Pioneers from Issue 85
Ben wants to sell their father’s house. He reminds Nadine that he’s two thousand miles away, that he and Colette are looking to buy in Providence. Nadine knows her brother doesn’t like the Yosemite house. In the twelve years following their parents’ divorce, Ben flew out just twice. Privately, he has called the house indulgent. The Edward Curtis prints, the way their father referred to the cowless spread of yellow grass and scrub oak as the ranch. In Ben’s eyes, it was all part of their father’s crap pioneer fantasies.
But Nadine isn’t sure about selling. One week off work has turned into four and still things aren’t sorted. She hasn’t slept well. It’s ridiculous— thirty-eight and afraid of the dark. She thought she would feel her father’s spirit, but the house scares her.
“Afraid of what?” Ben asks when she telephones.
She tries to explain. “Whatever’s out there.”
“Stop watching crime shows. You’re safer than you’ve ever been.”
The dark window reflects her face. The paramedics found him on the driveway.
Here’s what Nadine fears as she lies under her grandmother’s quilt: men, men with knives, men with guns, men with rope, men in camo, men in hoodies, men with beards, men with scars, small pissed-off men, men who live with their mothers, men who live alone, men who gut fish, set traps, or smoke meat.
Outside the window, she hears a snap. Deer, she tells herself. She considers getting a pistol, dogs. She thinks about Devon, her sometimes boyfriend.
She remembers the stories her father told when they were little.
Pioneer kids. Wagon trains. Rag dolls. The Donner Party. Fatal lateness.
When he sang of Clementine, Nadine imagined herself drowning, her petticoats weighted with brine, her loss forever mourned.
She’ll keep watch all night. It’s why she’s still here. She’s tough, a pioneer girl.
The gravel gives underneath her sneakers. If there are any serial killers crouched in the grass, she’ll be the first to spot them. So far, it’s been just deer and quail. She jogs past the double-trunked tree. The neighbor’s dogs, invisible over the next hill, begin to bark. She’s careful to watch for ruts. An apricot sky fades to plum.
She sees something ahead. A stump? From yesterday’s storm, she figures. She’ll toss it down the ravine.
But it’s not a stump. It’s the severed head of a deer, the taupe fur slashed, ripped. It stares, still-eyed. Nadine turns and scans the grass, the trees. Nothing. She bullets back up the road, flips the deadbolt.
She dials the sheriff.
“Buck or doe?” the woman asks.
Nadine doesn’t understand.
The woman sighs. “Horns or no horns?”
“No horns. The neck was slashed.”
“Just hunters, babe. They cut off the head to avoid the fine.”
Nadine thinks the woman sounds older, as if she’s seen a lot worse.
Hey, we all get our heads cut off sometime.
“You live here?” the woman asks.
Nadine looks at the window. “Yes.”