I’m driving down a country lane at night in a rainstorm, I can barely make out the lane ahead, when I see off to my right, something twitching horribly. I don’t know what it is yet but immediately I felt sick; it’s an animal injured up on the lane, still alive, a deer, probably, and I think: at least I’ll stop, at least; I won’t drive past. And then what? Kill it? Drive it somewhere while it’s still alive? Pick up a dying animal with my bare hands and put it on the seat next to me, have it twitch in agony as I drive along? I can’t imagine bringing myself to do this.
But I skid to a halt on a muddy bank at the side of the lane, press the footbrake down, stalling the car. Thinking of the absolute horror of what I will definitely be doing in just a few moments – standing over the mutilated body of an animal, watching it suffer, with nobody to tell me what to do, no formal code of behaviour to comply with. And the noises! It will probably be making terrible, ugly sounds. I feel very sick, almost ready to retch.
I open the door and the wind and rain drive in at me and another car is coming in the other direction, to wards where the animal is. The other car stops. I walk up the lane. Now I can hear the noises as I come up to the car, it’s a deer, but I can’t see it yet. A window winds down. A man is driving. I open discussions.
“Look, I’m going to get a vet. You get the deer off the lane. That’s all you have to do.” The noises are loud, agonized; you can hear the pain.
I’ll come back with the vet. He lives up the lane there.
But before I run back to my car I feel that I must look over my bonnet, that this is somehow part of the deal. The sight is so repulsive that it racks me with panic; the deer, is broken parts, of it crushed, other parts moving with a jerky energy, one front paw trembling, the head swivelling, whipping round in the rain. I run back, trying to think of the car, not the deer.
Now the man is standing in the middle of the lane flagging me down.
I pull up, wind down the window.
“The man said, I’d better not move it. I might damage the spine.”
I said “Block the lane with your car. Stay there and wave the other drivers past.
He agrees. I set off again, driving through the rain. If the vet is in, I’m saved. This ordeal will be over in a short time.
Nobody answers the bell when I ring, but the lights are on inside. I run around the house. Then I ring the bell again, of course: people leave lights on in their houses to pretend they’re in. Then I face up to the terrible fact: now I have to do it on my own.
I now run down the drive of the house opposite, press on the bell, hammer on the glass of the door. A dog barks inside the house. I press the bell again. The dog barks. For a long time nothing. Then the light comes on and the door opens, held on a chain by a frightened woman, and too large dogs.
“I have to use your phone. It’s urgent. There’s…a deer, dying down there in the lane. I need to call the vet. So just let me in and I’ll call on your phone.
She really doesn’t want to, but I’m shouting; the force of my shouting is enough to make her open the door. Stay there she says. She brings the telephone towards me on a little table, stretching the wire; the rain is pouring into the house.
“But the rain!”
“No! Stay there!” She is certainly frightened, beginning to be angry. I dial the number of the vet and have to wait while my call is diverted. The rain is now beginning to soak the woman’s carpet.
She stands, cowering, at the back of the hall. A man answers. The vet. I ask him, right out, if he’ll come and pick up a deer. “No, I can’t. I’m 15 miles away. You can bring the deer to me.” “But I might damage the spine if I pick it up.”
“Just use a coat or something. Put your jacket under it and just pick it up.” The vet is calm, practical, by necessity, just thrifty with his compassion. He gives me slow, detailed directions – I must drive to the coast, turn west, drive through a village, turn back inland and at a particular roundabout…that’s when it starts getting complicated. The woman, who now believes I have not come to rob her, hands me a pen.
I run back out into the drive, terrified. I must now handle the deer, touching the body, drive 15 miles through the rain with the deer twitching and whining, and now, I realise, possibly bleeding, in my car.
“Hello.” It’s a man with a beard. “It’s our deer; it has strayed away from its normal habitat. We’ve taken her in, but she’s dying. There’s nothing we can do. Her eyes are glazed. She can’t move properly.
I gave the man the directions to the vet along the coast, the village, to the roundabout, and shake his hand. I feel supremely happy, lightheaded with joy.
He trudges off towards horror, anguish, sadness, recrimination, and bewildered tears.
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