Her breathing is ragged but resigned. Her large wet eyes are downcast. I can’t even look at her. I can’t look away. His chest heaves and he paws at the ground, aggressive. Territorial. Danger palpable, the quickening blood in my veins is familiar. I don’t look at him, but I know him.
He doesn’t see me. I see everything.
I am two and my father loves my mother. His love comes brilliantly and brightly and fades from purple to beautiful shades of greens and blues, illicit love letters. I learn that love means leaving, heart pounding, legs pumping wildly, tearing through trees in darkness, hunted. Fear compounds, frenzied. That means he’s coming and there is nowhere to hide. Love is a flurry of wings as birds scatter skyward, moving targets. The sound of a bullet as it rips open the night, tearing flesh and cracking ribs. Love like this lasts forever.
Blood oozes from her side. She breathes in and out. She bleeds there on my perfectly manicured lawn, on my block with its wide streets and ancient oaks. There is no crime on this street except the occasional car parked on the wrong side of the road. But she’s here, bleeding anyway, staining my lawn, her red life like rubies against a verdant world.
I am 22 and I am running, legs long and lean. You run after me, and my blood pumps faster, the thrill of being pursued. You tell me you are a runner, and I can tell by your bones that it is true. You are beautiful and strong, and you will run with me forever. I am so happy. I am so happy to belong somewhere, to belong to someone.
The first possession feels like desire, then love. You’re not just a runner, you’re a hunter. No matter where I go, you are there.
At first, I am flattered. You are there in the front row of my recital, and the other dancers ask, “Who is that beautiful man? Who is he here for?” I smile because you are here for me. You give me flowers after the show, a large bouquet of sleepy red poppies with deep, dark eyes. Everyone notices. We go out dancing. Your hand is on the small of my back, leading. We sit. You get up to buy another drink, your ice clinks in your glass. While you’re gone, another man saunters to our table. He is nondescript, just another man. He leans over, asks me to dance. I shake my head, decline. You’re back at the table quickly. You push the man roughly, chest puffed out. The man backs off, slinking into the shadows. You grab my elbow roughly, drag me to the car, take me home. That night you make sure that I know I belong to you.
You’re there in the audience when I am reading. In the bright footlights of the stage, I am frozen in your gaze, icy chunks of sapphire settling in my stomach. I should be comforted that you are there, but you are barreling towards me and there is nothing I can do to get away. Inside, I scream, it’s over. I swear. I cry. And still, I end up living alone with you in the most barren wasteland, near a frozen lake, in the winter of my youth.
The buck moves closer to her. Stands over her. Sniffs at her. His antlers are not that large. They glisten jewel-toned. Rubies. They’re large enough to have done damage. In his heated pursuit he’s broken her. Even now, he cannot see beyond this singular drive. He cannot see that she is hurt. He refuses to acknowledge that she is dying. I try to move closer to her. I grab stones from the ground and hurl them at him. They glance off his flank. He doesn’t even notice me. The smell of her is too much for him. I yell.
Red and blue lights flash and you slow your car and pull over. Your topaz eyes menace as I sob in the passenger seat. “What seems to be the problem officer?” “Oh, no. Nothing is wrong. We were arguing at the restaurant, but she always gets like that when she’s been drinking. That is probably what those people were talking about.” “I know, yes, I will get her home and put her to bed right away.” “Yes, officer, I understand. We don’t want any trouble either.” You roll up the window and watch the officer walk to his car and then drive off. You’re silent a moment. Nothing. Just quiet. Then you slam my head against the cold passenger window.
I run. I run across the country. I run to where it is warm. I run cross country. I start over. You’re there in my text messages with apologies. You show up at my apartment. You always said you would find me anywhere. You fall to your knees, a prayer to me. You are sorry. You give me a diamond ring, large and sparkly and beg me for forever. I relent. The ring is heavy on my hand. Heavier than your fist.
You demand to go with me to my classes. You ask me everyone’s names. You’re suspicious. You question me. You scrutinize my answers. You refuse to believe me. You tell me you’re moving here to be with me. I should be happy. But I am afraid. “It’s over!” I scream. I throw your ring at you. It doesn’t faze. It bounces off you, ineffectual.
The doe is fading. I call animal control. “Can you please send someone to help? She’s dying.” “What do you mean you can’t help her?” “What is your job then?” “Who am I supposed to call? Waste management?” “She’s still alive! Wait until she’s dead???”
I hang up the phone and a ragged cry escapes from my throat. The buck refuses to leave. Another male might come along. I can’t leave her. I can’t let her die alone, but I don’t want him to see her die either. I scream everything left in me and grasp in desperation at the ground. I hurl rocks at him. He bends down for one final whiff. There is no kindness in the gesture. He knows she is mostly dead. She’s useless to him now, and he moves on, already in pursuit.
I sit in the grass next to her, in the shade of the live oaks, on my manicured lawn. The hunt is over. Her blood will never again race with joy. She rests her head on the ground and sips her last breath.
Rosa Romero (she/her/hers) is a curandera by birth in a long line of healers. She is the family historian and the keeper of family secrets. She graduated from prestigious universities, but was educated by exclusion. Her work can be found in countless journals and notebooks on bookshelves all over her home in San Antonio, Texas, and maybe in others she has left behind.