Sunday, October 30, 2011

Story Slam: Sometimes Death Happens

This entry, honed down to 5 minutes, is an updated version of an earlier story I wrote a couple of years ago. I used this piece at a recent Story Slam contest where 12 of us were selected to get up and read in front of an audience of 80-90 people, 3 of which were literary agents.

I didn't win - someone else did.

I was hit by a deer.

Yes, the deer hit me. He shot out of someone's front yard, as I was driving down the road one afternoon and smacked right into the side door of my car, a large white minivan, which is now referred to as the deer magnet.

This must’ve been the stupidest deer in the world. Who doesn’t see a large white minivan?

I’ve lived here for over 20 years. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen the post-accident carnage, but I never experienced it firsthand. Now, I could claim a kill, and it felt good, until my eleven-year-old daughter who was in the backseat screamed: "What was that? Did you hit someone?”

"No, it was just a deer and he hit me," I said.

"You killed a deer!? A deer!? What are you gonna do?" she cried.

I wasn’t sure. At least it wasn’t a person, I thought. If it were a person I would know what to do.

I slowed the car down, and reluctantly pulled to the side of the road. Should I even be stopping? I couldn’t do anything for it. The best thing for all us at that point was for the deer to die -- quickly.

I looked down the road, but I didn't see anything at first. Perhaps, he was just stunned. Maybe he got up and ran away. Or maybe his deer friends were watching from behind a bush laughing at the motorist who stopped.

Nope. He was there, in the gutter, on his back, his leg twitching, his body quivering. Not dead, but dying -- slowly.

My heart sank. What would Joe Pesci do?

I could never bring myself to whack his little deer skull to bits with a tire iron. But, I could back up the car and do a little forward/reverse action, just to help him crossover.

No, my daughter was in the car. She’d figure out why we were going over the same bump again and again.

Rhetorically, the words slipped out of my mouth. "What should I do?"

"I don't know, you're the adult!" my daughter snapped back at me.

She was right, but I still didn't know what to do.


A few weeks later, our fish died.

He was a freshwater blue gourami and joined our family six years earlier. He was a replacement for the five goldfish, which were won at a school fair by my two sons.

A word to the wise, don’t invest in a 10-gallon tank, filter, plastic plants and a castle until at least three weeks after bringing a goldfish into your home.

During that time span, each goldfish would take a turn dying in our beautifully decorated aquarium, now known as Davy Jones Locker.

And along with that died any hope of teaching the children compassion for another living thing. The boys had cheered wildly for more of the floaters.

The gourami was a second chance at redemption for the boys and my parenting skills. The gourami was thick and hearty and put those carnival fish to shame. He was surely going to live longer than 3 weeks.

And he did, but the kids were not impressed. He couldn’t be taught tricks and the only thing of interest to them was the long string of excrement that would trail out of his little fish anus.

The only other attention paid to him was when we returned home from occasional long weekends or vacations. The boys would race into the house to see the tank, only to shout out disappointedly: "He’s still alive!"

Until one day, he wasn’t. This 7-inch long fish that over the six years was once blue in color, then orange, had now turned stark white. He lay on his side at the bottom of the tank. He had struggled to die for two days, his gills gasping fruitlessly, his body sucked against the black filter.

I called the children into the room so they could see the final demise of this pet without a name. I suppose six years was not long enough to earn your own name. We had expected him to die like those before him, so we never bothered.

“Finally!” my eldest son exclaimed. The others concurred.

I told them he deserved a little more respect after all these years, and now I knew what to do. I told them we would have a proper burial in the backyard -- immediately.

The boys rolled their eyes.

"Where are you gonna bury him?" my daughter asked.

"Back by the dead tree stump."

"The neighbor's cat is gonna dig him up,” my middle son said. “He always pees there.”

"Get the shovel. We'll dig deep," I promised.

The burial site was prepared. And I gently flipped the fish into the hole. I have to admit the fish looked a little odd resting in the soil. But there he was, the white fish against the dark earth. I knew the cat would find him.

I managed to get a few words in: "Thank you fish for being part of our family. We're sorry we never named you, but we all knew who you were. You had a good, long life just like the man at the store said you would, so thanks for that, too."

 I went to cover the fish with dirt when all of a sudden his mouth opened wide and his fin flapped up and down.

"Oh my god! He's not dead," my daughter screamed. "Why are you burying him? He’s still alive."

I panicked. Thoughts of the deer struggling to survive went through my head. Should I do it right this time and just stamp on his body to finish him off? No, too many witnesses.

Quickly, I got on my knees and scooped the dirt onto the fish with my hands. The boys laughed. My daughter cried.

"I'm sorry,” I said to her. “He was just about dead. There’s nothing else we could do."

"He wasn't floating at the top like the others,” she sobbed. “He was still alive. You're a murderer! All you do is kill things!"

I looked at her helplessly. Still on my knees, with my shoulders shrugged and palms facing up, I said, "Sometimes death happens."