Deer Encounter

I was late. Traffic in town had been congested. A result of the dreadful weather, flash flooding everywhere, and cautious cars. Now, as I crossed the bleak fens, the driving rain was giving me windscreen wiper eyes – the sensation of having a third eyelid, a nictitating membrane, going side to side across your eyes in rhythm with the wipers.

Even, in all this gloom, I could see the hazard warning lights flashing in the distance. I felt compelled to stop, perhaps in the arrogant belief that I, as a trained first aider, could help. I parked the car on the grass verge, taking care not to get too close to the ditch, took my first aid kit, put on a high visibility jacket and walked past four cars to where a small group of people were discussing the situation. They were huddled round what I assumed was the accident victim, and as there were no crumpled cars, I assumed a motor biker had fallen on a greasy patch on the road.

It wasn’t a biker but a deer – not a Chinese water deer – but a large beautiful red deer. She was lying on her side; a nasty gash on her shoulder. My instincts took over and ignoring the debate, I knelt down and cradled the deer’s head on my lap. She shivered as I dressed the wound on her shoulder. Her eyes were bright and she panted, her hot breath producing a vapour trail against the cold wind. I found a triangular bandage and placed it across her eyes to keep her calm. I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, but I’d seen wildlife experts do it on television.

“Has anyone called a vet or the RSPCA?”

The group turned, as one, noticing me for the first time.

“I think it’s a bit late for that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come on, let’s get it done,” said the man dressed in wax jacket and mustard-yellow cord trousers, and he went off towards his Range Rover accompanied by a man in a tatty tweed jacket and flat cap.

My attention returned to the deer, it seemed calm now, breathing normally. I fished out my mobile phone from my handbag but there was no signal. There never is a signal when it’s important.

“Have they called a vet?” I asked the only woman in the group, she looked embarrassed, checked the time on her watch, declared she was late and left.

The deer’s body heat kept me warm, in spite of the rain that blew across the fields in waves, and the chill winds. It would soon be dark. How long would it take help to arrive?

The man in the flat cap returned with a shotgun – broken in the middle – he was putting cartridges into both barrels. Their intention was clear; the group had decided to put the deer out of its misery.

I suppose I should have supported this action wholeheartedly, the number of times I had wished a nurse could have saved my husband from his suffering towards the end of his life. But now, here, with the deer in my lap I wanted it to live, it didn’t seem that badly injured.

“Wait, wouldn’t it be better for a vet or the RSPCA to see if they could save the deer?”

The man in the yellow trousers and wax jacket approached.

“I know this is hard, but it’s for the best.”

Patronising git, I thought. How dare he make such a remark? I was tough, and realistic. I just didn’t want the deer to die, I’d seen enough death for one year.

He dragged me off the deer and I was hardly more that a couple of paces away when the gun went off. I jumped, the noise, the close proximity and the suddenness of the event had surprised me and I began to cry – not just for the deer – but for me, for my grief, for my loneliness and I suppose my hormonal imbalance. Well that was one of the advantages of being a woman, you could blame everything on your hormones and everyone understood.

The wax jacket man didn’t know what to do with a crying woman so he just wandered off – job done. The man in the flat cap wrapped the deer in a tarpaulin, ready to drag to his nearby car, he was going to treat himself to venison for dinner.

A man approached, “You’ve had a bit of a shock. Why don’t you come to my place for a cup of tea, before carrying on your journey? It’s only over there.” He pointed vaguely, “You got far to go?”

“Yes, thank you – I’d appreciate that.”

After a couple of sips of the hot sweet tea – he had insisted on putting sugar into the tea – ‘for the shock.’ I realised I was sitting alone in the kitchen of an isolated farmhouse with a man I didn’t know. This was not my brightest move.

The kitchen didn’t look clean, muddy footprints covered the floor. There was a pile of dirty dishes by the sink. Jake, (we had introduced ourselves) went outside and came back with a battered dirty tin hopper of coke to fill the Aga. I wondered if he would have kept it lit, had I not been there. It all seemed cold and grey.

“Are you a farmer?” The image of a warm farmhouse kitchen being the centre of the home, with rosy cheeked kids and three or four dogs was lacking.

“Not really. I was in construction – roads, bridges that sort of thing. My wife wanted to bring our kids up on a farm. So I left my job and sunk all my savings into her dream.”

I wondered where the wife and kids were.

He continued to tell me about roads, different types of tarmac, noise levels and I was lost in the world of construction. I felt safe knowing this wasn’t him chatting me up.

Eventually I found the courage to ask, “Where are your wife and kids?”

“Ah, well, they left this morning. Well only one kid now, the other one lives with his real dad, but Emily was mine and I shall miss her.”

“When are they due back?” I realised as the words left my lips, he meant they had left him.

“No they won’t be back – too much has happened.”

We spoke about the errors of omission and commission in a marriage. He had been trying to live her dream in this god forsaken farm, and had neglected her. He was tired at the end of the day and she found the isolation depressing.

They had tried to sort things out – the farm was up for sale but no one wanted a farm, not even for development. The market had changed, and it all seemed hopeless.

He was a gentle man, good-humoured and caring; one of those people you felt instantly could be a soul mate, a friend for life. Time flew by and I realised I had been chatting for two hours, and refreshed by some scrambled eggs (laid that morning) and some toast. I resumed my journey.

The rain had stopped, and it was dark. I had cancelled my appointment, and I had time to think – too much time. I should have asked him for his full name, and noted down his address so I could write and thank him.

Three months went by before work had me in that part of the world again. I thought I would be able to find his farm and could deliver a thank you gift. It was an excuse, a lame excuse, but I wanted to see Jake again – just to check if my memory had been playing tricks or was this really someone I was supposed to meet… One of those moments in time; a point when the universe conspires, through diverse events and timings, to bring things together.

If he wasn’t ready to move on to a new relationship, at least I could get his name and an address – even a phone number – he would be worth waiting for.

There was an encouraging sold sticker splashed across a large auction sign at the entrance to the farm. In the yard were four cars, maybe this was not a good time to visit. I looked at the bought Dundee Cake; he’ll think I’m mad turning up with a cake. I had wondered for a long time what I should take him, I didn’t know him well and flowers didn’t seem appropriate. I didn’t know if he drank – he certainly hadn’t offered me anything stronger than tea. So I had opted for cake. I thought baking him a cake was too pushy – it made me look like a home maker – or as he wasn’t divorced yet, a home breaker. A tin of biscuits looked too cheap, so I had found a good quality Dundee cake in a tin with a long use-by date and could only hope he wasn’t allergic to nuts.

As I parked the car two people were leaving, and it struck me they were wearing black, it looked as if I had turned up on the day of a funeral. I sat in the car – it was not a good day to call. But if this was Jake’s funeral then I needed to know. I would have to move on with my life – not to fantasize about what might have been. I suddenly wondered if he had become depressed. You hear about farmers committing suicide all the time. There was only one way to find out.

I walked up the steps to the front door and rang the bell. A tall elegant woman opened the door.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry, I appear to have called at a bad time, but I was wondering if Jake…”

“You wouldn’t be Louise would you by any chance?”

“Yes.”

“Jake. Jaaaake! There’s someone here you’ll want to see.”

The remark jarred, what a strange thing to say, but soon Jake, in a white shirt and black time came striding along the hall, his leather shoes making the loose quarry tiles rattle. He was taller than I had remembered and he scrubbed up well – even if it was for a funeral.

“You came back?” he beamed.

“I wanted to give you this.” I handed him a carrier bag with the tinned cake inside. It seemed a foolish gift now.

Jake looked briefly inside, “Thanks. You came back.”

“I think you said that already.” I smiled. He was overjoyed to see me, and clearly didn’t care about the cake. This was going to be okay. We stood either side of the narrow hall, close enough to touch, an impolite distance apart for strangers.

“Come in, and meet the family.”

“Jake, this doesn’t look like a good time,” I fingered his tie. “It looks like you’ve all been to a funeral.”

“Well we have, but life goes on.”

“Whose funeral?”

“My mother’s funeral, she was ninety-eight years of age, fit as a fiddle. She went to sleep in her armchair and didn’t wake up – it’s difficult to grieve. She wouldn’t want that, we may wear black in respect but we are celebrating her life. She would have wanted to meet you and the family certainly does.”

“But they don’t know anything about me.”

“They know I have been moaning about my stupidity of letting a wonderful woman out of my life without even a full name or telephone number. I knew you didn’t come by this way very often – and so I just hoped and prayed.”

Eventually his family left and we were alone. I asked about the farm, and he told me that his marriage had failed not just because of his neglect but also his wife’s affair.

“Did you know?”

“Yes, and no, she’d been having an affair for about two years. I didn’t realise it had been going on that long.”

“And Emily?”

“Oh yes, Emily is mine, I insisted on a DNA test, I love her dearly but I wasn’t about to start paying maintenance for her lover’s child.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, it all worked out just fine. She wanted a quick divorce and insisted that the farm go to auction so she could have her money. The farm sold but for less than I paid for it. She got her quickie divorce. Then mother dies – and leaves me a shed load of money – totally unexpected we never knew she had any money she was always so tight and, and, and – and I’m talking too much.”

The words tumbled out, a mixture of excitement and nerves. He looked into my eyes, and I wondered what he was thinking. I knew I felt shaky looking at him; it was as if all the air had been sucked out of my lungs.

“Would you mind very much if I kissed you?”

I had never been asked if I could be kissed before. I smiled, it seemed very old-fashioned.

“I would have to respond by asking if your intentions are honourable.” He knew I was poking fun at him, but at least I could breathe again and the moment of panic had passed.

“Probably not, but I want to marry you, if that’s not moving too fast.”

“We could start with a kiss then, I suppose.” I laughed, I was nervous.

He was right, I did need warning about a kiss, I wondered if I would feel disloyal, but somehow if you’ve had one happy marriage they say it’s easier to have a second, and I knew that Jake was going to part of my life, and judging by the longevity of his mother for a very long time to come.

It was funny how things work out, an accident with a deer, funerals, and new beginnings. A coincidence, my mother would say, is God’s way of bringing things together.

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