VICTOR CELMAR: Chapter 3, The Deer in the Woods

“It’s worth the greater capacity one ultimately has for understanding and interpreting reality,” Victor wheezed out. He paused to collect himself and the flurry of activity settled. The child sat down and straightened out her dress and Victor’s breathing gradually became more regular. He stopped wheezing, and stared out the window at the green leaves of the trees and the few petals left over from spring that clung to the branches. Victor closed his eyes and sank into his pillow with a grin on his face.

“The gardens were always prettiest directly after spring, when the petals from the flowers littered the grass, and the temperature was pleasantly warm, but still clear and somewhat cool. I spent much of my free time wandering around the gardens, but I never went into the woods. The idea of getting lost scared me, and I was always warned not to leave the gardens by my tutors and servants. Of course, this warning was completely unnecessary because of how paranoid I was. Besides, Father would often go out into the woods to hunt, and they didn’t want me to get shot by accident. They told me they didn’t want a wolf to “gobble me up” (they used that expression exactly) but I knew what they really meant. I realized it at five, when I happened to see a deer through the trees. She was eating, and was bent over very elegantly, almost like a ballet dancer. But then she raised her head, a shot rang out, and she toppled over very awkwardly. I saw Father walk over to her corpse, pick it up, and go the back through the woods and around to the kitchen,  so that I wouldn’t see. That night, I refused to eat dinner for obvious reasons.” Victor’s eyes opened a moment after he finished. By now his smile had gone somewhat crooked. A breeze rustled the leaves in the trees and blue shadows fell across the room in irregular patterns.

The child pushed her hair back behind her shoulders and sighed. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes, listening to the tree leaves rustle. Victor smiled widely, somehow relieved. The girl straightened her head back up, opened her eyes, then turned to Victor, expecting him to speak again. Victor took a deep breath.

“Other than that incident, my time in the gardens was happily spent. I liked to do watercolors and line drawings of the flowers for they are a supreme joy to the eye in both color and shape. I also liked to sit or nap. I was often guilty of excessive idleness, which I don’t think would have been the case had I lived in the city. My time in the gardens didn’t lead me to any profound insights or to value solitude and contemplation more than other children. It was just a good way to pass the time.”

“Winters were horrible. I always got worse coughing fits from the cold, and I was trapped inside. My tutors and the servants would monitor me to be sure I was doing my lessons, while in the spring and summers I could hide somewhere in the gardens. I was never strong enough to walk in the snow and I complained a lot when Father tried to take me skating on the pond. I was six when that happened, and remember it well. I slid on the ice and hit my head. Father carried me home, and I refused to go out again. I never have. However, I could sense that Father was disappointed; he himself had always been academic, for one thing, and athletic, for another. It was difficult for him to have to both and raise me without Mother to reconcile himself with the many differences between us.

He was never cruel to me, as I think I said before. He refused to beat me, even when I accidentally broke one of the Ming vases while trying to escape my evening bath. I appreciated that, but I think he was so lenient to make up for the fact that he was distant. We rarely spoke. In fact, he didn’t speak much to anybody. He spent most of his time either in his study or hunting. We ate together at dinner every evening at eight, but besides that I never saw him. I do remember once when he addressed me in the front hall when I was nine. I was going out into the garden to draw, and he was just returning from a hunt, on his way to his study. He went pale suddenly, and said I looked very much like my mother.”