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Protective Instinct

Protective Instinct

Eshani Surya

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Arundhati moves across the country, east to west, after the Lyme. There aren’t any deer in California, someone buying pears tells her in the grocery store, and she passes that on to her teenage daughter and husband. She adds, I just want to be somewhere safe, and with how she survived for them, fought that infection once nestled in her brain, who are they to argue?

Two months after they relocate, she sees it, antlered and rooting through a bush about thirty yards from the patio. She stares through the kitchen window while her daughter bustles behind her, straining a tea for inflamed joints.  

Look, Arundhati says, tapping her finger on the glass. But her daughter still thinks deer are sweet-looking, with gentle muzzles and feathered white decorating their haunches.

What are they hiding, though? Arundhati asks her, What are they carrying, why don’t you ever think of that?

What are they hiding, though?

Their neighbor, she learns, keeps guns. He polishes the barrels in his backyard on Sundays, and waves at Arundhati while she takes a slow amble on her property. Her body needs any stretch she can give it. After the deer, she leans over the fence and asks him if he hunts.

Sure, he says. There’s all sorts of deer around here.

She has never thought carefully about a bullet piercing a heart, but now whenever a deer crosses by her home, she imagines it, fantasizes it: metal cutting through what once seemed solid, slicing veins, lodging itself in until it could have always been there. And then, four legs sprawled on the ground, unnatural angles, the crack of antlers on earth.

One Sunday Arundhati asks the neighbor for lessons, to teach her how to hold a gun. He rubs the underside of his nose with his palm and asks why a lady like her even wants to learn. He means because she still trembles in the dry heat on her walking circles, because she is brown-skinned and that translates to meek, because her face looks sweet and girlish in the light as she sips warmth from a mug.

Finally, he hands her the gun to inspect and she points it straight at him for one long second, so he knows exactly what she can do, then she laughs and apologizes.

Finally, he hands her the gun to inspect and she points it straight at him for one long second, so he knows exactly what she can do, then she laughs and apologizes.

 

Eshani Surya's work has been featured in JoylandLiterary HubNew Delta Review, and Ninth Letter, among others. She is a flash fiction reader at Split Lip Magazine. Find her @__eshani or at eshani-surya.com

Illustration by Greta Kotz.


This story was originally published in Paper Darts Volume 8.
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