Like Animals by Eliza Smith


Last night there were seventeen deer. The night before that there were about six of them. It is hard to imagine that only a couple of weeks ago, there were two, and we trusted them. We let little Mary go out there, she ran up to the daddy deer, his antlers too heavy for his skinny neck almost. She ran up to him and he bent and butted her, pushed her over. He ate her foot. He ate her foot and her stocking and her shiny leather shoe.
     The paramedics came, although somewhat reluctantly. They had heard about our block, about the deer, and they didn’t want to risk it. But we told them about little Mary’s stump, already blackening and greening around the torn edges, and they came and hauled her onto a gurney. We held her hands briefly, told her it would be alright, that we would come collect her in just a few days. And we’d get that daddy deer, would we ever. One of the guys shot us a look of disbelief and chuckled out of the side of his mouth. Then he turned to open the back doors of the ambulance and hauled our girl away.
     Life in the house got dull. We were inside all the time, even though the deer only came out at night. No one wanted to lose a foot, or a finger, or a nose. The house yellowed. Dust covered surfaces like snow. Between the shower tiles, black grew. We ate all the fresh food. Then we moved onto canned beans and Hamburger Helper; we ate the latter without meat and our throats dried. We took turns sleeping. We could sleep at any time because we kept the lights out and the windows covered. A few of us always watched for the deer, waiting for them to come down from the hills.
     We fashioned the traps with what we had in the garage. A couple of rusty saws, springs from a split mattress, nailed wood scraps and plenty of glue. We tested their strength with tennis balls, aiming and watching the jagged saw-teeth judder and snap together over and over. We laid them about the yard carefully, doing our best to keep them from exploding together on our wrists. Every time someone stepped on a twig, we jumped, thinking the wood had snapped under a hoof. And then we sighed and laughed and moved quicker.
     The sun sets and we watch the deer nimble on to the lawn, their heads bowed to the grass. They’re smelling us out, someone says. This isn’t going to work. And then we hear a clatter, a metallic boing as a trap flies shut. A crack in the blinds reveals a great antlered one wobbling, his front ankles caught between the saws, his hind legs bucking, kicking up leaves. He bellows, throaty and caught, but the rest of the deer are running now, scattering through yards and leaping over fences. We yelp and cry, hug each other and jump up and down. Someone says we can go fetch Mary, and our cheering loudens. We pull the blinds open and look at our prey. He stares back, his eyes dewy and scared. From somewhere in his belly he wheezes against the pain. Our hooting dies down and we avert our gaze, feeling like animals.
     
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Eliza Smith was born in Los Angeles, but now she lives in Berkeley, which suits her better. Her work has appeared in PANK.