Monday again. Melinda watched the road like a fourth-grader eyeing a page of long division. Inevitably some jerk in an Escalade cut her off. She thought about honking the horn. She thought about raising her arm to give him the finger. She wondered why some people do things and travel and live with fierce intensity, and the rest of us wake up to the 6 a.m. alarm and a long drive to work. That’s when she saw it.
A deer grazed on the far side of a field bordering the highway. Melinda, suddenly oblivious to traffic, swerved onto the shoulder. Gravel crunched under her tires as they rolled to a stop. She exited the car, crept to the passenger side and leaned against it. She stared at the animal. If it sensed her presence it gave no sign. The deer nonchalantly munched grass near a small patch of woods barely thirty yards away. It was young and bore no antlers, so she could not tell for sure if it was a buck or a doe, but in her heart she knew it was a doe.
Melinda had a thing for deer. They reminded her of the best years of her life, when she was young and lived on her parents’ farm. She remembered waking one morning to a deer peering at her from right outside her window. She clutched her bed sheet to her chest, frozen, staring into the animal’s eyes. All of nature seemed to exist in them. They spoke to her of sun and trees and rivers and endless fields of grass. The eyes seemed to say that life was beautiful, and it was the randomness, the dangerousness, of life that made it so. Melinda blinked. In the time it took for her eyes to flick closed and open again the animal disappeared.
For many weeks afterward, young Melinda had experienced a recurring dream in which she was a deer. She ate flower petals and raced through deep woods, nimbly dodging between the trees with a gait more like flying than running. She felt strange when she awoke, as if she had lost something. The dream came every night at first. Later it returned sporadically, once every few weeks. Then months passed between its visits, then years.
Melinda stood by the roadside, heedless of cars whizzing past. She realized her shift at the warehouse was beginning. She watched the deer until it wandered into the woods. The sun hung high overhead. Sweat beaded on the back of her neck. By now her boss would be rabid. She surprised herself by not caring.
Melinda spent the next ten hours inspecting packages in a medical warehouse. She took her usual spot by the conveyor belt. Clear-plastic breathing masks, flexible tubes, intravenous therapy bags, cold-metal heart sensors--her job was to keep an accurate accounting of such things. She made small marks on a clipboard as inventory moved down the line. The conveyor belt was loud and never stopped rolling. During the seventh hour of her shift she looked at her clipboard and thought the marks were the days of her life. She imagined the conveyor carrying each of them away from her, ferrying them deep into the warehouse until some stranger slung them into a box, closed the flaps, taped them shut.
On the drive home she peered out the window when she passed the field where the deer had been, but night had fallen and she saw nothing. At the house, her husband had eaten dinner without her. She warmed some leftover Rice-A-Roni in the microwave and ate alone at a long kitchen table. The rice remained cold in the center, but she ate it anyway. Later she sat in the living room. It was dark except for the TV, which cast weird light over her husband and the rest of the furniture. He sat in a recliner, listlessly flipped channels before settling on some black-and-white war movie.
“All I want to do anymore is sleep,” Melinda said.
If her husband heard her, he gave no sign. She wandered upstairs to the bedroom. Hours later her husband joined her, lying fully clothed with his back to hers, a foot of space between them.
Melinda did not notice. She was already asleep, dreaming of a new but familiar life. Dawn broke in the deep woods. She breathed morning air--cold in her lungs, smelling of damp soil and pine. She stamped the forest floor with a cloven hoof. She licked dew from leaves of ivy and darted through the trees with a gait more like flying than running.
About the Author: Alex Miller edits newspapers in Hawaii. He used to edit newspapers in Tennessee. Hawaii is better. He tweets @mannerism77.
Story Song: "Ride" by Robert Earl Keen.