Birdie's Knowledge of Signs
Lynn jabs it with the barrel of his rifle. It’s a sign, he says. One head, two bodies. A whitetail. Or two. The two bodies bloom out from the single head like the feathers on a shuttlecock in uterine slime. The mess puckers, releases a thin cloud of steam when Lynn pokes it again. It’s still alive.
Mama’s gotta be around, says Birdie. We better git. He squints into the forest. Ivy twists around trunks, clings like gossamer from low limbs—parasitic, rampant.
Lynn gives his left jeans pocket a pat: his lucky half dollar. It’s called a doe, he says.
Birdie didn’t want to come, but Lynn said it was high time he learned. Hunting. Sixteen to Lynn’s thirty-six, Birdie’s the youngest of thirteen brothers all with the square-jawed manliness of the Mortlock men—all except Birdie. Folks have their theories about Birdie. Different father? A slack, feminine glitch in the genes? Birdie’s mama took him as a sign that no more good could come from her. She bought her man rubbers, got her figure back after 25 years of birthing boys. But with no more child inside her, she died nine months later. Folks say disappointment grew in her like cancer.
A thread of steam rises, dissipates. Fifty yards away. Birdie raises his gun, aligns the crosshairs, but there’s no animal now, just a young tree wrenched down by the weight of the ivy. It’s gaining footing and girth every second. It’s too late for the wood, but no one knows this yet.
Lynn’s still on one knee, still poking at the shuddering Siamese deer. What do you think it means? he whispers. He’s testing Birdie’s knowledge of signs. Freaks to Lynn are portents. Warnings. Beginnings to ends.
Birdie’s still scanning the ivy—black on black—for the doe. Dunno, he says. Guess hindsight’ll tell. To his left between two beech trunks veined in ivy as thick as men’s arms, he sees the doe’s breath again. Closer. He squints, aims. Nothing. Time to go, he says.
Lynn pats his left jeans pocket. He had his lucky half dollar when the Taliban hit his unit, when the tornadoes sacked Montgomery County in ’07, when his truck cartwheeled five times on I75 last year, 120 to 0 in seven seconds, landing gnarled in a drainage ditch, wheels spinning in the air, James Taylor still singing “Oh, Mexico. Never really been but I’d sure like to go.” Lynn crawled out with not one scratch—a miracle—because of that half dollar in his pocket, folks say. He rubs it now thinking Anne, the kids, the house—all safe, quiet this time of day.
But folks also say the luck’s changed him. Most say for the worse. Cocky and reckless, they say, like a priest queered by wide-eyed trust, a movie star disfigured by money and fame.
Birdie knows nothing about signs. He’s shy, knows he doesn't like the smell of girls but doesn't know what to do with the thought. The things he loves are mostly edible, downloadable or dead. He loves Elvis. He doesn't give salvation much thought, but he knows a bad feeling when he feels it. He keeps searching for the mama deer through the dark waves of ivy. Like a virus unchecked, he thinks: inundating, crashing breakers. You just have to know when to jump and close your eyes. When to accept the heft of it. When to hold your breath and hope.
Bet we could get a pretty penny for this, Lynn says. Get it stuffed. What do they call that—he jiggles the freak again with his gun—when you--
Taxidermy, Birdie says. The syllables echo, fade into the stillness. Then there’s a snap.
From their right the doe springs, lands in front of Lynn, groaning low and close. He doesn’t think to stand, to run. The animal rears. Hooves fall, rhythmic like mallets on timpani. Lynn laughs, raises his gun, but then a blow breaks his nose, the next his clavicle. The gun falls into the underbrush. Pinned by the crazed animal—her offspring somewhere beneath him—Lynn squirms to pull the half dollar from his pocket. Hooves pelt his face, break his jaw, crush his Adam’s apple.
Through ivy, Birdie cocks his gun, aims. The doe turns to face him, steam pumping from her nostrils.
Shoo, he says, go on, Mama. Go on.
But she’s not leaving. She’d never leave her own.
About the author:
Christopher Allen is a freelance editor, translator and teacher--and writer of course. His work appears in Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, STRIPPED: a collection of anonymous flash and over a hundred other journals and anthologies. Read his book reviews at [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, The Lit Pub and more. In 2010 Allen was a finalist at Glimmer Train and is also a multiple nominee for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Originally from Tennessee, he now lives somewhere in Europe. Allen is the managing editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.