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How to Hunt Deer

[whitespace] illustration
Illustration by Terri Groat-Ellner

By Don Bajema

Elaine Wade, 27, waited for the reassuring bump of the landing gear. The bridges glittering red and white dotting the San Francisco Bay below, banking off in a slow arch over the Golden Gate, Crissy Field and the northern end of the financial district back toward Oakland. Then there'd be the Bart shuttle, then she'd be beneath the surface of the water reflecting the moonlight, sitting in a tube, popping up again on 16th and Mission. Candlestick still lighted from last night's game. She'd see Sean tonight and would probably have to wait until next week to tell him she didn't love him anymore.

Sean Winters, 32, large, dark, calm and smiling, has waved down the bartender for another pint and shot. He's been reflecting on the selective sensory acuity brought on by alcohol consumption. Aural, tactile, visual, each taking a turn manipulating his emotions and distorting his imagination, which seems to be, to him, profoundly influenced by mid-evening around 10:30. Glancing up from his wristwatch, he hears voices from the past, sees--more than sees, relives--events in the past, some of them of no more import than gassing up the Nova in Colinga months ago. Just stopping at Harris' Ranch and filling up, no attendant event or portent of coming event. Nothing of significance. Just standing in supermarket lines, or getting breakfast this morning at the Bitterroot. He's keeping to himself tonight, although a few barflies who might normally compare notes with him are slugging their minimum daily requirement on the stools next to him and would endure his revelry as he so often endures theirs. Tonight he's

"Kinda thinkin'."

"Yeah? 'bout what?"

"Nothing."

"Everything OK?"

Sean turns to take in the sincere mask being worn by an assistant dealer of stimulants.

"Yeah."

A hand waves in the air and fingers are pointed at three nearly empty glasses, including Sean's shot. The bartender nods impatiently and leans a few drinks over to a knot of tough-looking women in western gear with two chained dogs at their feet. The sailor on the jukebox is telling Brandy that she'd be a good wife. Sean sings, the assistant dealer joins in and the chorus carries over to the crowd. The bartender starts yelling to shut up.

They won't shut up. Sean does. He's back to his thoughts. Amused that he is fighting the effects of alcohol, crossing off another early symptom on the young-problem-drinker-lurching-toward-oblivion list. His aunt's voice from Santee speaks as loud as though she were perched on the bar before him.

"Gallows humor. You just love gallows humor. There was a man back home loved seeing life fall apart so much he ended his life tap-dancing right up the thirteen stairs to the rope. Made everybody laugh at his jokes. When they put the hood on him he started yelling "Who turned out the damn lights?" Then the door sprung and everybody cried. THAT'S what GALLOWS humor'll get ya. YA BIG IDIOT."

Well, she's probably right. Has been so far. But Sean knows he lacks the balls to be a true desperado. Times have changed since 1938. We're living easy, men don't have to be that hard ... life ain't that tough anymore. We lost that feral feeling, we're down to lap pets now. All the guts and wild hairs atrophied in front of the television. Something's missing.

His eyes wash over the bar until he is stabbed by the staring eyes of two women. They have deliberately timed their casual gaze to hit his dead on. Crazy images of their exotic features contorted, writhing and panting superimpose over their blank faces. For a long instant the three of them watch each other, the women with their impeccable makeup and eyes burning like Coppola's vampires. Sean remarking to himself that they have enormous power as passive chalkboards for all of these spuzz-fueled fantasies.

Unconsciously Sean's hand scrubs his eyebrow and feigns deep thought, reading the chipped varnished bar. As he sneaks a second glance, the television above the women has an ad setting up beer behind the good times that can be found in bars, hair tossing, smiles gleaming, come-ons coming. Below the screen the women are chic visions of "just-dare-me" elegance. Sean estimates them to be on their third cosmo and their night is heading south. One gets up. She is a sight in the jukebox light. If the guys' attention in the room were voiced, the bar would be a kennel of yodeling bloodhounds. Instead, sly sidelong glances follow her, becoming outright goggle-eyed pretermasturbatory leers in her wake. Elbows alert the ribs of buddies who are, as always, already taking her in.

There's room beside Sean to ask the bartender for cigarettes. She appears, casual, contained, impervious. Her skin glows, pores just barely damp. A pale blue vein runs down her throat and dives under her collarbone. The skin smooth as silk, golden. Her eyes are huge, her hair dark and tangled. Her voice knocks him out. It is strong, studied, intelligent. She smiles into Sean's face.

"Hello."

"Hello."

She snaps the cigarettes off the bar, breathes "Thanks" to the bartender.

"Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too."

She lifts her chin just above the smoke haze along the bar and slowly returns toward her friend, stopping to lean over the jukebox light. She is bracketed immediately by some skater dudes who hang by the door. They exchange words in what looks to Sean like slow motion. Her face plays the jukebox light, the boys trying to break in from the periphery.

Sean is conflicted, as usual. He is in love with perhaps one of the most desirable women in San Francisco. They live together securely enough to be sharing expenses, taking joint vacations, sleeping in fevered intimacy, and encouraging each other beyond the turn-of-the-millennium ennui afflicting everyone else they know, into having a real life together someday. At the same time, he is desirable himself to many of these fantastic, surprising babes that populate the lower Haight, the Mission, the entire city if you count frustrated financial district temps and online office slaves out for a couple of nights. Sean is also an infrequent drunk, but not a stupid one, and he has earned Elaine's complete trust. Besides, being who she is, she's not going to mention, let alone carp about, a few nights out drinking with buddies, or a couple days in Mexico surfing, or running around with some of the rock star types he's known over the years. It appears to be a perfect relationship.

Sean finishes his pint, knocks back the shot. A slurring loner who can't seem to say a word without offending the women he tries so desperately to attract slides onto the bar stool beside him. The loner faces the direction of the woman, who simultaneously has slid beside her friend at the bar's corner. Gus tries to insert his face into the light of the vibrating energy coming from down the bar. Sean glances at him, nods,, then shifts his weight to accommodate him.

"Sean, there are ladies all over this place."

"Yeah."

"Do you know those two?"

"No."

"Will you introduce me to them?'

"No. Want a drink?"

"Instead?"

"Yeah, instead."

"OK."

Sean's hands take a prayer position above his elbows. His palms rasp his calluses together uneasily. He knows he's leaving in the next few seconds. Gus taps him on the shoulder.

"Hey, I got a fact for you. What happens when two men have their sperm in the same woman at the same time?"

"Huh?"

"Two guys fuck the same woman around the same time, close enough that their sperm is alive inside her at the same time. Could be like morning and night, say. What happens?"

"I don't know." Wild thoughts that seem hyper-real as though he's peeking between curtains reveal Elaine rocking beneath a man he thinks he could recognize, but can't.

"They start killing each other."

Sean looks at Gus. Gus' eyebrows jerk up and down on his forehead. He nods in "it's true" astonishment.

"Really. They don't go for the egg, they kill each other instead."

A tsunami of psychic epiphany rises in an enormous wall above the bar. Seventeenth and Guerrero is swamped in revelation. The topography of the entire Mission sleeps below the wave looming like a cloudbank offshore.

We are killers. Period. We kill.

Sean almost stood on the rungs of the barstool and started bellowing his apology to any woman in the room. He watched the other men in the room with contempt and compassion, shaking his head with a grimace stuck to his face that registered "Of course," as though he'd never heard of war or domestic violence or serial killers or hate crimes or football or hockey or arm wrestling or fistfights or put-downs or on-sight hatred of one crew for the other. Sean fought the urge to blast his elbow into Gus' self-satisfied smile. He took a deep breath and began to get up.

"We aren't supposed to know that. It's worse than Eden to know like that."

Sean reeled from the knowledge that in fact the first aftereffect of love can convulse into rage and take-no-prisoners microscopic warfare. Brutal anthill one-on-ones inside the mother of creation.

Knowledge that he, Sean, as a man, can be relied on only to the point of having things his way--even on the cellular level. That he would destroy what could have been, including himself, even destroying the chance for anything else, should jealousy--not even jealousy, just the presence of another man--reduce him to being what he has not wanted to face his entire life, the fact that he is a killer.

"This is fucked up."

Sean left by the back door, stood under a streetlight while a nearby couple argued something pointless in sloppy, vomiting protests of each not understanding the other. The dude, ironically enough, bursting into tears.

Sean scuffled down the street heading for Dolores, taking the air as he went, shaking his head every few strides. Looking up at the sky with crooked elbow over his face, as if the Blob of the '50s loomed above in the dire red sky. Repeating as he went.

"Figures."


Don Bajema has written Boy in the Air and Reach, two novels for 2-13-61 Publications, and the screenplay for the critically acclaimed feature film Chalk, produced by Rand Crook and Ethan Sing. Don teaches, lectures and reads from his work frequently at universities around the U.S. and Canada. Currently Don is preparing for a tour of Southern California, as well as producing and writing with 3RDSET Productions a screenplay set in the SoMa contemporary jazz scene, to be filmed in San Francisco in 1998.

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From the February 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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