Every Invisible Threat by Melissa Bowers
Five hours ago, we put the car in reverse and rolled gently backward to watch the deer. A doe and two fawns, slender-necked and alert, unfazed when our toddler called, Hi Bambi, hi! Are you a cartoon? Shh, I said, They’ll run. But they didn’t, even as we inched closer and closer to the clearing, even as I ventured out of the vehicle for pictures. We stayed until all three animals had melted into the woods: weaving camouflaged between the trees, our hazard lights glowing on-off-on-off against vanishing pricked ears.
Five minutes, maybe? the silver-haired man says into his phone, crouching on the street beside the body. We stop to ask if he needs help before we remember the children. Their questions pour through open windows, and the man overhears—Is she sleeping? Can we pet her?—so he gives a weary smile and waves us along. Our oldest cranes to look. Our youngest starts to cry. A few yards away, the doe and one fawn stand together at the edge of the road, haunted. Back home, we study family photos once our babies are tucked in for the night, stare hard, as though we can keep them safe if only we continue watching closely.
Five years from now, the older couple will finally tire of living at the apex of the curve, all the scraped-up fur and hosed-down streets, the screeching brakes, the stained pavement, and a young family will pull their whole life from a U-Haul: identical beds and clothes and toys and bikes and laughter. When the SOLD sign disappears, a SLOW sign will take its place, loud yellow with black letters and the ominous silhouettes of children. New neighbors, our kids will shout. Can we play? At first we will say no. Definitely not, this world is much too dangerous. We will pass the twins in their front yard, roll down our windows to say hello: Hi buddies, hi! For days and weeks and months, for as long as we can, we’ll resist and resist until we reexamine the risk, until we remember they are raised to be released, until we eventually say yes, of course you can visit your friends, of course you should run and be free. After a while we will tell ourselves not to intervene. After a while all we will know is how it feels to hold our breath and watch as they scamper across the lawn on delicate legs, tripping over threats invisible as air, unaware of everything they might discover: their worth or their strength or their limits. The startling vulnerability of their own bones.
Melissa Bowers is the winner of the 2021 SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest, the 2020 Breakwater Review Fiction Prize, the 2020 F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer’s inaugural personal essay contest, and her stories are featured as award-winners in Lunate, Barren Magazine, and Pithead Chapel. Melissa’s work was selected for the 2021 Wigleaf Top 50 and has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. Find her at www.melissabowers.com or on Twitter @MelissaBowers