Midwife in the Tire Swing

Intermezzo 18—The Starving Time

“Behold the beast that has the pointed tail,
That crosses mountains, leaves walls and weapons broken,
And makes the stench of which the world is full!”

—Dante, Inferno, Canto XVII

The deer carcass was jammed in tight as a weasel. Lucy wished he had a cigarette; how long had it been? The cravings were supposed to go away after a month; his doctor had assured him of this twenty years earlier, yet here he was. “I would kill for a cigarette,” he said to the corpse.

Lucy was bent over at an oblique angle, the weight of his body pressing against the old Chevy’s dashboard. In this position he and the deer were face to face. “Hiya, deer,” he said. “Heard any discouraging words lately?” The dead deer’s one remaining eye winked, then fell out. “Where the deer and the antelope roam. Home on the Range?” Empty eye sockets stared ahead through the windshield. “Not funny, is that what you’re saying?”

“Bet your ass, kemosabe,” said the deer.

A deer in the starving time—high winter, January, February, when it gets twenty, thirty below and stays there and the trees shriek as their cores shrivel and split—scrabbled its way into the driver’s seat. Under the tarp, past the hay. “Damned if I know why you didn’t stop to nibble the hay, but you didn’t. I’ll take that wink as a long-delayed post mortem censure from the Horned One. Just a song, Home on the Range. I meant no offence by it. Some respect, actually, you being deceased and all. The puzzlement is what drew you here, to the front seat of the car where my son—likewise dead, you may have met him, Elliot Hobart?—the car where my only son was conceived. No? Well it does no harm to ask. You were a fine six-point buck. Still are, except you’re dead. Grim work,” he said to the cat, who burraowed and jumped from Lucy’s shoulders to the deer’s antlers.

Lucy got to work on getting the deer out from behind the steering wheel. He hoisted a hammer, a two pound maul, and took a mighty swipe at the deer’s head. The deer carcass fell sideways to loll against the driver’s side window; the antlers were still locked onto the steering wheel. “Sorry, I have other plans. You understand?” said the deer.

“You are an hallucination,” said Lucy.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” said Herne of the Hernia, Father of All Demons.

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