Zin E. Rocklyn’s “The Night Sun” speaks to the darkness that manifests around us and in ourselves — but moreover, how justice can be found through the blood.
Content warning for fictional depictions of intimate partner violence, including physical assault.
The deer was long dead before my husband struck it with our car.
The fur was mottled with blood and fluids, tendons of the neck naked to the air while threads of muscle clung to mass of the deer’s body. Its head stood on high, all nineteen points of its antlers aimed toward the heavens, its pulse visible in the exposed veins. I could see the forest behind it, the rest of the deserted highway as clear as a cleaned windshield threaded with red, palpitating stratum.
I have its blood on my hands.
My husband had been occupied by proving his point with tactile flair. This was supposed to be our second chance, this trip. Our last chance, according to my lawyer. I’d seen the deer a long ways off, but couldn’t—or wouldn’t—find the voice to tell him to just stop.
He kept yelling, kept driving, the car swerving over the double-yellow, tires grinding over the caution strip when he overcompensated. A cramp blossomed deep purple in the meat of my palm as I gripped the door handle. Admittedly, I was entranced by the deer, by the sheer horror of what was clearly a dead animal that had the nerve to defy all known laws of nature by standing stock-still in the middle of this backwoods highway, its trademark stupid gaze marred by streaks of gore running from its coal black eyes.
Once my husband realized I hadn’t been listening to his opinion on my job loss, he tried to make me.
The slap of a fist against flesh isn’t the stuff of ’80s movies, and the recovery certainly isn’t from any film with a knock-down, drag-out fight. My head struck the window hard enough to dizzy me, the pane left intact. My eyes rolled shut, the muscles of my neck seizing at the point of impact, my head lolling forward.
His fingers were deep into my afro, nails scraping at my scalp, when the front of the car collapsed against the great beast. The car stopped as if my husband had slammed on the brakes. His grip tightened at impact, wrenching my head toward him, but thankfully, the center console snapped his elbow the wrong way and he released just in time for me to look up and watch the deer calmly clomp away and disappear into the trees.
We were rudely awakened by a state trooper with smelling salts some-odd hours later, late enough that our plans to reach the cabin by sunset for a romantic walk along the shore of the lake were ruined by the freezing black of night. The moon was three-quarters full and halfway through the sky when the EMT showed up.
I smiled up at the bitten glowing disc and mouthed, “Night sun,” a shiver of a memory rattling me. I hadn’t thought of my mother in months, an improvement considering it had been fourteen years since her death. But here I was, aching and withering within the grip of my abusive husband and thinking of the woman for whose death I was responsible.
The trooper’s jaw worked at the mud-brown mass tucked against his cheek, watching us suspiciously as the EMT tended to us. The EMT was a random townsperson with a medical kit in the back of his pickup. A rather extensive kit, granted, but not enough equipment to convince me I’d be fine in his care. Still, I allowed him to finger the growing grapefruit on the left side of my neck as the tight coils of my hair showered around us. He dragged the same finger along my temple and I winced, an automatic response to capillaries long burst as a shudder ran through me. My husband cleared his throat and the EMT moved on.
“And you say it was a deer?” the trooper asked. He spit a thick stream of goop that landed with a meaty slap at the toe of my husband’s Timberland boot.
My husband looked from the spit to the trooper’s wind-reddened face and back again before saying, “If my wife says it was a deer, it was a deer. Sir.”
The trooper dug his hands deeper into the pockets of his tan Carhartt and straightened his back. “Look, I mean no disrespect—”
“Then perhaps you should stop displaying it,” my husband shot back. I pulled the blanket a little tighter around my shoulders with one hand, the other still locked within my husband’s, my gaze volleying between the two white men of differing sizes battling for ground. It was this boldness that had attracted me—resentfully— to my husband in the first place: a boldness he’d wielded when a drunk in our college bar thought I was for sale. It was the same boldness that cracked me upside the head six months into our marriage, a boldness that now owned me.
The trooper grunted, jaw twisting beneath taut, naked cheeks. “And neither of y’all hit your head?” My husband squeezed my hand until a knuckle popped and we both murmured no. “Welp, sounds to me like y’all don’t want a trip to the hospital, so wrap it up, Casi. Where were y’all headed?”
“The cabin at Wolf Lake,” I said, my voice strained. I breathed deep to reorient myself as the pain from the knot in my neck bloomed. The trooper raised an eyebrow at me.
“Well, all right,” he said, still watching me. “S’long as y’all are fine, I’ll give you a lift. Ain’t too far from here. We’ll have your car towed to the shop, get you a rental of some kind on Monday morning.”
“We have to be gone by Monday morning,” my husband snapped.
“Sure, sir, completely understand that, but it’s a Friday night and this is a small town. Office opens Monday morning at ten ay em. We’ll get y’all together then. Until?” He turned and gestured at his Chevy pickup, which sat running, full high beams illuminating the entire scene.
Gritting his jaw, my husband stood and shed the blanket a little too quickly, his face falling in on itself as he aggravated the damage to his arm.
“You wanna be easy with that arm, sir,” Casimiro the EMT said, the hint of a Mexican accent gently squeezing the vowels of each word. He continued with reasons why, reasons I’m sure my husband was set to ignore.
“Fine,” my husband said. He allowed Casimiro to fit him with the classic SAM splint and a gauze sling, seemed to listen as Casimiro gave some basics for doing it himself.
And with that, I slid from the tailgate and we trailed the trooper to his truck.
My husband said his goodnight with a head nod as he pulled the last of our luggage into the log cabin. I could feel the slight warmth at my back as the trooper kept my attention with two discreet fingers on my hand.
“May I help you?” I said gently. I was exhausted from holding my head up.
“I don’t wanna make any assumptions, and y’all won’t be my business come Monday night, but . . . being out here, real remote? I see some shit. Mostly with drunk husbands and lonely wives. Here.” He dug into the inside pocket of his jacket and I flinched, stepping back. He snorted. “We ain’t like that.” He proved it by pulling out a well-worn leather wallet, more white than green sticking out of it. He produced a flimsy card, straightened it against the breast of his coat, then handed it to me. “Call me. Anytime. I’m the only one manning this place and I’m used to very little sleep.”
I studied the card, rolled over the name with a caged tongue. Bruce Hayword. Floodgate Sheriff, Colorado State Trooper. I nodded. “Thank you, Sheriff Hayword.”
“It’s Bruce, ma’am,” he said. “Have a good night and I do hope your weekend is nice.”
I gave a tiny nod, tired of talking, tired of this day.
He dropped off the one-step wooden porch and trudged over the gravel, his gait slightly hitched. He stopped right before entering his pickup and said, “One more thing: Don’t go wandering around after dark. We’ve got some serious beasts out here.”
No shit. I frowned at him, thinking of the deer, of how impossible its neck had been, how defiant its very existence was.
I shoved the memory down, settling my tongue firmly in its cage, and waved as Bruce backed out of the drive. I watched the pickup until the taillights were two glowing red eyes warming the trees beyond.