Written by Judson Merrill | Illustrated by DefinitelyJenny
Deer thrive in liminal spaces, the borderlands at the edge of the woods. That’s why they’re so prevalent in the suburbs, why you see them along the side of the road, and why they inhabit this coastal peninsula, where the forest opens onto dune and marsh. They have a wide field of vision well suited to these perimeters, but they struggle to see things that aren’t in motion. I knew this vaguely, but spending time around deer, facts like that — tidbits gleaned from nature shows and old relatives — they crystallize into something saltier than knowledge.
I was walking yesterday evening down a dirt road winding along Maine’s infinite shore. I was looking west, toward the setting sun, and didn’t notice the doe on the east side of the road until I was right next to her, practically close enough to touch. Deer do this sometimes, allow you to get surprisingly close even as they remain piqued, ready to run. I froze in my tracks, half in surprise, half in sympathetic response to her stillness. As she stood unmoving, staring at me without seeming to see me, I remembered that her non-motion vision was poor. And, of course, she had no other conception of vision. This was why she had frozen instead of bolted — in her instinctual way, she believed there was a decent chance that by not moving she had become invisible. It was sweet, really, this hope, and I felt bad being able to see her so clearly, to make out the grain of her russet coat.
As I stood watching her, thinking these things, I was myself completely still, wanting to prolong our meeting. Which meant, then, that I had achieved what the doe had only hoped to achieve. I really was invisible. From her perspective, she’d been keeping a wary eye on me as I walked along the road and then I’d blinked out of sight. In the moment when I suddenly saw her, she suddenly didn’t see me. Now we stood facing each other, each of us wondering if the other was going to move. If she moved, it would be to bound away, to disappear in an instant into the trees. If I moved, it would be to reappear, to lurch back into her field of vision.
This moment is another kind of liminal space, neither deer nor human, affording a glimpse, however fleeting and impossible, of the reality between us. Deer thrive in liminal spaces, and I wish this doe was having some equivalent moment, whatever that means for a deer, discerning for an instant life on the other side of the borderland. But the only reason we are standing so close, staring at each other across this dirt road, is because of her inability to even conceive of how I see the world, that I might be able to do something so incredible as watch her standing completely still in the last golden light of day.
Judson Merrill grew up in Maine, studied literature and writing at Brown University, and received his MFA from Brooklyn College. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, The Southampton Review, Unstuck, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other publications. He has recently been an Artist in Residence at Millay Colony, Ox-Bow, Lighthouse Works, and Guild Hall.
DefinitelyJenny: Illustrator//Book Lover//Cat Video Addict
Currently based in High Wycombe, I am an illustrator with a strong interest in graphic design, particularly in layout and publishing.