That morning was made all the worse because it had snowed the night before. Flakes that fell slow and parallel to the ground, as if they were laying themselves down. Arriving with a shared intention. Maybe to give my young daughter and me a reason to sit quietly and watch them. A blanket for the earth because didn’t my grandmother always say that the winters of heavy snows are better for everything?
Keeps hibernating animals from accidentally freezing to death.
Paints fields full of diamonds.
Provides warmth and spring melt to bulbs, roots and shoots.
Makes creeks thaw fat and swift.
Gives animals and hunters tracks to follow.
And then there was her story. The one about getting lost in the snowy forest with her little brother searching for their dog. She was seven. Francis, only five, but my grandmother knew what to do. Find footprints in the snow cover. Pick one animal to follow. This will almost always lead you to the creek. Animals get very thirsty in the winter, she would tell me. You can take a walk with a creek, Virginia. A creek will lead you home.
By the morning, five inches of snow. I hoped for news of a school closing, but when none came, I buckled my seven-year-old daughter into the car, handed her a backpack and a brown bag lunch and we headed for school. We drove in silence that morning, until she noticed that the snow was clinging to evergreen branches more than usual, bowing them down. “Doesn’t it look like the snow trees around the model trains at Waterloo Gardens?” She asked.
“I guess I was wrong then,” she said.
“Well, remember, I said those snow scenes all looked fake, because snow never covers all the green parts, but it can, because look.” And she was right. The world was smothered in white. In a turn of a hat, the real world had flipped to cotton balls and paste.
That’s probably why we both saw the whole scene that morning as suddenly and vividly as we did. Brilliant red splashed across the alabaster ground like a kicked paint bucket. And the wrought iron fence, the same row of shiny black spikes we had driven past hundreds of times before was all the darker and more sinister against the brightening day sky. A row of upturned spears. The deer we passed who was looking at us. Gazing out at the busy road. The beautiful, silken brown coat of a white-tailed deer. I thought, inexplicably at the time: I bet that hide would be as soft to the touch as a bunny tail. The belly of the animal stabbed clean through. She’d bled out. Gone cold hours ago. Long-lashed eyes locked straight ahead on a future place she never reached. Grey tongue lolled out to one side. Her black nose half covered with snow. Her ears still pointy.
To her credit, my daughter didn’t scream, but of course she wanted me to stop. Begged me.
“We have to do something!”
“It’s too late,” I told her; “We can’t do anything for her now.”
“We could take her down.”
“She’s too heavy. She’s way too big.”
I didn’t say the deer would have to be cut into pieces. Chainsaw probably. We turned around and drove home, retracing our tracks. In the rear view mirror, I watched the tears roll down my daughter’s cheeks.
In the kitchen, over hot cups of sugary tea in my grandmother’s English china cups, papery dishes my daughter had never held in her hands before, tears gone, she asked simply, “Why did it happen?”
“I think she thought she could make it, but the fence was higher than she thought. She made a mistake.”
“It’s not fair. That shouldn’t happen because of a mistake.”
“That is true, but it did, and there is nothing fair about it.”
Outside, the snow began shooting out of the sky like arrows. The whole day infused with weapons. My mind wandered toward ideas to cheer her. A snowgirl maybe; “Look,” I said. “It’s snowing again.”
“Do you think it hurt?” She asked.
“No, I don’t. I think it happened so fast that she didn’t feel a thing.”
It was a miscalculation on my part. A mother’s desperate attempt to delay the accumulation of saddening memories. I stiffened for her reply.
“I don’t believe you. I think it really, really hurt.”
“You’re right,” I said. “It probably did.”
Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found in Illuminations, The Florida Review, The Blue Mountain Review, The Moon City Review, Permafrost Magazine, Palooka Magazine, Streetlight Magazine, Sky Island Journal among others. She is winner of the 2019 Florida Review Meek Award in nonfiction and nominee for Best of the Net Nonfiction 2019 and 2020.