Three more doe were found dead over the weekend, two on Saturday, one on Sunday, all fresh kills. Mrs. LaPointe didn’t bother paying anyone a visit. She was afraid she’d be disappointed in her neighbors, would meet the same sort of indifference she’d discovered in Marjorie Kress. This was Blackmon’s weekend with his son, and they’d gone off to Pigeon Forge to play mini-golf and drive bumper cars. The number of the motel was magneted to the fridge but she had no reason to call. Sadie Petty didn’t work weekends. The quiet grated on Mrs. LaPointe. She played bridge with Mrs. Ragland and Mrs. Groom and Mrs. Groom’s sister, who was in town visiting from Roanoke. She sniffed around in Blackmon’s room. On his desk, to the left of his computer, she found a stack of manuscript pages bound by a rubber band. She rested her fingertips on the title sheet. The Nocturnal Habits of American White People. She couldn’t bring herself to peek inside. Would it be more disappointing, she wondered, to find herself lampooned or to find no trace of herself at all? She went to church on Sunday morning. On her way home, she passed Douglas Pickering affixing new numbers to his parents’ mailbox, not the reflective stick-on kind but tasteful decorative tiles. She pressed her brakes, heard a faint hiss and squeak, thought she might ask Blackmon to run her Volvo to the dealership next week, but she could already see his weary look, hear the exasperation in his voice. She rolled her window down.
“Those look nice,” she said.
Douglas turned, wiped his hands on his back pockets.
“It needed doing,” he said. “The old ones were so worn out you could hardly read the address anymore.”
“Well, you’re a good boy to take care of it.”
“I’m trying to help out a little while I’m home. I ship out again on Tuesday.”
Mrs. LaPointe could see his mother’s roses in bloom along the driveway and in the beds at the front of the house. She couldn’t remember all the different varieties but before Blackmon and Douglas drifted apart, she and her husband had been treated to a garden tour.
“It must be hard,” she said, meaning the war.
Douglas smiled, then, surprising her, his teeth white and even. Heat pressed in through the open window.
“That needs doing, too,” he said.
Blackmon was home by 3 o’clock, but he was in no mood to visit, and she suspected that the weekend had not gone well. After dinner, he announced that he was subbing in the morning and had prep work to do. He adjourned to his room and did not emerge to say good night. She watched cable news awhile. It was all suicide bombers and Fallujah. In bed, she tried reading a biography of Francis Hodgson Burnett, but the snarl of Blackmon’s snoring made it impossible to concentrate. She extended the book away from the bed and held it there a moment, breathing, listening, breathing, then let it drop, but the clap of it on the floor wasn’t enough to jar her son from sleep. She pushed her feet into her slippers, made her way down the hall and stood by her son’s bed, willing him to wake. She wanted to tell him her suspicions. He would tease her, she knew, roll his eyes, suggest that she was getting senile, but he would, at least, provide a sympathetic audience. She pinched his nose closed. After a few seconds his lips popped open and he sucked air in through his mouth.
“It’s Douglas Pickering,” she said. “I think it’s Douglas killing the doe.”
Those words in various permutations had been swimming in her thoughts all afternoon, but she had refused so far to let them settle into a sentence. Yes, Herman Pickering was known to be a hunter. Mrs. LaPointe could remember him setting out with young Douglas for weekends at a camp somewhere in Blount County, but Mrs. LaPointe had no objection to the sporting life. She believed, even now, that time in the outdoors with one’s child was better spent than a weekend among the tawdry amusements of Pigeon Forge. And she had always looked forward to the Sunday after Thanksgiving when Herman Pickering, just back from his camp on the opening weekend of the season, would stroll over, bearing a venison tenderloin. As far as Mrs. LaPointe could remember the Pickerings had never taken a position on the deer one way or the other with the Neighborhood Association, unusual in its own right but hardly grounds for indictment. She did, however, remember Donna Pickering putting her teenage son to work building chicken wire fences around newly planted roses to keep the deer away.
“Wake up,” she said, shaking his shoulders. “Wake up, Blackmon. This is important,” but he just groaned and rolled over, his back to her, and drew the covers over his head, his body an overlarge protuberance beneath the baseball logos. She stared at him for a second, then clomped down to the kitchen, banged the cabinets open and closed. In her discombobulation, she couldn’t recall where Sadie Petty stored the trash bags, so she removed the half-filled bag from the wastebasket and stalked back up to Blackmon’s room. She started with the pitcher—Dwight Gooden, the poster said. Ripped that poster from the wall, leaving a torn corner still tacked up, stuffed it in the bag, and moved on to the slugger and the centerfielder. She was using her fingernails to pry tacks from a Kansas City Royals pennant when Blackmon bolted up in bed.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Something I should have done a long time ago.”
“Have you lost your mind?”
“It’s possible I’m the only one who hasn’t.”
Even as she spoke, she felt filled up with pity—for the murdered doe, for her son, for Douglas Pickering. She had watched endless hours of footage from Iraq, but they never showed anything, and what they did show looked like a movie, and the aftermath shots meant nothing to her, because she didn’t know what any of those places looked like before, imagined them more or less as dusty and rubble-strewn as after the bombs came raining down. The person she pitied most of all was herself.
Blackmon took hold of her arm, wrested the trash bag from her grip.
“Damn it, Mother,” he said, “what’s this about?”
She glared at him a moment, then huffed out of his room and down the stairs and out the front door. In her nightgown. Swinging her arms. Bonny Oaks was quiet. No sign of Safety 1st though she could imagine Oscar Panks prowling the streets in his golf cart or hunched over a map of the neighborhood plotting routes for patrols. Oblivious. Useless. He’d never catch a man like Douglas Pickering. Mrs. LaPointe marched on past the pretty houses, unsure of her intentions but unwilling to retreat. The oaks her husband had spared lined the road, branches accented by landscaping lights. Once, she thought she saw a figure darting behind a house. She stared into the dark. Nothing. A few blocks further along she spotted a doe and two fawns nipping at a hydrangea bush. She accelerated to a trot, waved her arms, shouted, “Get away. Get away from here.” Her pulse thumped at her temples. “Get away before he kills you, too.”
The fawns skittered into the undergrowth at her approach but the doe just hopped, once, then froze, stiff-legged, and watched Mrs. LaPointe coming like—like—like the doe understood better than the woman that it was no use running from something nobody could stop.