Relief washed over her as she recognized her father’s car in the distance. She could see her father now. His lean profile was lit by the dark blue light of the dashboard. His face had no expression. They had an agreement. She would be allowed to go to Brownies if she walked the five blocks to this spot afterward, and wait the hour for him to drive by and pick her up on his way home from work. But the car was going too fast. He’s forgotten me, she thought as the car sped by, He’s forgotten its Wednesday. Will he realize that I am not in the house and come back, or will he just forget?
Far away, up in the crown of the tree, the owl swooped down for the mouse and deep in the forest the buck took a step on a loose rock and tumbled to the ground. And she covered her hand with her mouth, and waited and waited.
“You stop crying now,” her father scolded as she climbed into the car twenty minutes later. “Nothing happened! Nothing at all!”
She turned her face toward the window and did not look at him. She did not look at anything. He had gone home, saw that she was not there, and returned. She closed her eyes and reviewed a calliope of beasts, and for a moment, she could not find a single one to help her. She took a deep breath, swallowed her tears, and made herself a buck. There she was, in a gray and brown clearing: head upright, eyes black and enlivened, ears attuned. A hunter aimed at her from a stand of pines, but she heard the crunch of the man’s clumsy boots, and the squeaking of his leather belt, and the wet, loud inhalation of his breath before he squeezed the trigger. She bound away for the woods, away and away from him and the sharp report of the gun far behind her.
* * *
“That’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen,” the woman said, taking a step back from the vase. The white, twisted branches of the willows interlaced like arms without bones, embracing at unusual angles, kissing delicately at intersections along their full lengths. And the daffodils were mixed among them, their yellow so keen against the white that she felt sure that two colors had never been juxtaposed so evenly and handsomely ever before in the whole history of plants and twigs on this earth.
“Isn’t it pretty, Jenny?” She turned toward the girl. She was asleep on the couch. The grandmother tiptoed to quietly place a blanket over her body, then closed the shade so the sun would not wake her. And then she sat down to watch her face in the pose of delicate sleep.