By Matthew Wallenstain
One morning the lifeless body of a deer appeared in the backyard. It was near the big tree that all those rusted bicycles hung from. The snow was piled high and the deer lay there in it. A large and motionless thing in the blue light of early morning. It was an apparition, there were no tracks in the snow, not a footprint leading to the body, not an explanation or clue, just a dead deer. For a while that’s what we called the house, The Dead Deer.
The girl P had been dating was moving out. They were done with what they had going. I was living in a barn in the woods on the other side of the state and he invited me to take her old room.
After moving in I worked as a dishwasher, a town over. I would ride my bike to work. Most days when I got home P and I would listen to records and then go skateboarding. Sometimes A, our other roommate, would come.
We also lived with S who would later be a master printmaker but at the time was a prominent graffiti writer. His girlfriend stayed over most nights. She wrote very honest poems. There was one about a hurricane that shared her name that I thought was beautiful. She brought us loaves of bread that were left over at the end of the day from the bakery where she worked. It was great because I had little money for food at the time.
Last there was J. I would be lying if I said I liked him right away, in fact I let him know pretty quickly I didn’t like him at all. He had a lot of idiosyncrasies, but I came to find none of it was put on for effect, it was just who he was. Once I realized it was sincere I began to like him more and more. By the end of our time there I considered him a real friend. He was a short, dark haired guy. He loved books. He was always dreaming about meeting a tall red head. His car was filled with hundreds of bobbleheads, every inch of its exterior covered in bumper stickers. J was determined to write a novel and took the year I lived with him to try. So he wrote, ate cereal on the couch, substituted sometimes at the private school down the street, grew his beard. He ended up with a few published stories. One of which was turned into a play which had a short but very successful run.
The next door neighbor was always pounding on the door. He had a ’70s muscle car parked in the driveway that he never moved, but didn’t like when one of my housemates would park in front of it. He would clench his fists and make vague threats. I came pretty close a couple of times to hitting him but he would always storm off after I made that known to him.
P lived on the third floor of our house. The bathroom was on the first. So he would piss into gallon jugs he kept in his room rather than make the trip downstairs when it was late and he was tired. One night when all of us were in the living room I convinced P he should dump a gallon of the urine in the window of the neighbors muscle car. He went up to his room and came back naked with a jug in each hand. He walked outside like that, down to the car. The window on the drivers-side was open about the width of a couple fingers which was just enough for him to fit the mouth of the jug. He dumped its entire contents in, popped the top off the second jug, and splashed it on the doors. He then lay down on the hood of the car face down and proceeded to piss all over it.
P started seeing a new one. She didn’t like me. I didn’t like her. She would get drunk, stand outside and smash bottles against the house at 3 or 4 in the morning. He would come out and they would fuck in the driveway or on the stairs, sometimes screaming or fighting first. It was winter. A lot of my weekends I took the Amtrak to Lowell to see the girl I was dating. I would read on the train, look out the window, wonder why either of us were bothering with it, not really knowing how to quit.
I once returned late at night and walked back from the station. Snow piled the sidewalks. I walked through it. The snow always seemed thick, immutable, total. When I turned down Belknap the girl from the projects across from our house was sitting cross legged in the middle of the street. She had on this devil mask. I knew it was her because I had seen her wearing it before when she came asking us for drugs or popsicles or trying to borrow our TV. She stayed like that until a car turned the corner and headed up the hill in her direction. She stood up and charged at it full speed, screaming about hell and demons. They stomped the breaks and slid, turning onto the sidewalk and hitting a snowbank. She sat back down in the middle of the street cross legged again. She didn’t lose this thing she was doing. I went inside and didn’t see what happened next. I witnessed her do the same thing again that spring. She didn’t lose that time either.
It must have been ten years later or close to it when P got married. I was living in Mexico City but was able to borrow enough money to fly up for it. They got married on my birthday, or a day or two before or after, I can’t remember. She was perfect for him, a painter, a kind person. They fit. It was a small event. Afterwards there was a get together.
I saw J for the first time in a few years. The last time I had seen him was when he’d had a mental break, thought he was capable of mind control, spent a little time in the funny farm. I went up to visit him when he got out. But at P’s wedding he was different. He had found someone too, she was a good 6 inches taller than him, thick red hair. She grew up in a cult in the woods, lived in the cult for the first part of her life. She was into medical history. He had so much pride introducing her, walking around with her, holding her hand. It was not a macho pride, it was a sort of amazement he had that, through these small things, he was able to confirm he really was with her. At one point I was sitting in a folding chair next to a friend of mine. Across the room J was dancing with his redhead. I remember telling my friend to look at the expression of J’s face, how he just knew. To love with such certainty is a rare and remarkable thing.