Desperate clouds of exhalation from the creature were the only suggestions that life remained within at all. White puffs of chalk dumped and expanded on cold asphalt. The deer, beautiful, young and strong and like no animal I had seen before, was crouched in the center of bright orange bulbs of light. Stale and weak in the cold, the joyous king laid in between two times – the forest at his back and the fields and the hills at his head. White puffs of chalk again.
I looked at my wife and saw in her fear for this animal. She bit her lip, fingers tightening around the door. Her fair skin stood out in the darkness as she went.
Its head turned neither toward my headlights in surprise nor away from them in despair. Deep and black, endless it seemed, his eyes were somewhere distant, somewhere I could not see. Searching for a fleece in the backseat and finding the door handle, my hands worked on their own. My eyes never shifted – white puffs of chalk again.
– Honey. I said, fleece around my shoulders. The voice echoing from my chest was one that I did not know, one which I would not have said belonged to me at all.
I watched as she touched her white hand to the creature’s back. Like a sole spot of moonlight pooling through a window, changing with the waning night, her hand moved, weightless with care, down the animal’s tense spine.
The air was cold with silence. My wife, the deer, and I, surrounded by fog. It pushed over the hills to our left, it swam through the trees to our right.
Amid the quiet, white puffs of chalk poured from the deer’s nostrils, swirling in the stillness of the air. My own breath rose before my face.
Buckled legs straightened. A graceful and long back arched, coiling and extending, turning and rising into a large and beautiful creature. My wife’s hand, previously still on the animal’s back, settled to her side.
– Ready? I said. I was cold. The wind was cracking at dead trees and nipping at my ears. It served only to make my want for the warmth of the car stronger.
For an instant, my wife was mesmerized. The eyes of the deer, deep and black and endless, had met her own. They met together, gazes entwining, for a short time before the deer turned away. Trotting, running, and bounding, it’s shadow blended into the night. Over the stone fence and through the field, the deer’s structure drained out into the fog.
I walked to my wife and put the fleece around her shoulders. She was colder than I.
The headlights shone brightly into our eyes as we walked back to the car, our hands clasped as one. Warmth padded every inch of our skin as we buckled our seat belts again, and as I started the engine once more I felt lighter. I looked at my wife, and ease in her smile said that she felt the same. We – both the deer and my wife and I – were headed home.