by Kelly Tanner
The antlers began one evening when her head grew sore and itchy, while she sat at the faded yellow kitchen table, solving equations. It was her mother who discovered them when she got home, parting Annie’s thin, chestnut hair with the precise and expert hands she used at the salon. They were just tough little nubs then, fuzzy protrusions her mother touched gingerly before bringing Annie two aspirin. “Poor baby,” her mother said. “You can stay home from school tomorrow.”
“No,” said Annie. “I feel good.”
The next morning when her alarm sounded, she found her pillowcase in shreds. Annie gazed at her reflection in the cracked bathroom mirror, climbing up to sit on the sink so she could bring her face as close to the glass as possible. The fuzzy antlers were eight inches long now, curving slightly backward as they tapered into points. Annie pulled a few pale blue threads from her pillowcase off of the left one. She tilted her head forward and rubbed a little circle in her velvet. The velvet came off, a smooth shiny spot appearing in its place.
On her way to school, Annie told her startled mother, “I think I’m more of an Anne than an Annie now.”
Not usually one to stand out, Anne enjoyed the attention she got that day at school. Her best friend, Val, blinked at her with an open mouth. Anne linked arms with Val as they walked through the hallways like they normally did, and Val sneered at anyone she caught whispering at their approach. During lunch period, Val helped Anne peel off the rest of the velvet, which was coming away in furry, brown patches. Anne noticed something in her friend’s eyes, something very close to awe.
“Look,” Val said. “You’re growing branches.” It was true. When Anne felt her antlers, the main growths from this morning had brand-new offshoots. When they left the lunchroom, Anne had to tilt her head slightly sideways, so they would not catch on the door frame.
Robert, who sat behind her in two classes, looked different too. His face was wide-eyed and pinkish, and he stared at Anne until the teacher told him to stop. In algebra, where he had once poked the backs of her arms with his freshly sharpened pencil, Robert instead asked her in a small whisper if he could touch them. Anne said no, and then yes, but when Robert’s clammy hand clutched her left antler with an awkward grip that was too hard, she regretted it and pushed him away. She spent the rest of that class holding her head very still, so her antlers were far from Robert’s reach. She could see her shadow on the floor, the bright overhead lights revealing that she now had several branches on each side of her head. Her rack had grown. The antlers angled around her ears so that her hearing seemed more attuned to the world around her. She could pick up the hushed chatter in the room, which was all about her.
As class ended with the final bell and the students filed out into the hall, Mr. Seltzer asked her to stay behind.
“I may have to ask you to sit in the back row from now on, Annie,” Mr. Seltzer said.
“Oh,” said Anne. “Yeah, that maybe makes sense. It’s Anne, though, now.”
“Anne,” said Mr. Seltzer. “Yes, I like that. You’re quite a young woman, Anne. Do you know that yet?”
Anne thought that no one had looked at her like that before. His eyes were yellow and red-rimmed, and Anne thought he looked wolfish. This was the longest conversation she had ever had with a teacher, alone. “Oh,” Anne repeated. She looked over toward the door, then down at her shoes. As she bowed her head, her antlers pointed straight at Mr. Seltzer, who took a big step back in response. Her antler had poked Mr. Seltzer in the arm, drawing blood. He inhaled in surprise. Anne was uncertain what to say. “OK, Mr. Seltzer. Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.
“Of course,” Mr. Seltzer said, red-faced, and smiled with all his teeth. “You run along.”
Anne headed for the spot under the bleachers where she usually met Val after school, but her antlers got caught among the metal supports. It took her a long while to get herself untangled. She clutched her books to her chest, her pulse dancing. She wanted Val to hurry up. Anne walked to the top of the stairs outside of school, hoping she might catch Val on her way out. She wanted to hug her mom when she got home. She thought how nice it would be, later, to lie down and ease the weight from her head for a while. People skipped past her down the stairs. Anne grew tired of waiting. She stood tall and noticed heads turn toward her as she started her walk home. She smiled.
Published March 18th, 2018
A previous version of this story was published by Dovetail Literary Magazine.
Kelly Tanner is currently an MFA candidate in Fiction and Nonfiction at Bennington College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Literature from NYU. She works in Manhattan in Human Resources. Her short stories and memoir have been published in the journal Dovetail. Tanner lives in the Hudson Valley in New York.
Cristina de Miguel is a young, Spanish-born artist who makes energetic figurative paintings built upon a network of neo-expressionistic affinities, graffiti-inflected spray paint, and absurd narratives. She received her MFA from the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, and has had been included in group exhibitions in Greece, Paris, Reykjavik, New York, and throughout Spain. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY and is represented by Fredericks & Freiser, NY.