As part of the master plan, Bonny Oaks was buffered from encroachment by undeveloped woods. Wildlife flourished accordingly. Raccoons. Chipmunks. Deer. Because the deer had no natural predators, they became more and more brazen over the years, tearing up hedgerows and nibbling azaleas in broad daylight. At night, they leapt like fools in front of cars. Residents were divided on the issue. One camp insisted that the deer were a nuisance, a hazard, an infestation to be exterminated like rats or fleas. A number of solutions were posed, including poisoned salt licks. Those turned out to be illegal, not to mention dangerous to pets and children, so this camp contented itself with deterrents like mail-order coyote urine sprinkled around their gardens. The second camp believed that the deer were part of the natural beauty that made Bonny Oaks such a desirable home in the first place, believed the deer should not only be tolerated but welcomed. To this end, several members of the community put out pans of oats in winter, when the woods alone failed to provide. Mr. LaPointe preferred to remain above the fray but before he died, before an embolism stopped his heart forever, he took real pleasure in directing his wife’s gaze toward twilight deer like statues on the lawn.
All things considered, then, it came as no great surprise when Mrs. LaPointe, two years a widow, stepped out to retrieve her newspaper one morning and spotted a dead doe in the middle of Shady Dell Lane. She assumed it had been hit by a car and she was prepared, at that hour, no witnesses in sight, to let somebody else worry about the carcass, when she noticed an arrow buried to the fletchings behind the doe’s right shoulder.
Mrs. LaPointe told her housekeeper, Sadie Petty, how she clapped both hands over her ears at the sight of the arrow, as if she’d overheard something filthy. On the phone with her best friend, Mrs. Penelope Ragland, she described the doe’s eyes—already iced over, she said, as if bored by its own death. And that afternoon, while undergoing her monthly color rinse, Mrs. LaPointe recounted for her stylist, Brenda Wimpel, the way the men from animal control hoisted the doe by its legs and swung it into the back of a truck—one, two, three, like a sack of mulch. She was amazed by the sudden potency of her metaphors. And the more she embroidered the details the more convinced she became that something significant had happened. She was still telling the story that evening to her son and only child, Blackmon, a substitute teacher with literary aspirations. He preferred the flexible schedule, he claimed, because it left him time to write. “The police were no help at all,” she said. “They stood around in my kitchen like, like—”
Her powers of comparison had abandoned her, a fact she attributed to the presence of her son. Blackmon had a knack for rendering her uncertain, for insinuating in her mind a whisper of self-doubt.
“You called the police?” They had finished supper—Sadie Petty’s shrimp and wild rice casserole—and retired to the wrought iron table on the patio. Drifting over from next door were muted, jolly voices, the scent of grill smoke, but none of the lots in Bonny Oaks were less than two acres, the tree lines deep enough to allow for privacy. Blackmon was drinking a Diet Coke and reading her newspaper. He decried the local paper as the work of half-wits and hillbillies, but he seemed pleased enough to take advantage of her subscription. He had been living with her since his divorce. He’d given up their condo in the settlement, despite the fact that it had been paid for by his father, ceded custody of his son despite Mrs. LaPointe’s offer to hire a lawyer so he could fight. The “Arts Section” was open between them, the evening light over Blackmon’s shoulder making a Chinese lantern of the page.
“Well of course I did,” said Mrs. LaPointe.
Blackmon flicked a corner of the paper down. “What about the paramedics? They might have tried CPR?” He coughed up a laugh, then snapped the paper back into place so that his face was hidden once again.
Mrs. LaPointe was about to tell him that he could at least pretend to care, when her neighbor, Herman Pickering, pushed through the screen of trees between their yards, wearing an apron and bearing a meat fork. His apron read Support Our Troops in red and white letters against a blue background. “I thought I heard you folks,” he said. Sweat ran in the folds and creases of his smile. He turned back to his house and shouted, “Douglas, come on over here a minute. Come say hello.”
A few seconds later his son appeared on the LaPointe’s side of the trees. Barefoot. Feet and ankles pale. He had a younger version of his father’s face, as big and square and handsome and uncomplicated as a coffee table book.
Herman said, “Did I tell you Douglas was home on leave?”