Maybe it’s a hangover, or a cold. Maybe someone has cursed you. You’ve behaved in ways, done ungenerous things, that could warrant a curse. Under strict guidelines. A case could be made. Maybe a strong case. You need to sit down. Maybe you’ve left your car somewhere, or don’t have one. It might be a friend’s car, or an image of a car in a movie, that you’re recalling with feelings of ownership. Maybe you left something on the passenger seat, or were a passenger who got out of the car, but also, did not. In a spiritual sense. A part of your spirit is missing, maybe, or running an errand in secret. Maybe you believe in God. Maybe your total belief in God has flipped into certainty. That there is no God. Maybe this happened in your sleep. And has happened with other things. With love. You’ve been so sure. Of being in love. That it made you realize you weren’t. Maybe sitting down is not enough. Maybe you have to lie. Right down. Maybe there isn’t time to clear the ground first. Maybe if you hold your breath, the thing just beyond your vision that flutters when you exhale will go still. Maybe you need to keep your eyes open. Your cheek is pressing into the earth so forcefully. Like pleasure. Like someone is on top of you. Maybe something has crawled inside your ear. Maybe your face is trying to bury itself. Maybe this day will end and turn into another. Maybe you’re giving yourself a rash. Maybe you’re screaming, or maybe you are only thinking about screaming; maybe you are reviewing your options and a scream is just one thing you can do.
You wake up in glass, or maybe snow, to a broken windshield. Everything is snow and broken glass ground up together. Except the deer. Its brown fur. Its eyes are snow and glass. The deer’s chest makes the sound of a car engine. You crawl through the space where the windshield used to be and the deer comes closer. When you climb on its back you see its fur is spotted with snow, or glass. Its hide smells like your father’s aftershave. Maybe your tongue gets stuck when you touch it to the deer’s icy antler. Or maybe, if the antler is glass, you just bleed.
There was a time, as a child, when you fainted. After a nurse had drawn your blood. Your blood had moved through plastic coils. Seemingly fleeing your body. Maybe you were jealous. It got to leave. On the drive home the bare tree branches looked like veins. In your father’s den, the mounted antlers looked like branches. You thought of a creature so large its veins might be the size of antlers, or branches. You stretched your skin and watched your veins beneath. You were sure they were moving. Gliding forward. You told your father. He said you’re not feeling well. You felt a vein inside your arm stretch out. Like the caught thread of a sweater. The pointed tip of the mounted antlers seemed close enough to pierce your eye. You felt like you might faint again. Maybe you did.
When the deer’s gait makes you nauseous, you get off its back and run to a nearby tree. Snow and broken glass crunch beneath your feet. Your mouth fills with a warm gold liquid. Maybe it’s blood. You aren’t seeing clearly. The bite of cold wind, maybe. Maybe tears. Gold ones. You wonder if you’ve ever worn jewelry. You can’t recall. The deer’s antlers look strewn with necklaces. Or chains. It depends. You wish you could tell. What size things are. You touch the snow on your neck. Or is it glass. Maybe your jewelry has hidden beneath your skin. Like veins. Of glass and blood. Your tears are gold mixed with snow. The deer’s breath is warm and golden on your neck. One of the deer’s glass eyes has broken. The veins beneath its fur are bursting with treasure. The deer smells what you left in the snow but doesn’t eat it.
Maybe the broken glass is a sheet of ice. Or maybe the sheet of ice is a windshield. Maybe a deer is scaling your car, breaking the windshield as it climbs to the roof. Maybe your heartbeat is the sound of stretching metal. Maybe your blood’s slick warmth is the tongue of a deer, cleaning you. Maybe the deer’s head is resting in your lap like a dog’s. Maybe its antlers are your ribs. Maybe you’re too sensitive, or can’t feel much of anything. Maybe the radio is on, or maybe that music is just the wind, or the deer’s heartbeat, or the groan of metal. Maybe the radio is broken. Maybe the deer’s antlers are pressing buttons, turning on lights, rolling down windows. Maybe it’s searching for a napkin. Maybe you should both buckle up. Maybe safety is unavailable with a broken radio. Maybe the deer’s weight is a metaphor for warmth. Maybe the deer is giving you its blood. This could all be something generous, maybe. Or maybe you left but didn’t arrive. Maybe you’re about to, though. Maybe you just did.
You have recurring nightmares of things falling out. Teeth and hair. Limbs, sometimes fingers. All your dog’s fur. The bulk of the dream is the work of carrying. You walk around holding these parts. In search of reattachment that doesn’t come. You clutch your pieces close. You place your dog’s fur in a bag and carry it around like a purse. Sometimes, you lose what you’re carrying, and then, in the dream, it returns in strange ways: you get into your car and the bag of dog hair is tucked beneath the windshield wiper. You’re thrilled to have found it, only to return home and discover your dog is gone: now you’ve lost your dog.
Or, you open your mailbox. You find a hand inside—a good thing, you assume—because after losing your hand from your body, you also forgot where you’d placed it. Except the hand in the mailbox is not yours. Once you realize this, you don’t want to have it around. You drive the hand out into the woods and leave it there, only to get home and see the hand on your kitchen table, waiting for you. Sometimes, in your dream, your dog loses enough fur that the bag of fur itself begins to look like an animal. A living thing, though you never discover exactly what. When the bag starts to move on its own in your dream, you wake up.
There’s writing on the window of your car, you realize. Or maybe it’s a drawing. Someone left a message for you, written in blood, or maybe dark snow. Maybe you wrote it. A word, or a handprint. Maybe a shadow. Is it your breath on the window, or frost? What’s in your mouth could be a tooth or a piece of antler. The sight of headlights frightens you. Or maybe the deer is thinking this. Maybe you’re under its body. In a posture like it just gave birth to you. There’s something you’re trying to swallow. Maybe you’re wearing the deer like a coat. Maybe it’s keeping you safe. Maybe what you think is a knock is just beads of blood dripping onto leather. Maybe someone’s getting into the car, or maybe more deer have arrived. The deer could be breathing into your ear, or bleeding, or melting snow against your body. Maybe what you see now is someone coming to help you. Or maybe isn’t help. Maybe it’s the radio. Maybe a herd of deer are welcoming you, or maybe you hear something else. Maybe all of the car’s windows are broken.
Lee Emma Running makes sculptures and drawings using roadkill animal bones, paper, fur, raw pigments and gold. She is a 2017 Iowa Arts Fellow, and has been a resident at Jentel, Banner WY, Penland School of Crafts, NC, and the Santa Fe Art Institute. Her work has been exhibited at the National Taiwan University of the Arts, Des Moines Art Center, The Charlotte Street Foundation, and the Western Carolina University Museum of Fine Art. She is an Associate Professor at Grinnell College.
Alissa Nutting is the author of the novels Made for Love, a recent New York Times editor’s choice selection, and Tampa, as well as the story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, an expanded/revised version of which is being rereleased in Summer 2018 as part of Ecco’s “Art of the Story” series. A nonfiction book of her comedic essays is forthcoming from Ecco in 2019. Her writing as appeared in publications such as Tin House, Fence, BOMB, and Elle. She is an assistant professor of English at Grinnell College.