Deer Maggot

By SAIDEE BROWN | Published: January 25, 2010

I went to Austria when I was eight. My mother and my younger brother drove me to JFK and I got on the airplane alone and flew eight hours across the Atlantic ocean between an Arab man who sweated a lot and a German man whose large size was not compatible with his seat. I was occupying the seat that was meant for my older brother. He had disappeared when the time came for him to go. He lost his chance. He made out like it was everyone else’s fault. The trip would always be what I had stolen from him. There had been a mad rush to get my passport and belongings packed for the summer. Being eight, the flurry felt like attention and excitement.

“You do know you are going to be far away, across the ocean. You won’t be able to change your mind.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You will be gone for the whole summer. You will have to stay there.”

“Uh-huh.”

What were they thinking? I agreed and I even begged to be sent but I couldn’t know what I was agreeing to. I was eight. I knew what I was leaving: my mother’s third divorce or maybe it was the fourth. We were in a transition I had been praying for since I was four when we had moved to the llama farm and were told she was marrying the farmer.

The farmer was ten years younger than my mom. Blonde, icy blue eyes and athletic. From behind my mother’s legs he appeared stiff, angry, stalwart and withholding. Anyone who says an adult can’t hate a child is a fool and anyone who says a child can’t sense the hate of an adult is an even bigger fool. This man hated my older brother and me. We were not his kin. We were from a city. Big city hot shots.

A farm was no place for soft big city hot shots. The more he attempted to bend us, break us into a mold that he was of a mind was correct, the worse life was. The hickory stick adorning the top of the kitchen doorway with its black electrical tapped handle, a testament to his parenting skills. Nothing bit the skin like hickory. It was best to disappear as the cards were stacked against us: it was all in the farmers favor.

I would stand under the hickory tree in the cow’s pasture. Mean and dense it was like the stick that came from it. Rooted in like the farmer. The cow would make her way to me, my head only reaching her wet nose. Soft eyes blinking, blithe compassion, a delicate flower blown up to a massive proportion. There were dandelions to be gathered and the cow my easy companion.

As our first winter there peaked and all was coated in a tight iced fondant of snow and the sky revealed every star because the darkness of the farm was at the end of the earth, I would stand on the top step of the porch and look out over the quiet world, the lane stretched long and beckoning in front of me, hey diddle diddle in my head. I imagined myself rescued by the dish and the spoon. We would all be hand and hand, flying, feet brushing the sweeping phone lines as we flitted our way, running in the air up the driveway, the dish and the spoon and I off to more sensible lands, to a soft home where we would all be properly loved. I was not like that little dog laughing and I was certainly not a cow jumping over the moon. I could escape with the dish and the spoon.

The winter broke. We were still there. The sharp weather gave way to finer temperatures and still we remained. I held out hope.

As if reading my heart, my mother jammed as many belongings as she could into trash bags and dragged them and me and my younger brother to the top of the driveway. Though I was leaving behind belongings and pets, all things familiar and had no knowing of what ride would come for us I was up for the journey. I looked forward, never turned back to look down the driveway at the miserable farm growing smaller behind us, never regretted a goodbye to the fields that my mother’s cursed farmer couldn’t coax grass to grow in.

I could easily leave it all.

And there we would sit at the top of the driveway. Route 543, a bent fable of a road, a line of quilted thread embroidering the fields. We were not an anonymous heap along this path. Most that passed would know us and, if not us, knew the farmer and his proud family that sprinkled the area. If the leaving was unsuccessful then we would have to live by the anger and shame we caused the farmer flaunting our troubles at the top of his drive.

Who did she think was coming? She would stay silent with the exception of a sob or grunt to shift a bag. We were quiet too. This place where we would stand for the school bus was now cluttered with black plastic heaps and our mothers defeat. I could almost pity her. I thought the ride she had called would come soon, my eyes expectant with the site of each vehicle coming over the rise. Our nomadic silhouette coming into shape as the sun set.

And then she’d break our hearts grabbing the bags and bumping them back down the driveway. The bramble of thorny canes fencing the lane with its complication of intersecting branches not unlike the mix of feelings I had as we made our descent to the farm, the curved fuzzy foxtail weeds bobbing in mock sorrow with our own bent heads. And then I would look back, you can be sure my head would be turned, neck cricked looking for the phantom ride that never appeared, needing to believe the horizon, the disappearing vanishing end of our driveway was freedom and hope.

In our third year on the farm, my Grandpa Shea and his wife Frances came from Austria to visit us. We had never met him or Frances. My mother had not seen her father since she was a small girl way back in Chicago.

Grandpa Shea’s wife was a countess. Grandpa Shea had a twinkle, and a readiness for love I had been starving for. Frances was all that he wasn’t. Where he was thick muscled and ruddy with robustness, she was slight with spindly hollow bird bones. He was loud, opinionated, quick to judge a situation and act. She was studious. His eyes wet, open with a hint of mischief. Hers a little shifty, mistrusting. They were an odd pair. She was an Austrian, he was full blooded Irish. They struck a balance. Their acceptance of each other is as refreshing.

My grandpa Shea stayed on with us for the entire summer. Frances went back to Austria. She had responsibilities, she was a countess after all. Ja, ja: two words picked up by Grandpa Shea that he was never able to shed. “Ja, ja,” he would say and then suck his teeth, eyes a twinkle, his long arms stretched back, held in place across his flat rectangular grandpa butt by a hand holding a thick Irish finger. A stance my mother was known to take, a genetic stance.

He smelled like the spicy goodness of Brachs cinnamon candies and his grandpa sweater pockets always crinkled with the wrappers.

We became very close that summer. I think he stayed not only to get to know my mother but because he saw the failure and meanness of her farmer and he couldn’t bear to leave us with him.

Grandpa Shea with his presence made apparent what the farmer was: a small mean man. Even his name had a meanness, Ed. He was cut down to size and unable to harm us, degrade us in front of this love.

I hardly ever thought of the countess during this time, much more preferring to think of Grandpa Shea as our savior who would never go.

But go he did back to Frances.

The countess had a castle. When you are eight, a castle is grand, with towers and turrets and archways and roses and gold-gilded everything, pink marble, silk upholstered bolsters, ballrooms, magical paths and of course canopy beds with billowy drapes. I never asked and so in my mind this is where my grandfather returned. I liked to think of this place. I was comforted by it.

Less than a year after my grandpa left, my mother left the farmer. He had gotten an acquaintance of my mother’s pregnant. My mother had met a man and was taking off for weekends with him and we were left to ride the weird in-between of it all. My mother became carefree. The farmer looked lost. The year that ensued was fraught with inconsistencies and speed bumps as my mother found her way. When we finally did leave the farmer, the smallness, the culture of carefulness, I was ready to go anywhere. We moved to a little cabin in the woods with her new boyfriend. We still spent time with the farmer. But it was a relief to come back to the cabin. The boyfriend was an alcoholic with a gentle sadness around him. I was happy to be with him. He was damaged like us and recovering in his heart, too. In the cabin we could stretch our limbs, leave traces of ourselves and felt no fear of punishment.

And yet I was happy to leave. Happy to set my sights on a grand adventure. My mother called my father, he had to sign papers for my passport. He sent a check for travel expenses and clothes.

I was most excited about the clothes. There was a soft yellow shorts outfit I loved with blue flowers embroidered on it. Not many dresses. It was all clean, new and there were underwear. A rare luxury in my life.

When I told people about the trip I explained the wardrobe in great detail. I told of the types of shoes, the rainbow patch on the denim shorts, the black and white striped and polka dotted swim suit with a skirt. I spoke of it so much that the farmer was moved to write a letter to my grandfather. It sat a top the washed folded piles of clothes in my suitcase the days before I was leaving. A paper cap on the order and calm the neat stacks provided for me when I looked.

My mother asked me about the envelope a few days before I was leaving.

“What is this?” she asked.

“A letter for Grandpa Shea from Ed.”

“Really? From Ed?”

She took the letter off the stack and ripped it open.

I had to grip the chair. I was like a whipped dog certain of the punishment such an infraction would earn me. I remembered Ed couldn’t get me anymore, my body started to relax.

I waited while her eyes scanned the page.

“What an asshole!” she yelled. It is then that she started to read it aloud.

Dear Jim, it said.

Hope this letter finds you well. I really enjoyed having you out to the farm last year. It is great of you to take Saidee. There are some things you should know about her. She is full of arrogant pride and she is a liar. She has bragged to everyone about this trip she is making and as if that in itself weren’t enough she tells people she will be living in a castle and she has a suitcase filled with new clothes.

I was having a hard time getting past the word liar. I felt punched in the stomach. His hate followed me across the county and had it not been for my mother it would have followed me across an ocean. My mother called the farmer to let him know she would be saving him from the embarrassment of looking like a fool. She’d read his letter. How dare he. On and on it went.

She talked about it for a long time to anyone who would listen. It might as well have been sent as I felt marked by his words.

Uncertain but excited I said goodbye to my family. I boarded a KLM plane. I sat sandwiched between two foreign men who both seemed full of disdain for sharing a seat with a little girl, not even allowing me a look out the window. When I stood to peak down to the busy tarmac and see the ant-sized people in preparation for our departure, the Arab man responded to my interest by sliding his window shade shut. Clear.

I fell asleep not long after we had made our way to our cruising altitude.

The airplane and my first week of being in Austria were a blur of disoriented sleep, adjusting to new smells and a shock of not being able to read everything or understand everyone.

I was in the care of Frances. Frances spoke very little. Her English was fine but she was quiet. Economical with her words. Grandpa Shea, I would describe as cheap. He cut all corners, he expected that every cent could somehow get him twice as much if you found the right angle. Frances was frugal, which is different from cheap. It carried over into her entire being. Her movements were measured, as was the amount of lip she let protrude. She did the laundry without flourish. Not a hum, not a sway in her hips. The sheets snapped into acute rectangles of attentive behavior in her hands. She went about all of her tasks like this. She was not graceful like what I thought a countess would be. She was not glamorous. She was a refugee who scuttled out of hiding with practiced steps to a familiar spot, got the job done and returned as quickly as possible to her spot, relieved and uncertain. I wasn’t sure how I fit in to her world. After a while I was given some jobs, clear physical or geographic boundaries. I could explore the stable grounds where we lived.

I was given a bicycle and a pass to the pool and on certain days I could ride across town to where my grandpa was renovating the castle. I was alone. There were American students living on the grounds taking part in a work exchange my grandpa had set up for his renovation. I craved their company not only for language but for youth.

I spent my days in a make believe land riding my horse bike, training snails in the garden. If Frances left I had to go too. There would be no talk of the errand. I would be in the courtyard and she would come out of the house, cigarette dangling from her dry papery lips. She’d lock the door. I’d stand quietly and wait to see what would happen. If she walked to the garage, I would follow and help her open the doors and we would get in her light blue VW bug and we would leave. I would sit in the back seat because I was under twelve. Sometimes I would ask where we were going but I came to know certain cues. The red, blue and green woven nylon bags signaled shopping, Tuesdays we went to Hamburg for the meats. Her hat meant we were going to the town officials and so on. Once I didn’t ask and we went to the podiatrist. Not a visually pleasant experience, lots of sick feet gassing off a foul odor in a hot waiting room.

Frances drove like a crazy woman. She held it all back for the open road. A small bird of a woman, cigarette dangling, smoke curling around her graying coiled curls, her suspicious eyes twitching and driving as fast as the little car could manage, changing lanes and overtaking semis like it was the Grand Prix de Monaco. Her elbows all sharp angles as she kept control of the little car. I would steal glances over her shoulder if I felt brave. If my Grandpa was in the car he would yell at her to slow down. Not me. I would press my head against the back of her seat and pray to make it back to the States. When the car came to a stop I would get out shaky-legged, confused by the life harrowing experience brought to me by the seemingly simple sensible woman who herself was walking away in her Austrian house dress and support hose, who made mouth-puckering sour apricot shortbread. I was unable to reconcile all of the qualities. The freedom of still being alive a magic unshared, potent, the air cool on my sweaty tense body.

One morning when I returned from town with the wire basket of eggs and was parking my bike, Frances came out with the keys. It had just begun to rain. Fat drops that dimpled the dusty circle of drive in the courtyard. I left my bike and opened the garage door. The eggs I left on a chair in the garage.

We pulled out of the stable, the fat drops continued to fall but not enough for the windshield wipers to work without a whine. A swoosh and then a complaining squeak. This sound and a few disdainful noises from Frances filled the car. She smoked and her window wasn’t opened a lot so we were cramped and muggy as well as bitter smoke filled. We left headed towards Hamburg so I assumed it was it was meat day. The town gave way to country. We had passed a few fields when Frances cut the wheel and came to a sudden stop on the side of the road. I looked all around. Was this our errand? There was not a building or a person in sight. I looked behind us: no broken down cars.

Without a word, Frances opened her car door. Her cigarette bobbed as she worked the handle, the smoke blending into the gray sky behind her, face framed by the cars door window.

She slammed the door and took a few steps away. She stopped not far from the side of the road where the gravel met the grasses along the field’s edge, her legs slightly spread, and I followed her gaze down, my breath caught as I took in the task Frances was now tending. She stepped her legs out a bit further and between them was the curved “c” of a dead baby deer. Frances grunted under the weight of it as she lifted it. No longer a frail bird, she carried the creature to the car and did in my mind the unthinkable, she jostled its weight over just so and opened the car door with the practice patience of a mother used to one handed tasks. Her cigarette still burned and she carried it all, the smoke, the cigarette and the dead baby deer. Her mouth was clamped down. She still said nothing as she pulled the seat forward and deposited the very dead deer on the seat I had just been sitting in.

And then in what felt like one motion she got back into the VW, started the engine and jerked us back onto the road. I looked over at the carcass as we were jostled into each other. I took in the sable brown of its coat, the variegation of coloring and the spots, the vulnerable whiteness of its belly, a broken leg, the leg bent wrong and the eye lashes, swooped long Japanese brush strokes defining the taxidermy glazed eyes.

And still nothing was said.

It was hotter in the car now and the smell was too sweet, it pulled at my gag reflex and I was certain I would puke. I soothed the convulsing gags with a low hum in my throat.

I looked away, out the window where I tried to follow the side of the road, my trained eye on automatic, rising and falling with the terrain. A meditation I had perfected from torture rides with the farmer where the slightest glimpse at him could provoke him. It was no use. I could not not look at the fawn.

We came to the parking lot of the meat processing place. A small industrial brick building. She had never taken me in. I had always been made to sit in the car. I assumed some relief from the dead deer situation would be found here and so hope raised in me. I thought she at least would get the deer out and then roll the windows down for air.

But this was not the case. She got out and slammed the car door and she disappeared into the building leaving me in the car, windows closed for the threat of impending rain. Alone, seat to seat with a dead deer.

Looking all around me outside of the car I could see the tall cyclone fence with barbed wire atop it. Trapped, the feeling compounded as the rain picked up, pounding the domed metal roof, outside a smear of muted colors, the nestled coziness a coffin. I looked at my seat companion. I would never again be this close to deer. Its hair separated by the damp air into clumps and I could see the baby white layer beneath the brown coat. I touched it as I looked at its black nose, a button sewn in place. A fly landed on me. I swatted it and another landed on my shoulder and on my leg and when I stomped my leg bumped the deer and I felt something land on my foot. I looked down at my sandal to see a few maggots wriggling between my toes. The urge to vomit rushed me. I was able to stop it. I told myself anytime now the butcher will come out.

He never did.

I pressed myself against the side of the car certain there were still maggots on me. Phantom maggots were on my leg, under my arch trapped in my sandal, in my hair, my ears filling with them. A wave of acceptance eventually settled.

Frances arrived after a long time with a cardboard box filled with the log tubes of deli meat we ate every night for dinner with buttered sourdough and salad. Salami, prosciutto, ham, soprasatta and bologna.

The rain had stopped. Her cigarette puffed past an inch long ash threatening to fall soon.

We drove back to town silent. I tried to ignore my seatmate the deer child. She pulled into the courtyard. Everything glistened with the wetness of the afternoon rain. It was fast drying in the summer sun. Frances stopped the car and again in one motion she opened the door and pulled forward the seat and extracted the fawn. She was not bothered by the hole in its side, maggots falling out as she carried it over to her office that she shared with the burgomaster.

I scrambled out past the maggots, past the thick sweetness of trapped decay.

I laid in the wet grass relieved by its coolness, my face poked by familiar grass and head clearing from universal smell of dirt. I could almost be home. When I was sure I wouldn’t throw up I got into my bathing suit and rode my bike to the town pool. I slipped past everyone, their German a thick chattering of incomprehension that blurred in with the atmosphere of the whole vacation. I plunged deep into the water. To the bottom I held myself only to rise and plunge myself down again. The pressure holding me, the silence a comfort.

Later at dinner where we sat before the cold cuts we had bought earlier in the day, finely sliced and laid out on the tray, the frothing curls of baby lettuces in the wooden bowl and the smell of soured yeast coming from dense pieces of bread, my grandfather explained to me about Frances’ responsibilities as countess. He told me she had to report and catalogue the deer in her village. He told me she needed to file it with the burgermiester. Frances came to the table with the oil and vinegar. She was smiling as she said she was happy it was a fawn and not a buck on the side of the road because she hadn’t any rope to tie it to the top of the VW.

I didn’t much want to get back in the car with Frances for a while.



Comments

1. himynameis on February 1, 2010

Is this a true story? Not that it would take anything away from it if it wasn't. The language here was beautiful and every detail insightful. I really enjoyed reading this.

2. SaideeBrown on February 2, 2010

Himynameis,

This is a true story. Thank you for reading it. I am glad you enjoyed it. I hope to post more. It's great to being sharing work.

Saidee

Any Comments?


More...

» She Comes in Close, Pauses Like This

Comedians of a Lesser God

By GEORGE MAFFETT
Published: December 23, 2010

Improvements at the Improv

Free To Go

By SAIDEE BROWN
Published: September 24, 2010

An elevator ride to the immutable truth of where a couple stands.