A short story.
Who would have thought it? That all of the men, men with soft hands, men who hired other men to mow their lawns and fix their cars, men with Italian shoes and stuffed wallets, would have agreed unanimously to the idea? And not just the men, but the women, women with expensive fingernails who hired other women to do the wash? They were hardly the NRA crowd, certainly not NASCAR watchers or aerial hunting aficionados. Why, the only dead thing most of them had ever seen was chicken or fish at the dinner table, poached, grilled or sautéed.
And road kill. There was always the stray squirrel that had been hit by a car. Howard Noonan’s car most often. Noonan drove his BMW convertible like a teenage boy showing off for a girl, though who knew who he was showing off for. His wife, Joyce, had fled with the three kids the year before, leaving him alone in their enormous house, the biggest house in Rolling Acres. What did he do in that big house, all alone? First-person shooter games, they guessed, on the video game systems his sons had left behind. Curse the bastard for never inviting anyone over to use his swimming pool. Didn’t you just want to dive right in when you saw the steam rising from it on these cool September mornings?
One might have thought he would be the one to suggest the idea, but it was Lila Braunstein who latched onto the concept, tiny Lila Braunstein, who spent all morning, every morning, at hot yoga, twisting and stretching her former gymnast’s body into all sorts of shapes, and sweating—you never would have guessed how much Lila Braunstein could sweat until you had the mat next to hers in class. Lila was tired of it, frankly, tired of waking in the wee hours to the sound of Bitsy barking, barking, barking! She was sick to death of taking her out in the middle of the night only to have her sniff and bark and not tinkle. The barking woke the twins, Kyle and Katie, who, goodness knew, had enough trouble waking up for kindergarten without Bitsy’s barking keeping them up all night.
It was the deer. The darn deer. They stood at the perimeter of the invisible fence and taunted poor, barking Bitsy. The deer were everywhere. One day, Lila warned, one day soon, someone is going to hit one with a car. We’ll be cleaning up more than squirrel parts then, mark my words, she said, though she had never before in her life said, or even thought, “mark my words,” but there you were. She wanted her words marked.
Remember when we all moved here, David Gold asked, remember how rare they were then, how we used to point them out, how it used to make us feel like we were living in the country? But now! That was before Lyme disease was invented, they mused, back when the sight of a deer made you think of Bambi. To hell with Bambi now.
When’s hunting season, someone asked, and everyone laughed. Except for Lila. You think I’m joking, Lila said, but I’m dead serious. We need to organize a hunt.
I’m not joking, Lila repeated, her voice edging, as it sometimes did, into the range some called shrill. People dominoed into silence. Good idea, David Li said, I think it’s a good idea. They ate all of my tomatoes this summer. I even built a fence around the plants, but they got them anyway, he said, looking around, trying to catch a guilty expression on the face of the real tomato thief.
They ate my tulips last spring, Mimi Levin said, every last damn one. Your tulips? You always have the most gorgeous tulips, Mimi! Not anymore, she said. I guess they taste as good as they look, someone said, and everyone felt free to laugh again.
This was all before the meeting was officially convened, before Sarah Kimble read the minutes from the last meeting and encouraged anyone who wanted to help with the annual litter pickup to call Janet Mann, who was coordinating the effort this year, and before Margie O’Brien reminded some people—you know who you are—that the annual homeowner association dues were long overdue. Not to name any names, but everyone knew. (Just as they knew, or were pretty sure they knew, who wasn’t picking up after his dog. No one had actually seen it—the culprit was furtive, walking late at night or early in the morning—but somebody was not picking up after his dog. A big dog, by the looks of it. The children were stepping in it at the tot lot—at the tot lot for Christ’s sake!)
You couldn’t deny the risks of Lyme disease. And that new tick-borne disease that was just in the paper and began with a “b.” Oh, there were more, many more tick-borne diseases than just Lyme and babesiosis, Martin Shriver said, and as an NIH scientist he would know. He stood as though he were about to perform an aria, listing the diseases so quickly people swooned: human granulocytic ehrlichiosis, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick typhus, Southern tick-associated rash illness, tick-borne relapsing fever—and that was just a partial CDC listing.
Do something, we have to do something, Pat Schlager said, and everyone nodded, particularly the women, thinking of their children at home, tucked safely into their clean little beds in their clean little rooms, sitters or nannies standing sentry. They suddenly felt glad that the P.E. class at the elementary school met just once a week for 40 minutes in the gym, because there were dangers outdoors, terrible dangers, microscopic dangers. Then icily, chillingly, they remembered soccer, played on grassy fields. Perhaps karate would have been a better sport, some thought. Or ice hockey. Ice hockey was good clean fun and it, too, encouraged team building.
Could a community do it? Have a deer hunt? Like a fox hunt? A running of the hounds? Did you need dogs? They had dogs. Goldendoodles and golden retrievers. Was it legal? The lawyers in the room cleared their collective throats. Who cares if it’s legal, someone said, and the shouts of the who-cares people overpowered the shouts of the lawyers, and so it was decided that they would do it. It would take place the next Saturday morning, before the soccer games. Next Saturday would be hunting season in Rolling Acres. Could you put it in the weekly e-newsletter, Tina? And maybe one of you ladies could see to refreshments.
Five days! The preparations that would have to be made in a scant five days! They went home excited, breathlessly excited, these people who had never thought of owning a gun, who frowned upon those idiots who kept guns in their houses for the kids to run across, who accidentally on purpose shot themselves while cleaning them. Couples lay in their beds, their high-ceilinged bedroom walls blue from the lights of their laptops. They Googled hunting and camo and vests and caps. Should they wear reflective vests, or should they try to blend in with the trees, the young maples and oaks planted 10 years ago, when Rolling Acres arose from what had been rolling acres of farmland?
Did hunting gear come in petite sizes? Could you buy it on Amazon? Things were always cheaper on Amazon.
And what about the guns? Would rifles or handguns be more effective? Weren’t they lucky to live in a country in which one could buy guns so easily! Where was the nearest gun shop? It wasn’t something they ordinarily considered, like popping over to Costco or Nordstrom. There certainly wasn’t a shop at the mall, though there was a knife shop. Perhaps the owners would know. They would buy copies of Field & Stream. They would buy metal-tipped boots to stop the bullets from grazing their toes. They imagined guns, long and heavy in their hands, the jolt of their bodies after they fired.
Oh, they all had sex that night, vibrant, romping sex—every couple, every last one, in their thick and abundant duvet-covered, queen- and king-size beds, and they fell asleep happy, peaceful. They dreamt of fine reflective vests and shiny bullets. They dreamt of the blood that
finally would be shed.
Julie Langsdorf has received four individual artist awards in fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council. She has had short stories published in several literary magazines, including Puerto del Sol, descant and Karamu. She lives in Potomac and is working on a novel set at an amusement park reminiscent of Glen Echo in 1960.