I Don't Care to Laugh Today

Saturday Night

Donna informed me we would be washing the car. Okay, after almost 17 years of driving my trusty, beloved, paid-for Saturn, I can treat it to a buff, bubbles, and suck hose. We took off down the gravelly lane from our house in the forest to the paved street aimed towards town.

As we neared our mailbox, I pointed at a small embankment where two nights ago something tumbled out of the brush and rolled to the ground at the side of my car. I had looked to the right and over my shoulder to see a tiny fawn race for cover back into the grassy yard of the closest cabin.

Donna saw a newborn fawn in a patch of our woods above the pond, three or four Sunday mornings ago. He was with Mama, bouncing and playing in the early sunshine.

I began an intermittent vigil by the kitchen window, where the wildlife commonly appear outside our home. It took a week or two, but at the end of the long driveway, I saw the baby deer scurry left to right and out of sight. He was too distant for a snapshot and never reappeared that day or any other.

I have no proof, but I'm confident the fawn I saw Thursday evening was the very same cuddly critter, full of life and raring to go. As I approached the house, located, perhaps, one-tenth of a mile away in a straight line, I wished for the little guy or gal's safety. I wanted him to come onto our secluded acreage and keep clear of the two-lane blacktop.

So, late this afternoon, two streets from home, while cruising to the carwash, there appeared a common, ugly sight up the pavement ahead -- a lump, motionless on the yellow center lines. I slowed to discover fresh roadkill. A good-sized raccoon, a gorgeous animal, snuffed in sudden, unanticipated mayhem. His severed tail had been flung into the opposite lane, four yards south.

Donna and I shuddered in disgust. Nature is beyond brutal.

We ate sandwiches at our favorite deli, a choice hour for us to be vegetarians, then headed over to the carwash, paid the six bucks, soaped up the automobile, and I gallantly removed all of my rippled muscles from the driver's seat to apply the polish cloth to the exterior roof and bumpers and the in-betweens. Nature cooed.

My car, reborn showroom shiny, purred to the supermarket. We bought the weekly groceries and motored homeward.

The raccoon's carcass continued in the road, heat: 93 degrees. By now, most of his tail was elsewhere, probably inside birds. A bit of fur fluttered on the asphalt.

I love the country living, but the unceasing tumultuous death phenomenon which surrounds us is appalling.

Eventually, I reached the mailbox at the intersection to our street. I fetched the junk messages and put the car into gear. Twenty seconds later, I pinpointed the exact thatch where I had seen the fawn two nights before. I squinted into the trees, looking for the bitty brown buddy with the pretty white spots.

I navigated the meandering curves and, as the Saturn rolled over the exact place in the road where we first glimpsed and rescued our distraught kitten, Morty, late one rainy night eight joyful years ago, we saw the day's second motionless lump.

I couldn't quite identify what I was viewing, but Donna did.

"Oh, Mike! It's the deer!"

I surely blanched. I refocused and recognized the little face, beneath a swarming mess of particularly nasty dark blue flies and assorted moth-like predators.

I stopped the car. I was shocked, disoriented, and attacked by sudden grief. How horribly sad, this beautiful, once immaculate creature, most certainly a month or less old, is now gone.

Something else was amiss.

Donna scuffed over for a clearer assessment of the body. There was the sweet-featured head and only two legs. The deer's hind half was nowhere to be seen.

I left Donna to protect the fawn from vultures and other vehicles until I could return with a shovel. I proceeded forward, decelerating a moment to avoid a bulldog.

After retrieving what I needed from the tool shed, I raced back to my wife and parked. I grabbed the shovel, then handed Donna a black, heavy duty trash bag and asked her to hold it open for me. I swallowed and grasped the chore, without looking any closer than the minimal necessity. As I did, a crowd of neighbors appeared.

Weaving together everyone's observations of the previous hours, we determined that the bulldog had discovered and carried the front half of the fawn a block or two from the place of its grisly demise alongside the paved road.

One man assured us, having seen the deceased earlier at the previous location, that it was heaped in the grass -- and incomplete.

"It was no roadkill," he said. "That deer was cut in half."

Then, he said it again.

Not then, not now do I elect to consider the implications of his statement.

I held my breath, managed some resolve, and shoveled the poor animal into the bag. After tying off the deer and the stench inside the dark plastic confines, we made our cordial excuses to leave the group behind to commence a burial on our property.

But first, Donna and I returned to the main thoroughfare. From the car, we walked up the steep incline and circled down the opposite side, hoping and not hoping to find more remains. The areas were woodsy and overgrown. We saw nothing unusual and returned to the sedan.

"Let's drive further," I said. We reached the top of the big hill. Donna signaled for me to pull over.

"I can smell it," she shared, exiting, while I idled. She investigated across a 100-foot stretch of land. Peering deep into the overgrowth and the adjacent culvert, she let me know, pointing, "the scent is especially strong right here."

Alas, with dusk approaching, we abandoned our search to go dig a hole.

Back at the house, I raised the hood of the trunk to get the shovel. Donna contemplated the final resting place. We were talking when suddenly we both saw, not 20 feet away, a doe stroll through the clearing, slowly, gazing about and analyzing us. We stood still, as she walked haltingly into the woods.

This bizarre day had just gotten weirder. The deer in these parts are afraid of humans and bolt at first sight of friends and foes.

It had occurred to us that the fawn may have been separated from its mother, which might explain the baby's dangerous proximity to the busy road. Was this lone deer the mother? I have no irrefutable proof, but the timing of her appearance and odd, trusting manner was certainly eerie. Could she have been searching for a lost child?

Donna selected a shady plot over by the picnic table, around the general stomping paths of the local deer population. We took turns on the shovel. After half an hour or so, we agreed we were done digging. I went to the car, while Donna retrieved an armload of spare bricks we stored by a retaining wall.

I liked nothing about this morbid task. I don't recall ever personally burying anything before this evening. I hefted the few pounds of deer from the trunk and returned to the grave. I hoped the young one was heads up as I place the corpse into the ground. I was unable to force myself to feel the contents of the bag to be sure.

With one hand somewhere on my hip and the other grasping the shovel pole to keep me standing erect, I said a silent prayer for this unfortunate innocent, whose full, frisky torso could not have been much larger than a loaf of bread. I bawled in a gush for the nameless and precious creature I had met in death mere minutes before.

Donna returned to my side and kissed me on the cheek. We didn't speak. I pulled some loose dirt towards me and it plopped onto the body bag. The sound of earth smacking plastic is about as cold as it gets.

When the distasteful deed was completed, I stepped onto the grave and packed and leveled the soil under my sneakers. We set four bricks in place, acquired more and removed several large creek rocks from a flowerbed to protect the fawn's final resting place.

Again to the car where I filled both hands with groceries, bags of life. Donna followed. When I reached the foot of the steps to the porch, something caught my eye. Perched on wet leaves at my feet was a quiet brown bird the size of a fist, moving her head about in an erratic pattern.

"Donna, come here. You aren't going to believe this."

The cardinal didn't ruffle feathers and fly. She never tried or couldn't. Instead, she appeared to be clearing her mind, tilting the skull to the right and straight up, repeatedly. We figure she flew into the closed kitchen window with intense force, possibly, causing brain damage.

I phoned a friend who nurtures pet birds and requested advice. The trauma-filled patient with the askew tail feathers is presently resting in a paper carton away from ground predators. We included food, water, and our best thoughts.

"She'll either get better and fly away or die," intoned the voice over the phone.

Not many weeks ago, Donna nicknamed me "Father Goose," due to the manner in which I've doted on our various cats through illness and health.

I feel my domain expanding. I dream I take care of all the animals, preventing violence and cruelty upon them. And then I wake up.

Tomorrow, to a possible birdy funeral and, with melancholy, I'm positive, to the exhumation of the small deer. To correct my oversight, I'll cut open that plastic bag and rebury the fawn into the earth proper.

Dust to dust.

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