Finally, no more snow in the 10-day forecast, so I put the pub table back up in the backyard, with the crank-operated umbrella planted in the middle of it, and the sturdy plastic-and-metal outdoor bar stools standing all around it like attentive soldiers.
It didn’t take long for her to show up. She wasn’t intimated a bit by the soldiers. I stepped out my back door to enjoy the tentative warmth of a breezy spring day, and there she was. Lounging in one of my pub chairs, as if she owned the place. The doe, the one who frequents my backyard with whatever relatives she happens to have in tow.
“Mild winter,” she rasped, in that sneery way of hers. “That’s what I hear.”
“Well,” I replied uneasily, not wanting an argument, “it did seem to be.”
“Humans,” she exhaled, pushing the last of her cigarette into the glass top of my pub table. “You should live outdoors, like we do. Then you wouldn’t call it mild.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“I see you had no interest in helping us out,” she went on, bumping another Virginia Slim out of its box.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She tossed the box on the table and pulled a fancy gold lighter out of her purse. “That nice new garden you planted last year.”
I didn’t know where the doe was going with this. The deer hated our garden? “Uh, that was my wife,” I replied quietly. “She planted the garden.” Then I immediately felt guilty for throwing my wife under the bus.
The deer lit her cigarette. “Plenty of kale in that garden,” she sighed, then took a long draw, breathing out the smoke through her narrow black nostrils. “God, I hate kale.”
It was true. We planted kale last year. (It did great! And it stayed green all winter! We were thrilled.)
I gulped. “It’s a fad,” I offered weakly. “It’s in all the recipes these days.”
“Yeah,” she snorted. “And I see it doesn’t die. The winter was so mild, lucky you, the kale stayed green right straight through. You must be so happy.” She glowered at me, those big doe-eyes burning hot and black. “Did you plant any azaleas? Any tasty rhododendrons? A few roses? A little delicious dogwood? Do I see any lilacs to lick my lips over? Crocuses? Daylilies? Anything out here a deer might enjoy? No. Kale! You planted kale!”
I shifted my weight to the other leg and tried to look nonchalant. “Actually, I don’t think it’s our responsibility to feed—”
“You go feast like a Roman emperor in your precious Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar,” she murmured. “You’re so happy huddling over your beer at the new Brewer’s Table.”
“Actually, I don’t drink beer.”
“Whatever.” She tossed her butt into the grass. “You pull food off the shelves at Market Basket all winter long. We’re stuck out here, having to make do, in this overgrown backyard you call your ‘meadow.’ And we got what, here? A few miserable apple trees. The shoots of a baby white pine. Have you ever tried chewing on a white pine?”
“It’s like eating toothpicks, only the minty ones,” the deer snarled.
“We have hostas,” I answered weakly. “All around the house. Lots of hostas. Deer eat hostas.”
“I’M SICK OF HOSTAS, OK?” she cried, pounding her hoof on the table.
Finally she sat back. She took a deep breath. She gave me a long, lugubrious look. “Kale,” she intoned. “How do you stand that stuff? It’s like spinach, but without the redeeming humor of the Popeye cartoons.”
Finally she leaned on the pub table and reached for her Ipswich Ale. She took a deep gulp, then set the bottle down and stared at it. Her rage was silently building.
“I’m sick of you people trying to starve us out,” she said, her teeth grinding, “planting marigolds and irises, stuff that would gag a moose. We won’t touch holly, you know that. Or blackberries. Oregano is like poison to us. And if I see any more mint, I’m going to scream.”
I cleared my throat. “I don’t think anybody is actually planting blackberries,” I offered. “They just happen.”
The deer looked at me with that look that deer give you. Not the paralyzed, panicky deer-in-the-headlights look. I mean the other look. When they see you in broad daylight, and their eyes say, “What are you staring at, moron? Can’t you see you’re disturbing my perfectly placid presence?” It’s something like the look you get from your manager at work, when your manager is 30 years younger than you.
“Blackberries just happen,” she repeated. “Sure. Tell me another story.”
She let herself down off the bar stool, and the four empties jiggled on the table.
“God plants blackberries,” she grumbled, stuffing her things into her purse. “It isn’t random. He does it on purpose. Because he’s on your side. He created you last. Somehow that makes you special.”
She started walking, a little unsteadily, in the direction of Linebrook Road. Then she turned back. “They don’t let us into Salt Kitchen,” she said, stifling a belch. She waved a hoof at the backyard. “This is all we got.”
She turned again to go.
“Kale,” she snorted as she trotted off toward the Deer Crossing sign. “Geez, we don’t need to get hit by cars,” she muttered. “We have kale.”