They were just getting out of dinner at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel Grand Dining Hall, the one where jackets are recommended, where the places of origin of the waiters are written on their golden nametags: Hungary, Kenya, Mozambique. Courtney had had too much to drink, gin and tonics, and Timothy was watching her as she navigated the steps, leaning on the wicker railing.
I’m fine, she said.
At the bottom of the stairs, Timothy waved off the valet, who was rummaging for the keys to their BMW. It had been one of the nicer cars in the lot, which surprised Timothy. Courtney was walking ahead of him, towards the water. He took long steps to catch up to his wife. When he did, she was stopped in the middle of the road, watching six deer stumble gracefully across.
Are those deer? Timothy asked, happily.
Of course they’re deer, she shushed. They were small, canine except for the long legs. They were eating at the seeds in the thick tropical grass in front of them, undisturbed by the human presence.
They should be moving, Timothy said. Like, running away.
Courtney took two steps forward and stamped her feet. The deer looked at her.
They’re caught in the headlights of your gaze, said Timothy.
What’s that? Are you really quoting right now? she said.
Sure, he lied.
He tried to put his arm around her but she shrugged him off. Come on, he said. No, she said.
She walked to the edge of the water, which was the bay. The beach was on the other side of the island. The hotel had been built here a hundred years ago, by JP Morgan and Joseph Pulitzer and Henry Goodyear and all the rest. They had put the hotel on this side for ease of getting the building materials across the water, barged over from mainland Georgia, to the island where they went to forget about their capitalist sorrows. It had been in the guidebook that Courtney read on the drive down from New York, Timothy refusing to change drivers until they were well into Maryland. They didn’t talk on car rides anymore, like they had when they first got married, even when they couldn’t find a radio station. He hadn’t stopped for a bathroom break until DC.
The two of them looked out at the bay, where there was one red light blinking, a lighthouse. It was the brief flash that gave it away. Timothy, rebuffed in his advances, settled for leaning backwards on the railing so he could look half at her and half at the old hotel they were staying in.
It’s creepy out here, he said.
I don’t think it is, she said.
Well it is, he said, brushing a no-see-’em bug off his chest. There’s no people around. It’s like there’s a curfew or something.
It seemed to Timothy that this had bothered Courtney.
Why would there be a curfew? she said.
I don’t know, maybe it was in the fine-print somewhere, he said. Half off the hotel reservations and free dinners as long as you’re in by ten.
But that doesn’t even make sense, she said.
Maybe it’s because of those wolves we just saw.
They were deer, Tim!
Maybe these are bloodsucking deer.
Courtney angled her body into Timothy. Bloodsucking deer! she fake squealed.
You never know in these places, he said. You just can’t tell.
They watched the lighthouse blink red and dark for a while. Timothy stroked Courtney’s shoulder. She didn’t pull away.
Maybe the vampire deer are owned by the hotel, Courtney said, her breath in his ear. Maybe it’s all a setup.
I bet the valets are in on the whole thing, Timothy whispered indignantly. That’s why they keep hopping into those go-carts, to let the deer out from their cages on the golf course.
Courtney giggled. Timothy pressed on. By day, he said, they feed them the carcasses of guests who kick the bucket during the night, and once night comes, they go loose.
Courtney turned in towards Timothy and held each of his shirt collars in her hands. She pushed her forehead into his chest. Save me, Tim, save me, she shouted.
He felt something triumphant. There was a heaviness in his throat. Maybe this trip would make him better at this. He was running out of ideas. He said, That’s my job.
He knew it was the wrong thing to say once her forehead stopped kneading his chest.
What the hell’s that supposed to mean, she said.
From the bloodsucking deer, he added.
She let go of his neck and started walking back to the hotel.
Jesus Courtney, he said.
I want to go home, she said.
Courtney, come on, he said again. She didn’t answer.
She walked the long slow curved lamp-lit path towards the hotel porch. There were plants hanging off the rafters,green overgrown ones, their pots sprinkled with dried out petals and swaying in the dead air. She ignored the valet who tipped his cap at her and said, Evening Ma’am. She planted herself on one of the white rocking chairs sitting out there, and sat in it motionless, although before she did, she gave the chair next to her a push, and its crazed rocking died quietly down while she put her face in her hands.
On the wharf Timothy turned back around again, looked away from the hotel, looked out on the lighthouse blinking red, and off, and red, and off. They had reservations at this hotel for three more nights. They were staying in the annex. It was a fifteen-minute drive away. They would be here until the end of the week. Then there was nothing else. He guessed they would drive back home. There was all the time in the world, though. The water confirmed, all the time in the world. He stayed there a while, waiting for Courtney to come back, but she didn’t, and at a certain point he didn’t dare turn around and look for her. It would have admitted defeat. He looked out over the water. If he covered the space a foot in front of his eyes with his hands, Timothy found, and looked up, he could see all the stars. He wasn’t used to something like that. He pleated his hands and put them in front of his face, so that they were a big circle keeping out the lamplight. This way he could see all the stars, over the circle that his arms made. His arms, linked at the fingers, hugged at empty air and felt entirely satiated.