By Bryan Harvey
I arrived bearing a six-pack for all of a local brew. The deer on the label appeared in tune with the season—this was a holiday party, after all.
When I shut the refrigerator door, a cardigan featuring eight tiny Santas and one plump reindeer greeted me. A real genuine stag wore it. He was not fat, but fit—a real specimen to behold. He wore glasses and a bow tie too and implemented his hoof as a bottle opener, adding with an accent of sophistication: “I prefer the blood of Bacchus.”
I said, “sure,” because what else does one say to such a ridiculous line, never mind the line’s having been said by a deer wearing a sweater.
“I’m new to the neighborhood,” adding, “previously of Arcadia.”
“I’m not from here either.”
He yawned, “What do you do?”
The answer sparked his interest until he discovered I taught only high school. He held a PhD in Divine Antiquities and was up for tenure at one of the local colleges.
“Do you write also?”
I told him, “Occasionally I submit poems to lit mags.”
“Oh,” his eyes peered over the transparent frames of his glasses. “What’s your name?” he asked. “You see, when editors receive writing implementing my species as symbol, I’m often called upon for guidance.”
I gave him my name. “Hm,” he sighed, “no, I’m afraid you must not deal in matters involving Cervidae Artiodactyla.”
I told him I’d written a poem where a guy driving home from a bar almost hit a—but the stag cut me off: “Let me guess, you stared each other down in a beam of white light, or it was a hit and run and you meditated on life and death in human terms while staring at an antlered corpse to be, or there was no deer at all—alluding to humanity’s lack of corporeal knowledge.” I confessed it was some variation of all three.
He nodded, and we continued the idle talk that fills such parties. He related his frustrations with a series of blind dates. Then we both pretended to seek engagements elsewhere. Drinks later into the night, his face appeared via Tinder, and I froze in my phone’s headlight.
Before I could swipe left or right, a voice in the wild spoke to me: “Why don’t you recite a part of that poem—the one about the hit and run.”
I stumbled into its final stanza and couldn’t discern whether he was in pain or deep meditation at its meaning. “What’s the title?” he asked, spitting out, “how dreadful,” once I told him. “How many times has it been rejected?”
I asked for his contact information. He sipped some wine. The white around his mouth turned pink—as if touched by blood. He whispered: “Why do you insist on seeing yourself in me near the woods as the center of some mysterious labyrinth?”
“I just thought—”
He pressed his hoof to my lips.
Bryan Harvey lives and teaches in Virginia. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in FlashBack Fiction, Hobart and HAD, No Contact Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, The Florida Review’s Aquifer, and Cold Mountain Review. He tweets @Bryan_S_Harvey. Most of his rough drafts start on long runs.