putative, adj. (PYOO-tuh-tiv)
1. commonly accepted or supposed
2. assumed to exist or have existed
Smoky, the local pimp, was driving along the back roads to his great aunt’s shack to deliver her groceries, as he does every week, when he became the first person in recorded history to encounter a talking non-human animal. Rain fell on all of Tennessee that night, and Smoky was late because—well, the reasons are unseemly, and unimportant at that. Just know that he careened through woods and swampland, not wanting to make his auntie worry since she had a history of panic attacks.
The story is common, almost a cliché: reckless driver speeds around a corner and spots a deer in the road. Sometimes the deer is hit, sometimes the driver brakes in time to avoid it. Only once has the deer actually said anything.
But Smoky thought it was God, given his preconception of deer and the deep, booming quality of the voice that made the trees shake, their leaves fall. The ground vibrated, too, but Smoky didn’t feel that.
No, the only thing he felt when he heard “Stop!” was a great spiritual shock, similar to mortal terror. He got out of his car and fell prostrate on the ground, ignorant of the rain, babbling praises and prayers to a Lord he’d ignored for years.
“What are you doing?” the deer asked. This time Smoky felt the ground vibrate. That and the nearness of the voice startled him.
“Thanking you, God. I won’t sell them hoes or that heroin no more, like you said.”
“I don’t care about that. I just wanted you to stop the car before you killed me.”
“Me?” Smoky looked up at the deer. Could it be? Or was God speaking in some sort of code, and He meant that He was in every living thing? Smoky figured he might as well ask God. “Are you saying that you’re a deer?”
The deer grew impatient with Smoky’s obtuseness; when he spoke his frustration was evident, though it could not overpower the sheer majesty of his voice, rather accentuating it with a sort of terrible might, like the rumbling of a volcano. “Of course I’m a deer!”
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s just I can’t believe it—I mean, I do! But it ain’t what I expected of you. And nobody will believe me, sir. They’ll think I’m just a lowdown dirty liar, but I don’t know why I’d lie and say God is a deer.” Smoky honestly thought that God might kill him in anger, though he knew that was stupid. Then he thought God might kill him for thinking such a blasphemous thing.
“Yes, I doubt they will believe you.” The deer now understood that this “God” was someone important and powerful (and, crucially, mysterious) to this man and apparently to the other humans, as well. “Unless…”
Smoky looked up, ready to do whatever God asked of him.
“Unless…you bring me into town with you.” The deer envisioned a warm welcome, possibly with an opportunity to get the humans to stop hunting his kind.
The deer was happy to exit Smoky’s car and stretch his legs again. He felt like a traitor riding in it, the machine that had killed so many of his brethren, and if the smell stayed with him he hoped his fellow deer wouldn’t begrudge him for it.
Smoky said they were going to church, or the house of this “God.” Now that they had stopped the deer got to see the building to which Smoky referred. It was one-storied and plain, which struck the deer as curious since he knew enough about humans to know that the powerful ones have bigger, gaudier things the rest of them. Still, despite the rain, dozens of cars were parked outside; what were all these people doing at someone else’s house?
Smoky opened the doors and led the deer inside. People: in rows and silent, facing a man behind a pulpit, whose head was bowed. The deer did not know they were there to pray through the storm, which was supposed to be one of the worst in recent memory, and sit in the light of hundreds of candles and fellows, because the power had gone out in the area. The constant raindrops against the roof and stained-glass windows made the building sound like the inside of a snare drum.
The people did not turn around at first, so Smoky said, “People, I found God!”
The priest looked up and, seeing who had spoken, said, “Rejoice! A sinner has repented in this, an hour of darkness and tumult! Praise the Lord!”
“No, father, I mean I found Him. Here He is!” He pointed to the deer, and only then did the priest take notice of the animal, though his presence had by then shocked much of the congregation.
“Oh my goodness, it’s a miracle! God has calmed this beast so that it may enter His house and find shelter in this storm! Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah!” the congregation echoed.
“No—” Smoky was flustered now.
“—he means he found me,” the deer spoke finally. Everyone looked up, except three women who fainted (one never woke up). The priest fell backwards from his pulpit and lay there for a second. Many people cried, about half hysterically.
The deer saw the iconography on the walls, the reactions of the humans—in short, the meaning they ascribed to this “God.” And he realized that while they might listen to his requests, he would become their slave until the day he died.
“Please, stop. I am not this ‘God’ of yours. I am just a deer, this deer you see. Don’t be startled”
The people turned en masse to look at the deer. One man picked up his coat and ran out the door.
“Over the last two days, Americans have followed what is perhaps history’s biggest news story: a deer from the backwoods of Tennessee has emerged as the first known non-human animal with the capacity to speak and understand English. He wishes to be called Mr. Deer and he speaks on behalf of his species, calling for an end to deer hunting. Channel 7 news will now be going live to the President’s conversation with the putative leader of the deer, in the West Wing of the White House…”
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