Hard hard hard. Hooves click clack click clack. Hard hard hard. Up through hooves, knees, hips, click click, click click, shock, shock, shock. Shock bats at sternum, pounds ribcage, little bone cage, curled around flutter flutter fluttering heart, shock shock shock flutter flutter like flyers under her fur.
Want soft want sweet want safe want –
Oh oh oh.
Where is? Where where where?
Can’t see can’t smell can’t hear her. No Ma here. No Ma.
Waking, nose, wet and black, aquiver. Ears swivel, scooping in the sounds of her surroundings.
The crackle of grass and twigs under her folded limbs. Acrobatic squirrels romping, chattering, unstill. A snuffling four-legged man-friend, scoping bracken and last autumn’s leaf-mulch for scents, rabbits, knowledge of this piece of ground. Distant drone of man-made moving-box beasts, the slick of their strange round hooves against their unforgiving roads.
Ancestral memory, twined through blood and instinct tell her, these things are unnatural. These things did not exist, once, in a long ago before.
She senses an absence. A weight that should be there, coiled into her side, pressed to her belly and flank, is not. Like the depletion of lush summer fat through the stark, bark-stripping months of winter, when she unspools her long dark tongue into stump crevices and chews through rotted windfall for bare sustenance.
But it’s not that. This is spring. The cold season behind them, the tender shoots –
Wait. There it is. That’s it.
She should not be. She should have. Before sleep she was two. She was they.
Where is her little other?
Blocks. Strange blocks. Grey and big big big. Not natural not trees not right. Not good eating by the scent. Parts dart painful light, can’t look, can’t see right.
In front of each big box strange beasts guarding. Not moving now. Sleeping. When move, move so fast fast fast. Can hurt hurt hurt. Ma stays far from. Ma walks and lopes and runs long ways to stay far far from moving-box beasts.
Need Ma. Want Ma.
You. You there. Scent stuffy, scent of human box and and and. And fluff and meat and meat and meat.
But. Ma told meat scent bad.
You there. So close to the hard hard ground.
She follows the scent. Scent of her own birthing flesh, scent of her own sleep and worry. Through slender birch. Hum of moving-box beasts near. Not too near. Flicker of light on green, on leaves. But she doesn’t stop to eat.
Must hurry. Must hurry.
Separation is not good. Separation is danger, is twisted broken limbs, is road-smashed blood.
There is no herd now, only she and her little other, although she has been trying to find her way back, to find her sisters again.
First, though, oh first.
She runs, tail flicking, legs high, bounding and kicking.
Until a clatter.
No no no.
A man-made way. Lined with man-boxes.
Her ears prick and search, cupping sound. She raises her muzzle, scents.
Will you? Can you? What do you, how do you –
Ouch ouch ouch! Small and sharp and fast.
Cat. Man-box monster.
You! You. Back back back.
This little other my little other. Mine!
Hoof jab and stamp and thrash!
And you! You go wander, you go roam. Didn’t know where! Part of me, part of mine, you stay! Come. Come come come.
Ma. Yes Ma. Yes yes yes.
Ma! Ma ma ma!
Coming ma, coming!
Back to the green and the trees and the grass.
Not here. Here is not the place for us.
Millie slings her school bag down on one of the four wooden kitchen chairs. Each chair is painted a different primary colour. Announces: ‘I saw something So. Weird. This morning.’ Her mother looks up from loading the dish washer, a light hi sweetie, as she continues stacking dirty plates and bowls.
At the table, hunched over a bowl of cereal, her brother Jack grunts. The cereal is soggy; he wraps his arms protectively around the bowl as if someone might steal it.
‘I was, like, just leaving the house, you know? For school? And I had my arm halfway down my jacket sleeve, which was why I didn’t get a pic?’
Her brother keeps eating, slurping cereal and sugary milk from the spoon. He couldn’t care less. His sister is always gabbing. About pretty much nothing. He grunts again, unfolds himself from the blue chair (he told Mom the paint thing was gimicky and stupid. She didn’t listen. As per fucking usual. Nobody in this stupid house listens to him) and carries his bowl across to the sofa. He flops down, jabs the power button on the tv remote. The roar and piecing ref. whistles of WWF fills the open-plan space.
‘Jack!’ sharp irritation in his mother’s voice. ‘Turn it down!’
‘God Jack,’ Millie says, rolling her eyes. Anyone would think her brother was the younger one. ‘You’re so retarded sometimes.’
She leans her hip against the kitchen table, fiddles with a springy curl. ‘Don’tcha wanna hear what I saw??’ she asks her mother. Trying to get her attention. Everyone’s always doing their own thing. She thought parents were supposed to make time for their kids. Listen to them. You could understand trying to ignore Jack, he was an asshole most of the time. But honestly.
She remembers the door slamming behind her as she skipped down the stairs, her bag slapping her right hip. And there it was. She’d stopped dead in the driveway. She hadn’t wanted to frighten it. To scare it away. This adorable baby dear was stood there, right in the road in front of her house.
‘What is it, Millie? I’ve got a million things to do,’ Mom says, closing the door of the dishwasher and standing straight. She puts her hands on her ass, feeling in her back pockets for keys. ‘You can tell me in the car if you want to – ‘
Millie rolls her eyes again. Already grabbing up her bag by the strap, striding back the way she came, down the hall, swinging round the newel post and clomping up the stairs.
It really was cool though, this morning. Weird, but cool. So this baby deer was there, seemed to be all on its own. But then next door’s moody old cat came out from under the Saunder’s car. And it was almost like the little deer – fawn, is that the word? Fawn? Google it later – wanted to talk, right? But that cat, it’s always so, like, horridious, it took a swipe at the poor little thing’s nose. Which, like, really totally startled it. Obviously.
She flumps down across her bed, letting her bag, full of school books, thump to the floor. Opens whatsap to see if Amber’s online yet. She rolls onto her left side, phone in one hand, scoots her fingers into the tight pocket of her jeans and wriggles a crushed pack of gum free. Unwraps a stick, a bit mushed, and pops it in her mouth.
I mean, like, who wouldn’t jump if this evil grey cat just goes and takes a clawed swing and their nose out of nowhere? Like it thinks it’s some champion wrestler or whatevs on that stupid WWF Jack’s always watching. Mindless. It’s so pathetic.
But then the Mommy deer, she came charging across the road. Talk about out of nowhere. And totally gives the cat a licking, stamping and kicking at it with her hooves. Ha! It was the best ever. Millie just wishes she’d got a vid. But she hadn’t wanted to scare them off. Although they ran off anyway, soon as Mommy deer had finished pulverizing the stupid cat.
The way the cat went slinking off, it was totally awesome.
She’ll tell Dad when he gets home. Maybe at dinner time. She’s sure Dad’ll wanna hear. He’ll love it.