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Charles Rafferty’s most recent collections of poems are The Smoke of Horses (BOA Editions, 2017) and Something an Atheist Might Bring Up at a Cocktail Party (Mayapple Press, 2018). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, O, Oprah Magazine, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares. His stories have appeared in The Southern Review and New World Writing, and his story collection is Saturday Night at Magellan’s (Fomite Press, 2013). He has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, as well as the 2016 NANO Fiction Prize. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College and teaches at the Westport Writers’ Workshop.

 The One I Ran Down on Sugar Street

Charles Rafferty

I used to tell people I wasn’t speeding. I’m sure now that was a lie. Every morning since, I’m going 40 in a 25 by the time I get to the spot where my car struck the fawn and tossed coffee into my lap.

            I had just turned onto Sugar Street in the black August morning, headed for the train station, an interview, a new direction in my recently ruddered life. I hadn’t had a drink in 62 days, and my wife had unpacked her suitcases to see if it would stick.

            By the time I jammed the brakes, the worst had already happened. In the rearview, the fawn wobbled up, lit by a full moon falling, and hobbled unsteadily into the nearest yard. In the street was a smear of something wet—blood, urine, I wasn’t sure. I could see the spots on its coat though, and from the other side of the road, the doe stood watching.

            I got out to see if the deer had broken a headlight or crumpled anything important. Except for the mother deer bounding off in the opposite direction, it was quiet. There was a swamp nearby, but it was mostly exhausted in the predawn hour. There was none of the song and hustle of early evening. The fawn had likely been born in the woods beside it, and had probably drunk from it every day of its eggshell life. Everything looked fine, and I got back in the car and drove, listening for knocks and broken metal, something out of place.

            I knew the fawn could not possibly have withstood my car hitting it. It was surely down by now. I could only hope that it made it to some woods.

            I remembered another struck deer. It had died in our yard—right by the sandbox where our daughters played. When they found it, they ran up to pet it. But the summer flies undeceived them. We hired a backhoe to bury it ten feet further away in the tiny woods that runs between all the houses like a moat of bittersweet and poison ivy and black cherry trees that turn the bird shit purple for two weeks in July.

            And I recalled another time, when my daughter’s necklace got caught in the seat of a city bus. We were late. I gave it a firm yank and it came free, but without the charm—the dangling ice skates that might have been silver, or just tin. We hurried off the bus and made it to the fair before it closed. I won her an orange crocodile that she still keeps at the foot of her bed. But the necklace—that’s long gone. Which only proves my point. That something has to be lost, or destroyed outright, to make room for something else.

            And then I was at the station, forcing dimes into the meter and hurrying to the platform, even though I’d beaten the train by minutes. Its headlight was still far up the track, its chugging as insubstantial as a song in somebody else’s head.

            Do I need to say that I got the job, that my wife decided to stick with me, that my daughters played on their swings again without worrying that something would crawl up from the road at night to die in a stinking heap?

            That deer was a sacrifice—the one I ran down on Sugar Street. I know that everything would have gone against me if I didn’t hit it. I don’t know why. I would have made the train regardless. And the black coffee in my lap was invisible in the navy blue weave of my trousers. But something had to pay for what I needed, and this time it wouldn’t be me.

            Every day at lunch, I sit in my office overlooking the Long Island Sound. I eat a salad, a piece of fruit. Almost all of the boats are at anchor. Sometimes I wonder what the other driver got for the deer he killed, and whether he knows that’s why.