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Home > Works > Uncollected Works > I Shot a Deer (2002)

I Shot a Deer

In 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.

"What's the clippy part?" she answered.

"It's the 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.

   

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