After the accident, I would wonder if I had seen it coming, the shift in shadows, the sudden definition of a shape, a thickening in the air like a premonition, because when something goes terribly wrong there is always a before and always an after, but the moment itself is vague and hard to gather, and time jumps like a skip in a record, and so I tried to remember the before, tried to trace what happened during, but in the end, it all came down to after and we were spun hood up into a dry drainage ditch, the broken headlight suddenly finding its too little too late and pointing straight and strong at nothing more than wide open sky, the windshield shattered and fracturing the night into a thousand webbed pieces, and Charlotte bleeding from her nose and me with my mouth open to say something, but instead everything just hung quiet and still.
The teen brother-sister relationship takes many forms, from hero-worship and protectiveness to hostility and avoidance. I think, though, there’s a special kind of bond, regardless of the surface, that forms in kids dealing with a troubled adult. In this case, Shane and Charlotte live with their dad who frequently “talks to Johnnie,” as in Walker. He doesn’t sound like a total loser, since he’s concerned about Charlotte’s burgeoning sexuality and tries to lay down some pretty standard ground rules, but while we don’t get specifics, it’s strongly implied that he’s handy with a belt or a slap; the threat of him hangs over the kids for a good part of the story.
Shane’s coming-of-age all happens in the course of a few hours. He’s just seen his first snuff film, and may be as traumatized by the callous reaction of his friends as by the violence in the film. He leaves, and calls sister Charlotte to pick him up. She’s reluctant, but agrees for twenty bucks. These best laid plans go awry when Charlotte hits a deer. But that’s just the beginning: she thinks the deer she’s killed is pregnant, so she gets to work on a roadside c-section.
And there was a sadness in her voice that made me want to get back into the car and shut my door and slide onto the floor, let Charlotte deal with it and wait it out, because Charlotte was older and had always been the one to take the brunt, but I wouldn’t do that this time. I was the one who had called her out here. She came for me.
Charlotte shows great concern for the baby – she never calls it a fawn, but a baby – and great confidence that she can do the impromptu surgery because she’s going to be in Advanced Biology next year in school (amazingly, the photo above, from the UK’s Daily Mail, claims to be of a fawn delivered by c-section after the mamma deer was killed by a car). Shane has flashbacks to the snuff film as she sinks a knife into the carcass. In her One Story Q&A, Jodi Angel says: “I wanted to keep the relationship between Shane and Charlotte complicated and built more on what isn’t being said between them, rather than what is” and invokes Hemingway’s “iceberg theory.” I think she succeeded. She certainly created an atmosphere where reality is uncertain.
This is my second Jodi Angel story, following “A Good Deuce” from the Summer 2011 Tin House. I’m fascinated by a question about gender in her Q&A; it seems that in the first draft of “Snuff,” Shane’s gender was unclear most of the way through the story. When I read “A Good Deuce,” I’d thought the narrator was female until about halfway through. Seems she likes to write stories with teenage boy narrators, and her forthcoming collection, You Only Get Letters From Jail, will feature more – one of which, by the way, is available online right now at the Tin House blog.
For me, the most heartbreaking moment in “Snuff” was the fantasy:
Part of me hoped everything would happen like something on TV and we would make breakfast even though the sun had not begun to rise, and we would be inspected for injury, turned this way and that under the kitchen light, and our dad would take the fawn and come up with a way to feed it, make it a bed in a box, and he would look at the car and shake his head and be happy both of us were fine, and we would tell the story of how Charlotte had delivered the baby on the road from the deer we had hit and our dad would be so impressed that he would put his arm around her shoulders and say, That’s my girl! and he would repeat the story to his friends, too proud to keep from telling it over and over again for the rest of the week.
Amidst all the blood and violence and risky behavior both siblings have exhibited, this shoots out like a laser beam: this simple thing Shane wants, this quintessential scene from some family-friendly TV show. It’s obviously not going to happen this way – it would never happen this way, in any family outside of the Waltons – yet it leaves me hopeful for Shane: if that’s the dream, I think he might just be able to survive his adolescence and find his way to a safe place.