PROMPT: He waited until her husband was out of the room, then…
said, “I know it’s a lot to take in. It’s new for him too. That’s why we thought–if we told you together maybe it would be–”
“What?” she asked, a hole in her chest where her heart had once been. “Easier. . .” It reminded her of the time when she was a girl and out in the woods behind her parents’ home.
She’d tromped through the sludge and mud on a cool summer day. Raindrops were beading on every leaf and dripping from every branch. The ground was soggy under her rubber boots, every step she took let her down. Every man she loved would do the same in the future. She didn’t stick to the trail, she never did. That was the best part of childhood, looking back on it. If you weren’t off the trail then you weren’t part of the everything. The childness of it all.
On that day her boots stuck in the old decaying leaves as she continued into the woods to her favorite little place. It was the best place. It really was. All green this time of year, the bows of some unknown trees reaching out above and creating a little canopy to keep her calm and safe when things at home were just too much to bear. And at that time everything seemed to be too much–though she didn’t know why. Just last night she’d thrown her homework all over the floor. Why were they mixing letters and numbers in math class? She’d always felt the two symbol systems should remain stolidly apart and alone. Like she always seemed to be from other people. That was it. Why couldn’t math be like she was? English too?
Along the route that she walked regularly that wasn’t a trail, but her trail, right at the stump with the new sapling growing from it, she heard the noise. It was a grunt or a groan, or maybe both, but it was certainly pain.
She slowed and sniffed. All she could smell was nothing. She’d been fighting that sniffle for a while.
There it was again. A low grunt, just out of sight. Just in the little sanctuary, she loved so much.
She inched forward, not too fast, but just enough to see what was inside the tree limbed sheltered grove.
Her breath caught that day, just as it did when her husband had said those words.
Inside the grove was a deer. Old by the look of it. And lying on its side, it’s head moving, just slightly, up off the ground. What was it doing? She stepped closer.
A branch snapped under her rubber boot. At first, she’d expected the deer to leap up and run. But it didn’t. It just stayed there, rocking slightly, giving little grunts. She approached. Maybe it was injured? But no. She saw no blood, no legs twisted awkwardly. Then she was right there and looking down into its eyes and face and it was all nothing but blackness darker than anything she’d ever seen, even at sleep.
The deer’s tongue slipped out of its mouth and wetted its nose. She could have fallen into those eyes. She did–maybe. Just a cavern of long years in the wild. A hole to fall into and die. And that’s when she knew. The deer was dying. It had lain down to die and she had interrupted it. The poor thing. But maybe it was better this way, she reminded herself now. Maybe it’s best not to be alone when you die. When love dies. When relationships end.
Across from her, Antoine smiled. Beatrice and Danny had shared this room for 11 years. Her husband reentered.
He set the lemonade down in front of her then went and sat on the couch next to Antoine. Danny looked even paler next to his friend. No, she thought, his lover.
“It’s not what I ever wanted for you,” said Danny. “I’m sorry.”
Beatrice didn’t say a word.
She looked down at the dying animal and felt completely alone, even though the deer was still there–at least a little. What could she do? Nothing. She’d taken a seat next to the animal and after sitting there, listening to its breathing, she’d gained the courage to reach out and pat its neck. To her surprise, it didn’t flinch or buck or make a sound at all. If anything, she felt its breath exhale almost in relief. She’d run her hand down it’s course fur once, and then again. She’d kept doing it, just as if she’d been petting her cat in her bedroom. She didn’t feel the cold or wet seeping through her jeans, and she didn’t hear the wind pick up or the rain begin to fall again. She just kept petting that deer, letting it breathe and hold on to life for as long as it could.
She could have cried, but she didn’t. Not for the deer and not when Danny left with Antoine. The hollowness was still there, but she’d be okay. She’d have to be.
It was only when night had fallen and her stomach growled that Beatrice had realized the deer was no longer breathing. She didn’t know how long it had been dead, but she thought the fact she hadn’t noticed was a sign that the deer hadn’t either. She hoped that was a good thing.
She hoped the same as she locked the door behind her husband and sat down on the floor.