Emperor “Moi” Crush reached out with his furred arm and swiftly took Mike’s rifle away as he armed himself. Charlotta got her gun. Dark legs spread, shaking, cussing at herself for not being able to decide whether to…
“No me pegues, Charlotta, o pegaré a tú novio, mister asian-persuasion over there…”
“Shut up, Moi!”
“Charlotta, this is our only chance… don’t worry about me. You know how seductive the deer can be. Just protect yourself. Now, squeeze the trigger.”
“You? Shoot me? You can’t do it fast enough, Charlie. I’m half deer now, I’m stronger, faster, sexier… think about it! How are you going to shoot me first, when I got coy pond’s gun so fast?”
“Okay, you know what, Moi, you’re really pissing me off with the damned Asian jokes… and that one wasn’t even funny, what the fuck—”
“Charlotta, I said to put down your gun.”
Charlotta inhaled through clenched teeth. She started crying, but kept her eyes wide open. “Our little town… London, L.A.—oh L.A. gave in fast—Brasil, Beijing… all those places fell for the deer stuff quick. People started wearing freaking antlers—you and I sat at my place and watched it on my broke-ass TV, Moi… commercials for how to wear heels and look like you have hooves, ear implants, antler headbands… we were laughing at first. You said Mount Pleasant would never fall for that crap, and we didn’t. When the deer thing hit D.C., people went for it, but not in this neighborhood. Nobody was going to give up and speak one language, look one way, because we’ve all been through that… so why did you change? Why were you the one, out of both us, to just sell out to them?”
Moi spoke to her, as he looked through the sight of the other rifle. “Querida, hay personas en este mundo que necesitan más de promesas… del gobierno, del alcalde Barry, o de Vincent Gray… Did you really think
I’d pass up the chance to be in charge of this whole damned thing?”
“How did you even… get like that?”
Mike had his hands raised, as if corned by the police. He really stared at Charlotta then, and she became aware of how she’d let her lover down, how she was delaying their plan.
“It’s a venereal disease.”
Charlotta and Mike both made faces.
“… the best way to become a deer, the fastest way to be powerful, beautiful, graceful, sleek… is to sleep with one. While I was imprisoned after the riot in Mount Pleasant—well, the second riot in Mount Pleasant—during training, I got to sleep with the right deer. One of the officers had bloodlines from the ungulati.”
“Jogeumdo…” Mike dropped his hands.
“You keep those hands up. It’s not such a horrible story. Not everyone can be in a committed relationship when they feel like and sleep with the one they want, can they? So, I enjoyed myself. I really did… I’d heard the rumors by then, but got it confirmed for myself afterward. And the strain of the virus I caught was the best one. She and I trained together, my captain wanted the throne and she saw me as a great secret weapon, someone of the royal line with all the power and all the focus, but all hers. None of her relatives would know about me or suspect a captive, a prisoner… It took just one imperial gathering where she brought me out in cuffs ‘harmless’ to show off my training. Then, she took off my hood and the two of us surprised the rest and cleaned them out. In the end, I had to get rid of her too… But this all happened on the ship. I’m surprised nobody wondered why the great new Emperor Crush suddenly decided to descend to Earth and focus on a dinky little place in Washington, D.C. best known to the greater area for its location close to the Target… and rather than anywhere else in the city.”
“Charlotta. End this. You know what to do.”
“You were once my friend, Moi… and you want to destroy the neighborhood. All the people…” she put the gun down a moment, “I mean, it was bad enough when they paved over half the soccer field, to replace La Polvosa with a freaking tennis court!”
“I am going to fix it so that Mount Pleasant goes back to the way it was, before Columbia Heights Metro, before Target… and I am definitely going to put all the hipsters out.”
Mike intervened again. “You’re confusing issues—there were always white people in Mount Pleasant—”
“I didn’t say there weren’t. I mean hipsters, those people who wish Bestway would get replaced with a Whole Foods, or the ones from before who got the law passed, that mariachi can’t play and sing on the streets at night… it used to be such an amazing neighborhood.”
“Hey, I live right on that street, and if I had to listen to mariachi all night long, and on a work night, my butt would be at the neighborhood council voting for that too.”
“Charlotta, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if you’d just shoot him.”
“There aren’t many Mount Pleasant natives left, Charlotta. But you’ve seen everything I have. You and I understand perfectly, what it feels like to be edged out of a place, told that it’s better with certain people out of it, made to feel like what you know, what you understand, what you care about your home is backwards.”
The treetops ahead rustled in a breeze. Sunlight dazzled unfairly over this moment.
“But Mike is not like that. And you shouldn’t just group people… you, out of everyone, should know better than to just group a whole bunch of people together and say they’re the ones with the problem. Maybe, no, I know this—we can all just work together.”
“Don’t give me that Sesame Street bullshit. My mother lost her house! Do you know why? Because some other family with more money was able to buy it and she’d hit rough times. The property values have been going up steadily since the seventies. Your parents would have been out on the street too if they didn’t just happen to pay off all their loans when you were a kid, rather than say, “hey, I don’t make that much—it might be easier just to take out another loan and feed my kids”, and then we lose our house and you get to keep yours… and your boyfriend gets to live in a house some richer family didn’t mind selling to what—hipsters—while the natives live out in the suburbs getting fat off your rent checks!”
“And the salvadoreños displaced somebody else before the hipsters!” Mike shouted. “Probably African-Americans,”
“You can say black people, dear.”
“…and before that, hippies in the seventies, and before them was it Eastern European immigrants or something, right? And who was it before that? That’s America, people coming in all the time, so what’s your point, Crush?”
“Oh look at you, Mike,” Moi rolled his yellowed irises, the mutated dear eyes, then twitched one long spade ear of a fly. He snapped back with his wet muzzle roving, “Extra gold stars for reading the Walking Tour of Mount Pleasant signs.”
Charlotta said, “My father once told me that nativity in Mount Pleasant, and in DC, if you think about it… it’s hard to live here for a lot of reasons, and it’s expensive. But those who make it work, they earn it in sweat, not blood. So, you’re just acting crazy Moi, talking about something that doesn’t matter to anyone anymore. Mike’s right, the neighborhood is just going to change… we can’t change that… we should just… well, buy property here if it means that much to us. Be politically active.”
“But you don’t sound sure. Charlotta, is this the big scary plan your boyfriend keeps hinting at.”
“Yes. I am going to settle things for her once and for all, over your corpse, Crush.”
Mike took one step forward, then another through dry orange leaves. Wherever the deer touched, the land went sweet. The air smelled of campfires, the trees lured into winter slumber. So perfect, one just wanted to give in and be tall, slender, effective like they were. A sign that Moi was working his magic now.
“Charlotta, you’ve never felt like you fit in, your entire life. You told me that. Nor have I… somehow, we found each other. And, we found this neighborhood. If you do this, then you and I can live here, in a safe place. No deer and… no parents asking me why I’m dating a black girl, or why I like speaking Spanish. No more feeling ashamed that you can’t afford to have your own place here, either. You don’t need Crush to secure that. You and I can work on that together. Moi, Empror Crush, is a monster who’s stuck in the past. Look, man, how are you any better than the hipsters you imagine are around here, ruining things? You want everything to be one way, and you want to blame one set of people for a complex cultural or socio-economic phenom… so you’re not any better.”
“You’re still asking me to shoot my friend at the end of the day, Mike. Moi is the only one who understands what it’s like to lose everything. You and I almost didn’t get together. You fought so much to finally speak to me. Why did you do that? Black men, Latino guys, they’ve never done that to me.”
“I never meant to hurt you, it’s just that I’ve never—”
“Found a black woman attractive?”
“You know that’s not true. Just look at yourself and how nervous you were to get involved with me. Admit to that. God, in fact, I thought we were past all this? And not every couple where people are from different backgrounds is like that. I’ll work on my parents, and yours have a bias too… I swear, if I hear your mother say ‘oriental’ one more time… Look, I’m sorry. But we’re gonna be fine. At least in this neighborhood, we can have a start. And back in Connecticut, I didn’t grow up in a place or know of any place where this wouldn’t be a big deal. I always knew it wasn’t right… I thought you were trying for this too, like me.”
“I am the Emperor of the Ungulate Empire. You can’t save just this one place when the rest of the world has fallen. Everything will come and go through me.”
“Listen to that, Charlotta, he’s just using the deer power on you.”
“No, I don’t think that he is.”
“Come and graze beneath me…”
Charlotta spoke over her old friend, “Moi, be quiet. Mike, you’re already talking about marriage. Maybe we just can’t… Maybe you just want to gloss things between us over… and then there was that blonde girl I had to wait for you to break up with, while you decided it was even worth talking to me on the bus. We never even discussed that. We’re afraid to. Or, I am.”
“Charlotta!” Mike was hurt. He turned so she wouldn’t see his pained look.
Moi started up again, cussing at Mike in Spanish, then Charlotta intervened, in her taught-from-Spain accent.
Mike defended himself in excellent pronunciation over Moi’s colloquialisms. The Latino, the Asian, the black girl, all shouting at each other in Spanish, in the woods near Mount Pleasant.
“Y qué es más importante, Charlotta? Tú sueño, o el futuro seguro, conmigo?”
Mike awakened, feeling as if the whole world was moving beneath him. He’d fallen asleep on the bus again?
He looked over, smiling, wanting to see Charlotta standing with her back to him, so cute, trying not to look.
The day they finally had a real conversation on that H4 bus…
But there was a tree, no—the branches were too close, bleeding the sun into the gray tree color, and the yellow leaves… so he was outside. And someone was crying.
Emperor “Moi” Crush leaned down, a brown face suddenly moved what were truly antlers overhead. These raised and shifted with the man’s speaking. Speaking through those crooked teeth.
“She shot you.”
“You don’t even want to say goodbye, Charlie?”
“It wasn’t a mortal wound. We can still send him home to Connecticut. Moi… Moi, get away from there.”
Her voice quaked, “We need to finish this.”
Mike took final shallow breaths as he watched her. All that beautiful dark skin against the yellow leaves. And then the other man, naked, who joined with her. Antlers both raising from the crowns of their heads as they bucked together.
Mike Lee thought about Bestworld, the ten cent popsicles at the Argyle, men cutting coconuts with machetes on the street, the Easter night procession of the local catholic church chanting in Vietnamese, in Creole, in English down the main street… how he first kissed that beautiful black girl from the bus, and her lips tasted like tamarindo—and he knew the taste, and she loved that he already knew of it… Mike thought of the last Latino Festival he saw, with the man in Peruvian dress bending on his old knees, setting an incense bowl aside, kissing the asphalt of Mount Pleasant Street with his lips. How long the old man held up the clamber, bells and loudspeaker of that entire procession.
Mike remembered how he had wanted to do the same on that summer day. He understood what it felt like to finally belong someplace good. He felt the pain in his left leg now, that he wished to kneel.
Mike shut his eyes and decided to die.
1, Busdriver Marlin :: 2, The Quiet, Angry-Faced Girl :: 3, Love, After the Deer Apocalypse :: 4, Moises “Emperor Crush” Romero :: 5, Screaming in Spanish :: 6, His Hoodie :: 7, Amazonia :: 8, Behind the Waterfall :: 9, The Cricket Queen :: 10, Don Juan’s