about the author

Gabrielle Griffis is a mutlimedia artist, writer, and musician. She studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she also worked for the Juniper Writing Institute. She is the Outreach Coordinator for Wellfleet Public Library. Listen to her music here.


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Maybe She Was the Deer 

Gabrielle Griffis



Scholars floated through the coastal town’s only bookshop. They were summer people with second homes who appeared when weather warmed. They gave readings to their erudite friends in the cool of the temperature controlled room.

Abstract paintings resembling watercolor trash heaps hung on the walls.

The irony wasn’t lost on Eva, every volume on the shelf was a tree pulped. Maple shoot borers and yellownecked caterpillars replaced with words. Occasionally musicians playing stringed instruments, gave concerts. Dead tree requiems filled the air. Eva wondered if the music sounded so sweet because it contained the lost phylogeny of warblers and vireos. The birds and reptiles feasting on insects hosted by alders and ash lost to the publishing industry’s axe.

White-haired women in floral linens and chunky jewelry filled the room with their husbands in brightly colored polos. Outside the evening sky faded into orange and amber. An academic was giving a talk on her latest book about demagoguery and manufactured consensus. Thirty minutes of abstraction and jargon elapsed, the air warming with the influx of bodies. The professor detailed politicians contemptuous of the truth, and how the authority of information generating institutions was dissolving.

“Can you point to some overarching ideology of the current administration in their baseless claims?” an audience member asked.

“I’m not sure I can,” the professor replied.

Eva’s jaw tightened. Worms crawled through her veins. The ideology seemed obvious. It was the same ideology that tore down forests and filled marshlands.

As the talk ended, Eva stood on the periphery of the room, attending to the breakdown of the room. She turned the microphone off and shelved unsold books. In the perfumed glitz, Eva thought about the fine line between degradation and respectability, how dirt and fragrance temporarily erased the memory of being Animalia.

At first, Eva couldn’t pinpoint what felt wrong about many of the readings. In the same way she couldn’t tell what it was that bothered her about so many films and novels. Vines curled from the screen, crawling along the floorboards, overtaking her mind like bittersweet creeping through an abandoned house. In all the words and narratives, most had nothing to do with fritillaries, or salamanders, liverworts, or glaucophytes. Just people in their inane dramas.

“Did you read the book?” asked an older gentleman as Eva locked the building.

“I did not,” Eva replied, adjusting the shoulder strap on her purse. “Did you?”

“No, but it sounded interesting, so I came to the talk,” he shrugged, his white shirt incandescent under the streetlight.

“Ecology books are more my thing—not that this isn’t important, just that I think all problems arise from humanity’s disconnect from—”

“The earth,” the man said, completing Eva’s sentence.

“Right,” Eva said, thinking about how a single word could reduce infinite complexity into a straitjacket.

Eva put some music on in her car, guitars and violins, air forced through vocal chords. Exhaustion made sound feel like knives slicing through her brain. Eva drove home. Asphalt suffocated the soil and bled blades of grass along the edges of everything.

She hit a deer beneath the full moon. The thud and crack of the glass spidered through Eva’s ears, as waves crashed along the rocky shoreline. The doe emerged from the darkened woods, likely spooked. With few predators, deer could be seen grazing along meadows and swamps, defoliating fresh greenery.

Eva called animal control, a tow truck, and her friend. She sat on the roadside, thinking about the instant between fractaling narratives. Unforeseen, dramatic events had a way of making her more aware of branching trajectories. She imagined they looked like coral or bifurcating tree roots. In one story, she drove home without incident, a deer went on to nibble hickory nuts another day. In this story, she sat on the curb wondering why anything made sense at all. Nothing had to be logical, but much of life had some kind of order.

She regretted a lot of things.

The police car arrived strobing blue light across the road and tree boughs. The bloody mouth of the doe dripped onto the asphalt. The black pools of her eyes reflected passing headlights.

Eva’s friend picked her up after the tow truck came. He said he thought it might be a sign, something about symbolism. Eva’s friend was always ghosting her, or testing her, or something. She couldn’t tell. They were always in a liminal place. Most likely afraid of changing their narratives in a permanent way.

Eva had always thought of deer as forest dwelling creatures, until she learned they prefer edge environments. Something about tree canopies affecting the taste and texture of lower leaves. The haphazard slivering of the landscape unintentionally enhanced ruminant cuisine.

As they drove, Eva admired her friend’s long fingers and sandy hair. She recalled to him how earlier in the day an author of lucid dreaming books blamed her for bad advertising. The scholar hadn’t seen or heard any publicity for an upcoming talk and said it was Eva’s fault.

“I didn’t hear any announcements, and I don’t see any posters, what happened with that?” the woman asked.

Eva pointed to a poster on the wall.

“The title of the book is the title of the talk,” Eva replied, wondering how, with the sheer amount of information people encountered every day, prominent academics could blame her for things they didn’t see.

The number of things to be aware of seemed to level the playing field, to some degree. The vastness of information and the inability to know what was inside other peoples’ heads. It was a wonder anything made sense at all. She wished she had seen the deer, but it came barrelling toward her. Life was so much of that—encountering unknown variables and hoping for the best.





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