The Doe

by Lance Umenhofer

            Day drops silver behind the sun’s final glow, the grass under our feet curling toward the moon’s first face. We sit in the glory of early night, stars gently traversing the sky, too subtle for the naked eye, but we feel it as our hearts beat along with them. In the distance are three deer, a doe and two fawns. They drop their heads and nibble on the pieces of dewy grass, every now and then the doe checking to make sure her fawns are feeding to their heart’s desire. I make eye contact with you as the doe looks up at us, gently chewing, her eyes steadily blinking in the soft wind. Your eyes linger on hers as though she reminds you of someone, or something, long gone, but as I lay my finger on your hand, the present, as it does, rushes into you again and you smile as your eyes meet mine.

            I breathe in the same breath as you, deep and wild, while we watch the doe’s head dart to the left, facing the line of trees that recess into total dark. And even as the clouds clear the moon, there is a stark shroud of dark that her eyes do not waver from. I look over at you and you are following her eyes as I had just been. Blinking steadily, the doe stiffens and the fawns take note and do the same. If it weren’t for the light rustling of leaves that the wind lazily picked up, you’d hear nothing at all—maybe you’d hear the fawns still chewing their food, maybe the doe’s ear flicker toward what must be sound, maybe our hearts drumming a rhythm that could only be a duet. But from where you and I sit, we hear just the leaves and our breath.

            In a moment, I am struck by how the doe reminds me of someone too, her nudging her two little fawns through the field, as if she’s saying Eat this. Don’t eat that. Go ahead. Nope. Yes. Keep going. C’mon. The fawns heed her without another thought and I can’t help but envy them. To have someone there to guide you through the fields and dark forests and moonglow just seems so perfect, so right.

            We are there for hours, it seems, both of our eyes transfixed on the two fawns as they follow their mother, her perking up her head at stray sounds that echo from the abyss of the treeline, at the shimmering of the meteor shower that has now struck up the sky, at the many slight smells that emanate from the earth and the ethereal. I look up and nudge your hand. Your eyes follow mine up to the crest of the sky and we watch stars fall, streaking and plunging into black. I notice the moon, still solid and white, and I wonder if you do too. I want to tell you about it. I want to tell you to not follow the stars into their disappearing but to look at the moon’s permanent, unwavering state.

            After the final star falls, we straighten our heads and look back ahead for the doe. We turn our heads left and then to the right. She is gone.

            Now it is just us.

            I long for our breaths to become one again, for our hearts to sync again, but most of all, fear for the fawns. Did they enter the dark forest with her? Or are they alone, like us?

            And just as my mind cycles back to the beginning of it all, I stand up and look behind us. I realize I don’t know where we are, what we are doing here, or really, anything at all. I search for the moon, though a cloud has it enshrouded.

            And then I feel your hand. I look up. Meet your eyes.

            You say Let’s go home. I nod and let you guide me there.

About the Author

Lance Umenhofer is a Southern author who has taken some time off in submitting work to journals and magazines, most of his time being spent running April Gloaming Publishing and the literary and arts journal, Waxing & Waning. He self-published his debut novella, And the Soft Wind Blows, in 2013.