Driving by Great Island on Chilly Evenings by Victoria Buitron

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I’m in the neighborhood a few times per month, mostly on weekend nights to make a hundred bucks by taking care of other people’s children. It’s an easy job—at least in the houses I go back to. If a kid throws a full-body tantrum and refuses to sleep at the time their parents deem appropriate, or tells me I smell like rice, I simply don’t return. I don’t need the money, although I want it for my savings fund. My route towards this enclave traverses by the Rings End bridge and an entrance to Great Island, which was listed for sale at $120 million in 2018. I continue onto Long Neck Point Road, and from there the view of the private island is so vast the Long Island Sound remains hidden. The pristine grass is surrounded by the property’s ornamental steel fence, one that may have been installed in the middle of the last century. Vines interweave between the hundreds of pickets, certain sections have more rust than others, where the black steel has given way to the color of mud.

My mom, who works in the area as a full-time babysitter, sees a deer on top of the fence one day, trying to get onto the island property, rocking, as if trying to pull away from an invisible rope around its torso. It isn’t until she enters her employer’s house that she understands the deer is caught on the sharp ends of the fence, maybe in the last moments of its life, struggling to survive until its bodily functions cease. It’s the only time my mother has been a witness to such a scene, but her boss tells her it happens often. Sometimes, when animal control arrives, the deer are dead, tongues sticking out, their bodies slumped over thorns and vines, the decomposition barely starting, and the workers are in a hurry to remove it so neighborhood children don’t learn the word impalement before school.

Each kid has their own ritual before bed. For some it’s sipping milk and eating apples for dessert. Others want to be read a book before bed, while some say ‘night and bang their bedroom door hard enough to make it clear I’m only there because their parents don’t trust them to be alone. I read two books if the kids pick short ones, or I lie and make up the story if I know they can’t read. A few surprise me with a hug before I leave the night light on. I assume the warmth comforts them as they enter the peace of sleep. I never mention the dead deer, of course. But once they are in bed, maybe fake sleeping but at least in bed, I let the dog out in the yard and my mind deviates to stags. If it’s a night that only requires a light sweater, I follow the dog, throw a ball around, and stare at the stars. There aren’t any street lights, and I see thousands of them, glistening, wondering which ones are dying, collapsing onto themselves until all that’s left is the light of their past.

Sometimes I spot a doe and its fawn, or maybe a lone deer skipping away from the danger of barks, toward Great Island. Shushing the dog doesn’t help because the deer are already escaping towards what they assume is salvation, away from a dog that would never bite, away from me—not knowing the fear I hold for them—the continuous crunch of leaves in unison with the whoosh of adrenaline beating within my ears. I hope they jump high, their hindlimbs barely meeting the fence finials, and with a swoop it’s done. Maybe they end with a scrape, but not a cut, no blood, no impalement. I’m glad I’m there only at night—the dark hiding failed leaps.

After a quick goodnight with tipsy parents, small talk as a form of etiquette before I accept a check they don’t write my name on, only cash, I make sure to drive slowly on the road. Over the years, I’ve halted for opossums on moonless nights. Fox have flashed their eyes as they’ve tread away in silence. The high-beam headlights are on so I don’t take a life. Most of all, I avoid looking towards the fence surrounding Great Island, hoping it’s not the night I see a doe that didn’t make the jump. I wonder, though, if it would matter if I did see one, since my mind has created a scene of it anyway, since I know it will continue to happen, long after I stop coming to this neighborhood and once all the kids I tuck into bed forget who I am.

 

The title of this piece is a play on words inspired by Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

 

Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Fairfield University. Her work has been featured or is upcoming in The Citron Review, Bending Genres, Lost Balloon and more.

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