Bonny Oaks--May 2004.
As part of the master plan, Bonny Oaks was buffered from encroachment by undeveloped woods. Wildlife flourished accordingly. Raccoons. Chipmunks. Deer. Because the deer had no natural predators, they became more and more brazen over the years, tearing up hedgerows and nibbling azaleas in broad daylight. At night, they leapt like fools in front of cars. Residents were divided on the issue. One camp insisted that the deer were a nuisance, a hazard, an infestation to be exterminated like rats or fleas. A number of solutions were posed, including poisoned salt licks. Those turned out to be illegal, not to mention dangerous to pets and children, so this camp contented itself with deterrents like mail-order coyote urine sprinkled around their gardens. The second camp believed that the deer were part of the natural beauty that made Bonny Oaks such a desirable home in the first place, believed the deer should not only be tolerated but welcomed. To this end, several members of the community put out pans of oats in winter, when the woods alone failed to provide. Mr. LaPointe preferred to remain above the fray but before he died, before an embolism stopped his heart forever, he took real pleasure in directing his wife's gaze toward twilight deer like statues on the lawn.
All things considered, then, it came as no great surprise when Mrs. LaPointe, two years a widow, stepped out to retrieve her newspaper one morning and spotted a dead doe in the middle of Shady Dell Lane. She assumed it had been hit by a car and she was prepared, at that hour, no witnesses in sight, to let somebody else worry about the carcass, when she noticed an arrow buried to the fletchings behind the doe's right shoulder.
Mrs. LaPointe told her housekeeper, Sadie Petty, how she clapped both hands over her ears at the sight of the arrow, as if she'd overheard something filthy. On the phone with her best friend, Mrs. Penelope Ragland, she described the doe's eyes--already iced over, she said, as if bored by its own death. And that afternoon, while undergoing her monthly color rinse, Mrs. LaPointe recounted for her stylist, Brenda Wimpel, the way the men from animal control hoisted the doe by its legs and swung it into the back of a truck--one, two, three, like a sack of mulch. She was amazed by the sudden potency of her metaphors. And the more she embroidered the details the more convinced she became that something significant had happened. She was still telling the story that evening to her son and only child, Blackmon, a substitute teacher with literary aspirations. He preferred the flexible schedule, he claimed, because it left him time to write. "The police were no help at all," she said. "They stood around in my kitchen like, like--"
Her powers of comparison had abandoned her, a fact she attributed to the presence of her son. Blackmon had a knack for rendering her uncertain, for insinuating in her mind a whisper of self-doubt.
"You called the police?" They had finished supper--Sadie Petty's shrimp and wild rice casserole--and retired to the wrought iron table on the patio. Drifting over from next door were muted, jolly voices, the scent of grill smoke, but none of the lots in Bonny Oaks were less than two acres, the tree lines deep enough to allow for privacy. Blackmon was drinking a Diet Coke and reading her newspaper. He decried the local paper as the work of half-wits and hillbillies, but he seemed pleased enough to take advantage of her subscription. He had been living with her since his divorce. He'd given up their condo in the settlement, despite the fact that it had been paid for by his father, ceded custody of his son despite Mrs. LaPointe's offer to hire a lawyer so he could fight. The "Arts Section" was open between them, the evening light over Blackmon's shoulder making a Chinese lantern of the page.
"Well of course I did," said Mrs. LaPointe.
Blackmon flicked a corner of the paper down. "What about the paramedics? They might have tried CPR?" He coughed up a laugh, then snapped the paper back into place so that his face was hidden once again.
Mrs. LaPointe was about to tell him that he could at least pretend to care, when her neighbor, Herman Pickering, pushed through the screen of trees between their yards, wearing an apron and bearing a meat fork. His apron read Support Our Troops in red and white letters against a blue background. "I thought I heard you folks," he said. Sweat ran in the folds and creases of his smile. He turned back to his house and shouted, "Douglas, come on over here a minute. Come say hello."
A few seconds later his son appeared on the LaPointe's side of the trees. Barefoot. Feet and ankles pale. He had a younger version of his father's face, as big and square and handsome and uncomplicated as a coffee table book.
Herman said, "Did I tell you Douglas was home on leave?"
"I saw the article in the paper," said Mrs. LaPointe.
In the previous Sunday Sentinel there had been a human-interest piece about local soldiers on active duty, and Douglas Picketing was its star. He'd dropped out of law school to enlist in the Marines the day after 9/11, served a tour in Afghanistan, then re-upped for another in Iraq, where he'd been awarded a Purple Heart for taking car bomb shrapnel in the thigh. In the article, he talked about the good we were doing over there, the hospitals, the schools. He told a story about a little blind girl. He asked readers to remember that long-term benefits outweighed short-term complications. This was, the article said, his first leave in 27 months, and he was scheduled to ship out again next week.
Blackmon was two years older than Douglas. They'd been cordial enough when they were boys--tiding bikes around the neighborhood, catching tadpoles in the run-off stream--to wear a path through the woods between their houses. Their friendship began to wane when Douglas joined Blackmon in high school. Blackmon was the better student, while Douglas was the better athlete, better with girls, the kind of young man who lived easily in his skin. Even at that age he seemed bathed in the light of self-assurance and aplomb, and other kids wanted to be illuminated by his presence. Mrs. LaPointe had encouraged the friendship, but Blackmon resisted. She chalked it up to the age difference, the mysterious politics of teenage boys. Douglas continued knocking on the door for a few more years, but the older they got the more Blackmon found reasons for keeping to himself, and he didn't bother rising from his chair, now, as both Douglas and Herman Picketing reached over to shake his hand.
"I'm so glad to see you safe, Douglas," said Mrs. LaPointe.
"Thank you," he said, "but we should be asking after you. We heard about your trouble this morning. I hope it didn't worry you too much."
"I wasn't worried," she said. "I was in shock. It was as if--it was like--" She pressed her lips together. "And now I can't stop feeling sad. The thought of that poor deer."
She braced for an inappropriate remark from Blackmon, but he held his tongue. Literally. Mrs. LaPointe could see the tip of it clipped between his teeth. His eyes were bugged at Douglas Pickering.
"I'm sure she didn't suffer," Douglas said.
There were a great many things Mrs. LaPointe missed about her husband--the way he smelled after a shave, his habit of kneading his cheekbones when something was on his mind, the pale hair on the lobes of his ears--but she missed nothing more than the fact that, for the whole of their marriage, he'd let her fall asleep before him. They never discussed the arrangement but he made it seem like the height of matrimonial courtesy. No matter how tired he was, how trying his day at the office, he'd prop himself in bed with the lamp on, paying bills or looking over some work he'd brought home, until she was able to relax her grip upon the world.
For almost a year after he died, Mrs. LaPointe found that she had all but lost the ability to sleep, like some talent she'd possessed in youth--jumping rope, roller-skating backwards--but that her body had forgotten. In bed, an endless, jittery current coursed through her, twitching her muscles and firing random synapses in her brain. She was reduced to tricking herself to sleep by stretching out on the couch in the middle of the day with the TV tuned to the war and drifting off for an hour or two while her mind was looking elsewhere.
It was Blackmon who kept her threaded to her life. His marriage began to unravel not long after his father's death. He would appear at his mother's house needing stains removed, money, the taste of Sadie Petty's pot roast. He was insistent. He was hurting. He was weak. Mrs. LaPointe was willing to concede that his ex-wife, Tara, wasn't all bad as a mother but she bullied Blackmon about everything, including the demise of his own marriage. As for her grandson, Luke, named for his mother's father, Mrs. LaPointe didn't know what to think. Even when the marriage was still viable, Tara's parents saw more of Luke than Mrs. LaPointe, despite the fact that they were seven hours away in Memphis and she was right here in town. And when Tara decided it was over, that was that. No counseling, no mediation. The same day he signed the papers, Blackmon moved back into his old room.
Mrs. LaPointe understood that she couldn't go on forever without sleep. She was becoming exactly the kind of eccentric old widow she would have found pathetic. So she had, both for her son's sake and her own, learned to will herself unconscious at night, not so hard once she marshaled her resolve.
On this night, however, the night after she found the murdered deer, insomnia descended on her once again. At just past 1:00 a.m., hazy and perturbed from three hours of chasing sleep, she heard Blackmon banging home from a meeting of his fiction club-or whatever they called themselves-heard him fumbling the front door locked and creaking up the stairs, then the boozy rasping of his snore. Mrs. LaPointe suspected that these gatherings were less a literary discussion than an excuse to drink too much and stay out late. She had encouraged Blackmon to host his meetings here, but he'd laughed out loud at her suggestion. "What a wonderful idea, Mother," he had said. "Perhaps you'll bake shortbread cookies." The only person in the world Blackmon was capable of standing up to was his mother, and his sarcasm, she knew, was mostly show. Her son was burdened with excess sensibility, a trait she believed he'd inherited from her. In Mrs. LaPointe, this trait manifested as good taste, but it rendered her son vulnerable to bitterness and depression.
At 2:00, she flicked on the lamp beside her bed and padded down the hall to Blackmon's room. She stood in the doorway watching him sleep. The bedspread was printed with Major League Baseball logos. Above the headboard was a poster of a pitcher at the finale of his motion, the blurry pearl of the ball still clinging to his fingers. Similar posters adorned the other walls: a batter in suspension after a hit, eyes focused on something far away and rising; an outfielder poised midair, glove arm extended, toes pointed like a ballerina. On the nightstand--a digital clock shaped like a catcher's mitt. Blackmon had decorated the room this way when he was in the seventh grade, a better-than-average third baseman, batting .525 for the Bonny Oak Park Orioles. Two years later, he tried out for junior varsity but he couldn't hit a curve. At the time, it had enraged Mrs. LaPointe that they allowed 15-year-old boys to throw breaking balls at all. When he failed to make the team, Blackmon abandoned baseball completely, pretending he'd grown out of a phase. Despite her imprecations, he'd refused to redecorate, as if determined to pay some boyish penance for his shortcoming. And though she suffered for him, for the memory of the boy that he had been, she couldn't bring herself to change a thing when he moved away. Even now, seven months after his return, the room remained a monument to his failure.
She knew from experience that if she kept pursuing sleep she'd only fall behind, so she went downstairs for a glass of milk. The house appeared spotless from Sadie Petty's ministrations, but to occupy herself, Mrs. LaPointe located a feather duster in the pantry. While tidying the built-ins in the library, she noticed a film of dust on the tops of all the books, missed for who knows how long. She took the books down one by one and swiped them clean. Back on the shelves, they struck her as cluttery-looking, jumbled, all those different colored jackets, so she removed the books a second time and re-shelved them, spines to the wall.
The second murdered doe was discovered in the morning. Spearheaded by some of the younger, more fitness-conscious residents of Bonny Oaks, the Neighborhood Association had hired a landscaping firm to cut walking trails through the woods. The route forked and twisted for nearly six miles, and there were benches tucked into arbor-y nooks, meant for breath-catching and meditative sit-downs but which were mostly used by teenagers for smoking cigarettes in private. There were also exercise stations established at quarter-mile intervals with little plaques instructing passersby to drop here and knock off twenty push-ups or execute a set of lunges. It was at the lunge station that Marjorie Kress, who lived two streets over from Mrs. LaPointe, came across the body.
Within the hour, a third doe was found floating bloated in the shallows of a manmade lake, but it didn't take long to deduce that it had been dead for several days, that this third deer had been killed before the first. Mrs. LaPointe heard the news from Sadie Petty, who had the story of the doe on the walking trail byway of the Kress's nanny, of the doe in the lake from her grandnephew, James C. Petty, a member of the Bonny Oaks grounds crew. Sadie Petty had been employed by the LaPointes for two decades, and Mr. LaPointe had used his influence to get James C. Petty the job.
It was Mrs. LaPointe's habit to drink a cup of coffee with Sadie Petty while they discussed the day's routine. The house was always quiet at that hour, and sunlight drizzled in through the kitchen windows, softened by its passage through the trees. Mrs. LaPointe enjoyed Sadie Petty's company, relied on it, had grown so accustomed to it she could hardly imagine her life without their mornings, their coffee, their pleasant but meaningless inquires into one another's lives. As Sadie Petty told the stories of the murdered deer, however, she found herself boiling up with irritation. There was, thought Mrs. LaPointe, a trill of titillation in Sadie Petty's voice, as if she were relaying gossip rather than tragedy. She knew, even as Sadie Petty rattled on, that she was overreacting, but she couldn't shake the image of her murdered doe--she thought of it in just such possessive terms--sprawled in the street and of the police rolling away from her house with their windows down, elbows poking out, obviously unconcerned. Her own experience was compounded by the fact that Mrs. LaPointe felt a certain propriety regarding the safety and happiness of the residents of Bonny Oaks, even the ones, like Marjorie Kress, whom she'd never met. She was on the verge of excusing herself when Blackmon appeared with his bathrobe belted loosely across his middle.
"What happened to the books?" he said.
Mrs. LaPointe ignored the question. At the sight of the stubble on his cheeks, his messy, greasy, thinning hair, her irritation transferred to her son. After breakfast, if he hadn't been called to substitute, Blackmon would hole up in his room writing short stories with the door locked. He often went entire days without a shower or a shave, without changing out of his robe. His father would never have brooked such slovenliness, and Mrs. LaPointe sometimes wondered if Blackmon cultivated dishevelment to spite her.
"You're not going to say hello to Sadie Petty?"
Sadie Petty was leaning against the counter by the coffeemaker. Blackmon bear-hugged her ample waist, kissed her sloppily on the cheek.
"Sadie Petty and I are beyond such outdated proprieties. Isn't that right, Sadie Petty?"
Sadie Petty chuckled into her mug.
"That's right, Mr. Blackmon. We sure are."
"But seriously, Mother, the books? How am I supposed to find-" Mrs. LaPointe didn't wait for him to finish. She scraped her chair back and left them, a feeble morning shadow listing along beside her through the dining room and the living room and up the stairs.
By 10:30, Mrs. LaPointe had bathed, fixed her hair, hunted up the Kress's address in the neighborhood directory, and arrived at their front door. Marjorie Kress answered the bell wearing a pink sweatsuit over a fitted white t-shirt.
"It's not right you had to see a thing like that," said Mrs. LaPointe.
Marjorie Kress said, "I'm sorry, have we met?"
Mrs. LaPointe blinked, introduced herself. She studied Marjorie Kress for signs of recognition but saw only fading youth and blankness in her face.
"I found the first deer yesterday," said Mrs. LaPointe. Marjorie Kress said, "Could I make you a smoothie? I was about to make one for myself. It's just as easy to whip two up while I've got the blender out."
Mrs. LaPointe allowed herself to be lead into a sunroom while Marjorie did the smoothies. Everything in sight-the sofa, the rug, the blinds, the quilt draped over a chair-had the commonplace allure of mail-order purchases. When the blender paused in its whirring, Mrs. LaPointe said, "It's just so awful. I don't know what to do. There must be something."
Marjorie Kress's voice trailed in from the kitchen. "I've had it with those deer to tell the truth. Every night one comes nosing around. The dog barks like crazy and gets the baby all worked up."
The dog, a toy Doberman, was cuffed up in a wicker basket in the corner. She was about to inquire about his size, how they managed to breed Dobermans so small, but Marjorie Kress arrived bearing the smoothies, bent-necked straws poking up from the froth.
"Bananas," she said, "blueberries, wheat germ, low-fat vanilla yogurt, skim milk. I'm addicted. I drink like three a day."
She set the smoothies on matching coasters. "Are you going to the meeting tonight?"
"Meeting?" said Mrs. LaPointe.
"There's an emergency meeting of the Neighborhood Association. I got an email."
The irritation Mrs. LaPointe had felt toward her son and Sadie Petty, the irritation she'd hoped to stave off by turning its vigor toward some purpose, flared again, coloring her cheeks and neck. How had she not been notified? She had no email, true, but given the circumstances, you'd have thought somebody might have bothered to pick up the phone.
"Will you be them?" she said.
Marjorie Kress pulled an apologetic face. "I really would, but we've got a ballroom class, me and Tyler. We're taking lessons."
"I see," said Mrs. LaPointe.
They sipped their smoothies. In the silence, Mrs. LaPointe could hear the nanny's lilting Caribbean accent as she read to the baby down the hall.
Mrs. LaPointe insisted that Blackmon escort her to the meeting. He protested, of course, threatened to say something embarrassing if she pressed but he relented in the end. As she'd known he would. Even as a boy, Blackmon had howled and kicked at the most ordinary requests-brushing his teeth before bed, picking his toys up-but his father would just keep staring at him until the tantrum was spent and he did as he'd been asked. He always relented. He just needed to make a display of independence first.
They arrived early and took a seat on the aisle in the back row. Mrs. LaPointe enjoyed being in a position to greet and be greeted as the crowd shuffled in, but on this night the only people who paused at her seat were her best friend, Penelope Ragland, who was accompanied by her husband; her across-the-street neighbor, Anita Groom, whose husband was in jail for bank fraud; Herman, Douglas, and Donna Pickering, who sat in the front row; and B.D. Schiff, the current president of the Neighborhood Association, who owned his own investment firm and managed the bulk of Reynolds LaPointe's estate.
The Bonny Oaks courthouse had been modeled after the one made famous in the film To Kill A Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck. Whitewashed walls. Polished floors. Arched windows that filled the room with light by day and reflected the interior after dark. In place of the judge's bench stood a pair of conference tables, one now occupied by B.D. Schiff, the other by a man named Oscar Panks. Panks was the ranking officer of Safety 1st, a private security firm employed by Bonny Oaks to man the guardhouse and cruise the streets in gas-powered golf carts. He was a familiar sight to the residents, small and thick and balding with a mustache drooping down over his lip, always waving in his black uniform shirt and slacks, often mocked. He wore a heavy flashlight on his belt but was otherwise unarmed.
Mrs. LaPointe was frustrated by the turnout. The courthouse could manage almost 20o people, if you included the balcony, but entire rows of seats stood empty beneath the lights, lust after 7 o'clock, B.D. Schiff called the meeting to order, then turned the proceedings over to Oscar Panks. Panks hitched his belt as he ambled around to the front of the conference table.
"Thank you all for coming out. I want to assure you right off the bat that the good people at Safety 1st are determined to put an end to these senseless killings. It is our belief that these crimes were the work of juvenile delinquents sneaking into Bonny Oaks from outside the neighborhood."
He went on to ask the Neighborhood Association to approve the expense of new security measures, including additional nightly golf cart patrols, both inside Bonny Oaks and on the perimeter.
Douglas Picketing raised his hand.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Mr. Panks. I don't own property in Bonny Oaks so I have no vote at this meeting but--"
"You go right ahead, son," Panks said. "We're grateful for your service, and we value your opinion."
Blackmon coughed "bootlick" into his hand, but the rest of the crowd greeted Panks's reassurance with applause.
"Thank you," Douglas said. "I appreciate that. And I hate to call your theory into question, but it seems to me unlikely that these killings are the work of juvenile delinquents."
"How do you figure?"
"All these deer were taken at night from relatively close range with a single kill shot from a bow. That kind of stalking requires tremendous skill. This is not to mention that he's only killing doe. Why is that, unless he has some motive beyond delinquency?"
Their back and forth continued for half an hour, members of the community interjecting, B.D. Schiff moderating from behind the conference table, but Mrs. LaPointe was focused on Douglas Picketing. She admired the confidence with .which he spoke, the muscles in his neck and shoulders. When she first met the Pickerings, Mrs. LaPointe had reserved her good will. Herman Picketing had made his fortune parlaying a single dry cleaning storefront into a string of locations spanning Tennessee from Bolivar to Johnson City. The secret of his success, he freely admitted, was employing only Asians to man the register, thus giving his stores an authentic Eastern feel. Though she admired his acumen there was something unsavory about his affluence to Mrs. LaPointe. Listening to Douglas expound on the nuances of bow hunting and stalking prey at night and "herd management" as a possible motive for killing doe, she had to admit that the Pickerings had raised a fine young man. When Blackmon whispered, "Can we please get out of here? I haven't seen so many idiots in one place since-" Mrs. LaPointe pinched his thigh so hard he yelped. The couple in front of them--they looked familiar to Mrs. LaPointe though she couldn't recall their names-craned to see who'd made the sound.
"She pinched me," Blackmon said and Mrs. LaPointe vowed that she would not speak to her son again until he apologized. Until he meant it.
When her husband informed her of his plans for Bonny Oaks, Mrs. LaPointe kept her doubts to herself. She had worried that Bonny Oaks would come out tacky despite her husband. No matter how grand the homes, how intricately landscaped the lawns, they would lack the grace of age. There was nothing her husband could do about that. She had worried as well about the kind of people such a place might attract. And while it was true that the older families, good families, had not, like Mrs. LaPointe, packed up their homes in town and moved to Bonny Oaks, a few of their children had bought in, lending a measure of refinement to the place. Even the out-of-towners seemed to Mrs. LaPointe a mostly decent lot. Penelope Ragland was one of these-the wife of a diplomat who'd been stationed in Helsinki before seeking a more moderate climate in which to retire. It was Reynolds LaPointe's confidence that Bonny Oaks would weather well that sustained Mrs. LaPointe in her most worrisome hours. But riding home from the meeting with Blackmon behind the wheel, quiet thickening between them, she felt vaguely and inexplicably nagged. When Blackmon made the left from Quail Trace onto Shady Dell and accelerated up the hill, she blurted, "You're driving too fast," before recalling her vow of silence.
"I'm going exactly 32 miles per hour," Blackmon said.
"It feels faster than that."
"You're in the passenger seat, Mother. It feels different when somebody else is in control."
"Slow down anyway," she said.
"If I slow down--"
"Please, for heaven's sake, Blackmon, for once do as I say without arguing."
Blackmon obliged by taking his foot off the pedal altogether and the Volvo slowed, against the incline, to a creep. At that pace, it would take ten minutes to inch the last stretch home.
Blackmon said, "Better?"
Mrs. LaPointe did not reply. She refused to be mocked into submission.
"You know what I don't get?" Blackmon said. "The way all you people fuss over Douglas Pickering. Look at those guards at Abu Ghraib, what they did. It's not like you have to submit a resume."
Mrs. LaPointe knew he was baiting her, but she couldn't help herself.
"That boy is risking his life. Not just that. Think what he's given up to serve his country."
Blackmon scoffed. "Law school? What a discriminating crowd that is."
"You hush," said Mrs. LaPointe. "You're acting like-like--like--"
"Like what, Mother?"
"Like I don't know what." She was trembling with frustration. She balled her fists. "Just drive right."
As they crested the hill at last-glacially, regally-a pair of doe raised their heads from grazing and tracked Mrs. LaPointe's Volvo with their eyes.
"Dumb animals," Blackmon said.
Three more doe were found dead over the weekend, two on Saturday, one on Sunday, all fresh kills. Mrs. LaPointe didn't bother paying anyone a visit. She was afraid she'd be disappointed in her neighbors, would meet the same sort of indifference she'd discovered in Marjorie Kress. This was Blackmon's weekend with his son, and they'd gone off to Pigeon Forge to play mini-golf and drive bumper cars. The number of the motel was magneted to the fridge but she had no reason to call. Sadie Petty didn't work weekends. The quiet grated on Mrs. LaPointe. She played bridge with Mrs. Ragland and Mrs. Groom and Mrs. Groom's sister, who was in town visiting from Roanoke. She sniffed around in Blackmon's room. On his desk, to the left of his computer, she found a stack of manuscript pages bound by a rubber band. She rested her fingertips on the title sheet. The Nocturnal Habits of American White People. She couldn't bring herself to peek inside. Would it be more disappointing, she wondered, to find herself lampooned or to find no trace of herself at all? She went to church on Sunday morning. On her way home, she passed Douglas Pickering affixing new numbers to his parents' mailbox, not the reflective stick-on kind but tasteful decorative tiles. She pressed her brakes, heard a faint hiss and squeak, thought she might ask Blackmon to run her Volvo to the dealership next week, but she could already see his weary look, hear the exasperation in his voice. She rolled her window down.
"Those look nice," she said.
Douglas turned, wiped his hands on his back pockets.
"It needed doing," he said. "The old ones were so worn out you could hardly read the address anymore."
"Well, you're a good boy to take care of it."
"I'm trying to help out a little while I'm home. I ship out again on Tuesday."
Mrs. LaPointe could see his mother's roses in bloom along the driveway and in the beds at the front of the house. She couldn't remember all the different varieties but before Blackmon and Douglas drifted apart, she and her husband had been treated to a garden tour.
"It must be hard," she said, meaning the war.
Douglas smiled, then, surprising her, his teeth white and even. Heat pressed in through the open window.
"That needs doing, too," he said.
Blackmon was home by 3 o'clock, but he was in no mood to visit, and she suspected that the weekend had not gone well. After dinner, he announced that he was subbing in the morning and had prep work to do. He adjourned to his room and did not emerge to say good night. She watched cable news awhile. It was all suicide bombers and Fallujah. In bed, she tried reading a biography of Francis Hodgson Burnett, but the snarl of Blackmon's snoring made it impossible to concentrate. She extended the book away from the bed and held it there a moment, breathing, listening, breathing, then let it drop, but the clap of it on the floor wasn't enough to jar her son from sleep. She pushed her feet into her slippers, made her way down the hall and stood by her son's bed, willing him to wake. She wanted to tell him her suspicions. He would tease her, she knew, roll his eyes, suggest that she was getting senile, but he would, at least, provide a sympathetic audience. She pinched his nose closed. After a few seconds his lips popped open and he sucked air in through his mouth.
"It's Douglas Picketing," she said. "I think it's Douglas killing the doe."
Those words in various permutations had been swimming in her thoughts all afternoon, but she had refused so far to let them settle into a sentence. Yes, Herman Picketing was known to be a hunter. Mrs. LaPointe could remember him setting out with young Douglas for weekends at a camp somewhere in Blount County, but Mrs. LaPointe had no objection to the sporting life. She believed, even now, that time in the outdoors with one's child was better spent than a weekend among the tawdry amusements of Pigeon Forge. And she had always looked forward to the Sunday after Thanksgiving when Herman Picketing, just back from his camp on the opening weekend of the season, would stroll over, bearing a venison tenderloin. As far as Mrs. LaPointe could remember the Pickerings had never taken a position on the deer one way or the other with the Neighborhood Association, unusual in its own right but hardly grounds for indictment. She did, however, remember Donna Picketing putting her teenage son to work building chicken wire fences around newly planted roses to keep the deer away.
"Wake up," she said, shaking his shoulders. "Wake up, Blackmon. This is important," but he just groaned and rolled over, his back to her, and drew the covers over his head, his body an overlarge protuberance beneath the baseball logos. She stared at him for a second, then clomped down to the kitchen, banged the cabinets open and closed. In her discombobulation, she couldn't recall where Sadie Petty stored the trash bags, so she removed the half-filled bag from the wastebasket and stalked back up to Blackmon's room. She started with the pitcher-Dwight Gooden, the poster said. Ripped that poster from the wall, leaving a torn corner still tacked up, stuffed it in the bag, and moved on to the slugger and the centerfielder. She was using her fingernails to pry tacks from a Kansas City Royals pennant when Blackmon bolted up in bed.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Something I should have done a long time ago."
"Have you lost your mind?"
"It's possible I'm the only one who hasn't."
Even as she spoke, she felt filled up with pity--for the murdered doe, for her son, for Douglas Picketing. She had watched endless hours of footage from Iraq, but they never showed anything, and what they did show looked like a movie, and the aftermath shots meant nothing to her, because she didn't know what any of those places looked like before, imagined them more or less as dusty and rubble-strewn as after the bombs came raining down. The person she pitied most of all was herself.
Blackmon took hold of her arm, wrested the trash bag from her grip.
"Damn it, Mother," he said, "what's this about?"
She glared at him a moment, then huffed out of his room and down the stairs and out the front door. In her nightgown. Swinging her arms. Bonny Oaks was quiet. No sign of Safety 1st though she could imagine Oscar Panks prowling the streets in his golf cart or hunched over a map of the neighborhood plotting routes for patrols. Oblivious. Useless. He'd never catch a man like Douglas Picketing. Mrs. LaPointe marched on past the pretty houses, unsure of her intentions but unwilling to retreat. The oaks her husband had spared lined the road, branches accented by landscaping lights. Once, she thought she saw a figure darting behind a house. She stared into the dark. Nothing. A few blocks further along she spotted a doe and two fawns nipping at a hydrangea bush. She accelerated to a trot, waved her arms, shouted, "Get away. Get away from here." Her pulse thumped at her temples. "Get away before he kills you, too."
The fawns skittered into the undergrowth at her approach but the doe just hopped, once, then froze, stiff-legged, and watched Mrs. LaPointe coming like-like-like the doe understood better than the woman that it was no use running from something nobody could stop.
Michael Knight is the author of short stories and several books, most recently The Typist.
Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2012|
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