The Deer by Alexis Smiley

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, April 6th, 2017

"It's the morning after Halloween. I'm still in my fox costume..."

Alexis Smiley Essay Nailed Magazine
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She catches me hunched towards the wall in my corner cubicle, scribbling on a legal pad. She takes in the rows and columns drawn in pencil and asks in a whisper, what are you doing even though she already knows, but I tell her in hushed tones anyways, and she asks Do you know how many lives you’re gonna deal with? 

I lied about my expertise with Excel in the interview. Two weeks earlier, I put on a riveting performance for the two account execs and the healthcare company’s manager, selling them all with a mixture of lies and truth on my full potential as a sales operation specialist, or SOS for short.

I got the job. I always get the job. 

I was in deep with lives after just two weeks. My job as the SOS involved scrubbing the paper forms filled out by the employer groups my account executives were pitching through the brokers. The groups ranged from small blue collar metal shops to mid level design firms and I’d collect the packets, scan them for missing information, find red flags in the medical history section like previous heart attacks or high blood pressure or a history of cancer.

I was supposed to collect the data and store it in Excel. Instead, in the shadow of my con, I took yellow legal pads, a pencil, and a ruler and made my own clandestine spreadsheets. This was all going along in some manageable way until I started receiving group packets for fifty lives with dependents, turning them into seventy-five or a hundred life groups. In the end, it was up to the actuary department to rate the risk associated with the group and make the final call on the premiums we could offer. I listened to my account execs try and bargain with the actuary on the phone. But come on, it’s just an ulcer. The rest of the group is solid. All in the name of the sell. Two weeks in and I was on my third legal pad.

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When I tell her this truth, it’s out of a mix of desperation and trust. She’s the only other SOS in the office working under the other two account execs. We’d already smoked a bowl after work one day, gone out to eat a couple of times. At lunch, she gave me a quick low down on the basics and I retained enough so that I could do my job, make my commission off the lives we sold. Lucrative beyond my dreams, I pulled close to six thousand a month.

Do you know how many lives you’re gonna deal with?

He has pulled the low-slung chair from the wall and sits facing the stereo playing Baby Bitch by Ween on repeat. I know it’s on repeat because we could hear the song end and begin again, blaring as we crept up the stairs to the front door, useless to be quiet now, useless to think that maybe he had gone to bed, useless to hope we wouldn’t be caught. But we are caught.

I am standing in the living room lit grey by the clouded morning sun with the man I have been sleeping with and getting high with on one side of me and my boyfriend sitting and staring ahead, no eye contact, no words, just staring and lifting the bottle of Wild Turkey to his lips. In waiting us out, he dressed for the occasion in a suit and tie and it occurs to me that he is beautiful in a way I hadn’t noticed before like a broken sculpture or an animal that can see great distances.

Post it notes scatter the walls of the room. From where I stand, I can see the words written in his light curvy hand. I don’t need to read them to know what they say. He has been up all night like us. No matter that I tried to cut him off from speed even though I’m the one that got him started. He found another source. He is out of my control. He is something more now.

Do you know how many lives you’re gonna deal with?

The deer is caught in the fence. A young buck, I don’t know how many hours he’s been snagged in the wire. By the looks of it, maybe all night. The metal, wrapped around the back of his leg, just above his hoof, has forced itself down into a deep bloody groove almost half way through the ankle. It’s the morning after Halloween. I’m still in my fox costume, the remnants of my drawn on fox mask smeared across my face.

I had barely slept, sitting out on my friend’s back porch considering the view of Mt Shasta and the fields through the left over sparkled remnants of the previous night’s dance party, dazed, thinking about the guy I wished I kissed.

I had taken my contacts out, staring at the blur of the fields and old barns against the sharp white mountain and morning blue sky, when the repeated frenzy of movement across the neighboring farmer’s back fence caught my eye. My brain sensed a tilt in the wheel of reality, like when you come home to an empty apartment and it seems certain things have been moved, like a book or a coffee cup, except you don’t remember moving them.

I walk to the edge of my friend’s yard and focus in on the shape of a deer caught in a fence. I jump the rickety boards separating her garden from the cow pasture and run, stumbling a couple of times on the uneven ground. In trying to clear the hurdle of the pasture’s fence, he snagged his back left lower leg and in trying to escape, had driven the barbs deeper and deeper, so that under the oozing blood, I could see a cross section of fur to skin to muscle to bone. Jerking and pulling and shivering, he made these mewing sounds I wouldn’t expect from a deer.

I yell repeatedly for my two friends inside the house. I’m sure we make a strange sight to the farmer who meets us at the fence. Two lady foxes with smudged makeup and a psychedelic princess with glitter on her face. We watch as he cuts the deer out of the fence, all his cows gathered in a gentle benign crowd.

When he cuts the deer free, the buck tries to stand, but trembles and falls again from the burden of his dislocated hip. Over and over, the buck tries to stand, gather himself back into a form of wholeness and run. But he can’t. It is all struggle and falling down and trying to stand again. The farmer takes hold of the deer on the ground and gathers him into a sort of splayed embrace and I’m struck by the shit covered hem of his overalls as he pets the deer’s neck.

“Do we shoot him?” I ask, which is funny because by we, I really mean him and I’ve never said this combination of words before. The struggling deer and mewing sound is starting to make me sick.

“Honey, I don’t have a tag. You can’t just shoot a deer without a tag.”

This hasn’t occurred to me. I think of deer only in the plural like lemmings or teenagers or crowds or minnows, some overpopulated sum. Even the killing of one deer has to be justified in Siskiyou County. The farmer goes back to his house to call his friend at Fish and Game and I take over in the wrestle hold embrace with the deer. My friends go back inside for more layers of clothes and I am left alone in the field, except for a couple of staring cows.

You’re safe, you’re safe, I coo over and over again, but in all honesty, I’m not sure if the deer believes me because minutes earlier I was the one who had asked about shooting him.

My friends and the farmer return and we make small talk about the cows and the weather change. It’s chilly, but the deer’s body temperature has become my heat source. I’ve never been this close to one before-the velvet texture of his budding antlers, the largeness of his black pupils, the symmetry of his teeth, the wet pink of his tongue.

The Fish and Game warden shows up with an animal crate-the kind big dogs fit in. He’s more concerned about the hip then the wound and tells us he’s seen tons of deer with stumps where hooves should be. I am oddly let down at the sight of the crate; I thought he would surely shoot him. What a story that would be. My friends would tell me how good it was of me to comfort the deer in his last moments, they’ll all tell me I’m such a kind amazing strong person. And then the shot will fire and I’ll weep and make it a story about me and my depth of character.

But no, Fish and Game isn’t going to shoot the deer. Instead, the two men gather the kicking and struggling buck into the crate and carry him across the field, the cows following.

After, in my friend’s car driving back to her house, I look down at my arm and notice the fabric seems to be moving. Crowds of deer lice digging in, trying to tunnel through the sleeve. I rip off the sweater and rub at my skin, Fucking deer I yell and I am torrent of writhing, barely contained as I have to wait the five minutes left, watching the teeming burrowing bodies trying to embed themselves in my skin.

So tell me now.

Do you know how many lives you’re gonna deal with?

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Header image courtesy of Constantinos Chaidalis. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Alexis Smiley Essay Nailed MagazineAlexis Smiley currently lives in the Willamette Valley with plans to jumpstart her wanderlust heart this June after completing a MFA in Creative Non Fiction at Eastern Oregon University. She considers her writing life a way into seemingly dispirit things, notions, and ideas. Namely, the beautiful terror. This is her first published essay and the honor of being included in the NAILED community is nothing short of electric.

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Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.