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Collection II
Volume II, Unit 9
by Peter Sheehy

Deer

Deer  audio! (Volume II. Unit 9)
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Deer

We were headed for a summer in Tahoe, just me and Jenna, all summer long to live on the lake, taking a few shifts a week in Jenna’s aunt’s restaurant—we were abandoning"We were headed for a summer in Tahoe, just me and Jenna, all summer long to live on the lake, ... abandoning our work-a-day lives in San Francisco, at least for a few months..." our work-a-day lives in San Francisco, at least for a few months, and we would find ourselves a real summer. We had quit our jobs because our jobs didn’t matter; to think of only the summer—it might not have been prudent"We had quit out jobs because our jobs didn't matter; to think of only the summer—it might not have been prudent, but it seemed somehow necessary.", but it seemed somehow necessary. A summer at the lake was what was necessary. We subletted out apartment. That was the plan. That was the way Jenna sold it.

But first we had to get there. The drive out of the city was fueled by the excitement of what lay ahead, but of course that couldn’t last. It took over two hours to get to the state capital, which didn’t help with Jenna’s nerves, I could tell. We should have been making better time. But what did it matter? In Sacramento we decided to stop for lunch—well, it was my idea—to get out of the car, stretch the legs, a respite"In Sacramento we decided to stop for lunch ... to get out of the car, stretch the legs, a respite from that tiny Ford Focus." from that tiny Ford Focus. We went to a barbecue place Jenna knew of. I was digging into some ribs when she first brought it up.

“Wendy,” Jenna said, and she had put down her sandwich, then moved on to inspecting the rib joint itself, checking out the California license plates nailed into the aluminum-like walls, the smiling cartoon pig mural painted behind the register, those photographs that were taped all over the place, “she ran away when we were young.” This I already knew. Jenna’s older sister Wendy had left the family when Jenna was ten and, presumably, had never looked back. No one had heard from her since. That’s the story I got from Jenna, and as for Jenna and me, it had been a watershed moment in our relationship when she told me about it, the kind of moment every relationship has at some point. It was the kind of moment that prods it into another gear, that makes you realize the thing had not been moving along as planned, or maybe at all, totally inert"... the [relationship] had not been moving along as planned, or maybe at all, totally inert and stagnant." and stagnant. Until something comes along and gives it a push. I was inclined to be wary"It was the kind of moment that prods [the relationship] into another gear, that makes you realize the thing had not been moving along as planned.... I was inclined to be wary of those moments." of those moments. At the time, Jenna and I were just testing the waters; we weren’t going anywhere. Then she opened up. But this had already happened, months and months before.

Jenna was never the consummate"Jenna was never the consummate conversationalist, not when it came to the important things, so she spoke with her head turned.—I wasn't sure whether she was actually talking to me or talking near me." conversationalist, not when it came to the important things, so she spoke with her head turned—I wasn’t sure whether she was actually talking to me or talking near me. She seemed to be looking over every last photograph taped to the walls.

“I don’t think about her much, but I do,” she went on. “Sometimes.” I offered my condolences"I offered my condolences as best I could, ... but really, how could I sympathize?" as best I could, my fingers sticky with barbecue sauce, but really, how could I sympathize? It was so far beyond me. My sister and I talked once a week, usually. And for this to come up now seemed out of place. I told Jenna as much, how I couldn’t imagine what losing a sister felt like, because I couldn’t. I’d told her that months ago, and I told her again. What else was I to say?

Although that part about her sister never looking back—I found out later that wasn’t true.

We took longer than we should have in Sacramento that afternoon, Jenna and I. The day was getting away from us, and I remember having this feeling the summer was already eluding"The day was getting away from us, and I remember having this feeling the summer was already eluding us too." us too. Why? It was just a feeling. But by dusk we were back on the road and headed for Tahoe, making our way along US 50, straight through El Dorado county.

* * *

Maybe fifty or sixty miles outside of Tahoe—it was dark by that point, and the road had started winding miles ago, in and around the mountainside—I conceded"Maybe fifty or sixty miles outside of Tahoe—it was dark by that point, and the road had started winding miles ago...—I conceded driving duties to Jenna, because she insisted on driving this last part..." driving duties to Jenna, because she insisted on driving this last part, because she knew what lay ahead. That’s what she said. I was fine with that, even if she asked in that way Jenna has of asking.

Something was on her mind, I know now it was Wendy, and the closer we got to Tahoe, the more incisive"... the closer we got to Tahoe, the more incisive Jenna became with her car-talk: at each green mileage sign I'd shout out the miles... , and each time Jenna shouted back to me, ... until finally she spat, 'Don't you have anything else to say?'..." Jenna became with her car-talk: at each green mileage sign I’d shout out the miles to Tahoe, and each time Jenna shouted back to me, at first innocuous and playful, little things about an entire summer by the lake, just the two of us, until finally she spat, “Don’t you have anything else to say?” and she’d meant it to sound innocuous and playful, but by then she didn’t have the energy to pull it off.

That’s when Jenna hit the deer.

It came out of nowhere, of course, and on paper this exonerated"[The deer] came out of nowhere, of course, and on paper this exonerated [Jenna], because there was nothing she could have done to miss [hitting] that deer..." her, because there was nothing she could have done to miss that deer, because there was open road, and the next moment there appeared a deer. There was nothing in between. These things happen. Still, Jenna was the one controlling the car, and when she brought the Focus to a controlled halt, the deer was well behind us. Jenna had barely pulled the car to the side of the road. It wasn’t a direct hit, but clearly it was enough to fell the animal, and out of the Focus we raced to where the deer lay.

We approached the animal. It wasn’t quite dead.

“Oh, Christ,” I remember saying. Deer’s blood.

Jenna wasn’t as trenchant"Jenna wasn't as trenchant with her words; she mumbled a few things, covered her mouth with her hand, and to this day I don't know what she'd said, if she'd said anything at all." with her words; she mumbled a few things, covered her mouth with her hand, and to this day I don’t know what she’d said, if she’d said anything at all.

“What should we do?” I asked. Because I didn’t know. I didn’t want to go near the deer, it seemed too unpredictable, I could still see its life flickering through its flickering eyes. And its heaving chest. It labored to breathe—each breath was truncated"[The deer] labored to breathe—each breath was truncated, the animal couldn't inhale fully, each breath stopped halfway.", the animal couldn’t inhale fully, each breath stopped halfway. The deer didn’t have a chance, that much I could tell. I had never seen anything like it. Jenna kept her distance, like me.

“We—we can’t do anything about it,” Jenna managed. “We can’t do—for it.” She was crying, and Jenna never cried. A pair of headlights emerged down the road, winding their way as we just had, two yellow discs swelling in the night, and the car slowed as it neared our turn in the road, as it neared me and Jenna standing over this dying deer. But the car refused to stop, it actively sped up and it passed us by, and Jenna and I felt like criminals on the side of the highway. At least I did.

We’d left the doors to the Focus hanging open, the engine running, the lights on. It suddenly occurred to me that there were other cars on the highway; of course there were, even if they were far between at this point.

“We have to go,” Jenna said, and she made tracks for the Ford Focus. I took one last look at the animal and followed suit behind Jenna, piled into the car—there wasn’t much damage to the car itself, nothing too flagrant"... there wasn't much damage to the car itself, nothing too flagrant, amazingly so...", amazingly so—and we absconded"... we absconded into the night, escaping the scene before the next passing car found its way to that dying deer on the side of the road." into the night, escaping the scene before the next passing car found its way to that dying deer on the side of the road.

* * *

When we finally pulled into Jenna’s aunt’s driveway, it was late enough to make us question where the day had gone. It should have taken us four or five hours to get from San Francisco to Tahoe, but the day was guileful"It should have taken us four or five hours to get from San Francisco to Tahoe, but the day was guileful and avoided our efforts at planning, and it was no longer clear when we had left the city in the first place." and avoided our efforts at planning, and it was no longer clear when we had left the city in the first place. All I know is that it was plenty dark that night. Lake Tahoe at night.

Jenna’s aunt wasn’t home; she was still at work. The cottage itself was dark, too, save for a motion-sensor light above the garage that sprang to life when Jenna eased the car into place in the driveway. Jenna killed the ignition, but neither one of us moved. We sat in that Ford Focus, in the light of the driveway.

“We’re here,” I said, because it seemed like an appropriate thing to say; nothing more was needed. At the same time, it seemed like an abridged" 'We're here,' I said, because it seemed like an appropriate thing to say; nothing more was needed. At the same time, it seemed like an abridged version of what I could have said, a reduction of what I should have said." version of what I could have said, a reduction of what I should have said.

As if to fill the gaps, Jenna came out with it. “I used to read Wendy’s diary,” she said. She leaned forward and traced a finger across the windshield. “I used to sneak into her room and—she hid it under the bed. Under the bed! What kind of hiding spot is that?” And Jenna talked about that diary, recalled its cover—gold and green—and the pages, her sister’s handwriting, the colored pens her sister used. Once she knew it was there, Jenna couldn’t help but read it, whenever Wendy wasn’t home, as if her sister’s journal held the meanings of life; the stories of teenage boys and cigarettes so compelling; as if her sister were the greatest of raconteurs"... Jenna couldn't help but read it, ... as if her sister's journal held the meanings of life; the stories of teenage boys and cigarettes so compelling; as if her sister were the greatest of raconteurs.". Jenna couldn’t put it down. Her older sister! She was hooked.


The car slowed as it neared our turn in the road, as it
neared me and Jenna standing over this dying deer.

Illustration by Teresa Murphy

Jenna’s mother had always tried to soften the blow of Wendy’s desertion. She’d played it off as ‘our little Wendy quagmire"Jenna's mother had always tried to soften the blow of Wendy's desertion. She'd played it off as 'our little Wendy quagmire'...",’ as if there was still something they could do about it, as if it were anything but final. Wendy would come back, someday. Her optimism was laudable"Jenna's mother had always tried to soften the blow of Wendy's desertion.... Wendy would come back, someday. Her optimism was laudable, it not misplaced.", if not misplaced.

“Before she ran away,” Jenna continued, “I mean, right before she ran away—she wrote about it. She wrote that she was going to run away.

“I never told anyone. Because, at first, it didn’t seem like a big deal. It was our little Wendy quagmire. That’s how Mom always put it. Then, some time passed, and—it just seemed irrelevant eventually.”

“Oh, Jenna,” I said. Like I said, how could I sympathize? But I gave Jenna my hand, I gave her what I could.

“She did try and contact me after that. Actually, a few times. Only me, though, never Mom, or Daddy—she barely ever mentioned them. She wrote one time, I’m out in the world and the world isn’t so bad, you know. Something like that. Although this was before she even left. She wrote that in her diary. We were sisters. Maybe she knew I was the kind of sister who would read her diary.

“Her letters, on the other hand, they never said anything. One letter she devoted entirely to the Grand Slam Breakfast at Denny’s. I mean, she wrote all about it. She told me to go out and get one, if I never had one. And I did. But what is that to go on? There are Denny’s all over. She could have been anywhere. She never included a return address. And at that age, I didn’t think to look at the postage mark. I thought of that later on, but I was young, I had thrown the envelopes away. I kept the letters, but I threw the envelopes in the outside trashcans.”

Jenna reached into the backseat and pulled her handbag into her lap. I thought for sure she was going to show me something, her movements had that urgency to them, but instead she grabbed at the door’s handle and coiled out of the car.

Lake Tahoe at night. It was still and dark, and the woods were all around us.

“All the outside markings were typewritten,” Jenna added. “I told my Mom it was for a pen-pal program at school.”

* * *

For the most part, the summer went on as planned, even if Jenna and I relied on the largess"... Jenna and I relied on the largess of her aunt more than we should have...; living in her aunt's cottage by the lake, borrowing her aunt's WaveRunner—we barely had to spend a dollar of our own making, Jenna's aunt was so unusually giving." of her aunt more than we should have, more than I was comfortable with; living in her aunt’s cottage by the lake, borrowing her aunt’s WaveRunner—we barely had to spend a dollar of our own making, Jenna’s aunt was so unusually giving. All our meals came from the restaurant. Jenna’s aunt managed our laundry. And when she first caught sight of my bathing suit, she gave Jenna her credit card and told us to go on and buy new ones, the both of us. Her generosity was indomitable"... Jenna's aunt was so unusually giving.... And when she caught sight of my bathing suit, she gave Jenna her credit card and told us to go on and buy new ones, the both of us. Her generosity was indomitable.". The little money Jenna and I made in tips, then, went straight to drinks, and the casinos. San Francisco couldn’t have seemed farther away.

Wendy never came up again, not after that first night. Although every few weeks Jenna would fall into an uncharacteristic fit of petulance"... every few weeks Jenna would fall into an uncharacteristic fit of petulance—she got into this one blowup with a girl working the Starbucks at Harvey's..."—she got into this one blowup with a girl working the Starbucks at Harvey’s, and Jenna wasn’t making any sense, she kept telling the girl, “That’s why I won’t ever tip you, that’s why you won’t get my dollar,” on and on, and all this after Jenna had dropped a dollar bill in the tip jar. The Starbucks girl was speechless. I realized later that she looked a lot like Wendy. Or, rather, how Wendy used to look, years ago, when she left home. I had never seen pictures, but that’s how Jenna put it when I asked her about the incident one time when we met up back in San Francisco. My guess is that Wendy was a blonde and the similarities ended there. But that was the reason Jenna gave, how the Starbucks girl looked a lot like Wendy, or at least how Wendy looked when she had taken her journal with her and—this came out later too—ran off to Lake Tahoe.

Although the Starbucks girl was younger than we were at the time.

* * *

That summer we never found Jenna’s sister. I know now that Jenna was looking for her, of that I’m sure. Although I never brought it up, not then, and not since—I just let Jenna have it. I didn’t need to see her try to debunk"That summer we never found Jenna's sister. I know now that Jenna was looking for her, of that I'm sure. Although I never brought it up, not then, and not since.... I didn't need to see her try to debunk my theory..." my theory; it wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere. Jenna was looking for her sister, and she never found her.

The drive back to San Francisco, then, was mostly quiet. We recapped about our carefree summer; it was behind us now, and with each passing mile it seemed more like a dream, as if it had never happened. I was driving, and I was taking it slow—we were in no rush to get back.

I don’t know where we were—well, we hadn’t hit Sacramento yet. We were somewhere in the heart of El Dorado, winding our way back through the mountains along US 50. We’d been there before. When Jenna told me to stop the car.

“What?”

“Stop the car!” and she even went for the steering wheel, although she didn’t actually grab it. I pulled over onto the shoulder and, as soon as we had come to a stop, Jenna burst from the car and backtracked down the side of the highway. I watched her in the rear-view mirror as she raced down the road, until she spun around and looked back to the car. And from about fifty feet away I could see her face turn.

When I made it to Jenna, she was standing over the dead deer.

This one must have been dead for some time. The animal had been trounced"When I made it to Jenna, she was standing over the dead deer. This one must have been dead for some time. The animal had been trounced by the car that hit it, and flies now buzzed around the deformed carcass." by the car that hit it, and flies now buzzed around the deformed carcass.

There was a shovel in the trunk, and I went back to the Focus to retrieve it—the shovel was from the Fourth of July, when Jenna’s aunt had insisted we dig a barbecue pit in the sand, and we roasted an entire pig, luau-style. What made me think of the shovel in that moment, I don’t know. But with Jenna staring at that dead deer—I wasn’t really thinking, simply moving.

And Jenna accepted the shovel as if she’d known all along, as if she were waiting for it to be delivered to her. This deer was already dead, but somehow Jenna managed to put it out of its misery.