I was driving home from choir practice, along the windy road by the river, when a shadow loomed at the driver’s window, followed by a thump and a dreadful grinding sound.
The door opened enough to get out. The front mudguard was buckled, pressing tight against the wheel and a deer lay on the road. A young stag had run at the car, a sort of boy racer suffering from a surge in testosterone. I tugged at the mudguard to no avail then dragged the deer to the side of the road, decided there was much venison lying here and rang Mike to bring the trailer.
Headlights appeared and a small truck stopped. A jovial Coaster got out and introduced himself. Wayne was his name. He inspected the deer. ‘Jeez, you killed him.’ He had a torch and flashed it around. ‘Wait a minute, there’s another one.’ We moved to the other side of the road. This one was a bit older, with a greater show of antlers. ‘Bloody amazing. You got two deer. Wait until I tell my mates. Two in one hit.’ ‘You want one?’ ‘Wouldn’t say no. Been a while since I had venison.’ We inspected my vehicle. ‘What if we tie a strop around it and I give it a tug with the truck. You got a strop?’ I nodded. ‘You’re Paul aren’t you? You write in the paper.’ We shook hands. ‘My Dad’s into history.’ We hooked on the strop and he got into his truck and pulled back the mudguard. Mike turned up and we loaded the deer. Wayne gave me his number. ‘In case the insurance wants a witness. There’s a bloke in Leith Crescent will take the antlers – he does the velvet. I’ll text you his address.’
We went along a potholed road down to the river and gutted the deer. An amazing amount of intestine, heart and lung came out. It was a creature in the prime of life. The deer’s eye had become familiar. It had been a beautiful creature. We bumped back along the road which had a sign saying it was no longer maintained by the Council and hung the deer in the garage. Blood was still seeping from the carcass and a puff of steam could be seen close to the surface before I washed it down and covered it with a cloth. Already I felt an intimacy with the deer. As I washed the blood from my hands, the musty smell from its skin and body was on my clothes. It was the smell of a slept in bed; the smell of bodily juices. It was the smell of life and death.
Next morning Whaea brought down Darcy’s knives and I skinned the deer. It took a while. It’s fascinating how a skin is so intricately attached. The dogs watched, intensely interested. Now it was a matter of keeping off the flies. As I wrapped it carefully, the smell of the deer seemed permanently attached to me.
I rang the insurance company and entered another world, a world of money. I realised how many billions of dollars are attached to cars: loans, insurance, claims, a national network of approved panel beaters, road side rescuers… It was all pretty straightforward as I went through the list of questions, but the woman said the car could be a write off. Then Wayne rang. The incident was entering Coast folklore. ‘I told my mate. He’d never heard of it before. Two deer in one hit. You must have been travelling.’ I assured him I wasn’t. ‘Eighty k an hour.’ ‘ Go on mate, that’s the story for the insurance company. I’ve just been gutting mine. Anyway, here’s the blokes name for the antlers.’
I levered the mudguard a bit more with a crow bar and drove to the panel beaters with my bike on the back. ‘This is the deer job, eh?’ He inspected it. ‘What’s it insured for?’ ‘Three seven.’ He grimaced. ‘I think it’s dead.’ ‘I’ve just had the motor rebuilt.’ ‘The trouble is the insurance company takes twenty five percent.’ ‘For doing what?’ He shrugged. ‘It doesn’t have to be pretty,’ I pleaded. ‘I don’t mind if the mudguard’s a different colour.’ He became more positive. ‘ In that case it might be possible. Not pretty?’ ‘No, I don’t care about pretty.’ ‘Leave it with me.’ I got my bike off. ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Blackball.’ ‘You riding home to Blackball?’ ‘Yeh.’ He gave me an unbelieving smile and disappeared. But it was good to bike back. On a bike you see things.
Mike came over after work and we cut up the deer and packaged it. So much venison. The dogs got some fleshy bones. They couldn’t believe the plenty. The chooks had a peck, so did the birds, followed by the flies. Even a moth was interested. We were back in another time. From hunger to plenitude. The hind legs were huge – a roast for Christmas Day. I chopped up the carcass with an axe for dog tucker.
By now the deer had become story and food. That mad testosteroned moment of deer boy racing had run its course. The moon came out and I realised the digital world is a hoax, a lemon, a cop out, a parody of life. I won’t be sorry to leave it behind.
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