Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A deer in the gloaming

It all began as an uncertain shadow that appeared suddenly in the corner of my left eye, and then came a sickening thud followed by darkness as a feverish tangle of limbs filled my window. The time of evening was what the Scots call 'the gloaming'. (I guess 'the gloaming' is an ancient Celtic word and Irish and Welsh Gaelic probably have similar words, but I don't know the Irish one because I was always hopeless at retaining my Irish vocabulary. The gloaming is actually a more precise word than teh word 'dusk' and, growing up in Ireland, we called it the 'between the lights' in English.)

In any event, I was returning home from a book signing and the deer bounded out from a wood near my home, struck the front of the car and was catapulted over the bonnet and against the windshield. Of course I braked quickly, and the animal slid off the bonnet to the road beneath, picked itself up, and dashed into an open field on the other side of the road. A bolt of electricity surged through my body as I drove to a lay-by--in my backview mirror, I could see the equally shocked deer pick itself up off the grass and dash across the field to disappear into a copse of trees--where I got out and inspected the damage, which amounted to a broken headlight and a badly dented bonnet.

The encounter resurrected a couple of memories stored deep within the recesses of my memory banks. One accident occurred shortly after my seventeenth birthday, and I had just got my driver's licence and was on my way to a 'sixth form social' (the equivalent of the senior prom in the states) at a neighboring school when a fox crossed my path. The fox did not survive. Another accident occurred while I was driving my sister Deirdre and cousins Helena and Rosemary to a new disco that had opened in a nearby town. When we arrived, the bouncers would not allow me in because I was wearing jeans, so we had a pow-wow on the pavement and decided to drive to another disco in Portstewart, some thirty miles away. We were so keen to get to the disco, I drove far too fast and next thing I rounded a corner that never seemed to stop turning and...well, I planted the car deep in the bosom of a row of rhododendron bushes flanking the ditch. All I remember as I stepped out of the car was my sister, dressed in a wide flared lemon skirt that gleamed in the darkness, pacing up and down the road in a panic because we could not extricate the car, accompanied by Rosemary and Helena who was wearing extremely tall high-heels that kept clicking loudly as she walked. In the end, it was decided that I would stay and continue my efforts to free the car while they walked down a farmer's lane to seek help. Off the heavily lip-glossed envoys clicked into the night.

Twenty minutes later, there was an enormous roar and a farmer's tractor loomed in the dusk. As it drew closer, I saw the girls perched in a most undignified way on the towing hitch. They climbed off when it came to a stop. Helena approached me, stilettoes in hand and pencil skirt drawn above her knees, and gave me a look that suggested I would have much groveling to do to make up for the affront. As the farmer was towing the car out, two British landrovers rounded the corner and came to a stop. To their credit, they stopped and asked if they could help, but I quickly declined. After it had been removed from the bushes, we inspected the car and I saw there were no dents--loads of scratches but no major damage. We thanked the old farmer profusely, decided to go home, and drove off, but as we advenced, we could not deny to one another that the car was making discomfitingly strange sounds. It was as if it were spitting out gravel or tree limbs from underneath the chassis. The sound lessened as I continued, but it was still noticeable, and I knew my father would know something was wrong as soon as he drove the thing. I decided to pull into a lay-by just outside the town where my cousins lived and had they and my sister rehearse a lie I'd concocted in the event my father smelled a rat and began an investigation. Next morning, I arose very early and went outside and quickly used "T-cut" (a Brasso like substance for removing scratches and tar) on the scratches and successfully removed all evidence of the accident. Satisfied, I went back to bed. Later, as soon as my father returned from Sunday mass, he called me to him and asked what was wrong with the car because it was making funny sounds. With scarcely a pause, I told him I'd swerved to avoid a fox and landed in a ditch and it must still be be shaking off earth and small stones. Only years later, did I tell him, and it's since became a family joke, which he still invokes to this day.

With regards to the current encounter, both the deer and I were lucky, though I'm sure the bruised deer will be feeling some pain for a few days. Certainly, I feel lucky because I've heard of instances where the windshield had broken and the deer has fallen into the cabin and crushed the occupant. And a few neighbors in the area have had their cars 'totalled' as a result of such accidents. The irony of the thing is I'm always so careful about deer when I'm driving. I'm constantly watching out for them as soon as I turn off the main road and start along the back roads winding through the township where I live. I'm sure I'm not alone in my vigilence because Pennsylvania has the highest rate of car accidents involving deer in the entire United States, though that's a record I'm sure the Commonwealth will not be keen to hold on to for very long.

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Carol Gee said...

Damian, in about 1944 (I was 7) I was riding home from town with my family in a Model A Ford. Dad hit a deer, all the water leaked out of the radiator. Luckily the water we were hauling home in a barrel allowed us to limp back. Deer died. I cried; it was my first "emergency." Your wonderfully told tale brought it all back for me.

Spencer said...

I wasn't in or near your car! ha-ha

Rachel said...

Oh my! It could've been much worse, as you mentioned.

Good thing you made it back in one piece...

I almost hit a deer on the I-90 in Montana five years ago, and that scared the hell out of me. It was a freeway, so a hit would've been fatal to the deer, the car, and possibly me.