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The Conductor.

There were times on the train, late at night or just before dawn, when Theodore felt innocent, as if he and all his passengers were smooth, unhatched eggs riding inside a huge, slithering reptile. He loved being a stranger among all those strangers, and he loved all those strangers. He also loved his dark blue uniform with its garden row of buttons, which made him feel both anonymous and known.

Tonight these feelings were strong. The train stopped for passengers in Carlinville and, as usual, Theodore hoisted them aboard, welcomed them to his train--the Number 7, from Chicago to St. Louis. He collected their fares, as the ticket office was closed at this late hour, and then, with everyone settled at last, he took his seat, too, at the rear of the last ear. He closed his eyes for just a moment, better to feel the train surge to life beneath him--that first quick shudder that leveled into a rocking motion, the ear heaving left and right, and the passengers shifting like rag dolls in their seats, until all effort and movement converged as the train gained speed, and speed became momentum, and everything rolled forward toward a destination.

It was late; everyone slept but Theodore. A few passengers had fallen asleep with their reading lights on, like children needing the bedroom door ajar. He looked to his left into the window and saw his long hawklike face caught in the glass between the warm, sleepy ear and the cool spring night outside. Leaning back in his seat, he slowly opened his moneybag, carefully counted out forty-two dollars, and placed the cash in his wallet over his heart. Then he sorted through the cash receipts, removed exactly forty-two dollars worth, and wadded the receipts into a ball. He spit on the ball and placed it in his pants pocket. He put the remaining receipts into the moneybag with the remaining cash.

There. That was done.

He turned back to the window. Motion and darkness blurred the cornfields that rolled on indistinctly, mile after stubborn mile, on the other side of the glass. But his face, white and calm as a full moon, held steady through it all. Wonderfully calm, he thought, wonderfully steady. He stared into the dark and saw the brass buttons on his jacket scintillate in the wavering glass like the studs in Orion's great belt.

The next day in St. Louis, Theodore Godwin Metz, passenger conductor on the Chicago and Alton Railway for twenty-one years--through the Great Depression and now, into the war--got fired for poking his boss, Lloyd Firestone, in the nose. Though he had no evidence, Lloyd called Theodore a thief. Theodore took offense. Stories varied, but the upshot was universally acknowledged: The last time Theodore Metz ever rode the train was from St. Louis, Missouri, to Clayton, Illinois, his hometown; he did so as a passenger, and the trip was "on the house."

That's how he ended up at the Dickey Institute the following fall, babysitting rich drunks. The Dickey Institute was the old Dickey Estate converted into a hospital for alcoholics who could afford the three-thousand-dollar cure. Raymond G. Dickey had made his own millions in Chicago real estate, developing the lakefront. When he retired, he and his wife built a large house in Clayton, where they spent most of their time entertaining friends from Chicago. For three months each year, usually in the winter, the Dickeys left Clayton and traveled to Africa for safari. People said Mrs. Dickey- hated safaris and began to drink. One year, when the couple was in New York preparing for the trans-Atlantic crossing, Mrs. Dickey went into Abercrombie and Fitch, gathered together a complete hunting outfit, entered the ladies' dressing room, took off her street clothes, put on the safari clothes, removed a pistol from her purse, and shot herself right between the eyes.

Mr. Dickey blamed himself, and so did most of Clayton. To make amends, he established the Dickey Institute, hiring the best doctors from as far away as Paris and Vienna to devise a cure for alcoholics. The cure became famous, not only for its many successes but also for the well-known people it attracted. Mr. Dickey also sectioned off a tract of his land and created a sanctuary for indigenous wildlife. He explained frequently and with apparent great sadness that this small park was his gesture of apology to all the animals he'd been cruel to in Africa, whose deaths had broken his wife's tender heart. All kinds of animals lived there, especially deer. Gradually, the deer herd became tame and needed tending. Before he died, Mr. Dickey hired Theodore's cousin to care for the herd. That was how Theodore got the job at the institute, when, thanks to Lloyd Firestone's big mouth, no one else would hire him.

Tonight's rich drunk, Claude Winslow, was asleep. Theodore thought he seemed restless and dissatisfied, even in sleep. Winslow was a conductor, too, only he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He came to the institute every six months or so, to take the cure--to dry out. Then he'd return to Chicago, and then he'd come back to Clayton, wet again. This was Theodore's first night as Winslow's attendant. When they'd met that evening in the salon, Winslow had stretched back on the green satin settee and told him all about his many trips to the institute, as if failure were a mere symptom of his condition. Theodore had listened politely, his mind wandering to the ridiculous image of Maestro Winslow soaked in booze, then dusty as a desert with cactus and grass growing out of his ears, then drenched again, weeping tears as clear as gin.

Theodore dozed in his chair. It was three o'clock in the morning. The newspaper had dropped from his hands to his lap, his right foot had fallen asleep, and then he'd followed it, slipping into sleep as if it were a deep, narrow well. Then the dream about wild horses came. The wild horses had erections and they wanted to take him away. They came to him like some women he'd known in St. Louis, greedy and indifferent. They didn't care who he was or what he was thinking about. They wanted him--that's all--the way you want water or sleep. He wanted sleep, but they didn't care. They wanted him.

They pawed the ground near his head and stood over him, breathing as if he were a candle to put out. He felt the air from their nostrils on his face and neck, like steam from an old train engine. That's what frightened him, how familiar the horses seemed, and how they seemed like something else. Things should seem like the things they are, not like other things--not horses like trains.

"Iron horse," Theodore whispered in half-sleep, making what seemed like sense of those horses, finally. Maybe now the horses would leave. Maybe now he would sleep.

He wasn't supposed to sleep on the job because sometimes these drunks woke up in the middle of the night with the DTS, and they'd attack the furniture or swallow their tongues. But tonight was quiet, no yelling and cursing down the hall, no pounding the walls next door. Still, something in the room roused him, and he awoke in a sweat. Then he heard Winslow croon like a lover, "Oh, darling, these deer are insipid."

With that, Winslow's short, stubby body stiffened under the sheet and his head lunged backward deep into the pillow like a fist in bread dough. "Lindbergh killed his own baby boy," he babbled, his head lolling back and forth and his eyes wild and open. "Believe you me. I know it I know it I know it," he said. "Goddamn it, give me a drink, dear dear friend. Wild Turkey, hold the feathers. Aha! I saw your mother suck my daddy's dick. Fellatio forte. Oh, God, I am parched. It's the holes in my feet talking. Forgive me. Give me a drop."

By now he'd started to writhe on the bed, and Theodore had risen reluctantly to help. "Hush, Maestro--Ssshh," he said, straightening the bedclothes. Winslow was so wet with sweat he glistened in the moonlight. And he stank. He'd soiled himself, Theodore realized, which meant a nasty sponge bath later and new sheets. "Goddamn it," Theodore whispered. Still, he had a job to do, and this was it.

Theodore sat on the edge of the bed, lifted Winslow's head, and rested it like a baby on his lap. As he started to coo to soothe Winslow back to sleep, he felt the bed shake and saw the whole length of Winslow's body begin to tremble. Then one quick jolt shot from Winslow's head to his toes, as if he'd stuck his wet thumb into an electric socket. The shaking quickly organized itself into something almost rhythmical, and Winslow began to undulate, slow and sinuous. Theodore had seen this before and knew how to wait it out. He held Winslow firmly, but not too tight, so he wouldn't snap hard and hurt himself. People had been known to break bones in the throes of these convulsions. Then he took a smooth metal tongue depressor out of his hip pocket and slid it into Winslow's mouth to make sure he didn't swallow his tongue. And every few seconds he placed his nose near Winslow's mouth and took a deep breath. He didn't want the poor maestro vomiting behind his clenched teeth; a drunk could choke to death that way.

Theodore heard someone say, "I will you to awaken," and when he did--when he opened his eyes and lifted his chin from his chest--he saw Winslow, already washed and dressed, sitting up in his bed with several pages of sheet music spread out on his lap. It was 6 a.m. Winslow smiled slowly, his round face flushing as he apologized for making a fuss the night before, "I hate melodrama. Good God, I detest it," he said. "And I'm sorry if last night's little episode was in any way distasteful. And you will note, I hope, that I even cleaned up after my miserable self. But then again, that's why I am here, isn't it? To clean up after my miserable self, to endure those heady moments of detoxification. To endure and grow pure. And that's why you're here, too, isn't it, Mr. Metz? To endure me as I endure those moments, and to see me safely through them."

"Yes, sir," said Theodore, folding his newspaper and placing it in his empty lunch bucket.

"Did I grovel, Mr. Metz?" Winslow asked. "Did I beg for a drink?"

"A little, Mr. Winslow."

"I need a drink, I need a drink, I need a drink," Winslow sang. Theodore recognized the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. "One paltry drink, one stinking drink, one lovely drink. Oh dear, Mr. Metz. I am sorry. But you held firm last night, didn't you? I am proud of you."

"Yes, sir. I knew you didn't really want it."

"But I did really want it, Mr. Metz. I really did want it. So thank you for refusing me my greatest desire."

"You're welcome, sir," said Theodore, smiling. "Anytime."

"Then how about tonight," said Winslow, extending his hand. "We'll try it again, shall we?"

Theodore shook his hand. It was clammy and cold and quivered inside the handshake. He figured it would be a long time before Winslow was well enough to return to Chicago, and he was glad. He liked this man's company. This man had class.

It was a perfect fall day, the air so thin it seemed breakable. He left the institute by the side door, the employee entrance. When he passed the fence near the animal sanctuary, he paused to watch two deer grazing on a patch of sweet flag growing in a culvert behind the greenhouse. One deer was small with knotty, spindly legs. Their eyes were closed, and their dark, silken mouths curled greedily around each blade of the sedge.

At the corner of Depot and Meadow, he noticed Scotty's Liquor Store. He crossed the street and approached its gleaming windows. He peered inside at the brilliant display of glass and color. Most of the bottles held amber-colored liquids that made him think of pinesap. Other bottles were clear and harmless-looking, filled with vodka and gin. And then there were more, these filled with deep green and red liquors, the colors of jewels. Prohibition had been downright stupid, he thought. He was glad it was over. People should be able to drink what they want, when they want. He tried to ignore his own reflection in the glass, but there he was, calm and handsome, the long, hard jaw line he was secretly proud of, and that full head of curly hair. Still, Theodore noticed something he didn't like in the face looking back: it had the tired eyes of a man who had worked too hard. And then there was his undignified black lunch bucket dangling from his fight hand, empty.

A bell jingled when he opened Scotty's door, and out came Scotty from behind a tall shelf of bottles.

"Well, if it isn't Teddy Metz. Long time no see. What can I do you for?" Scotty was bald and ugly, more than six feet tall. Theodore imagined that with a cork for a head, Scotty would look like one of his own bottles.

"Do you have Wild Turkey?" Theodore asked.

"Gobble-gobble, you bet I do," said Scotty, lifting a gleaming bottle from the shelf behind him. "Getting pretty fancy there, Ted. This is the newest bourbon around. 101 proof. You won't know what hit'cha, and you won't even care."

Theodore decided to walk the rest of the way home along the railroad tracks. He clocked the freight trains as they passed. The 7:20 was three minutes late, which would mean the 8:42 would get hung up at the switchyard and arrive in Peoria maybe eleven minutes late. Time tended to accumulate that way: Three minutes for one train might mean eleven for the next. You could never tell for sure how one thing would lead to the next, but it always did, and it seemed to him that it usually got a little worse as it moved down the line. He thought about his wife, Marry, and their son, Emile. If Emile hadn't fallen on that rusty metal coat hanger when he was six, he probably could have lived to be eighty. Emile would have kids of his own by now, and he and Matty would be grandparents. Maybe they'd never have heard of tetanus or lockjaw, and maybe Matty would have agreed to have more children because Emile was healthy and beautiful and growing. And maybe they would still care about each other, he and Matty, more or less, though, of course, the manner in which they'd care would have changed over the years in ways that, from here and now, Theodore could not imagine. It was easy to look back and see where your life came from. You just couldn't look ahead.

That evening, when Theodore returned to the institute, he found Winslow sitting at the grand piano in the salon, playing The Moonlight Sonata. Winslow seemed transformed. He was curled into himself like a baby counting its own toes. His face was so close to his hands that he probably could smell the soap on his skin. As the music grew more lush and complex, Winslow began to sway forward and backward, as if rolling forward took him into the music where he hovered for just a moment to collect its riches, before rolling backward again, bringing his treasure with him. Despite his short limbs, he looked elegant and lean, and when he finished, the other patients and staff applauded. Theodore felt proud. Winslow was his.

"Lately I am simply besotted by Beethoven," said Winslow, as he and Theodore returned to Winslow's room for the night. "Do you know Beethoven, Mr. Metz?"

"My great aunt played the piano, so I know it when I hear it."

"I thought I sensed something special in you, so you might understand what I am about to say. Each time I play him--the great Beethoven, I mean--it is as if he is playing me, as if his will is in his work, and I am the mere conduit of his being."

Winslow lit a cigarette and paused. He waved the match slowly up and down in an exaggerated gesture of extinction, and then dropped it on the floor without seeming to notice.

"And when I conduct him," he said, "and the full orchestra is my instrument, then I feel most certain that my role is passive--indeed, that what I am doing is bringing him back into being, getting him safely into the light again. Music, my friend--that is the ultimate intoxicator. If only its oblivion were enough for me."

"Why isn't it?" asked Theodore.

"I don't know. Perhaps because I do not compose music. I do not make it. I can, on the other hand, make myself drunk. And when I do, when I fall between the open legs of that sweet angel alcohol, I am warm at last, guileless and comforted. Completely comforted. I am wholly myself, only much, much younger and much, much kinder."

"I think oblivion can only happen in the dark and when there's motion," said Theodore. He was thinking of the train and the way the darkness outside the windows could make him feel lost and strong at the same time.

"Precisely," said Winslow. "On a stage, for example--with one's back to the audience, one's mind closed to everything but oneself and one's own reflection in the music, and the slow sucking down into the music, into the darkness. How wonderful you are, Mr. Metz, to understand. How wonderful."

"Today Mr. Bill Kelly told me all about you," said Winslow from behind his dressing screen. Bill Kelly was Winslow's day attendant. He used to work on the railroad, too. He always talked too much.

"I doubt it," Theodore answered.

"What do you mean, Mr. Metz? You doubt what? It is not a matter of faith. Mr. Kelly told me all about you."

"He couldn't because he's a nosy son of a bitch who doesn't know all about me, begging your pardon for my language, sir."

"Well, one thing he told me seems to hold true. You have a temper."

"On occasion, sir, yes, I do." Theodore felt clever; people had been talking about him.

"Please don't let this be one of those occasions, Mr. Metz," said Winslow, emerging from behind the screen in navy blue pajamas and a grey silk smoking jacket. "Believe me, what he said made you into a most interesting fellow."

"Then he lied," said Theodore, laughing. He was beginning to yield to the flattery.

"Did he lie about Lloyd Firestone?"

"I don't know. What did he say?"

"He said that Mr. Lloyd Firestone was your supervisor on the railroad, and that you were a senior ranking conductor. And he said that after many years of exemplary service, you were accused of theft. That Mr. Firestone accused you of stealing ticket money. He said that you denied the deed just once, and then you walked away. And that the next day you returned, strode up to Mr. Firestone, looked him directly in the eye, and asked him if he recognized you. When he said yes, he did, that you were Theodore Metz, you said, 'Good. Then you'll have no doubt about who committed this crime.' And with that, you punched him in the face and he fell to the floor like a rag. 'Like a rag' is Mr. Kelly's phrase, precisely. I do not indulge in similes. They are reckless. But that's for another conversation. In any case, Mr. Kelly said that you were fired from your position at once, lost all of your pension money, that your wife has not forgiven you, that you came to work here four months ago, and that you got this job because your cousin tends the deer herd here. Now, Mr. Metz, is Mr. Kelly a liar?"

"No, sir. That's fairly accurate, as far as facts go," said Theodore.


"Well what, sir?"

"Well, how far do facts go?" Winslow asked.

"I don't know. That was just something to say."

"Well, don't just say things, Mr. Metz. Tell me things. Did you?"

"Did I what, sir?"

"Did you steal the money?"

"No, sir, I did not," said Theodore.

"Would you tell me if you had?"

"No, sir, I would not."

"So, Mr. Metz, you are an honest man but possibly a thief. That makes you intriguing. A mystery." He paused and asked, "Do you drink?" "On occasion."

"Do you drink to excess?"

"On occasion."

"But not habitually."

"No, sir. I would say not. Not habitually."

"What about your wife?" asked Winslow.

"No, sir, she doesn't drink to excess," said Theodore.

"No, Mr. Metz. I mean, has she forgiven you?"

"For what?"

"For losing your pension."

"It's hard to tell."

"Why is it hard to tell? Don't you ever talk about it?"

Winslow was sitting on his bed now, crushing his cigarette in the ashtray. Theodore sat in his chair.

"No," said Theodore. "We don't see each other much. She works at Woolworth's and when I'm getting home from work, she's getting ready to leave." Winslow switched off the light and lay down on his bed. The room was dark now, and Theodore found himself speaking so quietly it was almost a whisper.

"Sometimes we eat supper together," he said. "But mostly when she comes home she reads. She reads everything. She's very knowledgeable. I think she's read the complete works of William Shakespeare, including the poems. So we don't have much time to talk." Theodore didn't know why he was telling Winslow this, but it felt good--it made him relax.

"Do you ever dream, Mr. Metz?" Winslow reached across the bedside table and turned off the lamp. "Yes, sure. Sometimes."

"Tell me about the last dream you had."


"I've been in analysis, Mr. Metz," Winslow whispered. "I can tell you things about dreams. Dreams are messages we send to ourselves. Sigmund Freud knows all about dreams and I was in analysis with Dr. Freud's favorite pupil. So, speak!"

Theodore had heard of Sigmund Freud, so he spoke. "Well, last night, before your episode, I had a dream." "What? Tell me."

"Well, I dreamt a pack of wild horses came to get me and they all were stallions, only they seemed like women, which is impossible, and they breathed on me, and I felt their breath in my blood. It was warm. And then they reminded me of some of the old steam trains I'd worked on, and that's when I woke up. That's when you had your fit."

"How did they seem like women? Did they have breasts?"

"No. In fact, they had erections, but they still seemed like women. It was a dream. You know how they are."

"Indeed I do. And yours is fascinating. Freud would make much of the horses, and the symbolism of the train, though I'm not sure what, exactly. Perhaps they represent your mother."

"My mother is dead."

"Being dead doesn't matter in dreams. Mr. Metz. In fact, I believe I recall that horses in dreams are connected to death somehow. There's even a famous painting of a beautiful woman, naked from the waist up, and she's swooning into sleep as a fierce horse with red eyes hovers over her. I think they call it 'Nightmare,' the horse being the mare. Understand? It's a bit of a pun. That part seems cheap to me. I don't like similes and I don't like puns. But still, it's a great painting about the power and terror of sleep. Understand?"

"No, "said Theodore. "You've lost me."

Winslow seemed completely distracted now, as if looking for just the right words to explain Theodore's dream to him. "I believe this is an important dream, Mr. Metz," he said, "and I won't be able to sleep until I decipher it."

Theodore hesitated. He didn't like all this talk, and Winslow was going too far. The horses were horses and his mother was dead and his wife read too much. None of this was Winslow's business. And Lloyd Firestone and Bill Kelly didn't know the first thing about anything, despite all their talk. So even though he hesitated, he went ahead and did it. He hadn't really planned to do it, and yet he must have, because the bottle of Wild Turkey, unopened and full to the brim, was resting in his lunch bucket like a child in a cradle.

"Never mind my dreams, Maestro," he said. 'You need your sleep to get well. Maybe this will help." He reached into his lunch bucket and removed the bottle.

"What?" asked Winslow.

"This," said Theodore, passing the bottle through the dark and placing it in Winslow's hand.

"Is this what I think it is, my dear Mr. Metz?"

"Yes, sir. You need your sleep."

"You are a mystery man, sir, but a kind, kind man. But aren't you worried? What if I tell your supervisor? You would be fired again."

"You won't do that?

"No. I probably won't."

Theodore heard Winslow untwist the cap. Then he heard nothing, until the sound of hard swallowing filled the room. Winslow inhaled deeply, sighed, and fell silent. Then he said, 'This turkey, dear Mr. Metz, darling Mr. Metz, is the true bird of happiness. Not the bluebird. The true bird. And not on the wing, but distilled, purified, made essential, and always close to the earth. Yet it flies, Metz, it flies through my veins and enters my heart." He paused and swallowed again.

"Tell me, what, in all fairness, can be wrong with this feeling, the delicious spell of the alcohol? Truly? Why is this state of simple pleasure so disdained by society? Oh, dear man, you move me deeply. You are my angel." He paused just long enough to take another long hard swig.

"Now you must join me, Mr. Metz," he said, extending the bottle. And Theodore knew that, yes, indeed, he must. He took the bottle from Winslow's moist hand and held the round, hard mouth to his lips. Then he lifted it to his nostrils and allowed its delicate perfume to fill his head with a scent like vanilla and moss. It made his eyes tear, and then he lightly kissed the bottle's lip and drank--one, two, three--noisy, voluptuous gulps.

"Ah," whispered Winslow. "We are on our way, my colleague--my friend." Theodore took another loud swallow.

"And now, Mr. Metz, I want to see the deer. I understand there are deer on this property."

"Yes, sir," said Theodore, his lips a little numb. "And I know exactly where they are."

They moved through the night, passing the bottle back and forth, whispering and growing giddy at their adventure. Despite the alcohol, their eyes began to find things: shrubs, trees in the path, stumps. Theodore had helped his cousin on several occasions, even assisting once when a doe could not drop her fawn and he had to pull the slimy sack out of her with his bare hands. He knew where the enclosure began, and he knew that if he could find the fence, there would be deer behind it. Now, though, with Wild Turkey mumbling in his ear, he was unsure of himself. He wondered aloud if the deer would be awake at this hour.

"We'll sing to them," Winslow answered. "Well awaken them with our crooning and very, very soft songs. They will love that."

Theodore stopped abruptly, reached into his pants pocket, and turned to Winslow. "Look what I have," he said, holding something in his palm for Winslow to see. He felt himself wobble slightly on his heels. "What the hell is that?" Winslow asked, stumbling into him. He bent over and squinted into Theodore's hand. Before he'd left Winslow's room, Theodore had taken six lumps of sugar out of his lunch bucket. He'd brought them to work for his coffee, but now he was taking them to the deer.

"Sugar cubes, Winslow. Deer candy."

He took the bottle out of Winslow's hand, ran his fingers down the full length of its delicately tapered neck, and drank from it as deeply as he had ever drunk from anything.

"Whoa, there, Mr. Metz. Leave some for the sinner." He pronounced the last word "shinner," which made Theodore giggle. Theodore gave the bottle back to Winslow and turned to resume their trek, only to find the fence looming right in front of him.

"Here we are, Winslow," he whispered. "Now be quiet." He rattled the fence slightly and waited. He rattled it again, this time hanging on to it as another startling gust of bourbon riffled his brain. Then he heard a grunting noise behind him and, turning, saw Winslow facing away from him, looking in the direction from which they'd just come.

"I am conducting something," Winslow whispered, waving his stubby arms in the air. "Very quietly, though. Shhhhhhh. Can you see me, Metz? This is 'The Firebird' by Igor the Russian guy. Perfect, right? And up there is 'The Planets.' I'm conducting them. Look at them, Mr. Metz. In the sky. I'm conducting fire and the planets all at once." Now his arms were churning the air frantically, making Theodore think of those toy windmills on sticks that kids play with.

"This is what people see when they look at me, Metz, a short crazy man's back, little arms waving, little head flopping. That's all they see. This is me. This is what they see."

Winslow held the bottle in his right hand as if it were a baton. What liquor was left trickled down his arm and onto the sleeve of his smoking jacket, turning the elegant grey a sooty brown.

"Shit," he moaned, dropping his arms. "I've squandered all the divine Turkey. And now I'm cold. It's cold here. I'm standing in mud, Metz. You made me stand in awful mud."

"Hush," Theodore answered, as something moved on the other side of the fence. Leaves crackled and sound took shape. It came slowly forward, halting inside its own shadow. Theodore reached back and found Winslow in the dark, took his hand, and placed three sugar cubes in his palm. "Feed it," he whispered.

"Why should I?" said Winslow, sounding suddenly petulant. Still, he did as he was told and stretched his arm through the web of the fence. Just then the deer walked carefully toward them--a six-point buck, the antlers splayed like limbs and branches against the gauzy moonlit sky.

"Oh, my God," Winslow said. "He is so big. Will he eat it?"

"Right out of your hand," said Theodore.

"His breath is hideous," Winslow muttered. "And look at his nose." Then he said, "Oh, my God, Metz. I feel his tongue. It feels like flannel.

Oh, Metz? Metz?"

"It's okay, Maestro. You'll be fine."

"I will never be the same," Winslow whispered, the word "same" sounding like "shame."

Then he said, "Thank you, Metz. You are a merciful man."

Theodore extended his own arm to the buck, the three sugar cubes sticky in his palm. He felt warmth hover over his hand and smelled something like turpentine. Then he felt the deer's tongue stroke his palm as it scooped up the sugar. It did feel like flannel, damp flannel. The three of them--Winslow, Theodore, and the deer--stood still for a moment. Theodore knew the deer was watching him, and he knew that the deer saw nothing in particular, nothing special at all. Still, they waited and listened. The animal raised his massive head and shook it, the antlers whooshing and creaking back and forth. Then he snorted, just once, and whinnied, sounding feminine, infantile, before he backed away and turned again into the dark.
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Author:Rabe, Marsha
Publication:Prairie Schooner
Article Type:Short story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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