By Joyce Carol Oates

Originally published in Story, 1991. information
First collected in Heat and Other Stories.

This is such a terrible story. It’s a story I have told a dozen times, never knowing why.

Why I can’t forget it, I mean. Why it’s lodged so deep in me … like an arrow through the neck.

Like that arrow I never saw—fifteen-inch, steel-tipped, razor sharp—that penetrated the deer’s neck and killed him, though not immediately. How many hours, I wonder, till he bled to death, till his body turned cold and grew heavier—they say the weight of Death is always heavier than that of life—how many hours, terrible hours, I don’t know.

I was not a witness. The sole witness did not survive.

Each time I tell this story of the wounded buck, the hunter who pursued him, and the elderly woman who rescued him, or tried to rescue him, I think that maybe this telling will make a difference.

This time a secret meaning will be revealed, as if without my volition, and I will be released.

heatBut each telling is a subtle repudiation of a previous telling. So each telling is a new telling. Each telling a forgetting.

That arrow lodged ever more firmly, cruelly. In living flesh.

I’d take comfort in saying all this happened years ago, in some remote part of the country. Once upon a time, I’d begin, but in fact it happened within the past year, and no more than eight miles from where I live, in a small town called Bethany, New Jersey.

Which is in Saugatuck County in the northwestern corner of the state, bordering the Delaware River.

A region that’s mainly rural: farmland, hills, some of the hills large enough to be called mountains. There aren’t many roads in this part of New Jersey, and the big interstate highways just slice through, gouge through the countryside, north and south, east and west. Strangers in a rush to get somewhere else.

The incident happened on the Snyder farm. A lonely place, no neighbors close by.

The name “Snyder” was always known in Saugatuck County even though, when I was growing up, the Snyders had sold off most of their land. In the family’s prime, in the 1930s, they’d owned three hundred twenty acres, most of it rich farmland; in the 1950s they’d begun to sell, piecemeal, as if grudgingly, maybe with the idea of one day buying their land back. But they never did; they died out instead. Three brothers, all unmarried; and Melanie Snyder, the last of the family. Eighty-two years old when she was found dead in a room of the old farmhouse, last January.

In deer-hunting season. The season that had always frightened and outraged her.

She’d been vigilant for years. She’d acquired a local reputation. Her six acres of land—all that remained of the property—was scrupulously posted against hunters (“with gun, bow and arrow, dog”) and trespassers. Before hunting with firearms was banned in Saugatuck County, Melanie Snyder patrolled her property in hunting season, on foot, fearless about moving in the direction of gunfire. “You! What are you doing here?” she would call out to hunters. “Don’t you know this land is posted?” She was a lanky woman with a strong-boned face, skin that looked permanently wind-burnt, close-cropped starkly white hair. Her eyes were unusually dark and prominent; everyone commented on Melanie Snyder’s eyes; she wasn’t a woman any man, no matter his age, felt comfortable confronting, especially out in the woods.

She sent trespassers home, threatened to call the sheriff if they didn’t leave. She’d stride through the woods clapping her hands to frighten off deer, pheasants, small game, send them panicked to safety.

White-tailed deer, or, as older generations called them, Virginia deer, were her favorites, “the most beautiful animals in creation.” She hated it that state conservationists argued in favor of controlled hunting for the “good” of the deer themselves, to reduce their alarmingly fertile numbers.

She hated the idea of hunting with bow and arrow—as if it made any difference to a deer, how it died.

She hated the stealth and silence of the bow. With guns, you can at least hear the enemy.

His name was Wayne Kunz, “Woody” Kunz, part owner of a small auto parts store in Delaware Gap, New Jersey, known to his circle of male friends as a good guy. A good sport. You might say, a “character.”

The way he dressed: his hunting gear, for instance.

A black simulated-leather jumpsuit, over it the regulation fluorescent-orange vest. A bright red cap, with earflaps. Boots to the knee, like a Nazi storm trooper’s; mirror sunglasses hiding his pale lashless eyes. He had a large, round, singed-looking face, a small damp mouth: this big-bellied, quick-grinning fellow, the kind who keeps up a constant chatting murmur with himself, as if terrified of silence, of being finally alone.

He hadn’t been able to talk any of his friends into coming with him, deer hunting with bow and arrow.

Even showing them his new Atlas bow, forty-eight inches, sleek blond fiberglass “wood,” showing them the quill of arrows, synthetic-feathered, lightweight steel and steel-tipped and razor-sharp like no Indian’s arrows had ever been—he’d been disappointed, disgusted with them, none of his friends wanting to come along, waking in the predawn dark, driving out into Saugatuck County to kill a few deer.

Woody Kunz. Forty years old, five feet ten inches, two hundred pounds. He’d been married, years ago, but the marriage hadn’t worked out, and there were no children.

Crashing clumsily through the underbrush, in pursuit of deer.

Not wanting to think he was lost—was he lost?

Talking to himself, cursing and begging himself—”C’mon, Woody, for Christ’s sake, Woody, move your fat ass“—half sobbing as, another time, a herd of deer broke and scattered before he could get into shooting range. Running and leaping through the woods, taunting him with their uplifted white tails, erect snowy-white tails like targets so he couldn’t help but fire off an arrow—to fly into space, disappear.

“Fuck it, Woody! Fuck you, asshole!”

Later. He’s tired. Even with the sunglasses his eyes are seared from the bright winter sun reflecting on the snow. Knowing he deserves better.

Another time the deer are too quick and smart for him, must be they scented him downwind, breaking to run before he even saw them, only heard them, silent except for the sound of their crashing hooves. This time, he fires a shot knowing it won’t strike any target, no warm living flesh. Must be he does it to make himself feel bad.

Playing the fool in the eyes of anybody watching and he can’t help but think uneasily that somebody is watching if only the unblinking eye of God.

And then: he sees the buck.

His buck, yes, suddenly. Oh, Jesus. His heart clenches, he knows.

He has surprised the beautiful dun-colored animal drinking from a fast-running stream; the stream is frozen except for a channel of black water at its center, the buck with its antlered head lowered. Woody Kunz stares, hardly able to believe his good luck, rapidly counting the points of the antlers—eight? ten?—as he fits an arrow into place with trembling fingers, lifts the bow, and sights along the arrow aiming for that point of the anatomy where neck and chest converge—it’s a heart shot he hopes for—drawing back the arrow, feeling the power of the bow, releasing it, and seemingly in the same instant the buck leaps, the arrow has struck him in the neck, there’s a shriek of animal terror and pain, and Woody Kunz shouts in ecstatic triumph.

But the buck isn’t killed outright. To Woody’s astonishment, and something like hurt, the buck turns and runs—flees.

Later he’d say he hadn’t seen the NO TRESPASSING signs in the woods, he hadn’t come by way of the road so he hadn’t seen them there, the usual state-issued signs forbidding hunting, trapping, trespassing on private land, but Woody Kunz would claim he hadn’t known it was private land exactly; he’d have to confess he might have been lost, tracking deer for hours moving more or less in a circle, not able to gauge where the center of the circle might be; and yes, he was excited, adrenaline rushing in his veins as he hadn’t felt it in God knows how long, half a lifetime maybe, so he hadn’t seen the signs posting the Snyder property or if he’d seen them they had not registered upon his consciousness or if they’d registered upon his consciousness he hadn’t known what they were, so tattered and weatherworn.

That was Woody Kunz’s defense, against a charge, if there was to be a charge, of unlawful trespassing and hunting on posted property.

Jesus is the most important person in all our lives!

Jesus abides in our hearts, no need to see Him!

These joyful pronouncements, or are they commandments, Melanie Snyder sometimes hears, rising out of the silence of the old house. The wind in the eaves, a shrieking of crows in the orchard, and this disembodied voice, the voice of her long-dead fiancé—waking her suddenly from one of her reveries, so she doesn’t remember where she is, what year this is, what has happened to her, to have aged her so.

She’d fallen in love with her brothers, one by one. Her tall strong indifferent brothers.

Much later, to everyone’s surprise and certainly to her own, she’d fallen in love with a young Lutheran preacher, just her age.

Standing just her height. Smiling at her shyly, his wire-rimmed glasses winking as if shyly too. Shaking her gloved hand. Hello, Miss Snyder. Like a brother who would at last see her.

Twenty-eight years old! She’d been fated to be a spinster, of course. That plain, stubborn, sharp-tongued girl, eyes too large and stark and intelligent in her face to be “feminine,” her body flat as a board.

In this place in which girls married as young as sixteen, began having their babies at seventeen, were valued and praised and loved for such qualities as they shared with brood mares and milking cows, you cultivated irony to save your soul—and your pride.

Except: she fell in love with the visiting preacher, introduced to him by family fiends sit two “young people” urged together to speak stumblingly. clumsily to each other of—what? Decades later Melanie Snyder won’t remember a syllable, but she remembers the young man’s preaching, voice, Jesus! Jesus is our only salvation! He’d gripped the edges of the pulpit of the Bethany church, God love shining in his face, white teeth bared like piano keys.

How it happened, how they became officially engaged—whether by their own decision or others’—they might not have been able to say. But it was time to marry, for both.

Plain, earnest, upright young people. Firm-believing Christians, of that there could be no doubt.

Did Melanie doubt? No, never!

She was prepared to be a Christian wife and to have her babies one by one. As God ordained.

There were passionate-seeming squeezes of her hand, there were chaste kisses, fluttery and insubstantial as a butterfly’s wings. There were Sunday walks, in the afternoon. Jesus is the most important person in my life, I feel Him close beside us—don’t you, Melanie?

The emptiness of the country lane, the silence of the sky, except for the crows’ raucous jeering cries. Slow-spiraling hawks high overhead.

Oh, yes, certainly! Oh, yes.

Melanie Snyder’s fiancé. The young just-graduated seminary student, with his hope to be a missionary. He was an energetic softball player, a pitcher of above-average ability; he led the Sunday school children on hikes, canoe trips. But he was most himself there in the pulpit of the Bethany church, elevated a few inches above the rapt congregation, where even his shy stammering rose to passion, a kind of sensual power. How strong the bones of his earnest, homely face, the fair-brown wings of hair brushed back neatly from his forehead! Jesus, our redeemer. Jesus, our only salvation. As if the God love shining in the young man’s face were a beacon, a lighthouse beacon, flung out into the night, giving light yet unseeing, blind, in itself.

The engagement was never officially terminated. Always, there were sound reasons for postponing the wedding. Their families were disappointed but eager, on both sides, to comply. His letters came to her like clockwork, every two weeks, from North Carolina, where he was stationed as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. Dutiful letters, buoyant letters about his work, his “mission,” his conviction that he was at last where God meant him to be.

Then the letters ceased. And they told Melanie he’d had an “accident” of some kind; there’d been a “misunderstanding” of some kind. He was discharged from his army post and reassigned to a Lutheran church in St. Louis, where he was to assist an older minister. But why? Melanie asked. Why, what has happened? Melanie demanded to know, but never was she told, never would a young woman be told such a thing, not for her ears, not for an ignorant virgin’s ears; she’d wept and protested and mourned and lapsed finally into shame, not knowing what had happened to ruin her happiness but knowing it must constitute a rejection of her, a repudiation of the womanliness she’d tried so hard—ah, so shamefully hard!—to take on.

That feeling, that sense of unworthiness, she would retain for years. Studying her face in a mirror, plain, frank, unyielding, those eyes alit with irony, she realized she’d known all along—she was fated to be a spinster, never to be any man’s wife.

And didn’t that realization bring with it, in truth, relief?

Now, fifty years later, if those words Jesus! Jesus abides in our hearts, no need to see Him! ring out faintly in the silence of the old house, she turns aside, unhearing. For she’s an old woman who has outlived such lies. Such subterfuge. She has taken revenge on Jesus Christ by ceasing to believe in Him—or in God, or in the Lutheran faith, or in such pieties as meekness, charity, love of one’s enemies. Casting off her long-dead fiancé (who had not the courage even to write Melanie Snyder, finally, to release her from their engagement), she’d cast off his religion, as, drifting off from a friend, we lose the friends with whom he or she connected us, there being no deeper bond.

What is it?

She sees, in the lower pasture, almost out of the range of her vision, a movement of some kind: a swaying dun-colored shape, blurred by the frost on the aged glass. Standing in her kitchen, alert, aroused.

An animal of some kind? A large dog? A deer?

A wounded deer?

Melanie hurries to pull her sheepskin jacket from a peg; she’s jamming her feet into boots, already angry, half knowing what she’ll see.

Guns you could at least hear; now the slaughter is with bow and arrow. Grown men playing at Indians. Playing at killing.

The excuse is, the “excess” deer population in the county has to be kept down. White-tailed deer overbreeding, causing crop damage, auto accidents. As if men, the species of men who prowl the woods seeking innocent creatures to kill, need any excuse.

Melanie Snyder, who has known hunters all her life, including her own brothers, understands: to the hunter, killing an animal is just a substitute for killing another human being. Male, female. That’s the forbidden fantasy.

She has never been frightened of accosting them, though, and she isn’t now. Running outside into the gusty January air. A scowling wild-eyed old woman, sexless leathery face, white hair rising from her head in stiff tufts. She is wearing a soiled sheepskin jacket several sizes too large for her, a relic once belonging to one of her brothers; her boots are rubberized fishing boots, the castoffs of another, long-deceased brother.

Melanie is prepared for an ugly sight but this sight stuns her at first; she hears herself cry out, “Oh. Oh, God!”

A buck, full grown, beautiful, with handsome pointed antlers, is staggering in her direction, thrashing his head from side to side, desperate to dislodge an arrow that has penetrated his neck. His eyes roll in his head, his mouth is opening and closing spasmodically, blood flows bright and glistening from the wound; in fact it is two wounds, in the lower part of his neck near his left shoulder. Behind him, in the lower pasture, running clumsily after him, is the hunter, bow uplifted: a bizarre sight in black jumpsuit, bright orange vest, comical red hat. Like a robot or a spaceman, Melanie thinks, staring. She has never seen any hunter so costumed. Is this a man she should know? a face? a name? He’s a hefty man with pale flushed skin, damp mouth, eyes hidden behind sunglasses with opaque mirrored lenses. His breath is steaming in the cold; he’s clearly excited, agitated—dangerous. Fitting an arrow crookedly to his bow as if preparing, at this range, to shoot.

Melanie cries, “You! Get out of here!” The hunter yells, “Lady, stand aside!”

“This land is posted! I’ll call the sheriff!”

“Lady, you better gimme a clear shot!”

The buck is snorting, stamping his sharp-hooved feet in the snow.

Deranged by terror and panic, he thrashes his antlered head from side to side, bleeding freely, bright-glistening blood underfoot, splattered onto Melanie Snyder’s clothes as, instinctively, recklessly, she positions herself between the wounded animal and the hunter. She’s pleading, angry. “Get off my land! Haven’t you done enough evil? This poor creature! Let him alone!”

The hunter, panting, gaping at her, can’t seem to believe what he sees: a white-haired woman in men’s clothes, must be eighty years old, trying to shield a buck with an arrow through his neck. He advances to within a few yards of her, tries to circle around her. Saying incredulously, “That’s my arrow, for Christ’s sake, lady! That buck’s a goner and he’s mine!”

“Brute! Murderer! I’m telling you to get off my land or I’ll call the sheriff and have you arrested!”

“Lady, that buck is goddamned dangerous—you better stand aside.”

You stand aside. Get off my property!”

“Lady, for Christ’s sake—”

“You heard me: get off my property!

So, for some minutes, there’s an impasse.

Forever afterward Woody Kunz will remember, to his chagrin and shame: the beautiful white-tailed full-grown buck with the most amazing spread of antlers he’d ever seen—his buck, his kill, his arrow sticking through the animal’s neck—the wounded buck snorting, thrashing his head, stamping the ground, blood everywhere, blood-tinged saliva hanging from his mouth in threads, and the crazy old woman shielding the buck with her body, refusing to surrender him to his rightful owner. And Woody Kunz is certain he is the rightful owner; he’s shouting in the old woman’s face, he’s pleading with her, practically begging, finally; the fucking deer is his, he’s earned it, he’s been out tramping in the cold since seven this morning, God damn it if he’s going to give up! Face blotched and hot, tears of rage and impotence stinging his eyes: oh, Jesus, he’d grab the old hag by the shoulders, lift her clear, and fire another arrow this time into the heart so there’d be no doubt—except, somehow, he doesn’t do it, doesn’t dare.

Instead, he backs off. Still with his bow upraised, his handsome brand-new Atlas bow from Sears, but the arrow droops useless in his fingers.

‘In a voice heavy with disgust, sarcasm, he says, “OK. OK, lady, you win.

The last glimpse Woody Kunz has of this spectacle, the old woman is trying clumsily to pull the arrow out of the buck’s neck, and the buck is naturally putting up a struggle, swiping at her with his antlers, but weakly, sinking to his knees in the snow, then scrambling to his feet again; still the old woman persists; sure, she is crazy and deserves whatever happens to her, the front of her sheepskin jacket soaked in blood by now, blood even on her face, in her hair.

It isn’t until late afternoon, hours later, that Woody Kunz returns home.

Having gotten lost in the countryside, wandered in circles in the woods, couldn’t locate the road he’d parked his goddamned car on, muttering to himself, sick and furious and shamed, in a state of such agitation his head feels close to bursting, guts like a nest of tangled snakes. Never, never, is Woody Kunz going to live down this humiliation in his own eyes.

So he’s decided not to tell anyone. Not even to fashion it into an anecdote to entertain his friends: Woody Kunz being cheated out of a twelve-point buck by an old lady? Shit, he’d rather die than have it known.

Sure, it crosses his mind he should maybe report the incident to the sheriff. Not to reiterate his claim of the deer—though the deer is his—but to report the old woman in case she’s really in danger.

Out there, seemingly alone, so old, in the middle of nowhere. A mortally wounded full-grown whitetail buck, crazed with pain and terror, like a visitation of God, in her care.

She’s begging, desperate: “Let me help you, oh, please! Oh, please! Let me—”

Tugging at the terrible arrow, tugging forward, tugging back, her fingers slippery with blood. Woman and beast struggling, the one disdainful, even reckless, of her safety; the other dazed by trauma or loss of blood, not lashing out as ordinarily he would, to attack an enemy, with bared teeth, antlers, sharp hooves.

“Oh, please, you must not die, please—”

It’s probable that Melanie Snyder has herself become deranged. All of the world having shrunk to the task at hand, to the forcible removal of this steel bar that has penetrated the buck’s neck, fifteen-inch steel-glinting sharp-tipped arrow with white, synthetic quills—nothing matters but that the arrow must be removed.

The bulging eyes roll upward, there’s bloody froth at the shuddering nostrils, she smells, tastes, the hot rank breath—then the antlers strike her in the chest, she’s falling, crying out in surprise.

And the buck has pushed past her, fleeing on skidding hooves, on legs near buckling at the knees, so strangely—were she fully conscious she would realize, so strangely—into her father’s house.

It won’t be until three days later, at about this hour of the morning, that they’ll discover her—or the body she has become. Melanie Snyder and the buck with the arrow through his neck.

But Melanie Snyder has no sense of what’s coming, no cautionary fear. As if, this damp-gusty January morning, such a visitation, such urgency pressed upon her, has blotted out all anticipation of the future, let alone of danger.

In blind panic, voiding his bowels, the buck has run crashing into the old farmhouse, into the kitchen, through to the parlor; as Melanie Snyder sits dazed on the frozen ground beneath her rear stoop he turns, furious, charges into a corner of the room, collides with an upright piano, making a brief discordant startled music, an explosion of muted notes; turns again, crashing into a table laden with family photographs, a lamp of stippled milk glass with a fluted shade. A renewed rush of adrenaline empowers him; turning again, half rearing, hooves skidding on the thin loose-lying Oriental carpet faded to near transparency, he charges his reflection in a mirror as, out back, Melanie Snyder sits trying to summon her strength, trying to comprehend what has happened and what she must do.

She doesn’t remember the buck having knocked her down, thus can’t believe he has attacked her.

She thinks, Without me, he is doomed.

She hears one of her brothers speaking harshly, scolding: What is she doing there sitting on the ground?—For the Lords sake, Melanie!—but she ignores him, testing her right ankle, the joint is livid with pain but not broken—she can shift her weight to her other foot—a high-pitched ringing in her head as of church bells and where there should be terror there’s determination, for Melanie Snyder is an independent woman, a woman far too proud to accept, let alone solicit, her neighbors proffered aid since the death of the last of her brothers: she wills herself not to succumb to weakness now, in this hour of her trial.

Managing to get to her feet, moving with calculating slowness. As if her bones are made of glass.

Overhead, an opaque January sky, yet beautiful. Like slightly tarnished mother-of-pearl.

Except for the crows in their gathering place beyond the barns, and the hoarse uh-uh-uh of her breathing: silence.

She enters the house. By painful inches, yet eagerly. Leaning heavily against the door frame.

She sees the fresh blood trail, sees and smells the moist animal droppings, so shocking, there on the kitchen floor she keeps clean with a pointless yet self-satisfying fanaticism, the aged linoleum worn nearly colorless, yes, but Melanie has a house owner’s pride, and pride is all. The buck in his frenzy to escape the very confines he has plunged into is turning, rearing, snorting, crashing in the other room. Melanie calls, “I’m here! I will help you!”—blindly too entering the parlor with its etiolated light, tasseled shades drawn to cover three quarters of the windows as, decades ago, Melanie Snyder’s mother had so drawn them, to protect the furnishings against the sun. Surely she’s a bizarre sight herself, drunk-swaying, staggering, her wrinkled face, hands glistening with blood, white hair in tufts as if she hasn’t taken a brush to it in weeks, Melanie Snyder in the oversized sheepskin jacket she wears in town, driving a rusted Plymouth pickup truck with a useless muffler—everybody in Bethany knows Melanie Snyder though she doesn’t know them, carelessly confuses sons with fathers, granddaughters with mothers, her own remote blood relations with total strangers—she’s awkward in these rubberized boots many sizes too large for her shrunken feet, yet reaching out—unhesitantly, boldly—to the maddened buck who crouches in a corner facing her, his breath frothing in blood, in erratic shuddering waves, she is speaking softly, half begging, “I want to help you! Oh—” as the heavy head dips, the antlers rush at her—how astonishing the elegance of such male beauty, and the burden of it, God’s design both playful and deadly shrewd, the strangeness of bone growing out of flesh, bone calcified and many-branched as a young apple tree—clumsily he charges this woman who is his enemy even as, with a look of startled concern, she opens her arms to him, the sharp antlers now striking her a second time in the chest and this time breaking her fragile collarbone as easily as one might break a chicken wishbone set to dry on a windowsill for days, and the momentum of his charge carries him helplessly forward, he falls, the arrow’s quill brushing against Melanie Snyder’s face; as he scrambles in a frenzy to upright himself his sharp hooves catch her in the chest, belly, pelvis; he has fallen heavily, as if from a great height, as if flung down upon her, breath in wheezing shudders and the blood froth bubbling around his mouth, and Melanie Snyder lies pinned beneath the animal body, legs gone, lower part of her body gone, a void of numbness, not even pain, distant from her as something seen through the wrong end of a telescope, rapidly retreating.

How did it happen, how strange; they were of the same height now, or nearly. Melanie Snyder and her tall strong indifferent brothers. Never married, none of them, d’you know why? No woman was ever quite good enough for the Snyder boys, and the girl, Melanie—well, one look at her and you know: a born spinster.

It’s more than thirty years after they informed her, guardedly, without much sympathy—for perhaps sympathy would have invited tears, and they were not a family comfortable with tears—that her fiancé had been discharged from the army, that Melanie dares to ask, shyly, without her customary aggressiveness, what had really happened, what the mysterious “accident,” or was it a “misunderstanding,” had been. And her brother, her elder by six years, an aged slope-shouldered man with a deeply creased face, sighs and passes his hand over his chin and says, in a tone of mild but unmistakable contempt, “Don’t ask.”

She lies there beneath the dying animal, then beneath the lifeless stiffening body, face no more than four inches from the great head, the empty eyes—how many hours she’s conscious, she can’t gauge.

At first calling, into the silence, “Help—help me!—Help”

There is a telephone in the kitchen; rarely does it ring, and when it rings Melanie Snyder frequently ignores it, doesn’t want people inquiring after her, well-intentioned neighbors, good Lutherans from the church she hasn’t set foot in, except for funerals, in twenty-odd years.

The dying animal, beautiful even in dying, bleeding to death, soaking Melanie Snyder’s clothes with his blood, and isn’t she bleeding too, from wounds in her throat and face, her hands?

And he’s dead, she feels the life pass from him—”Oh, no, oh, no,” sobbing and pushing at the body, warm sticky blood by degrees cooling and congealing—the wood-fire stove in the kitchen has gone out and cold eases in from out-of-doors; in fact the kitchen door must be open, creaking and banging in the wind. A void rises from the loose-fitting floorboards as from the lower part of Melanie’s body; she’s sobbing as if her heart is broken, she’s furious, trying to lift the heavy body from her, clawing at the body, raking her torn nails and bleeding fingers against the buck’s thick winter coat, a coarse-haired furry coat, but the buck’s body will not budge.

The weight of Death, so much more powerful than life.

Later. She wakes moaning and delirious, a din as of sleet pellets against the windows, and the cold has congealed the buck’s blood and her own, the numbness has moved higher, obliterating much of what she has known as “body” these eighty-odd years; she understands that she is dying—consciousness like a fragile bubble, or a skein of bubbles—yet she is able still to wish to summon her old strength, the bitter joy of her stubborn strength, pushing at the heavy animal body, dead furry weight, eyes sightless as glass and the arrow, the terrible arrow, the obscene arrow: “Let me go. Let me free.”

Fainting and waking. Drifting in and out of consciousness.

Hearing that faint ringing voice in the eaves, as always subtly chiding, in righteous reproach of Melanie Snyder, mixed with the wind and that profound agelessness of wind as if blowing to us from the farthest reaches of time as well as space—Jesus! Jesus is our only salvation! Jesus abides in our hearts!—but in pride she turns aside unhearing; never has she begged, nor will she beg now. Oh, never.

And does she regret her gesture, trying to save an innocent beast? She does not.

And would she consent, even now, to having made a mistake, acted improvidently? She would not.

When after nearly seventy-two hours Woody Kunz overcomes his manly embarrassment and notifies the Saugatuck County sheriffs office of the “incident” on the Snyder farm and they go out to investigate, they find eighty-two-year-old Melanie Snyder dead, pinned beneath the dead whitetail buck, in the parlor of the old farmhouse in which no one outside the Snyder family had stepped for many years. An astonishing sight: human and animal bodies virtually locked together in the rigor of death, their mingled blood so soaked into Melanie Snyder’s clothes, so frozen, it is possible to separate them only by force.

buck04Image: Don Sniegowski —  “Successful deer hunt”

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