“They’re just antlers,” she said, and I agreed with her, because she seemed so sweet and helpful when she said it, and it came after a time when we hadn’t been so sweet or helpful to one another. It felt good. I didn’t want to set us back by disagreeing outright. Still, when I looked again, I couldn’t help feel differently about it.
“They’re so…big, though,” I pointed out. As if it wasn’t obvious. They were moose antlers, for crying out loud. A full rack, too, covered in velvet, growing out of the sides of my forehead overnight, for no reason that we could discern. It was like a stress-inspired break-out, which made sense considering all I’d been going through. Still, I never would have expected antlers. Acne, maybe. Or hives. But not antlers. “Ernie’s gonna flip. He hated when I wore my lucky dollar bill bow tie to the audit post-mortem. Imagine what he’s going to say when I show up to budget planning with these sticking out of my head.”
“Ernie’s a tight ass. He could stand to loosen up a little,” she said. “Maybe this will help.” She laughed, but she didn’t have to share an office with him.
“Do you think if I…” I shuffled my hair forward with my fingers, kind of tufting it up over the stumps, or whatever the bottom part of the antler is called, giving it whatever camouflage I could. “…do that, maybe?”
“Really?” she said.
I tilted my head to see if it made a difference, if it helped hide the unhidable. “Not even a little?”
“Not even a little.”
I pulled my trilby from the corner of the mirror and pushed it onto my head between the antlers, but those things didn’t have any sort of give to them, so the brim just pinched and rumpled, and the crown wouldn’t quite meet my skull. “And now?” I was pretty naïve about the whole thing.
“Now you look like you have a broken hat stuck between your antlers. And you still have the antlers.” She walked over and unwedged the trilby, then straightened out the brim, fluffed out the center, and hung it from one of the boughs. She cradled her chin in her thumb and forefinger and tilted her head from side to side, as if the problem was in how she was looking at them from too upright an angle. “This could be useful, no?”
I tried to snatch it back, stretching my arm out as far as I could without pulling it all the way out of its socket, but the antlers were longer than my wingspan, and I didn’t even come close to reaching it. “Not in the least.” My head drooped forward and the hat fell off, and I realized how heavy they were. I almost batted her in the face as I tried to right myself, but she dodged just before the paddle made contact. “Sorry.”
She sighed, shrugged. Tried to look me in the eye instead of in the antlers. It was hard, though. I couldn’t blame her. They were enormous. “They look soft, at least.”
“Oh. That’s good. How shitty would it be to have antlers that looked rough?”
She laughed again.
She pressed her hand to my chest, straightened out the pleats in my shirt, and tried not to stare too hard at them. “It’s just something we’ll have to get used to, I guess.”
“What other options do we have?”
She said “we” more than once, as if she would be going through this with me, even though I was the one who had the issue. As if the fact that we’d been on the skids for the last two weeks and were precariously close to calling it quits had been miraculously undone by my waking up with paddles of bone growing from my temples. Like a blessing that had shown up in a very bad, very obvious disguise.
Somehow, that made it all feel…surmountable, maybe? Or tolerable? Like an unexpected sort of suffering that we could share. It was a difficult sensation to nail down.
Mostly, though, it felt un-alone.
I liked that so much.
She nodded. “And you know, they do fall off eventually.”
I cocked my eye. “They do?”
“If my blind adherence to all things Discovery Channel is to be believed, then yes. After mating season. So it won’t be forever.”
All of that sounded promising.
“Something to remember, I guess.”
She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek and handed me my lunch as I turned and sidestepped my way through the door, hoping I’d be able to roll the windows down enough to drive with those stupid things taking up so much room, and thinking about what Ernie would say when he saw me wearing both my lucky bow tie and a giant rack on my head. But mostly, I wondered if it would be worth holding onto the antlers if it meant mating season would be extended, even if only for a little while.