I balanced my head on the kitchen table, inched to the edge of my seat. I felt less anxious knowing I could do it, knowing it wouldn’t hurt; more anxious because it was all backwards and awkward. Awkward, but like déjà vu, too, like I’d fallen into repeating myself. I flashed to challenges I’d posed myself – trying to write left-handed and it looking like a demented note from a kidnapper; trying to throw a baseball or shoot a basketball and losing all sense of athleticism. I brought the handsaw above my head with my left hand, used my more steady right to place the blade as close to the base as possible, and pulled.
I want to say the fascination had always been there, but it’s hard to know. Hard to be sure. Had she equated antlers with beauty, with some kind of magic, even, and I’d adopted the interest, same as music, movie, or reading likes, or vice versa? Was it one of those interests we’d discovered and nurtured together? Or preexisting in us both, one of the shared likes that had brought us together? I do remember, during one of our short offs in the on-again/off-again middle phase, going to the Museum of Natural History and just sitting, marveling at the Great Elk’s enormous, fossilized antlers. But because they reminded me of her, or because they didn’t?
Once the groove was set – left hand on handle, pulling and pushing; right hand awkwardly wrapped up and around the antler sprouting up into the air, and holding onto the toothed end of the blade, keeping it steady and pulling as my left hand meagerly tried to push – I found something of a rhythm. It smelled, faint, like chalk, or fresh cut wood, or like drywall when being drilled or screwed into, but not quite like any of those either. Like all three combined? Like cut bone, I guess, though I’d never been hunting, never taken apart an animal or cleaned off antlers for my wall, had never had any reason to saw through bone.
I woke up and she was gone. I woke up and couldn’t move my head to either side, a set of new antlers holding my head in place, constricting movement, heavy and weighing my head to the pillow. I didn’t need to know she wasn’t there next to me. I woke up, and I knew.
When I could tell that the amount of bone I’d cut through was greater than the amount I hadn’t, when the blade felt maybe eighty percent through, I took my right hand from the teeth of the saw and moved it to the antler itself. To hold it steady, to keep it in place. I’m no workman, no carpenter, certainly, but had cut through enough 2x4s, had sawed enough branches off overgrown trees, to know and expect it might splinter, might crack and break from its own weight.
The house was quieter than I remembered it ever being. A silence made noticeable only by the surprising volume of the sawing.
I looked at the antlers resting on my kitchen floor, discarded. At once alone but also with partner. It felt like I’d been doing this for years – waking with the weight of antlers, removing them myself. Like I was repeating myself, unable to move on, the same thing again and again. The relief of discarded weight, but also like it wasn’t real, like I was staring at an empty kitchen floor, an empty house, was imagining myself into repetition. I took them outside, left the pair on the edge of my yard like leftover, unsold garage sale items. Walked back inside, rubbing my shorn head, feeling for any evidence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aaron Burch is the editor of HOBART: another literary journal and the author of a chapbook (PANK) and a novella (Keyhole/Dzanc).
STORY SONG: "Red Sea" by ISIS ("You were away." "When honey, when was I away?" "I'm not sure. You were though. Away in a sea of red!")