ISSUE TEN | SPRING 2018
She is driving us back to Iowa in the dark; cornfields rush past the windows. The radio clock blinks 8:31. Suddenly she screams—a single, piercing note. The wide eyes of the deer look back at me through the window just before the thud of impact. I’m sorry, she says, in short gasps, as the car barrels forward. I’m sorry, so sorry. I didn’t mean to hit it.
The clock blinks 8:31. She is driving my car home from a weekend in Chicago; we have seen a musical and slept over with friends in an apartment on the South Side. We have arguments muffled behind closed doors and present happy faces to our friends like always. On the ride home, an angular shape darts into the road. She screams, and the deer snaps its head forward to face us. The headlights illuminate its round eyes before the crushing thud of impact. She keeps the car in drive.
We have spent the weekend on Chicago’s South Side; we have seen the brother of a friend play Igor in Young Frankenstein. At intermission, she sighs in annoyance as I check my phone. When aren’t you checking that thing? she says. It was off during the play, I say. Now she is driving us back to Iowa, and an impending argument is written into the hard line of her jaw. I am ready to be home, out of the studio apartment on the South Side, out of my cramped car. The deer darts out into the road, but the warning remains stuck in my throat. She screams as we make impact, metal hitting flesh in a sickening thud. She does not slow down. She sobs into the steering wheel.
We spend the weekend in Chicago. We see a musical. Afterwards, I drive us to the bar where our friends are waiting. You never pay attention, she says as my hands grip the steering wheel. I glance at her profile, twisted and hardened with rage. The following evening, she drives for two hours before darkness settles over the road. The radio clock blinks 8:31. She screams, and I see her wide right eye, her mouth stretched open, the frightened eyes of the deer through the windshield, the empty road in front of us as the car speeds straight ahead.
We are in the car on the way to the party and she is angry. I glance from the street in front of us to the hard line of her jaw, the shadowed hollow under her cheekbone. The cars in front of us are stuck in the stop and roll of Saturday night in the city. You’re a fucking cunt, you know that? she says abruptly, her words cutting through the dark. When we leave the following evening, she agrees to drive. A shape darts in front of the car, and the warning is stuck in my throat, and she screams, and she screams, and she screams, her face slackened into a half-O, as round as the eyes of the creature who freezes in the light.
This is not the first time she has called me a name, and although I have learned that it is better to be silent when she is angry, I yell. I yell that lovers should not call their partners names. I yell that I have never yelled at anyone like this in my life. She has told me before that my definition of yelling is different from that of other people, but I am yelling by anyone’s standards: I am loud, I am wounded, I am shrill. The following night, her scream is a single, piercing note that I can imagine playing on the piano. She holds the note until the thud of impact, then collapses into sobs. I tell her it was not her fault, beg her to pull over. She keeps the car in drive.
We are outside the party, and the line of her jaw has softened. I’m sorry, she says, I didn’t mean it. Come into the bar with me? I refuse, leaving my keys with her and hailing a cab back to the apartment on the South Side. The next night, a deer will dart in front of the car; she will scream at a pitch I can pick out on a piano; she will sob I’m sorrys into the steering wheel. In the silence that follows, we will turn the moment of impact over and over in our respective minds as the headlights cut the dark.
Audrey Jennifer Smith is a graduate of the University of Iowa, where she received a BA in English and Creative Writing. She is currently pursuing a Master’s of Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Audrey's creative nonfiction has previously appeared in DASH Literary Journal and Hippocampus Magazine.