by Arlene Gralla Feldman
Rita considered herself a nature girl. She loved bird-watching and though the Eclipse Community Association ruled against bird baths and bird feeders—they attracted rodents, they said— Rita would drop a feed into the grass weekly after the mowing. And in the winter an astute observer would see seeds scattered atop the iced-over snow beyond her patio. Rita took delight in seeing the vee-like impressions of the footfalls of various birds. However—though she hated to admit it—some did manage to find all sorts of debris for their nests. To her distress she once saw a drained tampon dangling from one of the pine tree nests. But she kept this to herself, removing the eyesore carefully without disturbing the inhabitants.
She loved her gardening also. To ward off the effects of the sun, she would be seen most mornings dressed in long sleeves, long pants and a wide-brimmed hat—even when the temperature hit the nineties—her face covered with gobs of sun lotion with the highest SPF available.
Of course, there were nuisances—the mosquitoes were always a threat. She read somewhere that body temperature and particular human scents attract gnats and mosquitoes to prey on certain victims. Whatever it was, Rita was a perfect target; they were drawn to her skin and when they struck, they struck with vengeance. She would develop welts and scabs to say nothing of the continuous three-day itch that followed a penetration. And those chipmunks, cute though they were, how they did fight over the bird seed then scurry up the drainpipes, nesting there, clogging them. There were also some creatures called moles or voles or whatever that would get into her flowerpots and flower beds, scattering earth and mulch all over her path and entry way. Then of course there were geese and their crap and God knows the Geese Squad couldn’t get rid of them.
“But weren’t they the cutest things—that family of geese being led by the mama and papa across the main road?” Rita asked of her neighbor, Maria.
“Yeah, sure. Really cute— stopping traffic for at least a half mile,” was Maria’s response.
Rabbits, the worst nuisances of all, would nibble the leaves off Rita’s tulips and daffodils, stunting their growth. Residents would get a laugh seeing Rita chasing and screaming after the furry animals with her broom. Neighbors suggested setting traps but she thought that inhumane.
“But they’re perfectly safe,” Maria said.
“After a catch, just take them for a car ride to a field or something,” Maria’s husband, Vic, advised.
“I couldn’t do that,” Rita said. “Imagine how you would feel, being trapped and then taken to a foreign place.”
What Rita did do, however, was sprinkle hot pepper flakes near the tulips and daffodils. She placed moth balls under the mulch and nearly broke the damn drain pipe attempting to shove her broomstick up the spout to frighten off the chipmunks. None of this worked, of course, but Rita looked at it good naturedly. “After all,” she told anyone who would listen, “they were here before us. We took their space away. We have to learn to live together somehow.”
Rita’s learn-to-live-together attitude was nonchalantly dismissed by most of the community, particularly with regard to the latest natural invaders—deer. For the past two years, deer that Rita saw as the most beautiful, docile of creatures seemed to choose Eclipse as their favored foraging grounds. They would show up in the winter especially at dusk, causing numerous car accidents. Carcasses could be seen lying about, reminding some Eclipsians of their own mortality. The summer was no better, there they were—battered things bloated to the point of exploding in the summer heat off to the roadside—a draw for flies—then maggots and God knows what else.
With regard to the live deer, they were a total pain in the ass—droppings everywhere, trees and plants destroyed. And of course everyone knew about ticks and the threat of Lyme’s Disease. No—the learn-to-live-together attitude would not work for most of the residents and they decided to do something about it.
A committee was formed to come up with a solution to the deer problem. Many options were addressed: cordon off the trees and planting beds, perhaps place a six foot high wrought iron fence about the community, spay or sterilize the animals—but of course any of those options would take time and of course money and God knows their association dues were already too steep.
“Shoot them!” Richard said, half joking.
“Mmmmh,” remarked a few.
Rita, who just yesterday left carrots and celery for a doe and her fawn at the rear of her patio, began to panic. “But—” she said.
“Poison!” suggested Doris.
“We should do what they did in Princeton—they had a kill,” Walter advised.
Rita felt the blood drain from her a body. “A kill?”
“You’re not speaking of the net and bolt are you?” Gloria chimed in.
“That may work—although those animal rights activists have already yelled bloody murder about it being medieval barbarity.”
“Well,” Gloria said. “—they’re right. Netting the poor things and pistol shooting a bolt into their skulls is not merciful and from what I hear it is not necessarily a quick death either.”
“What they did in Princeton,” Walter continued, “—was use bows and arrows. Less mess; no rifles—too dangerous, unpredictable—”
“Like The Hunger Games?” Rita whispered to herself.
“They had this company called White Buffalo—did it for free—looked at it as a community service. And the meat went to food banks.” Walter was finished.
So was Rita. She tried not to imagine her doe and fawn as venison. She shuddered. “Please. Please. There must be some other way.”
Walter ignored her. “We will have to get the township’s permission of course, decide where to have the round-up.”
Richard made his concluding remarks. “Well, let’s get on this. There’s lots of stuff we need to know: When’s the best season for the kill; how do we lure the deer; do we focus on the males, females? Lots of stuff. Howie, you’re good with the internet. Check it out. Let’s meet again next Thursday the third of August and make some decisions.”
Rita could not wait to share her feelings with her husband, Stan. His response, however, did not help. He told her all the bull she had heard before about the hunts actually helping the deer survive: “There’s not enough food to go around. Hundreds will certainly die over the winter.”
Rita envisioned her doe lying in the snow, an arrow perfectly centered between her soulful brown glazed eyes. “Okay! That would be okay. I would be all right with that. At least she —they—will have a natural death.”
“Starving is a natural death? C’mon Rita, be sensible.”
The following morning Rita commiserated to Maria. She found no solace there either. “I’ve spent fortunes on landscaping and these things are ruining my property value. Who would want to move into a place ruled by deer?”
By the time the third of August arrived, Rita bitterly acknowledged to herself that it would be her against the rest of the committee—and probably the entire community as well. She entered the meeting room feeling utterly alone, frustrated and overwhelmingly sad.
After listening to the excited Howard share his notes about salt being the lure, about the overlook being the best spot, about steps to getting the township’s permission, Rita could not stand it any longer. She stood up and in her most confident voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am completely against this proposal. It is heartless, inhumane and, and…”
Richard turned to her and told her in what he thought was a compassionate tone, “Rita we understand how you feel but you are out-voted: nine to one.”
“Well,” she said most courageously, she thought, “if you go ahead with this, this—kill, I will chain myself to a tree and, and…”
“Rita, I understand your opposition and I will personally be there to ask the hunters to please be very careful to avoid targeting you.”
Of course the kill went on as planned. Rita did not chain herself to a tree. That is not to say she didn’t try to get to the overlook with her chain and lock and key. She was coated with sun screen, swathed in insect repellent and ready to go when Stan blocked her entry to the car, took her keys and garage door opener and screamed at her to stop acting like a maniac or she would be locked up.
“Me, a maniac?” she yelled back at him, kicking him in the shin. “Me? When the real maniacs are out there slaughtering the innocents?”
Upon seeing Stan keel over in pain she relented, suddenly passive. The moment passed but at a cost. In the days to come Rita distanced herself from her usual world, her usual interests. She avoided friends and acquaintances. She ignored television and rarely left the house except to market. She became obsessed with the house— scrubbing and dusting, attacking the closets and drawers, filling huge black plastic bags destined for Good-Will. She would not read the newspapers nor did she discuss the incident with anyone, not even with Stan. She had no comment after he told her matter-of-factly one morning over coffee that they eliminated a dozen deer and she found it surprisingly easy to hold back the urge of asking her neighbor, Maria, if she was satisfied now.
Rita no longer took enjoyment from feeding the birds and quite frankly she didn’t give a damn about the rabbits eating her flowers either and who cared if there were tampons hanging from the pine tree nests and the moles or voles or whatever were overturning her mulch beds. Her garden gave way to weeds and overgrowth.
But—as mid-winter came upon the Eclipse community, Rita discovered she missed seeing bird footprints on the iced-over snow, so she began scattering seed once again. And sometimes she would place a carrot and a bit of celery at the rear of her patio and would delight when it would disappear. Of course she considered they may have been grabbed by a rabbit, but now and then she would see the prints of hooves and she would smile.
Arlene Feldman is a retired New York City High School teacher of English. She received her MFA (fiction writing) from Brooklyn College. An excerpt from her work, One God or Another–a Novella and Short Stories, was included in the anthology, Two Worlds Walking–Short Stories, Essays & Poetry by Writers with Mixed Heritages, Edited by Diane Glancy and C. W. Truesdale, New Rivers Press, 1994. A number of her stories were published in US 1 Summer Fiction issues, Richard Rein, Editor, Princeton, NJ.