It’s so routine now I could practically time it,” Mother shot at him.
Father put down his sponge and sent her a glare.
“What can I say?” he questioned.
“What the hell do you mean?” she’d gone back to her bag. Still searching.
“What can I possibly say to you to earn your forgiveness? How do I need to frame this apology?”
“No, I’m serious. What would make you happy?” He raised a finger to point at her.
“Don’t act like you give a shit about my happiness.”
Mother erased any expression off her face and rose. The prize from her search, a phone, was lifted to her ear and she scowled at him as she turned for the door. The ringing stopped.
Mother stopped talking and checked her bag for her keys.
“N-no that’s fine..”
She turned in her spot, patting her pockets. She looked at Father and shrugged for help.
“But you got the email right? About the trip?”
She followed Father’s finger to her jacket. Nodding a thank you, she grabbed the coat and shut the door on her way out.
Father rubbed his brow. He set down his work again and looked down to me.
“Clyde, come on, we should eat.”
I nodded and went to open the fridge. I searched the shelves.
“I think there’s lasagna on the top somewhere,” Father told me while he looked in the pantry, ultimately deciding there was nothing good to be had there.
I grabbed the glass container and place it on the counter. The foil was balled up and throw away, it reflected father’s wrinkled hands.
We served ourselves and watched the microwave together while the sun bathed our kitchen in orange. He pressed the button to open the door and I grabbed our plates. I set the food down on the coffee table while Father switched on the tv and found a movie. We ate lasagna.
The next morning when I woke up I could hear them downstairs. I cringed as Mother’s voice rose to my ears through the floorboards. I dressed myself and froze in the starway, listening.
“That’s just not something people do when they’re married with a disabled child!” I could hear Father saying before I entered. They were on opposite ends of the room, Mother with her hands on her face and Father holding a frying pan with eggs.
My presence was acknowledged with sustained silence expect for Mother’s quiet, “I’m sorry.”
Father scraped scrambled eggs onto a plate for me and I nodded a thank you. I sat at the kitchen bar and ate while studying their expressions. It was almost as if they’d switched faces.
“I’m sorry,” Mother repeated when the silence seemed weak. She smoothed her hair and placed her hands on the counter.
Father set down his pan and turned off the stove, “It’s fine.”
I let my eyes drift from my Father to the clock on the oven. It read nine thirty which meant I was running late. Reluctantly, the remaining food on the my plate was scrapped in the trash. I grabbed by jacket and signed my goodbye to my parents before shutting the door.
My hand left the door knob and their conversation resumed. As I neared the bus station, I saw a boy and his mother waiting for its arrival.
“There was never a chance we would make the nine fifteen bus, okay? That was never an option,” the boy said matter-of-factly.
He stopped leaning on the side of the bus stop enclosure and straightened his back. His mother took a sip of her coffee, ignoring him. She stared at the street with that hate I assumed was meant for her son.
“I don’t know what you expected of me! You’re know when I wake up, I can’t plan my morning around these situations!”
I didn’t know what they were talking about but from what I’d heard the mother had good reason to not pay him much attention. I settled into my seat on the bench and joined her in watching the road. It was quiet for awhile before we filed up the bus stairs and into our seats. The mother and son sat away from each other partly, I thought, because there were few seats adjacent to one another and partly because they were unprepared to be so close. The whole bus was quiet except for a woman calming a baby. She was too far away to hear.
The bus pulled up to my stop and I waited my turn to stand up. I eventually found my place between a man with an enormous backpack and a woman in a fur coat. Off the bus, I pushed myself to the edges of the sidewalk and studied my surroundings.
I was on the corner with the deli and the italian place. Across the street was a movie theater and neighboring that was a drug store. I searched the crowd, eventually eyeing Jason and motioning for him to come closer.
“Hey, what’s up?” He shouted unnecessarily through the sea of people. His hand were in the air as if more attention needed to be drawn to him.
I rolled my eyes. Grabbing his wrist, I pulled him after me and we turned down an alley that was abandoned enough to have a conversation in.
“My parents were fighting again.”
Jason let out an odd sound of frustration and hit himself on the forehead with his palm, “That’s really shitty, I’m sorry. I don’t want to talk about your parents if it’s going to make you pissed.”
I regretted to tell him that I never really got pissed but I didn’t feel like talking about them.
“Yeah, that’s smart. How have you been?” I narrowed my eyes while asking because Jason’s father had died earlier that year. He’d hardly spoken about it, but I wasn’t willing to press him.
“Fine. My mom says that we might move. Something about not being able to live in the house where he died, which I get, I guess,” Jason answered more honestly than I expected. It was silent for a moment.
“Florida,” he said a second later, “that’s where we’d move. Mom says we have family down there.”
“It must be warm in Florida.” I singed while watching cars roll past mounds of grey-white mush piled by the street curbs. Birds picked at the coldness that blanketed their usual feeding grounds.
“It’s always warmer somewhere,” Jason said, following my gaze. We watched the chickadees until an idea reached his head.
“The pond!” He said.
“The pond?” I questioned.
“The pond,” Jason repeated, “They put in a pond by the new housing development. My mom said she saw a deer there the other day.”
Deer didn’t seem terribly interesting but Jason was excited and I was ready to go somewhere.
“Sounds good.” I forced a half-hearted smile onto my face. We started back up the alley and looked into the sidewalk, deciding left was the way to go.
Jason entertained us with a story about how he and his father had gone fishing a few summers ago and almost fell in the water. He seemed high-spirited, and I pitied him but had learned not to let that show. One time while we were going on a similar excursion, I mentioned how his dad used to bring us souvenirs from his conference trips and that I missed that. He’d become more heated than I expected and I ended up bussing back home before we even left the street corner.
Knocking shoulders as we walked, he pointed out shops and places he liked. I watched him, content to be a listener while busses and bikes passed us by. Reaching the development took longer than I’d expected. Jason had said it wasn’t far before we started, but learning not to trust his word didn’t take me very long. We were going on half an hour when I spied the homes about a mile ahead.
“There,” I signed with a finger aimed at the brown roofs.
Jason halted and held the collar of my shirt for me to do the same. He raised his own hand to the sky and followed a hawk with his finger. Its outline was black against the pale grey sky, its feathers slightly translucent. The bird was silent while circling something on the ground our vantage point didn’t allow us to see.
“Whoa,” Jason awed, “Let’s follow it.”
“Okay.” The smile I bore, this time, was genuine.
We picked up our pace and were soon running. The ground was dry and we kicked up a cloud of dust through the field where the bird was. I held my arms in front of me to block the stalks of prairie grass that threatened my face. Jason did the same, but arrived under the hawk quicker than I.
We were almost directly underneath the bird, so Jason’s face was toward the clouds. He was squinting to focus on his prize. We were in a part of the field that had been flattened by a tractor’s wheels, so what the hawk has been circling was plain to see. When I reached him, my eyes were on the ground.
In the center of the clearing lie a tan body with a red stained coat. Skin turned leather, it was clear it had been left there for multiple days. Maybe weeks. Its back was to us, so I couldn’t see its expression. I didn’t know if I wanted to.
“I think he’s flying away, stupid bird. We chased him for nothing.”
Jason. I tugged my mind back to the present and to his sleeve I did the same. His face turned from frustration to weakness when his eyes reached the body. His shoulders slumped.
“Dead deer,” I signed with remorse. I was tempted, slightly, to use the courage I often found in my friend to take a step closer. Looking to him now, I found no bravery.
“Do you think it’s the one my mom saw?” He didn’t take his eyes off the thing.
He wasn’t looking at me so I couldn’t reply. I’m not sure he wanted an answer, but was doubtful his mother had been acquainted with the deer. My eyes ran up and down its body, tracing the shape of its antlers. Jason’s face was wet but I didn’t understand why.
“Has it been dead long?” He asked, as though certain I had the answer.
“Probably,” I said, “at least it looks that way. Its skin is hard and you can see the blood’s dried.”
Jason nodded and stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans. He forced me to be an understudy in my role as the quiet one.
“I don’t feel like going to the pond,” He said after a while staring at the deer. He rubbed his eyes and looked up at the hawk.
“Me neither, the ducks probably appreciate their privacy anyway.” The heaviness of the situation was excruciating, and my joke did little to lighten the mood. I received only a scoff of laughter before Jason, again, held my shoulder.
He aimed my gaze at the bird. His mouth was open as if he was about to say something and I waited for instruction.
“I don’t want the hawk to eat it,” He finally spoke, looking back at me. His eyes had a pink hue unlike them, and as unnerving as it was to see him this way, I agreed.
“I think we should stay with it and make sure the hawk doesn’t get close,” he said, looking to me for approval.
I was tempted to refuse, but was swayed easily thinking about the place I’d have to return to if I argued. We set to work gathering stalks of dead prairie grass as mats to lay on. We switched to our backs and watched the sky as the sun was killed by the horizon. The bird’s black mass loomed over us for about an hour before it gave up its efforts. Our heads turned as the hawk flew away. I thought I heard Jason say something, but wasn’t ready to question him. He took a breath and flipped towards me.
“Clyde, I want to stay with the deer.”
“We’re already doing that.” I was confused.
“No, I mean for the night. My mom won’t mind”
I didn’t believe him but his mother was forgiving. I was willing to follow his lead.
“Okay, I’ll stay.”
Jason smiled weakly back at me. He sat up and hugged his knees, rocking himself slightly almost as if he was scared of something. I regretted to comfort him and instead assumed the same position. I clasped my hands together and looked from him to the moon-- which told us our parents would soon be checking for us in empty beds and vacant driveways. I wondered our parent might call the police and prayed they would think better of it.
It was a while before I realized my friend had fallen asleep. I didn’t feel at all tired despite the late hour and decided I would be our lookout for the night. It was so quiet with the deer, eerie. And with the hawk gone it seemed so isolated in the field like we were the only three things alive-- or, not alive. But even in the moment I knew I was wrong. Soon other things that were alive-- my mother and father-- would prove they truly were by, what? Grounding me? Sending me to my room? None of that seemed important now.
“Hmm,” Jason groaned from his fetal position on our makeshift cot.
I ignored him and stared at the deer. It’s eyes were so glassy and huge, like the big black pupils could swallow you. I shivered. The its belly, I could tell, used to be white but the gash left by some sort of attack had rendered it a deep maroon. I half expected it to leap up, terrified, and sprint away.
I decided to sleep and Jason let out another growl while I positioned myself next to him. I mirrored his position again and pulled the hood of my jacket over my head. I should’ve felt cold but our campsite held some strange heat I didn’t understand. Its warmth sent me to sleep.
I couldn’t feel Jason’s heat when I woke up. I rubbed my face, still practically dreaming, and rolled his side of the cot. When my hand reached for him and found no luck, I opened my eyes and sat upright.
The sunlight stung but through my squinting I could make out my friend’s shape. He was crouched near the animal; his hands in his sweatshirt pocket. I watched as he carefully took his right hand out and hovered it a couple inches above the deer. His eyes were wide.
I coughed loudly. Jason’s hand snapped back to his side. He stood and looked at me while brushing himself off.
“Morning,” he spoke with his fingers, now.
“Morning.” I watched his face turn slightly red and stood. A yawn escaped me as I stretched my arms back to life.
“Are you worried?” He questioned after a moment, obviously scared even to ask the question.
“No, are you?”
He didn’t answer, just ran his hands through his hair. I got the gist.
“You really shouldn’t be scared,” I consoled him, “there’s no amount of wrath that your mom could rain down on you that would be worse than my own.”
He scoffed, looking once more at the deer before coming my way. We began to pack up the camp as best we could. Each of us grabbed armfulls of grass stalks and marched them into the un-flattened parts of the field. We took off out jackets and beat them like carpets. They coughed up plumes of dust that we quickly swatted away. After a few moments, the clearing looked just as it had before; occupied only by the deer.
Neither of us said anything while we approached the body. It was almost as silent as the night before, expect for a few crows gathered on the telephone poles. We both held our tongues, waiting for the other to do something. Jason, being the one with a voice, took the lead.
“We’re sorry you died,” he began bluntly, “but we did all we could-- protecting you from that hawk.”
He paused and looked at me for approval. I nodded.
“It was nice. Being with you, I mean,” He stuttered quietly through tears.
I stood expressionless next to him, unable to provide consolation. My eyes reached the animal and it stared back at me with the same huge brown eyes. I switched my gaze to the ground.
“Bye.” Jason signed his final word; his jaw clenched. He looked at me, then turned around and started walking. I waited a moment with the deer then ran to catch up with him.
It was a silent hour before we got back into town. He waited with me at the curb until the bus stopped and hissed at us. We said short goodbyes before I boarded.
Once inside, I was brought back to reality. For the second time, I found my seat beside a man with a huge backpack. There was no fur-clad woman this time, though, and no crying child. The bus felt unfamiliar without those characters. I clung to the idea of the man with the backpack until I had to leave.
My feet moved slowly across the pavement making the short walk to my house take as long as possible. I met the door and froze. I could hear them inside, yelling, but couldn’t make out any of their words. I forced my hand towards the knob, but the door flung in on itself before I could reach it.
“Clyde!” Mother’s shrieked when she saw me. She was crying but I didn’t move from my spot.
“Oh my god,” Father’s voice sounded from the hallway as he shuffled closer to the door. He put his arm around Mother and they pulled me inside.
I looked out the door at the bus driving away for a second before it was shut in my face. I found myself crying, kneeling on the hardwood. My parents surrounded me. We wept.