The Northville Review
an online literary journal
The Garden

CL Bledsoe

Thurgood noticed it a few days after he planted the garden, the way the deer, always in groups of three or four, crossed the edge of the driveway just outside his office window each afternoon around 5, 5:30. It happened so regularly, he soon got into the habit of dropping whatever he was doing[1] and went to watch them walk daintily, perfectly, sweetly across. It was one of the six or seven things he really liked about the place, which he tried desperately to make somehow balance the fifty or sixty things he didn’t like. The problem was that even the good things had 3 or 4 negative side effects. For example, it was immensely pleasing to witness a herd of deer[2] though it was another matter entirely driving in the evenings with said groups of deer around, as they tended to run out in front of (and into) vehicles. He’d also been warned that they would wreak merry havoc on gardens, and he had definitely found this to be the case.

But that was the tickler, wasn’t it? Every evening, at 4:59, the garden was fine (as well it should be, he spent the better part of his mornings maintaining it). But as soon as he returned from witnessing the (flock, perhaps?) of deer cross and retraced his didactic steps to the garden, it was a disaster. It usually looked as though a very large cat had sat on it, cleaning itself thoroughly for several hours, which was, of course, impossible: cats rarely appeared in that size in this part of the country.

And, of course, the growing of a garden was precisely the reason why the good doctor (retired) had located himself in the country for his retirement. He’d always wanted a garden, but the rigors of university life[3] had precluded one.

It had only taken a couple of times for the good doctor (retired) to see the pattern, and, regardless of whatever snickering it may have drawn forth from anyone in line at the grocery store when related within their earshot, he’d tested the hypothesis and skipped his usual deer viewing, watching, instead, the garden. And, of course, nothing happened; the garden remained pristine. The next evening, he poked his head into the office, with one foot out the door, and waited a full 45 minutes for the deer to appear, which they never did. The next evening, they were back, and just as they crossed he ran back to the patio door only to find the garden already in shambles. The evening after, he constructed a dummy of himself using old clothes which he duct-taped [4]together. He’d left the dummy sitting in the office, but nothing happened, so he switched it with himself, and left it sitting on the patio until the deer passed the next evening, and he raced back to find the dummy unmade, his clothes neatly folded, with a ball of duct-tape lying perfectly on top. He could’ve sworn that one of his socks had had a hole in it, but now it was neatly darned[5].

This would have raised most men’s dander, Thurgood knew, and yet he found it fascinating. It was so clearly a calculated move, and he found it hard to believe that this (dander?) of deer could be responsible. This was an act of malice or perhaps taunting, which was practically the same thing. Malice came from jealousy, and deer were incapable of jealousy. It came down to simple anatomy: deer lacked opposable thumbs, and therefore had never developed the basic hand-eye coordination[6] necessary to utilize said opposable thumbs. A thumb is a tool. One can’t eat a thumb [7]and therefore the thumb is only useful as a means to an end. This means thinking ahead, solving the problem of how to get from thumb to food. Deer brains simply hadn’t evolved in that direction. They didn’t think ahead long enough to hold a grudge. If they wanted something, they tried to take it just then, without a plan. No, this was something else entirely[8].

The next morning, Thurgood drove to a different town and bought a digital camera. He set it up to record the garden from a hidden spot inside the house (he liked to think he was craftier than deer imitators) and sat, admiring the Alzheimer’s of deer as they crossed majestically. And when he made his way back to the camera’s hiding spot in the living room, he discovered that the camera was gone. He slept little that night, spending the long evening re-watching Golden-Age Hollywood musicals on VHS and a couple of early silent Hitchcock films. In the morning, he woke stiff and confused as someone knocked on the door, but when he answered it, he found his camera on its tripod. He connected it to the TV only to discover that it was a recording of him sitting on the couch, drooling at the sight of Ginger Rogers. He turned it off and considered jumping up and down on it or breaking it. Instead, he turned it back on and watched the whole thing for clues, but found none.

He returned the camera that afternoon[9]. Thurgood was at a loss. He pored over his books on dramatic history, finding nothing of any use (to the present predicament, of course; study is its own reward) and finally, he looked up to realize that it was that magic time and the deer were, again, crossing. In desperation, he threw himself through the door and ran out after them, yelling,


Which only launched them into flight. One turned after it had run a good ways and showed Thurgood a look a lesser-educated man would’ve definitely interpreted as disdainful.

“Why are you doing this? I just want to understand!” Thurgood called out, but, of course, the deer didn’t answer. Thurgood returned to his home and made his way through to the patio and out to the garden, which was totally decimated. He went back inside, poured himself a glass of wine, and returned (with the bottle) to the patio and drank the lion’s share of it, which, after forty years of teaching, was the closest Thurgood could come to crying.

* * * * *

This is when things started to go badly for Thurgood. Though he’d vowed to never return, he found himself once again chatting up the checkout girl and lamenting his predicament.

“What I need is another set of eyes—real eyes, not electronic ones. Eyes with a brain. Would you consider coming to my place and looking at my garden? I’m sure I could retrieve the video camera, if you would like to film our exploits,” he said. He smiled expectantly, waiting for a reply, but instead the girl walked away without speaking and a man calling himself a manager escorted Thurgood out of the building, with the help of the man whom Thurgood had grown to hate for his well-timed, though intellectually lacking attempts at humor.

Thurgood explained that he meant no offense, which didn’t seem to be enough for the man, who took a perverse pleasure in threatening Thurgood and pushing his car until Thurgood was forced to drive away, for fear of the damage his shocks might sustain, though he managed to yell several choice epithets at the man, including one regarding his chances of bedding[10] the checkout girl, along with a brief list of possible previous contenders for her affections.

It was after this, bruised and badly shaken, that Thurgood, in a fit of shame, tore the garden out. He ripped every shred of plant life out and threw them, haphazard, like a digging dog. He waited long into the evening in his office, watching, but the slut of deer never appeared. He wandered back through the house, yelling to the ceilings, and eventually emerged in the barren waste he’d created only to find everything replanted, pristine, immaculate. Something like relief flooded through him. He fell to his knees [11]and wept, yes, like a babe, actually wept, perfect, innocent, and powerless. It was then that Thurgood truly realized that he did not understand the country, but he liked it.

[1] This is only a turn of phrase, of course, as Thurgood hadn’t dropped anything in a good long while, and even then, it had been grudging. A more accurate way to say it would be that Thurgood set whatever he happened to be engaged in down carefully, making sure that no sudden gusts of wind or slight realignments of the Earth’s crust might budge it with untoward results.

[2] Do deer travel in herds, he wondered, or was that only cattle? Were they like birds, which had, seemingly, different names for groupings of each different species—a murder of crows, for example, or rats, he suddenly remembered, which when grouped were referred to as a mischief, so it wasn’t only birds, then. What were deer, then, a Bambi? He’d asked a checkout girl at the grocery store and a local had overheard him and called out, “We call that venison,” to general laughter, which was another thing, the locals, who weren’t quite to the point of cutting off strangers’ faces and wearing them for masks, but were definitely a tad territorial.

[3] It should be noted that Thurgood was not, in the strictest sense, a medical doctor, but rather a doctor of the dramatic arts, as he’d taught play writing and the general study of the history of drama on the college level for four decades, having also written the seminal text (his own words) on the subject: Playwriting. A Guide. Which he’d used in many of his classes, this being the only reason it had remained in print.

[4] Not the commonly referred to duck tape which is a simple mispronunciation of the name, which he had to explain to the boys at the grocery store, of whom there were beginning to be several. It is, in point of fact, ‘duct’ tape, as in tape used on ducts, not tape used on ducks. That would be just quackers. This, of course, left the good doctor (retired) in a paroxysm of mirth, while the checkout girls smiled politely and the other customers glared at him as though he’d raised a bad smell in their living rooms. There’s no helping the willfully ignorant, he’d stated, retrieving his purchases and making for the door.

[5] Well I’ll be darned, the man at the store said, at this point, to general merriment. Thurgood was beginning to dislike this man immensely.

[6] Humans considered it basic, but in reality, it was anything but, just ask the overweight child at recess picked last for the team.

[7] Not one’s own, anyway, at least without extreme discomfort.

[8] I’m talking about first truths, here, gentlemen, he’d told the assembled grocery store patrons. We call it Old-Timers, the local said. I think you mean Alzheimer’s, the doctor stated. Whatever, doc, admitting your problem is the first step, the man said. You’re just repeating things you saw on TV, Thurgood said; you’re not clever, not like those deer. This made the other customers titter tremendously. As Thurgood stormed out, he heard the man call out, you guys should charge for tickets for that crazy old coot. Thurgood didn’t do him the honor of turning around.

[9] Which was met with some opposition until he grudgingly told the story of its failings. The response was, at first, surprised and mirthful, but as the story progressed, the group of sales associates who had gathered to hear it began to disperse nervously, and finally, the manager approved the return and then quickly disappeared to the back.

[10] Which Thurgood now saw as the man’s total motivation.

[11] Badly bruising one of them, very nearly requiring reconstructive surgery, he explained to the obviously distracted checkout girl at the electronics store in the next town.

About the author

CL Bledsoe is the author of two poetry collections, _____(Want/Need) and Anthem. A third collection, Riceland, is forthcoming later this year. A chapbook, Goodbye To Noise, is available online at A minichap, Texas, is forthcoming from Mud Luscious Press. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. He is an editor for Ghoti Magazine (, and blogs at Murder Your Darlings: CL also writes a flash fiction series called "The Idealists" every other week at Troubadour 21: