There’s a deer outside Ruby’s window, staring in at her as she curls beneath her covers, spooning her extra pillow. The animal’s bright black eyes are everywhere but mainly in its endless long head. She shouldn’t have gotten a first-floor apartment. She shouldn’t have a deer outside her window. She lives in downtown Baltimore. The deer doesn’t care about where it should be. Its staring eyes are deeper than the rest of the dark. A relentless, sucking black. Ruby imagines the sound its cloven hooves must’ve made echoing around in the breezeway as it entered the little courtyard. The patch of grass their landlord calls his “communal green space.” The scraggly dogwood that looks like a ghost bride in the night, its bone-white petals clawing at every breeze. Ruby hears two women arguing out there, somewhere behind the deer, and knows instinctively that one or both of them are caught on the tree. Their hair has tangled in the craggy branches and they can’t escape, they can’t escape, they’ll starve out there, howling at each other, alone together. The deer doesn’t care about them. The deer asks, What are you afraid he might do? Leave you for good? Snap your tapered candles? Ruby trembles in her nightgown. She always takes the first-floor apartment now. She’s afraid of rats and home-invaders and faces in the window, but she’s more afraid that he won’t be able to reach her. It isn’t rational, she knows. If he can climb free of whatever grave or wormhole that’s gripped him, why wouldn’t he be able to work an elevator? What difference would an extra floor make? Just one more thing to drop out from under me, she whispers to the deer. You should kill whatever comes back, the deer says, cut it open and look inside. Ruby covers her ears against the old women’s roaring. He isn’t very deep, Ruby says, cutting him open wouldn’t change anything. The deer chuffs at this but doesn’t argue. The deer knows she’s right. Ruby’s lover isn’t deep at all, thin and shallow as a reflection. But there are times and ways that he is infinite. Even reflections can go on forever if you fold your gaze at the proper angle, one eye looking back at the other. Ruby’s felt him there before, reflected again and again in her own dilated pupils. The deer stares into her and she knows the animal can see him there inside her, trapped like a soul. Sometimes it isn’t the ghosts who do the haunting, the deer says, smiling a bloodstained smile. Ruby covers her eyes to keep him inside. She covers her ears to keep out the screaming. She covers herself and covers herself till she’s buried, pretending she’s back asleep.
K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Electric Literature, Carve Magazine, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. She was a proud participant in this year’s Clarion Workshop. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.