I Shot a Deer
its January 2002 issue (with Hugh Jackman on the cover), GQ ran a feature
titled "My First Time," explaining, "Before every big discovery,
there's a journey into virgin territory. We asked five great writers for five
great coming-of-age stories." The five writers are Mark Richard, Jim Carroll,
Rick Bass, Padget Powell, and Richard Ford. This was Carroll's first article for
GQ, by the way. -- Webmaster
My girlfriend and
I were spending the weekend at her house, on a back road in Connecticut, asleep
in an upstairs room. It was about 6 A.M., just barely light and misty, when we
heard the sound: a high-pitched, aberrant whining. We woke simultaneously; I leaped
up and ran to the window, wiping my eyes clear. "What is it?" Judith
asked in a grogged-out frenzy. "It's freaking me." She buried her head
under the pillow and pressed her hand down to muffle the noise.
All I could see
from the window was two deer in the front yard, and in this town deer had become
a common sight. One dawn a reporter from the local newspaper had counted more
than a hundred grazing on the football field at the high school. "There are
a couple deer out front is all," I reassured her, "but I can't see where
the sound's coming from. I'm going to check it out." I pulled on a pair of
jeans and headed down the stairs.
As I opened the
door onto the porch, the two deer -- a large doe and her yearling -- scrambled
off with a peculiar hesitancy. They'd been standing near the gate of the light
green picket fence that enclosed the yard. Now I could see what was causing the
hideous sound, and it was dreadful.
There was a third,
smaller deer impaled on the fence. Apparently, the mother and a sibling had jumped
the fence, easily clearing its four-foot height. The smallest tried and failed.
It must have taken off too soon. I mean, its landing drove the splintered thin
pickets right through its belly and out the brown-and-white fur of its back. Since
its mouth wasn't moving, the hideous cry appeared to come from the wound itself.
It was repugnant, sad in a way that confounds not just your mind and heart but
also your body. You don't even know which direction to move your head, up, down,
or sideways. They all seemed wrong.
Judith was now
beside me on the porch; she grabbed my hand and, tears flying horizontally off
her face, led us toward the poor beast. It made a low, glottal sound, like the
bleating of a sheep. Judith held its chin in one hand and caressed its head with
the other. Realizing how bizarre this was, she pulled away. "My gun,"
she muttered, "we have to get my gun."
I ran into the
house and found the pistol, a nine-millimeter semiautomatic, inside a shoebox
on the bedroom-closet shelf. The piece felt too light in my hand, and checking
the handle, I realized the clip was missing. No clip meant no bullets. I turned
the shoebox over, sweating with adrenaline and frustration. Judith entered the
room. "Where's the clip?" I implored, waving the gun.
clippy part?" she answered.
part with the bullets, babe. . . . Why in God's name do you have a gun, anyway?"
She stood there
helpless, her palms and eyes upturned. I ran my arm across the shelves of the
closet, then began yanking open dresser drawers. No clip anywhere. I checked the
gun once more with a long-shot notion: There was one round left inside the chamber.
OK, I thought, I have one bullet. I bolted down the stairs, hoping the pistol
wasn't going to misfire on me.
Judith waited on
the porch as I hurried over to the fence. The blood had streamed so heavily in
all directions that the pickets were bright red. I crouched before the fawn's
twisted, stooped head; its breathing was heavier now, labored, desperate. As I
raised the gun, its eyes locked with mine. Doe eyes: There was still a wet elegance
in them, at once a rueful defiance and a desperate need for life. I saw my own
reflection as well, and was startled for a moment with what I thought was a glimpse
of the mother doe directly behind me. It looked so real that I braced myself for
the weight of her hooves on my back. Turning, I saw only Judith, shivering with
folded arms. I poked the muzzle against the short stiff hairs above the fawn's
ear and, recalling Judith's gesture, put my other hand on its chin. So I was touching
it gently as I pulled the trigger, and the weight of its head collapsed into my
palm. I had killed my first deer.
© 2002 Jim Carroll