Ryan Teitman

Fable, or, Pietà

The boy hides near a stump to watch. A deer, its fur the color of honey, stands ankle deep in the pond and dips its head to the water. A dozen fish surface in a cluster, just out of the deer’s reach. Their heads peek into the air, covered in skin so thin that the boy can see their plum red tongues flickering in their closed mouths. From his cover, he can hear the murmurs of their little congress. He thinks of the stories his mother tells him at night, of animals in the forest talking to children his age, granting them wishes if they can free the small birds caught in the tangle of manes, or fashion poultices of herbs for wounds on flanks just out of a tongue’s reach. When he at last gives in to the throes of sleep, his mother bears him off to bed, his small body cradled in her arms, the blanket in his hand trailing behind them like a train. She wonders why slipping him away each night feels like a small spell of grief. Now he waits for the deer to step gently from the pond, stamp the water from its hooves, and bound away. He walks to the edge of the water and slips off his shoes, tucking the laces under their tongues. The fish circle his ankles as he steps in, their milk bottle bodies nearly scraping the pond’s bottom. But when he reaches the center, they huddle in front of him like a children’s choir. And then, they begin to sing.

Ryan Teitman is the author of Litany for the City, which won the A. Poulin Jr. Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions. He is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
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    Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí