NORA CHOSE THE SLOW ROUTE HOME.
Anything to postpone her return. As her car hugged the winding back road, woods pressed on either side of her, sycamore and pine and tangled undergrowth, dead trees lying where they had fallen. Opening her window, she breathed in the cold air even as she shivered. She had been waiting for winter break ever since September, but now dread swelled inside her. Emma would be home in two days. How would she and Richard manage to avoid arguing for a month? Just getting through the dinner party that evening was going to be a strain. She and Richard had made efforts to be civil that morning—he had made the coffee, she had made the toast—with all the success of an application of fresh paint over a peeling wall.
She could no longer remember what had started the quarrel of the night before. Somehow she ended up saying he never closed his dresser drawers, never closed the closet. Five minutes after he walked into the bedroom, the whole place looked ransacked.
“And you’re always an expert at closing,” he flung back at her. Always, never; never, always—their constant refrain. And just a few days ago, at their therapy session, Claire had suggested they remove those words from their vocabulary.
“Keep things local, not global,” she said, looking calm in her armchair, as if she never harbored an angry thought, never raised her voice, never slammed a door. They had driven home in silence.
Nora picked up speed, the chill wind stinging her eyes. Maybe the party was just what they needed. Maybe the very act of putting on a public face would smooth things over. Sitting across from one another at someone else’s table, being charming and attentive to other people—it had worked before. She would look around the table, study each of the men present, and consider herself lucky to live with Richard.
Of course, they could fool other people for a night, even fool themselves, but Emma would see right through their tactics. An acerbic remark, a raised eyebrow—she missed nothing. Even as a child she could sense tension between them. By the time she was in high school, she had become adept at keeping the peace, to the point where the tranquility of the household depended on her altogether too much. With Emma in college, the uneasy truce between the two of them was laid bare. That morning, like so many others, Richard barricaded himself behind the Times, and Nora stared at the newspaper in front of her. She had become so accustomed to the bouts of distance and discord between them that she only felt conscious of it now and then, like a decaying tooth that occasionally sent out a jab of pain. Yes, the more Nora thought about it, a party might be just what they needed.
Ahead of her, a car driving fast. Nora relaxed into the curve, half hypnotized by the car’s tail lights and the white line curving into the darkness. Along the horizon there were streaks of coral. Trees rose up, black against an indigo sky. Something darted out of the woods and the car ahead swerved, careened to a halt with a sickening thud. Nora pulled over, stumbled out of her car. That’s when she saw the deer by the side of the road, neck twisted, blood spilling across asphalt. That’s when she saw the woman in the driver’s seat, face cut, eyes closed.
Nora yanked on the locked doors, pounded on the windows, begged the woman to open her eyes. The woman didn’t move, didn’t answer. The breeze carried the acrid smell of blood and flesh and anti-freeze, oozing in a phosphorescent smear across the road. The glazed eyes of the deer caught the light from Nora’s phone and blinked one last time. Nora stood by the side of the road, waiting for the ambulance as the night sky glittered like shattered glass.
• • •
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RAIMA EVAN’s fiction has been published in Calyx, Philadelphia Stories, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Jewishfiction.net, and Referential Magazine. Her one-act play was produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville and published in Dramatics Magazine. She received her MA in English and creative writing and PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She is an assistant dean at Bryn Mawr College and lives in the Philadelphia area with her family.