When we drove home through the cornfields and the dark of evening had descended, there were deer that crossed the road. We had to drive slowly because one never knew when they would leap across the bridge of concrete traversing through the farms. They’d bound wildly in the headlights, surprised, caught off guard, fear in their bellies as they tried to avoid the bumpers coming at them through the darkness. Then they would turn on the gravel shoulder and in the grass lining the road to stare as the vehicle plugged forward, their eyes aglow in the fading beam of the taillights. I always shifted in my seat to watch them as we moved on, waiting for their nimble bodies to vanish back into the night. Some nights we would catch them just before they threatened to cross, and they’d stand, hooves on the edge of the concrete as we swerved across the centerline. There’d always be more than one animal, each of them gaping in the shadows suddenly cast by the vehicle. They’d toe the road, and we’d drive on.
Every time my father drove me home after those practices it would be slowly, due to those deer. We would cruise through the fields and connecting strips of trees like a small boat through the night. My quads would ache and sometimes I’d still be breathing hard from all the wind sprints.
It always felt good being in the car with him after basketball. I knew that I could go take a shower and read, then go to sleep. The only respite I felt I had during those years of continuous practices. My back hurt sometimes still since I’d sprained it, but I could take a long, hot shower, turn my back towards the water and let it roll down the curve of my spine and over my aching legs. Then I could curl myself up on my side, hold my knees to my chest and fall asleep after swallowing a couple of ibuprofen. Sleep was the time I lived for. If I could have only slept and eaten, then those would have been the only things I would ever have done. No more practices, no more school, no more anything but unconsciousness and a finally satiated stomach.
One evening as we puttered home, my father swerved to the other side of the road due to a red pickup that was pulled over haphazardly in our lane. As we passed, a man in a worn cap and Carhartts was pulling a shotgun from the back of the truck. In the headlights of the vehicle, we could see the mangled mess of horn and bone and pelt and insides, hooves and legs twisted into the air — that used to be deer. It was still breathing; you could see its short, raspy exhalations in the cold air above where its mouth would be. My father paused the car for a moment, a little too long, before pressing the gas. There was muffled thunder from the discharge of the gun behind us, and he said something about venison and burgers for the winter, along with a short mention of suffering and mercy. We rode in silence after that, our tiny ship honed towards home.